Smooth operator: Trek Domane SLR 9 eTap review

Trek has simplified its endurance frame and put it on a diet for a more enjoyable ride. 

Photo: William Tracy

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When VeloNews made the third generation Trek Domane its 2019 bike of the year, it was because the endurance model delivered speed, comfort, versatility, and integration with a purpose.

In 2022, with the release of a brand new fourth-generation Domane, all those things still hold true — but now it’s even lighter and faster.

Also read: Trek releases significantly lighter Domane SL and SLR

What is the Domane all about?

The Domane is Trek’s endurance bike developed originally to tackle the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. To do that, Trek developed a technology called IsoSpeed which decouples the top tube from the seat tube, building flex into the frame for a more comfortable ride without making the bike feel like a wet noodle. Trek has also always included large tire clearance for an additional comfort benefit. 

With room for 38c tires, the Domane is truly versatile. Shown here with 32mm tires. 

And in an era where the adjective “versatile” gets thrown around readily, the Domane is truly a versatile machine thanks to 38c tire clearance. It’s about 90 percent of the way to being a gravel bike, only lacking a handful more millimeters of clearance for chunkier tires for harder routes. Hidden fender mounts and hidden storage inside the downtube, as well as the addition of top tube bag mounts, only add to this bike’s ability to adapt to whatever is needed.

The Domane now has fixed IsoSpeed instead of adjustable. 

The Domane also features an endurance geometry that puts riders in a more upright position for all-day comfort. 

Also read: Canyon unveils 5th generation Ultimate road bike

What’s changed

Everything you need to know about the fourth generation Domane is in this full rundown, but broadly the SL and SLR models have three changes.

The most significant is an update to that IsoSpeed technology at the core of the Domane’s identity. Last time around, Trek had made this adjustable. But upon realizing that most people set the decoupler and forget it, the brand decided to set the IsoSpeed permanently fixed at the most compliant setting and remove the adjustability, saving a significant chunk of grams — on the order of several hundred — from the frame. Trek has also dropped the front IsoSpeed, noting that it had become superfluous with the performance of wide tubeless tires.

Thanks to specification changes, the high-end SLR version drops another 400 grams from the entire build, bringing the savings to a significant 700 grams. The bike didn’t feel particularly weighed down last time around, but low weight was definitely something it didn’t compete on with other endurance models on the market. 

Secondly, the aero Kammtail tube shapes introduced in the previous generation have been further refined providing an additional aero advantage on a bike that already felt fast.

A new integrated cockpit makes for a cleaner, more aero look.

And third, there is a new integrated cockpit that makes for tidier cable routing through the headtube while maintaining ease of access to cables for maintenance. 

The test bike

I had the opportunity to put some miles in on the top-end SLR 9 eTap model, which comes equipped with SRAM Red eTap.

Price as tested: $13,199

Weight (Size 54 without pedals or bottle cages): 7.8kg (17.20 lbs)

Specification: SRAM Red eTap AXS (46/33T chainrings, 10-33T cassette); Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 wheels; 32mm Bontrager R3 tires; Bontrager Verse Pro saddle; Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF handlebar

The ride

The Domane already excelled in its previous iteration, if our praise for the third generation model wasn’t clear enough. Now it has taken another measurable step forward by maintaining the features that made it great while improving those couple of key areas of weight and speed.

Sure, you could argue that Trek has gone forward by simply removing a feature it once touted, adjustable IsoSpeed, and that’s certainly not wrong. But it’s a change that results in the same compliance as before while addressing one of the few downsides of the frame: weight.

The Domane now has top tube storage.

The SLR version is down an impressive 700 grams (1.5 pounds) over the last generation, and it makes a difference on climbs as well as how responsive the bike feels. All those extra grams were holding the Domane back. 

And while the generation four Domane doesn’t rank among the liveliest of bikes — most endurance bikes would be hard pressed to —  it’s not sluggish either. Stocking lightweight Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 wheels, a favorite of mine, also helps keep the bike light and contributes to quicker acceleration.

The Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 wheels are a great lightweight option that still remains quite fast.

However, its overall weight could still be a turn-off for some riders who are not interested in spending over $13,000 on a bike that doesn’t crack 17 pounds. If you’re riding climbs all day, that’s a valid concern. For most other people who tackle shorter climbs and rolling terrain mixed in with flats, the weight is less noticeable and the comfort benefits and smooth ride will likely outweigh any concerns. 

Smooth operator

Born on the cobbles of northern France and Flanders, IsoSpeed continues to be more than at home taking on local potholes. I certainly looked like an idiot weaving around back country roads to hit every single road imperfection in my path, even veering into the rumble strip on the shoulder at times, but in the absence of cobbles, I had to get a feel for just how well this bike handles rough terrain: extremely well.

A close-up look at rear IsoSpeed. A plastic cover slots into place to hide the bolts.

The tubeless 32mm tires and IsoSpeed team up for a one-two punch that both minimizes the buzz from road vibrations and also takes the edge off of large hits from potholes. Running about 50/52 PSI front/rear for my 150-pound frame helped me take full advantage of the 32mm Bontrager R3 tires that come stock on the bike.

The level of smoothness on the Domane continues to impress, creating an experience akin to being chauffeured around in a luxury sedan. It absorbs all road vibrations, operates quietly, and accelerates on flats deceptively quickly. Building on that comparison, will it be as nimble as a sports car? Not quite. But it’s still plenty fast, fun to drive, and excels at what it sets out to do. 

Downtube storage remains on the new Domane. 

I will be in for a rude awakening after returning to a road bike without IsoSpeed and now seemingly small 28mm tires. The Domane creates a tangible change in your riding habits after a while. It absorbs all the minor road bumps and imperfections that you might ordinarily try to avoid, allowing you to just ride through anything. It’s a little like going from a gravel bike to a mountain bike with suspension — it changes the things you need to be concerned about rolling over on the road. Large potholes you will of course still feel with the Domane, but the total effect from the road is largely muted. 

Increased confidence

That smoothness has another important benefit beyond speed: confidence. 

Descending on the Domane brought about a heightened feeling of security and stability on the road. It picks up speed deceptively quickly thanks in part to those Kammtail aero improvements mentioned earlier. But once at speed, especially on descents, it is so stable and rolls so smoothly that you end up not feeling like you’re going fast at all, even when you’ve just about spun out the drivetrain. Road imperfections tend to get amplified at speed. The Domane simply renders those imperfections null.

The Domane is now on its fourth iteration. 

Another testament to this bike’s aero prowess was my ability to roll away on a descent from a friend weighing 30 pounds more than me. Granted he didn’t have aero wheels — the Aeolus RSL 37 aero wheels certainly help — but still, the Domane is quick.

But maybe most impressive is that Trek has built this all into a bike that looks great. The overall look is even cleaner than before thanks to the integrated cockpit, making an already attractive bike even more so. You’ll have no qualms pulling this out of the shed day after day.

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