Best Value "Utility" Bike?
Just to share some thoughts on a Trek Domane AL2 Generation 3 which was bought earlier this year (needless to say this piece is unpaid and has zero connection to Trek). The bike has been used for both road and light gravel riding and was primarily bought as a cheap option to travel with and leave overseas.
Given the price, versatility and the bulletproof build we think this might just be the best pound-for-pound winter, gravel or commute bike or one to travel with that you don’t want to worry about overly.
Clearly the bike is equipped for the entry level price point but unless you’re obsessed about bike weight then for a lot of purposes it actually does a great job. The bike comes with the Shimano Claris 8 speed groupset with mechanical disc brakes. Nowadays it might sound like a bit of a shock to the system to have only 8 gears and certainly there are some sizeable jumps in gear ratio but otherwise the groupset just does what you need it to do and the gear range of 50x11 to 34x32 gives a lot of flexibility. The mechanical braking is still more powerful that even the best rim brakes and the fact that it uses cables rather than hydraulic fluid makes for easier maintenance, tweaks and repairs should that be needed. If desired, a future upgrade of a £500 105 Groupset and some faster wheels for another £200+ would elevate the bike for many years of happy riding. The bike is obviously supplied with the bars set high on the steerer tube but “slamming the stem” (not as extreme as on a lot of bikes) makes for a faster while still comfortable fit.
The wheels helpfully have relatively wide 21mm rims and come equipped with heavy, semi-slick Bontrager Hard Case 32mm tyres. These can however easily be switched out for gravel tyres, we easily managed to fit to 35mm Vittoria Terra Dry tyres which cost £40 for the pair which are a great compromise for roads and light to medium gravel. 38mm tyres may well be an option as well, there is more space for the front than rear tyre if you want to maximise tyre width. The rims are tubeless ready if that’s your preference.
The wide tyre clearance on what is essentially a comfortable road bike may well be the single most attractive feature of the Domane and unless you’re really pushing things it’s questionable how much practical difference there is between this bike and the cheapest Trek Checkpoint gravel specific bike which costs £1700 (or the entry level Canyon Grizl at RRP £1700 or Orbea Terra RRP £2200). The endurance geometry of the frame means that it’s stable and comfortable on both surfaces.
The aluminium frame and paintwork is surprisingly attractive and until you get really close up the frame has the look of a much more expensive carbon model. The handlebars, carbon fork and saddle all just do the job and are the same as is specced on bikes in the range costing up to £2000.
The bike has the usual bosses for two water bottles but also has bosses on top tube for a bento box and at bottom bracket for an extra drink or tool container meaning that it’s also suitable for bikepacking or touring. Though we haven’t fitted them the bikes can also easily fit mudguards (though this will reduce maximum tyre size you could use at the same time).
The real kicker on this bike, if you can source one in your size, is the price. As at November 2023 we found some Gen 3 models online at £675 versus their original RRP of £975 and compared to the £1050 of the 2023 model (“Gen 4”), which appears to be almost identical. If you can’t find your size at a discount it’s very likely the Gen 4 bikes will be reduced to some extent soon.
If you’re in the market for a bike like this it’s hard to see how you’ll be disappointed and indeed you might find it steals your heart and makes a bit of a mockery of bikes costing maybe 4 times more!