Twice this year, an unsolicited bike box from Trek Bikes arrived at our West Coast editorial office. The first was the 2014 Domane Classics Edition, a Wisconsin-made carbon road bike stoked to the gills with (almost) all the latest gear to set a racing cyclist’s heart aflutter: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic shifting, aggressive-positioning carbon frame, fork, and deep-section wide rims with the popular 700x25c tires. What sets it apart from the Domane 4.5 we reviewed last year is that it has a smaller, more aerodynamic head tube, one centimeter longer wheelbase and top tube, and International Cycling Union racing pedigree. This includes the 11-speed 53/39 x 11-25 drivetrain.
All that’s missing on the Classics Edition are tubular tires, an SRM power meter, a gargantuan set of lungs and slow-twitch muscles, and it’s the exact duplicate of Trek Factory Team superstar Fabian Cancellara.
The second was the 2015 Domane 6.9 Disc, a similar design platform on paper, with a taller head tube (by more than 3cm), shorter top tube but similar wheelbase to accommodate much larger tires (up to 32c), and disc brakes with thru axles front (15mm) and rear (142×12), like a mountain bike. It also has the full Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 electronic shifting drivetrain, but with a more amateur-friendly 50/34 compact crankset and 11-28 tooth, 11-speed cassette.
Why disc brakes on a high-zoot road bike? To move beyond the century-old caliper rim brakes and provide more slowing and stopping power for tired hands over the long haul in all conditions—and to shake up the staid and slow-evolving road bike market to reflect what most non racers want from a high-end machine. I dialed in my fit, mounted bottle cages and pedals, and hit the road, racking up at least a few hundred miles on similar terrain on the peninsula south of San Francisco.
At the heart of the shared Domane platform is the IsoSpeed decoupler, designed by Trek engineers to allow the seat tube to flex independently from the top-tube-to-seatstay junction. Why? Trek says it increases vertical compliance to twice that of its nearest competitor without compromising pedaling efficiency. A ride partner commented that he could see about one centimeter of movement on the Classics Edition, verifying Trek’s claim. I can vouch that it took the edge off of what normally is a rather stiff and unforgiving ride, having ridden Trek’s Series 7 Madone last year in my lead-up to L’Etape du Tour in Annecy, France.
OCLV 600 Series carbon
Trek began producing silver-brazed lugged steel bicycles in the mid 1970s, transitioning to bonded aluminum in the mid 1980s and glued carbon and aluminum in the late 1980s. In 1992 Trek engineers developed its legacy OCLV (Optimum Compaction, Low Void) carbon manufacturing process, enabling the Waterloo, Wisconsin, manufacturer to remove unwanted weight while fine-tuning the amount of carbon where needed, addressing handling and stiffness concerns for riders. While OCLV is still a continuing manufacturing process for Trek, the lion’s share of production has shifted to Asia to accommodate worldwide demand. The Domane models differ greatly from the original OCLV models, and both test bikes use 600 Series carbon for high-performance use.
Click through to see more details of each bike.
Editor’s note: This review originally appeared in Issue #30 of Bicycle Times. To make sure you never miss a bike review, order a subscription and you’ll be ready for the everyday cycling adventure.
New technology includes Trek’s exclusive net molding, a process introduced in 2007 that eliminated the need for aluminum cups in the head tube and bottom bracket shell, shedding weight and increasing stiffness where needed. In fact, Trek’s BB90 bottom bracket (90 millimeters wide, get it?) eliminates external bottom bracket cups entirely, providing a wider surface for the seat- and down-tube junction, which adds ride-tuned stiffness. Its 3S integrated chain keeper also ensures no frustrating chain drops into the expensive carbon frame.
“Areal weight” is a composite industry term for the weight of carbon material over a given area. The lighter the material, the more expertise required to work with it, and the pricier the resulting frame. Trek says it also knows when a slightly heavier material will make the best frame for the price, and the rigors of professional racing can take their toll on machine and body. In the case of the 6.9 Disc, more material is needed to accommodate the post-mount disc brakes and the extra force that’s put on the frame and fork, where the Classics Edition can go on a more pro-friendly diet. It should be noted that Trek has set a maximum rider weight limit at 275 pounds for all its carbon road bikes.
According to Trek, a bicycle fork has two competing directives: provide lateral rigidity for precise cornering, and offer vertical compliance to absorb road vibration. Trek claims its full-carbon E2 asymmetric fork and steerer tube is the first steerer specifically shaped to manage both. The fork is wider side-to-side to stiffen under cornering load, narrower front to back for comfort. These are details that when best executed make the ride disappear beneath you, where the bike doesn’t fight the forces of the road.
Trek has also refined its ride-tuned seatmast, a carbon ‘cap’ with a no-cut design to eliminate traditional seatpost clamping forces. The carbon nub at the top of the seat tube also houses the cylindrical Shimano Di2 internal battery. Recharging is done with Shimano’s USB unit, which plugs into the junction box attached to the underside of the stem. All brake and shift housing is routed internally through the frame.
I’m not a racer, so I don’t spend hours in the saddle each week with the intent of pummeling fellow 48-year-olds on the weekends. I enjoy fast, hilly fitness rides through the nearby Los Altos hills and Santa Cruz mountains, and the Classics Edition’s low-slung front end and racer-sized gearing are too aggressive for me. It certainly turned some heads in the hard-to-impress Silicon Valley rider community, but at my age I’m not looking for an ego stroke. I could certainly see someone with higher disposable income and a competitive streak choosing this model and while I enjoyed my time behind bars, the fit and price of entry made it difficult to love.
For starters, the $11,519 price tag of the Classics Edition is $1,100 more than my dream motorcycle, the Moto Guzzi V7, which could red carpet me to the ends of the earth. Would I chose the Classics Edition if I had the financial means? I support American-made products, I’m from Wisconsin, and it’s proven to be a great-handling and capable bike after nearly 500 miles of testing. At 15.10 pounds for our 60cm, it’s in the world-class thoroughbred arena.
I admit that I’m smitten with the Di2 shifting; maybe the Ultegra version—which in my opinion is best for non racers—would be better suited on the 6.9 Disc, which would help drop the price enough the waggle a carrot to the curious onlookers?
Conversely, our Asian-made 60cm 6.9 Disc weighs a titch below 17 pounds for $7,899, and provided much more versatility once the stock 25c tires were replaced with Panaracer’s 700x28c Gravelkings. The higher handlebar position felt best once I settled in the drops on longer rides, and the stable wheelbase took the edge off the rough stuff. I only suffered one pinch flat during my testing.
My only hesitation with the advanced hydraulic brakes was the extra effort needed to trim the housing once the proper fit was dialed, compared to the relative maintenance-free ease of mechanical/cable-actuated disc brakes. Bleeding hydraulic brakes is a pain, and most riders don’t have the proper tools or knowledge, which sucks when a late-night brake issue rears its ugly head, or housing suffers a tear. Other than that, I enjoyed the 6.9, and described its features to several folks, including my UPS deliver guy, himself and avid cyclist.
Technology; who needs it?
The Bicycle Times Tech Editor Eric and I discussed the inescapable rising tide of new bike technology, and while there will always be devotees to lightweight steel or titanium, it’s interesting to see the go-go gadget evolution of carbon and all it can do. I like the unlimited shaping capabilities, only if they provide a dream ride and allow me to feel somewhat fresh after a medium-distance ride.
If I was speccing a custom bike, would I choose so many carbon components like Trek has? Probably not. For the professional racing circuit it’s become standard, but only after nearly 100 years of competition. Now that the industry is playing with disc brakes and hydraulic braking on road bikes, there’ll be plenty of riders who will either embrace or rebel, but we all realize that like other industries (motorcycle, automobile, computer, smartphone), just because something’s new and expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best or right for you. Trek, it appears, is pushing the envelope because they can and have a worldwide audience to appease.
I admit that I’m smitten with the Di2 shifting; maybe the Ultegra version—which in my opinion is best for non racers—would be better suited on the 6.9 Disc, which would help drop the price enough the waggle a carrot to the curious onlookers? All nitpicking aside, it was certainly fun to zip around on my favorite roads with Formula 1-level technology, if only to dream a little.
Prices: $11,519 (Classics), $7,899 (6.9 Disc)
Weights: 15.10lbs. (Classics), 16.8lbs. (6.9 Disc)
Sizes: Classics – 54, 56, 58, 60 (tested), 62; 6.9 Disc – 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60 (tested), 62 (6.9 Disc)