It seems most fitting to kick things off with the bike brand best known inside these shores.
Dawes has been making its Galaxy tourer for many, many years and it has become legendary among the British touring crowd. Galaxys older than me are still reliably toured to this day. This version, the Galaxy Ultra, is the best-specced model available and, at £1,800, it’s cheaper than the closest priced competitor in this test by a few hundred pounds.
Slowly evolving over the years, the 2012 models are a big departure in terms of geometry from Galaxys of the past – the second generation sloping top tube models show that, despite traditionalists gasping in horror at a redesign in recent years, Dawes is sticking with it. Good feedback from customers and dealers has given Dawes the confidence to continue in the same vein. With extra sizes added this year, there should be a Galaxy available for every rider.
Present and correct
Looking at the bike, I have to say Dawes has done a nice job. From afar, the paint job is very smart. Decals and finish all correct and proper. A modern twist on a classic machine. Up close the Dawes continues to impress. The build looks solid with neat welds and a sturdy rack. Unloaded with panniers and luggage though, the Ultra does look a little ungainly. The skinny tubing exaggerates this slightly and the sloping top tube doesn’t help.
This isn’t a bike made to ride unloaded, though, so I’m happy to let this go. Racked up and ready to ride, it certainly looks the part.
Although I like the aesthetics of the bike, they’re meaningless if the ride doesn’t match up. So I was very excited to get out on my first ride on such a well-regarded machine. After starting with some easy commuting, which flew by very comfortably, I loaded up the Galaxy Ultra for a long weekend of touring. With bulging panniers and a tent attached, the Ultra was certainly taking the strain with ease. I set off for a very long day in the saddle and paid close attention to the ride.
All in all, I have to say the Dawes impressed. Firstly, it’s a very comfortable machine. The 853 steel is both light and stiff, while easily retaining the shock-absorbing properties that I’ve come to really love with steel frames. With an easily adjustable stem, it’s possible to change the height of your bars if you fancy getting a little bit more upright for the day.
Alternatively, you can lower your riding position to increase your speed. It’s actually a good, fun ride too. When fully loaded, there was a slight wobble as I climbed out of the saddle, but considering the amount of weight I was carrying, I wasn’t too worried.
My main gripe with the Galaxy comes with the choice of groupset used for the bike. On the face of it, it's Shimano Tiagra. Not a bad choice, I admit, but when you look closer it's a bit of a mismatch of components; a personal bugbear of mine. An upgraded 105 rear derailleur is a bonus, but matched with a Tiagra front mech and a downgraded crank, it's all a bit messy. Groupsets are designed to work as a group (funnily enough) and when you split them up to save money, sometimes you lose a bit of performance. Changing gear under stress, which can happen a lot when you're riding fully laden up a hill, it was a little noisy and slightly clunky. It worked - don't get me wrong - but it was by no means instant and it wasn't in any way a svelte pleasure. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh, though. When compared with the Koga's full Deore XT groupset, and the Thorn's Rohloff hub, the Dawes' gears were never going to win on performance alone. But when price is considered too, the Dawes is both a real steal and a worthy continuation of a British touring tradition.