Thoughts on the Domane 4.5 (cycling bores only)


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In thinking about my feeble legs and slow pace, I’ve neglected to discuss the actual bike, and how I’m getting on with it. It has only been in the last few weeks that I’ve spent serious amounts of time on it.

It was after struggling up these hills on my old bike that I determined that, if I were able, I would get myself a new one for this year. 

Weight

We won’t dwell much on the weight. A lighter carbon frame and lighter race wheels mean that this bike is lighter than the old one, but the rider isn’t. Suffice it to say that in spite of being much lighter, it doesn’t feel skittish or vulnerable to being blown off course by head- or crosswinds.

Comfort

My feet are much more comfortable now, in the wide-fitting shoes and with the Time pedals and cleats. I’ve also suffered much less from back pain since I adjusted my riding style. Even my hip isn’t giving me much gyp, so the whole experience of riding has improved since the bike fitting. My biggest problem now is with my hands, which is largely down to gripping too tight around the hoods and not being relaxed enough in my riding posture. If I could achieve a relaxed style, I would probably fix any lingering back problems, too. I’ve noticed that gloves that are too loose get really uncomfortable on longer, sweatier rides, so I’ve a pair that will be relegated to lawnmower duty or the bin.

In terms of the clever design of the Trek’s frame, and its ability to absorb bumps in the road, it’s one of those things you have to force yourself to notice. You really do only feel the very biggest bumps in your backside (inadvertent potholes, manhole covers etc), and the rest of the time it feels very smooth. It struck me today as I descended a fairly bumpy road that the bike feels much more secure in situations like this, feeling planted on the road surface rather than jittering all over the place. I’m sure I hit at least one bump, hidden in the dappled light of the woods, that would have seen me flying into a ditch on the old bike, but the Domane stayed planted on the road.

Brakes

Fantastic. Whenever I’ve needed them, they’ve been there, predictable, progressive, and assured. When I’m on the drops, I do find it a bit of a stretch to reach the levers, though.

Gears

Shimano Ultegra has been a revelation to me. If you’ve been asking yourself if the extra money is worth it, I can assure you that it is. Even after several months, even with me in charge of them, the gear changes remain smooth and undramatic, achieved with a bare tap on the shifter. Because of my well documented feet problems, I’ve adopted a high-cadence riding style, and I like to keep my legs spinning, without feeling like I’m putting undue pressure on the pedals. The Ultegra shifting means you can go up one and down one all day long without breaking rhythm and without fear. My previous bike had Tiagra, so I’ve entirely skipped the rite-de-passage of Shimano 105 in favour of the next grade up, so I don’t know how Ultegra compares to the more common 105, but I don’t really care. If you can afford it, go for Ultegra.

Saddle

Charge Spoon saddle remains in place, and I’m generally happy with it. I’d love to try something fancy like a Brooks Cambium, but I’ve no real complaints about the Spoon, which looks especially good on my bike (see above).

Bars

I paid extra for the slightly padded Race Lite Isozone bar, and with the fairly padded bar tape, you could probably quite happily ride this bike without padded gloves. On the other hand, as I mentioned above, my hands are now the main source of pain, due to my tense grip. I probably don’t move around the bars as much as I used to, because I’m conscious of not wanting to adopt a more upright position, lest it gets my back hurting again.

Wheels

I’ve only experienced cheaper, heavier entry-level wheels and these Race ones. Bontrager obviously have several ranges above these (Race Lite, Race X Lite etc). The bog standard Race seem okay. As with the saddle, I’d love to experiment with some of the much vaunted light ones, like the Bontrager Aeolus 5, which is supposedly their best climbing wheel, but I don’t have a spare £2000 right now. So I’ll stick with these. I can’t imagine spending as much again on wheels as the bike cost, unless I win the lotto.

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First ride, oh my

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It was just for six miles, and it was wet, and cold, and fairly horrible, but I did want to try my new Domane 4.5, or four-and-a-half, as I like to call it.

I’d been at work all day, and the weather had been fine. I mean, a little windy, but sunny, which meant (I thought) that the roads had a decent chance of being fairly dry – notwithstanding the amount of rain we’ve been having, and the saturated ground. Because of all the rain, I think there is actually a little less mud on the road than might be usual, simply because it keeps getting washed away.

Or maybe I was kidding myself.

Anyway, sixteen miles away, back home, and the weather had been entirely different, although I didn’t know that when I set out. It looked the same, in the sky.

There was some housekeeping to do first. The seat post was a little loose, so I tightened that. A little nervous about that, because now I’ve got a carbon frame, I’m worried that every nut I tighten will shatter the material.

I eyeballed the set up of the bike: the height of the saddle seems about right in comparison with my old bike, that position having been arrived at after much trial and error. I attached my excellent QuadLock iPhone holder, ready to record this historic first ride for posterity in Cycle Meter. I slid my mini pump into my back pocket, and dressed in my winter kit. No headphones because I wanted to hear the bike as I changed gear etc.

So, a short ride, at the end of a working day, on horrible wet roads. Had I but known, it had been hailing just before I arrived home, so the road was soaked: lots of puddles, and my new machine got splashed and muddy.

Is it lighter?

Well, yes. Noticeably lighter than my aluminium-framed 1.2. The wheels are lighter, as is the frame. It’s about 2kg lighter all-round, but of course, the biggest weight on the bike, as ever, is on the saddle. So I wouldn’t say the whole package was noticeably easier to move. The bike felt light and sure-footed underneath me, but I was much more aware of my own mass being a drag on progress. One side effect of a carbon frame, I immediately find, is that you just notice where the weight is: in this case, obviously from the 11-speed cassette at the rear. You begin to understand how one might become obsessive about shaving grams: a few here, a few there. But there’s no getting away from the 90kg lump riding it, and the message, as always, is that a couple of kilos off the belly is worth another £1000 or so.

Is it more comfortable?

Yes. Of course you’re still going to notice actual pot-holes, but the rippled and rough surface of a general road, especially country lanes, was much less intrusive. The bike felt stable, and I wasn’t really aware of any flexing, and my hands and arms were not rattled to pieces. How much of the benefit was down to frame and how much to the air cushioning offered by an extra 2mm in the diameter of the tyres, I don’t know. Even the Affinity 2 saddle (which is earmarked to be changed) wasn’t too bad. I did get a bit of back ache, but that is mostly down to a winter’s inactivity, I think. There may be some tweaks necessary in saddle position and my posture. From what I’ve read, I admit I was expecting to feel I was in a much more upright position due to the higher headset, but it’s a matter of millimetres, a subtle difference only. It may pay off on longer rides, but even six miles after so much nothing was going to hurt a bit.

What about the gears?

Shimano Ultegra is just below Dura Ace in the hierarchy, and just above 105. In terms of manual shifting, it’s a level off what the pros have, but (give or take electronic shifters) broadly equivalent to a professional’s drive train of a couple of years ago, due to the way the technology trickles down from year-to-year. Now, I’ve been used to Shimano Sora and Tiagra components, and I’ve skipped the rite-of-passage represented by the “fairly decent” 105 option. I have to say, the shifting was a revelation to me. So little clunk, so much less effort required to shift a gear, and so quiet! Even front shifting, jumping from 50 to 34 and back, is accomplished with a simple burr-thwick sound. And the rear shifting is just a simple click, achieved with a flick of the thumb or fingers. It’s so easy that when I pushed the shifter as hard as I used to on my 1.2, I think I shifted about seven gears in one go. I almost feel guilty, as in not-worthy, to have such good gears. A bigger worry is that these high-end components are going to need the kind of TLC that I’m too lazy to give.

Handlebar? Wheels?

I upgraded from the standard bar to an IsoZone model, the cheaper of the two available (Race Lite). It has a couple of pads on it. The bar tape is fairly cushioned, and I was wearing winter gloves. I can’t say the bar caused any discomfort. I actually hate wearing winter gloves, and I do usually suffer some palm discomfort in them, but not on this first ride. So a qualified thumbs up to that. The Bontrager Race wheels are a step up from the stock standard wheels on my 1.2, but I don’t think I’m in the kind of league where I could feel a difference.

Was it faster?

It felt a bit faster, though I’m so out of condition, I’m hardly going very fast this early in the season. I had to exercise caution on the wet roads, too, so I don’t think I was going particularly quick, even for me. Unfortunately, my phone decided to go completely flat instead of recording my ride, so I’ve no idea of the actual speed. When I set out, it was on 60%, but it collapsed and died within minutes of launching CycleMeter.

Another reason to hate iOS 7, I think.

More bike bore stuff to come.