I’ll admit, it’s taken me awhile to get this far. But over the weekend I started a new relationship. My last one had lasted about 32 years. In fact it started right after college. And boy was she a beaut. She’s been with me to Lake George multiple times and we’ve seen a lot of local back roads and other locations. She’s been mostly faithful. A few times there have been breakdowns and I can say we’ve had a few flat times along the way. But, it was fun. But it was time to move on. Things had changed. And she was developing rust spots and the years were showing. And honestly as, much as I enjoyed her, there were quirks along the way.
I’ll still keep her in the garage and go out with her from time to time, probably in the winter months, but my new one is so much better.
This weekend I went down to New Jersey to pick up my new friend. It was the closet place I could find the perfect match. And trust me I had looked closer. I look forward to years of adventures and trips with my new friend.
Randi drove down with me to keep me company. She was definitely behind me in this endeavor. She knows how much I enjoyed spending time with my last one and how much I’ll spend time with my new one.
Oh wait, you do realize I’m talking about my bicycle right? Seriously, the comment about rust spots should have been the giveaway!
Ok, enough of being coy and all that. Now the details.
The 520 and earlier
After college my mom had bought me a Trek 520 as a graduation gift. I’ve always loved bike riding and this was an upgrade and a replacement from an earlier, used bicycle I had gotten in high school. That one was lovely, but by the time I had acquired it was well over a decade old and was showing its age. It failed me in a dramatic fashion as somehow the front fork collapsed into the wheel somersaulting me over the handlebars. I suspect somehow the front axle had come loose, I had hit a bump, the frame and forks went up, the tired didn’t, and when the fork came back down went in between the forks. The details don’t really matter other than the fact I woke up to seeing a CDTA bus coming towards me. My first thoughts were “why is there a CDTA bus coming at me? Why am I laying on the road? Wasn’t I napping and about to bike to the rockclimbing cliffs?” Needless to say I didn’t make the cliffs that day. I did make it ou to lunch with my aunt a few days later who did let me know my swollen lower lip did make me look like a duck. Thanks Aunt Miki.
I will add a serious note here. I had not ridden that bike for a few weeks because my helmet had been locked on campus at RPI and I had just gotten it back the day before. I shudder to think what would have happened had I NOT had a helmet on that day. I very clearly had hit the pavement with the front of my head. I had been a huge proponent of helmets before than and am an even bigger one now. I firmly believe it saved me from serious head trauma.
Anyway, later that summer I received my new bike. A Trek 520. It was almost ideal. I saw almost. It was great for road-biking and I could take it on dirt roads without too much concern. It rode well. It was fitted with a rear-rack which I’ve used for various panniers over the years. I’ve been 1000s of miles on that bike. During the pandemic I managed to do 100 days in a row with at least 5 miles a day (except one when a damaged tire ended my ride at about 2 miles) and most days more and even did a Century Ride that summer. My first in about 35 years.
I don’t know how many tubes I’ve replaced or how many times I’ve replaced the tires, or how many water bottles I’ve gone through, but the bike as served me well. I even put enough miles on it I had to replace the middle ring up front as well as the rear cassette.
I would probably have kept riding the 520 into the sunset, but it is starting to develop some rust issues and the back axle really needs replacing and probably the tires and well at some point I decided it was time for a new bike.
Now that said, one thing that I enjoy about biking is when things all click and one simply becomes “one with the machine.” Any bicyclist will know this feeling. You and the bike are one. It responds to your every move and it’s smooth and the wheels spinning are simply an extension of your legs and your muscles. It’s honestly a beautiful moment. It doesn’t happen every ride or even the entire length of the ride, but when it does, you feel like you can ride forever.
But it was time. Time to shop around. I had actually started in 2021 but due to the pandemic finding anything was hard. Combine that with my absolute hate of shopping for stuff like this slowed me down. I did stop at the same bike shop I had bought my 520 at years ago. They didn’t have the model I was looking for and honestly, the owner’s attitude sort of turned me off. He seemed disinterested in my search and really seemed like I was bothering him. I’ve since talked to another avid biker who lives right near the shop and he says he’s felt the same way, to the point where he won’t shop there.
Anyway, I finally had narrowed it down to a Domane 2 AL last year. But every place said “oh we’re not taking delivery until 2022 at the earliest” and without the ability to actually try one I wasn’t going to put a deposit down. About 2 months ago though I started looking in earnest. I made one mistake in my search: I started at Google for a place to shop. The closest was a place in Maryland, High Mountain Sports. They didn’t have the disc brake version in stock, but after exchanging a few emails I decided I’d stop by on my way back from the NCRC weeklong in southern Virginia. It was about 2 hours out of my way, but I figured I had to at last try the fit. It was pretty good. It convinced me the Domane was probably the bike for me. I did end up buying a helmet there. I had wanted to get a new one for awhile and figured if I couldn’t buy a bike that day, I should at least give them some business. I would recommend them if you’re in the area however (and the Deep Creek Lake area is beautiful). And the drive through the mountains was worth it.
It wasn’t until a week later when I was home I realized that the Trek website itself had a search feature for its dealers! This is where I should have started instead of Google (hence my mistake above.) I also spoke further with some biking friends and decided perhaps it was worth going all the way up to the 5 model. It has better components and 11 gears on the rear cassette giving a wide range of speeds.
Well thanks to the Trek site, I found a dealer nearby that claimed to have one in stock in the color and size I wanted. I emailed them and heard back: “Sorry, we literally just sold that the other day, we just haven’t cleared it from the system yet.” I expanded my search but nothing close by had it in stock. Finally I found Bicycle Tech in New Jersey had it. A series of emails back and forth and I planned my trip for Sunday. My concern of course was either they’d sell it in the meantime or that I’d end up hating it. Well let me cut to the chase and say it was worth the 2.5 hour drive in each direction. Turns out they sell ONLY Trek bikes, have a huge inventory in stock (in fact their showroom was packed with unpacked bicycles!) And their service and attitude was exceptional. Very friendly and helpful. It was worth it. Close to 2 hours later (after they did a final tuning before handing it off to me and jumping my car battery, which is another story) I was on my way home.
The Domane 5 AL and Thoughts
I took it out for a ride that afternoon when I got home.
Now, that said, how do I like it?
Well I still need to get a rear rack for it (one of the few items Bicycle Tech didn’t have in stock) and move over my bike computer or get a new one.
And the geometry is definitely different. It’s a slightly shorter wheelbase from what I can tell and as a result it’s what I’ve been describing as twitchy. By that I mean it feels like any slight twitch of my arms will cause it to turn. I’m a bit afraid if I take one arm off the handlebars and am turning may find myself having the front wheel snap to far in the direction of the turn. But I’m very confident as my muscle memory for this bike develops that will stop being a concern. And I think once a get a new front back (or for now move the old one over, it’s only about 40 years old!) this will add a bit of inertia which will help resist the twitch.
I had been concerned that going from a 3-7 setup for gear to a 2-11 I’d lose the advantage of the “granny” gear” but in my two rides so far, I’m finding I really prefer the 2-11 setup. There’s definitely enough range that hill-climbing is if anything easier and there’s less hunting for the right combination of gears. Already I find myself shifting a bit more often (which in this case is a good thing) to stay at the cadence and effort I prefer.
I also find given the slightly different geometry, I’m riding with my hands on the brifters and forward part of the handlebars a bit more than I did on the 520. On the 520 I was generally riding on the cross-bar section of the handlebars. So in theory I’m in a better position and a slightly more aerodynamic one. And I find it comfortable except for one important detail I’m going to have to work on. I’m finding that even after about 5 miles, the palms of my hands are very sore, almost like I’m pinching a nerve. I’m working on hand position to solve this but it will take some work. It’s really the only concern I have in terms of fit. If I can’t solve this, I may have issues. But I’m confident I can. My 2nd ride was more comfortable than the first, despite it being about a mile longer.
And the brifters. Yes, that’s apparently the right word. They are a combination brake and shifter mechanism. I’ll admit, I’m worried about servicing these in the future, but for now they’re pretty good. Basically, in the standard riding position, I can brake and shift all without moving my hand. It’s taking some getting used to, especially remembering which way to shift to increase or decrease the gear ratio but it’s quickly becoming a very natural motion. I think I’ll come to love these.
The disc brakes. These are taking some getting used to and I’m still breaking in the brakes. But I can get an idea of exactly their stopping power. This is generally a good thing. But I will have to keep an eye, especially on a wet ride, that I don’t suddenly lock up the front brake and find myself doing a somersault over the handlebars.
Overall, I think I’ve found a great new partner for my longer rides. But I’l be keeping the 520 around for a few more years for those messy days or for nostalgia’s sake. You don’t just forget a partner like that.