A racy ride with sensible geometry, we tested the latest offering from Dolan

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 8

Dolan Ares SL

Pros:

  • Clean lines
  • Racy ride
  • Sensible geometry
  • Great value for money

Cons:

  • If you want aero, look elsewhere

Product:

Dolan Ares SL

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£2,849.99

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it might be a good maxim for Dolan’s Ares. The Ares SL is the same bike that the UCI Continental An Post-Sean Kelly team rode in 2011 and 2012 — a bike that proved to be unbreakable even under Niko Eeckhout, the former Belgium champion who was nicknamed ‘Rambo’ — albeit with a few tweaks and a fair bit of weight shaved off.

Value

We were incredibly impressed when we tested the green-
liveried An Post bike at the time. It was a genuine pro bike, right up there in performance with the team machines from the big brands — but at a fraction of the price. Three years on, will the updated Ares SL still offer the same unbeatable combination of high speed and low spend?

Frame

The Ares SL is lighter than the original Ares by 110g, and is now electronic groupset-ready. It also has a BB30 shell and tapered headset. The carbon used is a combination of 30-40 ton and 50 ton. There is higher rated carbon around, but this is as stiff as you will ever want or need. Besides, the Ares SL, despite having lost 110g, is still over the kilo mark (1.2kg claimed) meaning wall thicknesses can be more substantial than those of the current silly-light frames in the pro peloton — resulting in a tough frame.

The one-piece moulded fork is a claimed 50 per cent stiffer and 40g lighter than the previous version.

Dolan has gone for an oversized 31.6mm seatpost — arguably too stiff for many frames, but that is the right choice for one as compact as this where there could be a foot or more between the top of the saddle and the top tube.

The finish is good, with a now almost retro-looking 3K-carbon weave alongside the lustrous red and white paint.

Superb performance from the Chorus brakes

Superb performance from the Chorus brakes

Specification

This special edition Dolan Ares SL comes with the new Campagnolo Chorus groupset, but you can build your own bike as you so wish through the Dolan website.

We don’t have the space for a full review of the new Chorus groupset here, but suffice to say it is a massive improvement. The new chainset with its four-arm spider is the most noticeable upgrade visually. It’s difficult for ordinary mortals to detect increased stiffness in what was already a stiff chainset, but what Campagnolo has done with the shifting is unmissable. There’s a new snappiness at the paddle — it even sounds louder — that moves the chain to a larger sprocket with a new speed and accuracy. The Chorus skeleton brakes are feather light and frighteningly powerful paired with the aluminium braking surface of the Bullet wheels. As for the wheels themselves, perhaps the decals are a little shouty but then the new Bullets are worth shouting about. Interestingly they don’t have the fat rim profiles of the latest generation of aero wheels. You’d have to do an independent wind tunnel test to definitively say whether they were slower or faster, but what’s for sure is that they screamed around our regular test loops, both in terms of the noise they make and the speed at which they travel.

Revised four-arm crank is stiffer

Revised four-arm crank is stiffer

Riding

It was pure joy to jump on the Ares SL after a winter of plugging away on a low-end aluminium mudguard bike. The Ares SL — as a good carbon frame should do — accelerates with ease, feels beautifully light, in touch with the road and has a taut springiness that cushions the contact points from lumps in the road, in a way metal frames don’t. Having said that, the Ares doesn’t have the plushness of some of the current pro frames and with this spec on deep-section wheels, it’s built more for speed than comfort. It sounds like an oxymoron but hard efforts are more comfortable than sitting up and twiddling.

The geometry is exactly right — the head angle is half a degree slacker than the seat angle to give predictable high-speed handling and stability.

Verdict

In an era when new models tend to rely on headline-grabbing gimmicks — generally related to aerodynamics or weight — the Ares is all straight lines. And in terms of its performance it plays it straight, too. There are no nasty surprises or quirks. Terry Dolan, who built Chris Boardman’s early time trial frames and is now probably best known for his track frames, has a vast amount of experience. Even though the Ares, like virtually all carbon frames, is built in the Far East, with Dolan you sense you’re in good hands. If you don’t want a race bike from one of the big American brands and would rather go for one from an authentic British name with racing pedigree, then Dolan is it, and the Ares is the bike. And as before, it’s very competitively priced.

Details

Tested by:Simon Smythe
Miles ridden :256
Value :9/10
Frame :8/10
Specification :7/10
Ride :8/10
Frame :30-40t and 50t carbon
Fork :One-piece carbon
Size range :44-56cm
Size tested :52cm
Weight :7.3kg / 16.1lb
Groupset :Campagnolo Chorus
Alterations :None
Gear ratios :11-27 cassette, 50/34 chainset
Wheels :Campagnolo Bullet CULT Ultra (80mm rear/50mm front)
Tyres :Schwalbe One 23c
Bar :Deda Zero 100
Stem :Deda Zero 100
Seatpost :Dolan Ares 31.6mm
Saddle :Selle Italia Flite
Distributor :www.dolan-bikes.com
  • Gordon

    Regardless of where it’s made and assembled, I’ve just up graded my Dolan Ares to this new model. Along with Dura ace electronic. By far one of the nicest handling road bikes I’ve ridden on in years. Cornering was superb. Did some sprint intervals on it and I loved the feel and response.

    Nice go Dolan’s,

  • mac

    Many, many people ride British, Italian, French, Belgian and German bikes and are very, very happy with them. So why does the author single out “American brands” as if they were some kind of default choice?

  • Tony Short

    This is a frame made in the Far East built with an Italian group and wheelset. The American and Canadian manufacturers which dominate the market make bikes using a similar formula but they substitute Japanese Shimano (or sometimes SRAM) so to describe any of them as British or American is a bit of a misnomer. I would contend that Aero is a fad that makes very little difference to the average rider and indeed can lend a worse riding experience to those of us not interested in shaving a few seconds off our best race time, so to knock points off the Ares for this seems mean spirited, particularly when it’s not being tested against supposedly aero bikes and any notional advantage they might have can’t be measured. Having not ridden the Dolan I can’t give an opinion on the ride but it’s a stunning looking bike to my mind with a great spec and if I was buying without the benefit of test ride, I’d pick it over any Trek/Specialized/Giant all day long.

  • nortonpdj

    My point is this. You wrote “This article is utter rubbish. Why on earth would anyone want an American bike?”
    I am asking what you mean by an American bike and pointing out that many people seem to be very happy with “American branded” bikes.

  • mac

    What does it matter whether America refers to USA or Canada? This is a review of a British bike in a British magazine. So I don’t really know what your point is.

  • nortonpdj

    Maybe I have misunderstood your comment. What is meant by an American bike? What is wrong with Specialized models such as Tarmac, Venge and Roubaix enjoyed by millions? If American means the continent of America, i.e. including Canada, then Cannondale (Canadian owned, bikes made in Taiwan) would qualify, and a lot of people enjoy riding the CAAD series and Synapse models. I would contend that these models are not junk, but not really American either. EvenTrek products (despite their association with LA) such as Madone Domane and Emonda are not without merit. But are they American?
    In summary, what is your point?
    As for the Dolan, it’s probably a very good bike, but I can’t say I like how it looks…

  • Smack Gurn

    Not sure I can agree with the detraction regarding its lack of aero-ness…if the aerodynamic drag coefficient is mostly determined by the rider, then surely the stack and reach values are more important (to determine an optimal riding position)? And to boot this bike has very aerodynamically efficient wheels. I’m not sure how this alone could have detracted 2 stars; there must be another reason

  • mac

    “If you don’t want a race bike from one of
    the big American brands and would rather go for one from an authentic
    British name with racing pedigree, then Dolan is it, and the Ares is
    the bike.”

    This article is utter rubbish. Why on earth would anyone want an American bike? And why does a fantastic bike like the Dolan Ares SL get 8/10, while every piece of overpriced US junk that is reviewed get 9/10 or 10/10?