There’s still plenty of life left in aluminium. The Trek Domane 2.3 is a fine example of trickle-down technology, offering a remarkably smooth and efficient ride at an affordable price.
Trek have taken the innovative features developed with Fabian Cancellara for the top-of-the-range, carbon fibre Domane 6.9 and made them available across the range, at a variety of price points. This, the Domane 2.3, is one of two aluminium models and has a retail price of £1,200, while the Domane 2.0 kicks off the range at £1,000.
The flagship Domane 6.9 was given a race-winning debut by Cancellara at the Strade Bianche last year and was officially unveiled ahead of the Tour of Flanders. The aluminium Domane 2-Series machines broke cover only three months later when we visited Trek World, the firm’s in-house trade show in Frankfurt, Germany.
The IsoSpeed decoupler, essentially a pivot between the seattube and toptube which allows the two to flex independently, is at the heart of the Domane. On aluminium Domane 2-Series machines, the seattube is formed by welding two tubes together to ensure the correct balance of strength and compliance, as we outlined in our ‘first look’, but how does this affect the ride?
Aluminium has a reputation for offering a harsh ride but the Domane 2.3 did a superb job at taking the edge off the roughest roads on our regular testing loop. Trek claim the IsoSpeed decoupler offers 33mm of compliance on the upscale carbon fibre Domane frames, while the amount of ‘give’ on the aluminium version is approximately half that, owing to the different properties of carbon and aluminium. That’s not to say it’s half as good, however, and the smooth ride quality offered by the Domane 2.3 makes itself evident from the moment you swing a leg over the toptube.
The Domane was initially designed to help Cancellara bounce over the cobbles of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix but the benefits of the IsoSpeed decoupler is just as keenly felt on rough roads with unbroken tarmac and potholes – and there’s no shortage of either in the UK. IsoSpeed decoupler aside, the Domane 2.3 has all the hallmarks of a sportive bike, with a taller-than-average front end and lengthened wheelbase, but crucially, Trek call it an ‘endurance bike’. That’s a key distinction, in that the Domane 2.3 shakes off the abuse offered by the road, with the worst of the sting soaked up by the frame, not your body – and that’s particularly evident in the latter stages of a long ride. The fall back is that the bike can feel a little isolated from the road, but that’s a price worth paying if your goal is to ride long miles in comfort.
The IsoSpeed decoupler isn’t alone in taking rough roads to task. The IsoSpeed fork has slim, carbon fibre fork blades with a generous sweep and dropouts which kick back and all that serves to improve ride quality. Otherwise, one particularly interesting feature worth highlighting is the hidden mudguard mounts, which mean the Domane 2.3 can be equipped with proper ‘guards – a real boon for year-round riding in the UK.
The geometry, meanwhile, is based around a longer wheelbase (1008.cm on our size 56cm test machine), shorter effective toptube (55.4cm) and taller headtube (17.5cm), than Trek’s regular H2 geometry, found on the Madone, and that makes for a slightly more upright riding position, again marking the Domane 2.3 as an ‘endurance’ bike for big rides. It also effects the handling, with the Domane a sure-footed, stable and relaxed machine to ride. Crucially, however, the Domane’s geometry remains compact enough to kick the pace along and it’s not as extreme as other bikes in the ‘endurance’ (or sportive) category, with a size 56cm Specialized Roubaix having a lengthier still 19cm headtube.
The Domane is built from Trek’s 200 Series Alpha aluminium and the frame does a good job at transferring power on the pedals, helped by a wide BB86.5 PressFit bottom bracket, with little sense of valuable torque being lost through the frame. The Bontrager wheels, however, are heavier than most, particularly when combined with the 25mm Bontrager R1 tyres, and the high rolling weight means the Domane 2.3 takes a little encouragement to get up to speed. Once there, it cruises comfortably, but, as with many machines at this price point, the biggest performance gains are to be made from swapping in lighter, more agile wheels. I use a set of Pro-Lite Bracciano wheels as my benchmark hoops for their low weight (sub-1500g) and affordability (£349.99) and they immediately added more zing and climbing prowess to the Domane 2.3.
The stock Bontrager wheels are bombproof, however, and undoubtedly help Trek keep the headline price down. Otherwise, the spec is good, with shifting and braking taken care of by components from Shimano’s ever-reliable 105 groupset. It’s a group we hold in high regard thanks to its unflappable performance and keen price. The chainset, meanwhile, is a non-series Shimano offering which proved stiff enough through our test, while the cassette is a Shimano Tiagra affair. The combination of a compact chainset and 12-30t cassette ensures there’s a wide spread of gears for climbing and tackling a hilly sportive.
Up front, we were impressed by the the chunky, aluminium Bontrager Race handlebar (wrapped in thick ‘bar tape), which has a compact shape well-suited to riding on the drops for long periods, while there’s also a aluminium Bontrager Race Lite stem. Trek’s in-house componentry brand also provides the Affinity 1 saddle, which has more padding than what we’re used to seeing, but it proved comfortable for this reviewer. It’s worth noting, however, that the white saddle quickly discoloured over the course of our test, while the graphics had also began to fade. That aside, the saddle is attached to a carbon fibre Bontrager seatpost.
All that makes for a competitive specification – but the frame takes centre stage and the IsoSpeed decoupler is innovative and effective in delivering a super-smooth and comfortable ride. The Domane 2.3 sits at a competitive price point and Trek should be applauded in bringing the Domane 2-Series to market so soon after the flagship 6-Series, making the same technology available at a more realistic price. Crucially, it works, and the Trek Domane 2.3 is an ideal machine for logging long miles, year-round and in comfort, without breaking the bank.
Sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60