With a good frameset and reasonable components the Specialized Dolce is a great ride for the money, making it an ideal bike for women new to road cycling.
Only eight speed (16 gears in total)
Wide gaps in gear changes
Some low-spec components
With bike prices spiralling up and over the £10k mark, it can feel as though you're priced out of the market before you've even taken a pedal stroke. However, there are still great bikes to be had at the opposite end of the scale, and the Specialized Dolce is one such option.
Aimed at female riders new to the road or those wanting an to add an all-rounder road bike to their existing stable, this sub-£600 machine will, according to Specialized, tick both boxes nicely.
The Dolce is constructed from A1 Premium aluminium – what Specialized calls its workhorse material – and indeed the 6061 aluminium does have a great track record in bike fabrication, offering a reasonable stiffness/weight for cost, as well as enabling frame designers to create specific tubing profiles to further enhance the ride feel.
In the case of the Dolce, this is in the kinked seatstays, which Specialized says helps increase compliance and reduce direct-line shock, and although any decent modern 6061 aluminum frame will be a million miles away from teeth-rattling alloy frames of old, Specialized has teamed it with a FACT (Functional Advance Carbon Technology) carbon fork with Zertz inserts to further reduce shock transmission to the rider.
Specialized's vibration-damping viscoelastic polymer insert, Zertz, has been around for at least a decade and while we can't categorically prove that it's wholly responsible for a reduction in road buzz, it's generally agreed that bikes with a Zertz insert or two offer a comfortable ride.
With all this built-in compliance, you may well have already guessed that the Dolce is part of Specialized's endurance line of bikes, which also tend to have a higher front end, slacker head tube and longer rake than the race models.
At this end of the market, low cost can sometimes prohibit good looks and finer details, so hats off to Specialized for giving the Dolce a champagne look on a lemonade budget with a classy and subtle paint job, mudguard/rack mounts and elements of internal cabling.
For the price of the Specialized Dolce it's great to see it equipped with Shimano Claris STI (Shimano Total Integration) levers as well as front and rear derailleurs, and although is limited to eight-speed (16 gears in total) the gearing ratios that it comes equipped with should mean you'll be able to get up most hills but will find with some rather large gaps in the cassette – meaning you may not always find your optimal gear-cadence partnership.
Video: Shimano Claris groupset review
But, as with any entry-level bike, there are always going to be compromises to be made in order to bring the bike in at a certain price point, especially at the sub-£600 mark, so unfortunately it's not Shimano Claris throughout: the rest of the groupset is made up of an FSA Gossamer Pro crankset, a reasonable swap-out, and Tektro brakes, which will stop you but would probably be on my upgrade list.
Specialized has probably made the biggest cost saving in the Axis Sport wheels and Espoir tyres, which although are both good enough to get you rolling, are nothing special, and will also be making the upgrade shortlist.
>>> Buyer's guide to road bike wheels
The Dolce is finished with an alloy seatpost, stem and a pair of women's-specific handlebars, and topped off with a Body Geometry women's Riva Sport Plus saddle.
Out on the road, it's clear Specialized has done its homework, with the built-in Dolce frame compliance managing to balance stiffness and comfort well. Although its leisure-cyclist orientation is apparent, it's far from a wallowy ride.
The Specialized Dolce frameset itself handles really well. Being stable in corners and very predictable will give its rider confidence, especially if new to road cycling.
The women's-specific alloy short-drop handlebars were useful: I personally struggled to gain sufficient braking power while riding on the hoods, but on the drops the reach to the levers was perfect to allow me to cover the brakes confidently.
I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the Tektro brakes: while they aren't as smooth as Shimano Claris and are difficult to feather, they did a good job of helping me control speed on long descents, and although I do think the bike would benefit from an upgraded pair, there isn't perhaps the urgency to do this as I first thought.
Weighing 9.55kg, it's not the lightest of bikes to get up the climbs, but the sub-compact chainrings and cassette size means you'll be able to get up even the steepest of hills. I was never left wanting for larger sprockets, but I wasn't always pedalling at the cadence I really desired.
The gaps in the eight-speed system are really noticeable on the flatter roads, giving a feeling of one sprocket up being too big, but one down too small. If you're doing mostly flat riding it might be worth considering fitting a closer-ratio cassette.
Upgrading the wheels and tyres would help shift some of the weight and would I suspect really up the Specialized Dolce frameset's riding game, but in terms of getting you going the Axis do better than expected: while they might not roll as fast as others on the market, taking it slightly slower means you can gain experience and confidence at a more comfortable pace.
The Dolce is an ideal entry-level bike, giving a new rider their first experience of the pleasure of road riding. It is in line with our belief in investing in a really good frameset as the heart of the bike.
The components that come on the Dolce are more than adequate to get you out and riding, but should you wish to invest a little more there are some really simple upgrades that would improve the ride no end.
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