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Verdict: 
Entry-level price, top-level performance
Weight: 
8,560g
Contact: 
Dolan L'Etape 105
8 10

For a – relatively speaking – piffling £950, the Dolan L'Etape 105 is a full carbon fibre road bike with a full Shimano 105 groupset that offers excellent road manners and sporty handling. If you really crave a carbon fibre bike but don't want to spend a fortune, this is one of the best affordable carbon bikes you are likely to find anywhere.

Terry Dolan has pedigree. He began his own bike business a couple of decades ago and has established it as a trusted brand with many amateur racers. He's notable for making some of Chris Boardman's early race bikes. These days, Dolan produces a wide range of road bikes and the L'Etape is the most affordable carbon offering.

> Buy this online here

You won't find many cheaper carbon road bikes as well specced as this. Carbon bike prices have tumbled over the last couple of decades, going from a super-exotic Space Age material to being just about everywhere you look in the cycle industry. The L'Etape isn't really competing against other carbon bikes at £950, it's competing against aluminium bikes because they make up the majority of bikes at this price point.

There's no suggestion that the performance offered by the L'Etape isn't anything but first rate, and no feeling that you're making a big compromise in choosing carbon over the more common aluminium frames at this price. We've always said aluminium offers better value for money than carbon, simply because there's more money tied up in the carbon frame, which is more expensive to produce.

Dolan L Etape - riding 2.jpg

Dolan L Etape - riding 2.jpg

The Dolan is one of the rare exceptions to this rule. In fact, it's £50 cheaper than the similarly specced Canyon Endurace AL 6.0 with an aluminium frame, Shimano 105 parts and Mavic Aksium wheels, which gives an indication of how aggressive Dolan is being with this model.

But is the ride any good? Oh yes. It's sprightly and energetic, with a really good turn of pace when you apply the power. Steering is well balanced with enough stability to make descending at speed a joyous experience. It's comfortable, too, it adequately irons out all but the roughest roads. Though not the lightest bike in the world, it's not going to massively hold you back on the climbs and the compact ratio chainset helps when the gradient kicks up.

Frame and geometry

Rather confusingly, the Dolan is named after the iconic L'Etape du Tour, the annual cyclosportive that replicates a stage of the Tour de France on closed roads, but the geometry isn't what you'd expect of a modern bike built for comfort and distance.

There are just four sizes and the geometry on the 52cm bike tested measures up with a 570mm top tube and 165mm head tube. Those are the sort of numbers you expect to find on a race bike, not a bike with a name that suggests it is intended for riding long distances in relative comfort.

Dolan L Etape.jpg

Dolan L Etape.jpg

That's not exactly a criticism of the bike, just of its potentially misleading model name. I felt right at home on the bike, though I am quite used to low-slung race bikes. I loved the turn of speed the Dolan was able to produce, surprising considering the highish weight and low price. If you're fine with this sort of race-style geometry, you and the L'Etape will get on like a house on fire. Just don't say I didn't warn you if you expected a short and high position.

Dolan L Etape - riding 3.jpg

Dolan L Etape - riding 3.jpg

While heavy, it's actually light for the money. At 8.56kg (18.87lb) it is lighter than the similarly priced Mango Bikes Point RLapierre Audacio 200, and the Ribble Sportive Racing Special Edition

> Great road bikes for under £1,000

The latter is the only other carbon bike we've tested at this price point, but the Dolan is the better-specced bike, with a Shimano 105 chainset and brake callipers and lighter Mavic Aksium One wheels – though the Mavic wheels are a £50 upgrade over the standard Shimano RS10 wheels, so you can save yourself a bit of wonga if you wanted even more of a bargain.

Dolan L Etape - rim.jpg

Dolan L Etape - rim.jpg

Those small changes make a substantial difference; the Shimano brakes are much more confidence-inspiring than Ribble's own-brand brakes, and the lighter wheels go a long way to injecting a bit more va va voom into the ride.

Dolan L Etape - front brake.jpg

Dolan L Etape - front brake.jpg

It may not be a cutting-edge carbon fibre frame but there are all the modern details you'd expect much higher up the sliding scale of price. Cables are fully internally routed, producing clean lines, and there was no rattling to detect from the cables inside the frame. Contributing to the sharp and responsive ride is the tapered head tube with a large 1 1/2in lower bearing. The fork isn't full carbon fibre – the steerer tube is aluminium – but the only real negative is the increased weight.

The spec

As mentioned, the Dolan comes with a full, no shortcuts, Shimano 105 mechanical groupset. I'm repeating oft-used phrases here, but the shifting performance is excellent with light gear shifts and quiet operation. The brakes are solid and reliable. You can choose between a racy 53/39-tooth chainset or a compact 50/34-tooth version when you buy the bike, which is a really nice touch. If you're buying this bike to do L'Etape and other sportives, trust me, buy the compact.

Dolan L Etape - crank.jpg

Dolan L Etape - crank.jpg

Also customisable is the stem length and handlebar width, a level of detail not often offered on bikes from bigger brands that you more commonly find in your local bike shop. The Deda aluminium stem and handlebar went about their business with no fuss or drama. It's smart looking equipment, a step above the usual own-brand kit commonly found at this price.

Dolan L Etape - bars.jpg

Dolan L Etape - bars.jpg

The seatpost is an Alpina aluminium item with a simple two-bolt cradle that is easy to adjust. Topping it is a Selle Italia X1 saddle. Now, everyone has their own preference when it comes to saddle shapes, but I'll openly admit the X1 isn't a saddle I really get on with. You might be just fine on it.

Dolan L Etape - saddle and post.jpg

Dolan L Etape - saddle and post.jpg

I've already mentioned the Mavic Aksium One wheels are lighter than the wheels specced on the similarly priced Ribble. At 1,825g they're not superlight but they're well below the 2kg marker, and what they lack in zipp and fizz they make up for in reliability and durability. You can batter these wheels along the most rutted roads and they just shrug it all off.

Dolan L Etape - tyre.jpg

Dolan L Etape - tyre.jpg

Wrapping the aluminium rims are Continental Ultra Sport II tyres in a 25mm width. The German tyre brand has a fabulous reputation for producing high-quality tyres, and this is a very popular option on low-cost bicycles. It's not a light tyre, with a steel bead contributing to the higher weight compared with a folding bead version. Continental's own PureGrip rubber compound provides good traction in the dry and wet, and they feel secure when you push the bike fast through the turns. What they lack is the puncture resistance of Continental's more expensive tyres, and I did suffer a few flats while riding in good weather.

> Read our guide to the best road cycling tyres

One of the key attractions of buying a Dolan – besides the fact that you're getting a cracking bargain – is that you can customise the build to your exact specifications. The cheapest L'Etape starts life at £899 with the same specification as the test bike bar the cheaper Shimano RS10 wheels, but you can change any part and upgrade to an Ultegra Di2 groupset, Mavic Cosmic Carbone wheels and lighter Deda or Pro finishing kit. There's also a choice of frame colours, and you can choose the colour of the bar tape.

Dolan L Etape - bar and shifter.jpg

Dolan L Etape - bar and shifter.jpg

Should you buy the Dolan L'Etape? If you really crave a carbon fibre road bike but don't want to spend more than a grand, this is a commendable choice. Better yet, it doesn't ask that you take any massive compromises, with a full Shimano 105 groupset, a thoroughly decent ride and performance of a level I would expect on a much more expensive bike. I'm impressed.

Verdict

Entry-level price, top-level performance

road.cc test report

Make and model: Dolan L'Etape 105

Size tested: 52cm

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

Frame: Dolan l'Étape Carbon Road Frame.

Fork: Dolan Carbon Road fork 1 1/8 Top - 1/2 Bottom Int, Carbon Fibre Blades, Alluminium Steering Column.

Seat Post: Alpina Aluminium, 27.2mm.

Headset: FSA 1 1/8 Top - 1/2 Bottom Integral.

Colour:Yellow/White/Black or Blue/White/Black.

Front Mech Clamp: Braze On.

Seat Clamp: Alpina - Alloy - Black, 31.9.

Weight: 1.20kg (48cm).

Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

From Dolan: The New Dolan l'Étape, with 4 frame sizes available from 44cm (Small) - 56cm (XL) makes the l'Étape very versatile. The lightweight, responsive and very comfortable l'Étape is the ideal weapon of choice in a variety of riding disciplines from general riding to road racing. The l'Étape carbon road frame is also designed with internal cable routing and is compatible with Di2 and EPS groupsets.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

Very high quality for the price.

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

Full carbon fibre frame with a carbon fork and aluminium steerer tube.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

It's akin to a race bike and four sizes does limit your chances of getting a good fit, but you can customise the stem length to suit.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

I found it a good fit, but then I do prefer a low-slung race bike.

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

Impressively comfortable. It's not the most cushioned ride but it's not at all harsh. The 25mm tyres, even though they are steel beaded and heavy, provided a bit more squish.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

It certainly doesn't lack stiffness when you demand it.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

Very efficiently.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?

None.

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

Very agile and responsive with good high-speed stability.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

I'd change the saddle, but that's personal preference.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?

The parts package came together really well, I thought.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

I'd change to some lighter and more puncture resistant tyres.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
7/10
Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for climbing:
 
6/10

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for durability:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the wheels for value:
 
8/10
Rate the tyres for performance:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for durability:
 
6/10
Rate the tyres for weight:
 
6/10
Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the tyres for value:
 
7/10

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
7/10
Rate the controls for value:
 
7/10

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes

Would you consider buying the bike? Maybe

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Probably

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
8/10

Use this box to explain your score

We usually advocate aluminium at this price point, but the Dolan proves you can get a decent carbon bike for a very reasonable price. It's a great upgrade or first road bike.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 31  Height: 180cm  Weight: 67kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking

David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.

15 comments

Avatar
Vejnemojnen [240 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

a missed opportunity imho.

 

with a better balanced geometry (ie.: 565 mm top tube with 180-185mm head tube, which is quite comfortable, not stretched out, but neither reminiscent of a hollandrad) and a carbon fork steerer, it would be a perfect bike for the price.

 

with these geometry datas, it is just near perfection. but pretty damn close. 

Avatar
drosco [263 posts] 5 months ago
2 likes

Fantastic looking bike for the money. Realistically, carbon frame, 105 group and Mavic wheels are as much bike as most of us will ever need.   

Avatar
Chris James [438 posts] 5 months ago
3 likes
Vejnemojnen wrote:

with a better balanced geometry (ie.: 565 mm top tube with 180-185mm head tube, which is quite comfortable, not stretched out, but neither reminiscent of a hollandrad) and a carbon fork steerer, it would be a perfect bike for the price.

There are loads of bikes around with massive head tubes. You can always run a couple of spacers under the stem if the head tube is a little short, but you are fairly stuffed with a high front end as even negative rise stems and a slammed stem won't get you that low.

My 57cm top tube bikes have approximately 155cm head tubes (actually one with an external headset has a 128mm head tube but 57mm drop brakes, so is probably lower again).

185mm would be a very tall head tube as far as I am concerned - the Dolan sounds like a normal bike geometry to me.

 

Avatar
Bobley [1 post] 5 months ago
1 like

The 44cm version makes a great little youth racer. We picked up the frameset in a deal for £199. We used 1 x 10 Shimano 105 5700 mech and shifters except for FSA SLK crank and brakes, Stans Alpha 340 wheels and finished it with a set of cut price Giant carbon 36cm bars and a old selle ti saddle. The whole bike weighed in at 6.8kg and then we found a second hand carbon steerer fork for a tenner on ebay which brought it down to 6.5kg. I reckon that lot cost about a grand too.

It's not the stiffest bottom end ever but for kids racing it was perfect.

Avatar
TeamPi [5 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

A friend of mine bought one of these in the sale before Christmas. It had full ultegra, Askium wheelset and custom fit at the Dolan factory for £1049. They even excepted cycle to work so he managed to get bargain of the year.

Avatar
Vejnemojnen [240 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
Chris James wrote:
Vejnemojnen wrote:

with a better balanced geometry (ie.: 565 mm top tube with 180-185mm head tube, which is quite comfortable, not stretched out, but neither reminiscent of a hollandrad) and a carbon fork steerer, it would be a perfect bike for the price.

There are loads of bikes around with massive head tubes. You can always run a couple of spacers under the stem if the head tube is a little short, but you are fairly stuffed with a high front end as even negative rise stems and a slammed stem won't get you that low.

My 57cm top tube bikes have approximately 155cm head tubes (actually one with an external headset has a 128mm head tube but 57mm drop brakes, so is probably lower again).

185mm would be a very tall head tube as far as I am concerned - the Dolan sounds like a normal bike geometry to me.

 

 

your call. A supersix has 175mm head tube for 575mm tt, with a huge conical top cap, which makes the tube around 190mm long. 

 

wilier gtr sl bikes also feature 185mm head tubes for 570mm top tubes,.

 

these allow a recreational rider to run without spacers or even with 17degree stem. 

 

but 155 woudl be way to low. unless you are practicing yoga regularly.

 

oh, btw, I did not jump on the opportunity to make jokes about the 155cm (not mm, cm) head tube  1 so i wasted this post as well.

 

just check the geometry table of cannondale supersix, specialized allez, cervelo r3, scott cr1 and several other bikes.

 

you will find that this bike's geometry is a bit old school, which, of course can be counterbalanced via spacers, but that just looks a bit weird  1

Avatar
Chris James [438 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
Vejnemojnen wrote:

oh, btw, I did not jump on the opportunity to make jokes about the 155cm (not mm, cm) head tube  1 so i wasted this post as well.

I'm glad you didn't decide to make a point about the cm typo, as that might make you look a bit pedantic.

In any case, my point was that there were plenty of bikes with tall head tubes available, so saying that this bike is a bit old school is a positive as far as I am concerned.

I don't do yoga by the way.

Avatar
brooksby [2230 posts] 5 months ago
1 like
Chris James wrote:

I'm glad you didn't decide to make a point about the cm typo, as that might make you look a bit pedantic.

David St. Hubbins: I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was down. I think that the problem may have been, that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. Alright? That tended to understate the hugeness of the object.

Ian Faith: I really think you're just making much too big a thing out of it.

Derek Smalls: Making a big thing out of it would have been a good idea.

Avatar
beezus fufoon [673 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

165 head tube on a 52!?! - maybe to attach a shopping basket?

Avatar
David Arthur @d... [760 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

beezus fufoon wrote:

165 head tube on a 52!?! - maybe to attach a shopping basket?

 

52cm is the measurement of the seat tube, and because of the very sloped top tube, it's quite short. The top tube, however, is long at 570mm, so that taken into consideration with the head tube and the dimensions of the bike become a bit clearer.

Perhaps it would be clearer if it was called a 57? The issue here is that there's no standard in the industry for bike sizes so you really have to look at all the numbers together

Avatar
Vejnemojnen [240 posts] 5 months ago
1 like
beezus fufoon wrote:

165 head tube on a 52!?! - maybe to attach a shopping basket?

 

cause it has a sloped tope tube.. with the 570mm top tube, it is pretty much identical with a classic 60cm frame..

 

so, 165mm ht in this case is pretty short imho. 

 

please, compare the top tube&head tube length to a canyon endurace or other entry-level beginner road bike... for instance, canyon has 212mm head tube for a nearly identical top tube lgnth... 

 

https://www.canyon.com/en-gb/road/endurace/2016/endurace-al-6-0.html

 

so, the geometry of this dolan is pretty racy.. 

Avatar
beezus fufoon [673 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

ah I see, considering the reviewer is 180cm tall, 57 does seem quite racy, the head tube does seem a bit of a compromise though, "to make them more mainstream..."

Avatar
TooOldToScrum [2 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

With regard to the weight specified in this review. I have a Dolan Etape, 56cm I think.  Anyway I bought it with Campy Veloce and whatever the standard wheels on the build. 

I rode another bike in Mallorca with Shimano and decided that I needed to change, so I did to 105 which meant wheels change

I bought some Fulcrum Quattro's.

By way of curiosity I got my digital scales and weighed the revamped bike, 7.7kg with two bottle cages and shimano low end pedals.

So it would obviously come in less than 7.5kg. 

This makes a light bike that could be lighter with lighter groupset and wheels unless my scales are way out which I am sure that RyanAir would pick up on and want to charge me more for my holiday luggage. 

I didn't do the changes to save weight but for a nicer ride which I have, it wasn't bad before.

I am really chuffed with my Etape,  I just wish I had gone for Shimano first, sweeter changes, I know it is all down to preference but IMHO their is a significant difference and worth the change. 

Avatar
quiff [32 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

 

Rather confusingly, the Dolan is named after the iconic L'Etape du Tour, the annual cyclosportive that replicates a stage of the Tour de France on closed roads, but the geometry isn't what you'd expect of a modern bike built for comfort and distance.

There are just four sizes and the geometry on the 52cm bike tested measures up with a 570mm top tube and 165mm head tube. Those are the sort of numbers you expect to find on a race bike, not a bike with a name that suggests it is intended for riding long distances in relative comfort.

Is it really named after L'Etape du Tour, suggesting 'sportive'? Or just after 'etape', as in 'stage' (of a race)? Granted, the definite article is slightly odd, but not sure Dolan bill it as a sportive bike. 

Avatar
beezus fufoon [673 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
quiff]</p>

<p>

&nbsp;</p>

<p>Rather confusingly, the Dolan is named after the iconic L'Etape du Tour, the annual cyclosportive that replicates a stage of the Tour de France on closed roads, but the geometry isn't what you'd expect of a modern bike built for comfort and distance.</p>

<p>There are just four sizes and the geometry on the 52cm bike tested measures up with a 570mm top tube and 165mm head tube. Those are the sort of numbers you expect to find on a race bike, not a bike with a name that suggests it is intended for riding long distances in relative comfort.</p>

<p>[quote

wrote:

Is it really named after L'Etape du Tour, suggesting 'sportive'? Or just after 'etape', as in 'stage' (of a race)? Granted, the definite article is slightly odd, but not sure Dolan bill it as a sportive bike. 

I hate to break it to you, but l'etape du tour is named because it is a stage of a race - there's no either/or there.