The Domane is Trek's version of a Sportive bike, as with the Merida previously ridden it is taller at the front, slightly longer wheelbase and is a full carbon fibre frame. This design (although a higher grade of carbon) has achieved fame By winning classic bike races such as Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen pedalled by the mighty Fabian Cancellara. So quite a pedigree.
Treks version of the Merida's Flex stay is the "iso speed" decoupler which is a small elastomer in the top tube/seat tube junction which allows the seat tube to flex and absorbing road vibration. You can't see it move when you press down on it, it's certainly no full suspension bike like an MTB. Paired with this is the carbon fork which is designed to reach forward of the front axle, to achieve this the drop outs are almost entered from the rear thus giving damping for the front end too.
There is no easy way of saying this but the Tiagra levers on the bike are awful! long and fat and they made my hands ache in a very short period of time. The rest of the (totally Tiagra) groupset was fine albeit not pretty and worked faultlessly, as did the levers, did I emphasize how awful they are to hold? The wheels have bladed spokes, were silent and flexed a lot less than those on the Merida.
First impressions of the ride were mixed. I spent a short amount of time on each bike to set them up as I like them, riding about 15 miles on each and the Trek when taken on particularly rough sections of road seemed to be a bike of two halves, the front reacting differently to the rear at times, not in a disconcerting way, just different to how my own bike or the Merida acted. Sprinting stood up out of the saddle the frame was stiff side to side, I couldn't flex it at all, all the effort was making the bike go forward.
Trying to get a similar bar height position as the Merida I dropped the stem down two spacers and 20 miles into the ride I dropped it again so it was sat at the lowest it could go, I'd have dropped it more but the FSA headset has a quite high top cap that stops a proper "slam" of the stem, maybe a different headset is needed or perhaps FSA do a less tall one? With the bars dropped the bike felt a lot better, less sit up and be and more efficient. I really didn't notice the initial disparity between the fork and the rear dampening on the ride and the fork certainly didn't flex from side to side. After the Merida the Trek felt very smooth, you can really feel the difference. The frame was absorbing the road stutter brilliantly but without it feeling disengaged from the tarmac, hard efforts were rewarded with forward progress. I didn't once feel like the flexing frame was absorbing my power, I wasn't a magic carpet ride though, hit a pot hole and you still feel it as much as you would on any other frame, it's very subtle and feels very natural, infact if you rode this frame for a long time then got straight on an alloy frame you would think the alloy one was totally alien and long for the "iso magic" One thing that did annoy me was that although you can't feel the rear flex you can certainly hear it. Climbing steep gradients out of the saddle the seat tube/top tube junction where the ISO speed thing is gave a very audible squeak, at first it thought it might be my shoes on the pedals or the drive chain so to experiment,on a flat road I stood up on the pedals and gently bounced up and down and got the same squeak, stop bouncing- no squeak. Of course once I noticed this it became very annoying, silence is golden!
Initially this ride was going to be a similar distance to the Merida test, around 50 miles but the day was so nice and the bike very comfy that I pressed on, got to 60 miles and was around 20 from home, then reached 75 miles so it would have been silly not to go for a Century, only my second 100 miler ever and I think it speaks volumes that on basically the first ride on this bike I did my best 50 mile and 100 mile time without really making an effort to do it.
Did I say how much I hate those Tiagra levers?
the Merida test can be found here the a-pic-a-ride.merida test