Dawes is a mainstream British brand, specialist subject being steel-framed bikes — so that’s what we’ve got here topped off with Shimano Claris groupset
And now for something completely different. Unlike the aluminium frames that dominate this point in the market, the Dawes Clubman is a steel-framed bike.
The wonder of steel, certainly compared to aluminium, is its forgiving ride quality. The downside is that it has a heavier weight to strength ratio, so it needs some clever building and manipulation to avoid being a heifer. But with Dawes enjoying an illustrious history with its steel Galaxy touring bikes, the Clubman should be in safe hands.
The Clubman’s frame is built from double-butted Reynolds 520 steel tubes and follows a fairly traditional frame shape — the top tube isn’t plum level, but it’s very close. There are some attractive retro details, too, such as the white and silver bands, Dawes laurel wreath decals, and some little embossed stars around the bottle cage mounts. But even with a carbon fork and the fine build, it’s still the heaviest bike on test by more than a kilogram, weighing in at 11.2kg for a 57cm frame.
Ready to rumble
Thankfully that weigh deficit is offset by the Clubman’s supremely plush ride experience. Compared with the typical aluminium road bike, the Clubman is more forgiving over usual road surfaces and brushes aside anything up to moderate rumbles.
Things change a bit with big hits, where the Clubman appears to crash almost as readily as aluminium frames, but even here the sensation that actually reaches the rider is dampened somewhat.
Control is a fraction less direct than aluminum rivals. The Clubman swoops and dives through corners, rather than darting from apex to apex. So in some ways it doesn’t offer the instant gratification of other racier bikes, but it does feel like a far more grown-up machine.
Bringing a well-made mass-produced steel frame to market isn’t a cheap option, so there are other negatives. For example, to hit the budget Dawes has had to really attack the spec sheet. Surprisingly it’s the entry-level Shimano Claris gears that let the side down most. We were always quite keen on Claris’s immediate forefather, 2300, which was a tad unrefined but worked effectively. With the benefit of trickle-down technology the operation should have improved further, but Claris feels rather clunky.
The Clubman does come with a shiny FSA Tempo triple chainset, though, giving you a wide range of gearing options and once you find the right ratio and settle into a nice rhythm, climbing can be a very relaxing affair.
Elsewhere on the Clubman it’s a case of strength over svelteness. The stem and bars are both substantial items that inspire confidence. Meanwhile, the Tektro brakes have some of the chunkiest calipers we’ve ever seen and no doubt add to the total mass. But to give them their due, they stop the Clubman reasonably surely. And the wheels are heavy but strong, too.
To say it’s a case of style over substance would be incredibly unfair because that Reynolds frame behaves as beautifully as it looks. However, rather than paying for some instant gratification, this bike is a long-term investment in your cycling future.
The Clubman is more suited to riders wanting a lifetime of long-distance adventures rather than quick thrills. Compromises have been made to meet the price point, but that steel frame is worth it.