10th November 2010 Words: Matt Lamy
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Can there be anything that stirs the soul of a British touring person more than unpacking a bike box and finding a fresh Dawes Galaxy, finished in British Racing Green, lurking within?
Now before we go any further, let me declare a personal interest: the bike that took me on that voyage across France was a Dawes Galaxy. I have kept it for 17 years, and even though it’s now a tad short in the reach, I doubt I will ever part with it.
I also doubt my story is unique. For almost 40 years the Dawes Galaxy has been the first choice for anybody requiring an off-the-peg, long-distance, weight-carrying bicycle. So it seems only right that a 2010 model should be the first bike we test here; this will be the bike that the others are judged by. And in my eyes the current Galaxy also has to prove itself against something else: its early-Nineties forefather.
Not losing its looks
Thankfully, the new Galaxy is still a handsome beast, although the huge stack of polished spacers on top of the already long head tube looks slightly like overkill. The frame is made from excellent Reynolds 631 steel tubing, but unlike the other bikes in this test, for some reason my test sample didn’t proudly sport the Reynolds sticker. And while the frame is made mostly of round tubes, the oversize down tube has an ovalised profile.
Aside from the standard touring bike spec, Dawes has fitted a good quality Tubus rear rack and a useful set of Wellgo clipless pedals. These accept Shimano SPD cleats on one side and are standard flat pedals on the other, and while they won’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, they are a welcome component nevertheless.
With these under foot it was easy to clip-in, sit on, and get pedalling. A satisfying new-bike ping emanated from the rear mech as I switched cogs and moved smoothly onwards. From the off you can’t fail to notice how plush the Galaxy is.
The large volume tyres and steel frame combine to take the edge off road bumps, and the Shimano components never miss a beat. The chunky saddle may look a little odd compared to more sporty perches, but it felt just fine.
For people that only ride road bikes and are used to integrated brake-cum-gear levers, bar-end shifters might seem like a step backwards, but they are extremely easy to use and — more importantly — simple to fix and maintain.
The right lever that controls the rear derailleur is indexed — ie, it clicks between gears — while the left operates the front mech but is not indexed, so you decide exactly where you want it placed. It’s nowhere near as tricky as it sounds and it makes for silky gear changes. The other great thing about bar-end gear levers is they instantly confirm you are on a genuine touring bike.
Raising the bar
The aspects I most love and hate about my Nineties Galaxy are its stem and handlebars. While the vintage quill stem is now too short for me and is outmoded technology, the swirling inscription on my old standard issue randonneur bars gave the bike a really regal air.
Thankfully Dawes has put a modern threadless-type stem in place of the quill, although it’s a pretty lacklustre affair that wraps over the (sadly now plain non-branded) bars using an ultra-sparse two-bolt faceplate.
In practice this set-up doesn’t work particularly well. Despite tightening the faceplate bolts to a pretty reasonable torque I gradually found my top half sinking lower towards the ground. Either the bars were twisting or I was shrinking. It took a fair yank on the Allen key — far more than should be necessary — to get the bars to stay put.
While that is a disappointment, it is also something that can be easily and cheaply rectified. Trust me, even the most cack-handed person can fit a new stem.
That minor gripe aside, the Galaxy is everything I expected it to be. It handles beautifully, it makes pedalling a pleasure and it has an understated classiness. If you’re spending all day in the saddle, this ain’t a bad place to be.
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