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