Dolan Scala Ultegra time trial bike review
A good value machine that packs a lot of aero punch for the price
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The Dolan Scala is an astute choice for those looking for a first ‘serious’ time trial bike. Admittedly it’s not the most user-friendly — we’ve already talked about the TRP calipers — and it takes practice to get the rear wheel in and out of the rear-facing dropouts. However, we can forgive this because the Scala is a well-designed, good quality, versatile frame that offers plenty of scope for achieving the most comfortable and/or efficient position. And crucially, it’s fast. The Ultegra build strikes the right balance between budget and pro level so that a beginner needn’t fear being ‘over-biked’ and the more experienced rider shouldn’t feel compromised. Certainly there are time trial bikes that have completely hidden cables, integrated stems, range-topping electronic groupsets and that probably post slightly better numbers in the wind tunnel, but you need to take out a second mortgage to afford them
Brakes are fiddly
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As a general rule the drag coefficient of a time trial bike is inversely proportional to its price. In other words, the lower the drag, the higher the price. With the Dolan Scala Ultegra time trial bike, which has a RRP of just under £1,000 for the frameset, British brand Dolan is attempting to disprove the equation that has governed time trial equipment for at least the past five years.
>>> The best time trial bikes and triathlon bikes: a buyer's guide
The Scala’s carbon-fibre monocoque frame has all the attributes of the latest generation of time trial bikes, including the UCI sticker.
More upright frame members have been shown to be more aerodynamic, so the seatpost forms a right angle with the top tube while the seat tube, in the style of the original Cervélo P3, arcs forward to wrap around the rear wheel (adjusters in the track-style horizontal dropouts mean you can achieve fag-paper clearance).
There’s loads of fore-aft saddle adjustability to suit triathletes and time triallists: the Scala’s teardrop-profiled seatpost has a 9cm rail on which the seat clamp slides. This is better than a reversible seatpost, which obviously cannot be teardrop shaped.
>>> Shimano Ultegra Di2 6870 groupset
The frame is Di2 and EPS compatible, but a point to note is that our test Scala’s gear cable routing is different from that of other Scalas. The original Scala and the very latest Scala have the gear cables entering the top tube behind the stem, whereas ours are routed into the down tube. Terry Dolan explained that the factory changed the location of the gear cable stops without his authorisation, but it is now working to the original design again. Contact Dolan for more details.
Dolan’s Ultegra ‘package’ means Ultegra chainset, mechs and cassette. The aero brake levers are SRAM TT500s and the brakes are integrated TRP mini Vs.
At the front end Dolan uses a traditional stem arrangement rather than the integrated type. Although less aerodynamic, this allows for a wider range of aerobars to be used, meaning a wider range of positions. Dolan’s own Alpina bar has excellent adjustability for both extension length and armrest width.
>>> Road bike groupsets: A complete buyer’s guide (video)
The TRP concealed calipers — one under the chainstays with the other in its own housing behind the fork crown — are frankly a faff to set up. If you back off a spring tension screw too far the spring pings out and you have to take the whole brake apart to reset it. There are barrel adjusters on the cables next to the head tube, but not enough adjustment to switch between old-style narrow rims and the new generation of wider rim.
Regularly changing pads for alu or carbon braking surfaces would be very fiddly, especially as the chainset partially blocks the rear one. The calipers’ saving grace is that they provide plenty of modulation and great stopping power, and of course the point is they’re more aerodynamic than standard exposed sidepull calipers. However, they ideally need to be set up for one size and type of rim only.
>>> Road bike wheels buyer’s guide (videos)
Dolan now specs Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLS wheels instead of the Zipp 60s that our test bike came with — which in terms of RRP is an upgrade.
Time trial bikes are generally built for speed, not for comfort and the Dolan fits the mould. Its upright seatpost doesn’t flex much for bumps. Vertical compliance is pretty much dependent on how soft the saddle is and how much air you’ve put in the tyres. However, the overriding feeling is one of crispness not harshness.
On the tri-bars it feels stable thanks to the traditionally slack head angle of the TT bike, but the short wheelbase, oversized BB86 bottom bracket shell and tight rear triangle make it feel nimble and efficient.
The Scala is stiff and it’s also light for a time trial bike and the bottom line is that it’s fast. As a ‘vet’ I can’t realistically expect to get close to my PBs any more, but in the three time trials I’ve ridden on the Dolan I’ve done my year’s fastest rides for those courses, which includes both sporting and dual carriageway.
At just under £2K the Scala Ultegra offers exceptional value for money. This is a sophisticated frame with a high-end spec that you might expect to cost considerably more, especially with the Mavic wheels, which have an RRP of £850 alone.
Sir Bradley Wiggins passing his minute man
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Simon Smythe is Cycling Weekly's senior tech writer and has been in various roles at CW since 2003. His first job was as a sub editor following an MA in online journalism. In his cycling career Simon has mostly focused on time trialling with a national medal, a few open wins and his club's 30-mile record in his palmares. These days he spends most of his time testing road bikes, or on a tandem doing the school run with his younger son.
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