Since its debut back in 2012 the Domane has been a bike that’s always impressed us. The groundbreaking Isospeed ‘decoupler’ at the back-end effectively created a pivot sitting just in front of the junction between seat and top tube. This allowed the carbon seat tube (with a proprietary layup) to flex fore-and-aft, giving a soft tail feel that squashed jarring bumps and road vibrations better than anything we’d experienced before. It was so impressive that recently retired Trek riding legend Fabian Cancellara made it his bike of choice in every event (not just the cobbled classics).
Last season Trek introduced the new SLR, which combined the Isospeed back end with a new front end using similar tech called the Front Isospeed — another decoupler.
Inside the teardrop shaped cover you’ll find the familiar teardrop shaped fork steerer, which Trek has used for years across its carbon road machines. The striking difference is that although the fork is locked in on the headset's lower crown-bearing in the traditional manner, up top the bearing assembly of the headset is allowed some free-float, which gives a claimed 10 percent increase in compliance over the old Domane design. Contrary to what you might think, the front end feels as fast and sharp steering as ever and with no discernible loss of stiffness where you wouldn’t want it.
Trek bolsters front end compliance with the use of the Isocore bar design with its integrated elastomer pads on the sections you grip, which reduce high-frequency vibrations to an absolute minimum. The steering response is fast, race bike fast, so if you're coming from a more relaxed sportive special you’ll need to adjust to the snap of the SL, but believe me it's worth it for the nimble and rewarding ride.
The SL differs from the SLR is one big way however, the rear design is the original Isospeed (nothing wrong with that), whereas the SLR gets the long sliding adjuster, which runs the length of the seat tube and has a slightly revised pivot point.
The slider is a neat piece of design, but I found that once I’d set it I rarely ever thought of going back to it, with the SL set just right out of the box I’d find it hard to justify the extra £1,100 for the equivalent SLR model just for the inclusion of an adjuster.
The minute you get on the Domane you can sense it's something different. It's not soft and squishy as you’d imagine, it all at once feels light, impressively smooth and fluid. On ‘normal’ roads the Domane feels well… normal, albeit as if you're riding a light, racy machine that’s running bigger tyres than even the 28s fitted (but with no loss of pick up from extra mass).
When climbing, the comfort afforded by the design combined with the low mass and wide gearing makes it very, very capable. On descents the Isospeed on the front and rear come into their own, when ruts and bumps get more aggressive and choppy — to the point where you’d be hitting the brakes on a standard carbon frame — the Domane comes into its own, and the faster you hit the rough the better the system works. Depending on your outlook, this is where decisions are made between buying a Domane, a new Roubaix (which is more active more of the time) or similar bikes like Focus’ Paralane and BMC’s Roadmachine, which rely on the carbon chassis and big rubber to do their comfort duties.
Bontrager, Trek's in house range of components, now has a line-up that’s as good as any aftermarket parts brand.The Speedstop brakes' cool industrial looking design and direct mount attachment that sits within the frame's profile are all impressive, and while in the past I haven’t been massively impressed with their performance on carbon rims (though they’ve improved since ditching cork pads), here they use quality SwissStop pads on aluminium rims and they’re damn powerful.
Shimano may still have the edge in amount of feel through the levers' progression, but the Speedstops do feel a bit more on-off in comparison. I became accustomed to the feel, and the wet weather performance was truly impressive, while their solid construction means judder-free stopping power to boot.
The Bontrager Race wheels may sit at the lower end of the range, but the shallow and wide rim profile is good and the bearings are smooth. The wheels are tubeless ready too so are future-proof.
The fat 28c tyres are shaped well by the rims and after using them in both dry and very wet conditions I'm completely sold on the fat rubber argument, these don’t feel any slower than 25s (remember when we all thought they were on the big side) yet the levels of control and grip, not to mention comfort from them, is all of the convincing I need.
Shimano’s ever dependable and impressive Ultegra takes care of shifting and it's just as good as ever, and good to see on the SL6 where we are seeing some of its rivals switching to 105. Ultegra is all the groupset most of us will ever need and its reputation for slick, long lasting performance is well earned.
Overall, the new SL Domane is one of 2017’s best rides for the money, On normal roads it's sublimely smooth without being boring and on the downs the combination of the compliance in the frame design and those tyres gives the Domane limpet like levels of traction and even the roughest rutted corners can be attacked with confidence without unsettling the double Isospeed tech.
Yes you could argue that discs are the future, but if you're still not sold on metal discs for stopping duties then I implore you to be open minded about suspension on a road bike because the Domane is proof that comfort and speed needn’t be mutually exclusive. The Domane is a fast and thrilling bike that just happens to be one of the most comfortable I’ve ever tried too.