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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


Domane Four and a Half, three rides in

With new saddle installed

I still can’t tell how fast I’m going, because my CycleMeter app keeps borking out with the phone’s battery at about 43%, but although it was a bit cold today, I felt a bit better.

I actually planned my whole week around going for a ride today because the weather forecast indicated two (!) whole rain-free days in a row. I hoped this would culminate in dryer roads, but I’ve had that thought before. A key difference today was a new saddle. I didn’t actually object too much to the Affinity 2 saddle supplied with the bike, but I ordered a Fizik Aliante in day-glo orange and black, hoping it would be a better match on the bike. (What I’m looking for is an excuse to put on orange bar tape at some point.) And, yes, that’s “glo”, not “goo”, autocorrect, you bastard.

I was hoping to get out of work at three, home in half an hour, and then out at the warmest point of the day, a couple of hours before sunset. But then an Al-Qaeda operative arranged a 1-day visit to school this Friday and the usual sense of tense panic descended. One upshot was that my Mrs was called into a meeting at three o’clock, so her meeting with the AQ op could be micromanaged. Bum. So we end up getting home 50 minutes later than planned, the sun’s already low in the sky, the temperature is dropping, ad I’m scrabbling around for my cycling gear.

Anyway, the roads were mostly dry. There were just three or four spots where water runoff covered the entire width of the road, but I felt much more confident on the slick 25mm tyres. I’m five rides in to what I’m calling pre-season training, but I did feel better today, maybe a mile per hour faster than I was at the weekend.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. I remain too heavy by far, but on those hills, those horrible hills in the final mile or so, I’m finding that I can sustain the spinning of the pedals and keep gliding up. Yes, it hurts a bit, but it doesn’t ever get to a stage where it’s unbearable. I can stay in the gear and the bike keeps moving. It’s hard to explain. On the old bike, when I felt this bad, the bike itself would start to feel bad, and I’d struggle to keep turning the pedals. On this bike, not so much. It’s a subtle difference, but I dare to hope that when I’m a few more rides in and it’s not so cold, I’ll start to feel great.

Not so sure about the saddle, though. It’s designed for the less flexible man, the “bull” as Fizik call them, but I’m borderline bull at best. It felt okay to begin with, but in the last mile or so started to feel a bit firm. But that’s just one ride, I do need to get used to it.

As to the iPhone battery, it was interesting to scroll through the diagnostic file that I’ve now sent on to the developer. It went, in 30 seconds, from 43% to 0%. And then, when I plugged it in again at home, it started back up again and immediately showed 39%, bang, like that. At this stage I don’t know if it’s a problem with the app (which worked perfectly before iOS 7), the operating system, or my phone, which is, what, just over a year old, but has only been showing battery issues since iOS 7.

First ride, oh my


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.

Comfort Me


I haven’t ridden it yet, it’s locked away awaiting the opportunity and the weather. Today could almost have been it, the first ride, the weather was (relatively) glorious, and it wasn’t a late meeting at work, but we had to go to bloody Milton Keynes to take yet another bloody clock back because it had a scratch on the case. So that was that.

It’s all about the comfort, this time. I loved my Trek 1.2, it was a great way of getting back into road biking, but it was never as comfortable to ride as my old (steel) Raleigh touring bike, the one I had in the 80s. So I’ve spent the last three years or so dealing with a series of niggles, many of them documented here. The pedal and shoe combinations, the minute adjustments to cleats and saddle, the gloves and helmets. For a man of my age, size, and weight, the 1.2 was a little too sporty.

Last year, the longest ride I managed was about 2 hours, and even then I had to get off about 90 minutes in to rest my feet from the screaming pain. And then I had to get off again five minutes later, and 10 minutes after that, limping home, eventually, a broken man. That prompted my most recent shoe purchase, the Bontrager Multisport, of which more below.

So I’ve been day dreaming about the Trek Domane 4 series since I saw the first reviews of it last year. I went into the Trek Store in Milton Keynes a couple of times, and also went down to Trek World at Silverstone, where I saw the 2014 colourways for the first time. I ran through a couple of Project One builds using the online tool, and chopped and changed components and tried different paint jobs.

All along, I was thinking of the Domane 4.3, which has Shimano 105 components and a 30-tooth bottom gear on the rear cassette (that’s around 30.5 gear inches, fact fans – and shorter is easier). This was very important to me, because I really struggled in the Vosges mountains last summer, trying to get up big climbs on my 1.2 with what I thought was a 28-tooth (32.7 inch) gear, but which turned out to be a 26 (35.3 inches!). No wonder I couldn’t get more than halfway up the Ballon d’Alsace.

But then I saw the 2014 colour of the Domane 4.5, and fell in love. The black/orange combination looks superb, better than anything I came up with on Project One, and it still came out cheaper. It has mostly Shimano Ultegra, but only comes with a 28-tooth (32.7 inch) bottom gear. What to do?

I did some reading, and realised that you can get an Ultegra 11-32 cassette, if you also change the rear derailleur for a longer cage version. It’s all very technical, but it essentially meant I could ask in the shop for the swap (at a little extra cost) and end up with a (drum roll) 28.7-inch bottom gear. This is a gear I’ll probably never have to use around Buckingham, but next time I attempt the Ballon d’Alsace, or the road up to Fresse and down into Plancher Bas, I will be equipped.

The Domane is supposedly built for comfort, with it’s bump-smoothing frame, and 25mm tyres, but I also took the precaution of upgrading the handlebar to the (basic) Isozone model, which features built-in padding to alleviate road buzz. And I’ve gone even further. They’re actually discontinued (about to be replaced with something else) but Bontrager make a heat-mouldable insole for their shoes, so you can have a footbed that conforms to the actual shape of your feet. Given that my oddly-shaped feet are such a problem, I’ve installed those in my Multisports (the Trek store had a few left).

There’s more. I’ve also ordered a Fizik Aliante Versus saddle (in limited edition black and orange, natch), which is designed for what Fizik call “Bulls” – the less flexible man. I’m actually more of a Chameleon, I think (I can bend further than the Bull diagram on the Fizik web site), but I’m not getting any younger, and it was quite a lot cheaper than the Chameleon version. So that’s another bit of extra comfort.

All of which is yet to be tested, adjusted, tweaked, and tested again. But watch this space.