Trek Domane SL5
Trek’s Domane SL5 is a compliant, comfy ride, and while it does sacrifice speed, if you’re not phased by that trade-off, you’ll enjoy many miles of riding in comfort on this bike.
Trek, like Specialized, eschews women-specific geometry, instead opting for a unisex fit that’s designed to better suit all riders. This may mean you’ll want to swap out the saddle but, since most riders opt to fit their preferred seat anyway, this isn’t something I’d mark a bike down for.
The Domane SL5 features a carbon frame and fork constructed from Trek’s 500-series OCLV carbon. The tapered steerer gives a responsive, stable feel. It’s not the most agile bike but the stability instils confidence, particularly on long, fast descents when it’s reassuringly predictable.
IsoSpeed is the stand-out feature of the Domane. This is essentially a polymer-based decoupler at the stem and seatpost that acts to absorb vibrations and isolate the handlebar and saddle from road chatter. The result is not only noticeable, it’s addictively good.
If you value comfort above all else, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bike as good.
A new and very welcome feature for 2020 is the in-frame storage. An internal storage compartment in the down tube, which is accessed by removing a panel that sits under the down tube bottle-cage mounts, provides enough room for storing essential bits and pieces.
Pop in your spare tubes, levers and tools and you won’t need to carry a saddle bag. Or you might want to stow an emergency set of lights just in case you get caught out.
The oversized down tube and bottom bracket area give a great feeling of power transfer when putting down some leg muscle. While this bike never feels as agile or racy as the likes of the Liv Avail and Canyon Endurace, partly because of the smoothing effects of the IsoSpeed, it’s actually got a great lick of pace and the comfort means you can keep pushing harder for longer without fatiguing.
Another great feature is the seat mast, which is integrated into the seatpost and designed to allow micro-adjustment. It’s a dream feature for anyone who needs to get their saddle height just right for comfort and performance.
Wide tyre clearance means plenty of room for chunkier tyres or muddy conditions, or for a set of mudguards for wet-weather riding.
Internal cable routing keeps the frame neat and sleek and the vibrant, colour-shifting purple paint is eye-catching.
The Domane has a huge range of sizes, from 47 up to 62, for riders of heights from 152cm (4ft 11in) up to 190cm (6ft 2in).
Shimano 105 may not be a premium groupset, but it offers very smooth, reliable shifting. The 50/34t chainrings combined with the 11-34t cassette give a wide range of gears that are both suited to and standard for endurance-focused bikes, providing good gear choices at each end of the range to master steep hills and fast sprinting.
Bontrager finishing kit includes a Comp VR-C alloy handlebar, carbon seatpost and Arvada Comp saddle with steel rails.
The Elite stem is Blendr compatible, which means it’s easy to fit a range of accessories, such as Bontrager lights and computers, GoPros or Garmins without fiddling with imperfect mounts.
Wheels are the tubeless-ready Bontrager Affinity Discs, fitted with Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite tyres in a 700 x 32c size.
One downside is that at 9.94kg for the size 54 tested, it was the heaviest bike I had on test, due in large part to the heavy budget wheels and tyres.
The Bontrager wheels weigh in at over 1,800g, while the Bontrager R1 Hard-Case tyres come in at around 410g and they are not tubeless-compatible, so there’s also an inner tube adding to the weight.
Even if you don’t want to invest in new wheels straight away, upgrading to lighter, tubeless tyres will save you a chunk of weight relatively cheaply, and make this bike a whole lot more sprightly.
When it comes to comfort, the Domane still can’t be beaten, though. Endless hours in the saddle over all types of road surface flew by and I could happily have just kept on trucking because the plush ride kept my legs feeling perky.
How we tested
This bike was tested against four other bikes that we consider to be some of the best for female riders – some unisex, some women’s specific.
On paper and based on experience, these five bikes are leading lights in their various fields – whether that’s comfort endurance, race endurance, gravel and adventure, or all-rounders – based on price and performance.
Testing took place (pre-lockdown) in the Welsh mountains, Mendip hills and on the flat and fast Somerset Levels (plus the odd gravel path and wooded singletrack).
Other bikes on test: