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Verdict: 
A hefty sit up and beg-to-differ urban utility tool, as endearingly primitive as a large adjustable spanner but with an altogether prettier aura.
Weight: 
21,480g
Contact: 
www.dawescycles.com
Dawes Countess
4 10

Bikes like the Dawes Countess may be anathema to those who like to ride fast, but they’re an essential element of urban transport in countries where bikes are mainly seen as tools for mobility rather than as tools for sport. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Countess is a weighty and not very efficient fashion accessory.

Dawes’ claimed weight for the Countess is an overly optimistic 16.0kg. It tipped our fisherman’s scales at nearly 21kg (that’s 46.5lb, more than some electric bikes we’ve ridden) just before the hook holding the scales ripped a hole in the ceiling joist and they crashed to the floor with the bike.

 

I used the Dawes over a couple of weeks for my Bikeability visits to schools around the Bristol area. I normally use a fairly basic rack and mudguard equipped hybrid. I enjoyed the change but, take my word for it, you really don’t want to be keeping a bike like this in a cellar with steps.

The Countess is one of ten bikes in Dawes’ Heritage range. Eight of those ten wear the ‘Duchess’ badge and all but the £299.99 seven-geared Ambassador Gents model have baskets. The Countess sits loud and proud at the peak of the range and is unreserved in its love/hate fashion statement aesthetics.

It’s £200 more than any of the others in the range and it’s easy to see why: it has Sturmey Archer hub brakes (combined with a three speed hub out back) plus a Brooks B66 sprung leather saddle, stitched and shaped leather grips and a colour matched Hesling chain guard and dress guard.

The florally enhanced colour coding extends to the steel mudguards and Schwalbe’s Delta Cruiser 700 x 35c tyres, which also have a reflective strip on the side. Actually, the wheels and tyres are a performance highlight of the bike, almost making up for the massive weight once you get the thing up to speed.

 

I say ‘almost’ because nothing is going to make a bike like this easy to ride if you’re comparing it to something made from light aluminium rather than heavy steel.

The bolt-upright riding position inevitably conspires with the weight to detract from any attempt at rapid acceleration or going up hills. The slightest rise quickly becomes a sweaty challenge if you’re feeling the slightest sense of urgency.

 

However, relaxing into a patient cruise is fine provided the road stays flat, and your day will superficially get a little boost from every one of the many people who’ll say ‘Nice Bike!’ as they pass.

Make the most of it. Ring the ‘ding dong’ cylindrical bell at every opportunity. Fill the basket with flowers and fresh bread. Pop the thing up onto its swing stand while you sit and have coffee and pastries. Pretend life is never a rush and perhaps one day it might not be.

The Countess is an attitude bike, obviously meant to be ridden by women in frocks. You could opt to ridicule that imagery, but it’s easier to embrace it.

 

From the practical point of view, everything works. In fact the Sturmey Archer brakes and gears are excellent, the wheels are tough and well built, the crankset is robust and the basket is genuinely useful.

On the minus side, the rear rack isn’t really up to child seat support duties as it’s simply riveted to a piece of flattened steel extending back from the dropouts rather than to the frame itself. The stand will only work on flat ground and that Brooks saddle is harsher on bottoms than the soft padded saddles that more typically come with bikes like this.

The feedback from other riders on the Countess encompassed both positive and negative extremes. Some said they wouldn't be able to live with the floral overload and would be embarrassed to be seen on it. Others loved the way it looked.

All felt that the upright position felt good at first but, combined with the weight, stifled efficient riding. Everyone loved the gears and the brakes, and used them with ease. Almost everyone needed to get off to push occasionally on Bristol's steeper hills.

And everyone ended up putting the saddle as far back as it would go: we had the 17in bike, there's a 19in one too, with another 50mm of reach from the saddle to the handlebar.

One rider moaned of achey hips, back and neck after riding around town and the same rider found it hard even to lift the bike up onto its stand.

So, what's the Countess for? Well, there's no doubting that the colour scheme and floral embellishments put it at the fashion statement end of the urban bike spectrum.

If you don't appreciate that, there are several £350 bikes in Dawes' Heritage range that are less noticeable, but a lot lighter and consequently far more practical. But there'll be riders who'll love the way this one looks and will want it purely on that basis.

Verdict

A hefty sit up and beg-to-differ urban utility tool, as endearingly primitive as a large adjustable spanner but with an altogether prettier aura.

road.cc test report

Make and model: Dawes Countess

Size tested: n/a

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

It's an image heavy urban utility bike obviously aimed at women who don't relate to the sportier side of cycling. Great wheels, Sturmey gears and brakes are highlights. The massive heft and cramped ride posture are lowlights. Fine for flat roads and low speeds, hard work anywhere else... but people will load you with compliments about its looks.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

All steel construction to frame, fork, rack mudguards and chain guard make for a very high weight, but the Sturmey 3-speed hub and hub brakes are highlights and the Brooks saddle is a nice finishing touch, if not that comfy.

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
7/10

Strong but heavy. It's a pity the rear rack isn't more sturdily attached to the frame.

Rate the product for performance:
 
3/10

You're not going to enjoy rushing or going uphill on a bike like this.

Rate the product for durability:
 
6/10

The frame, the wheels and the finishing kit should be very durable but the rack and stand need to be more sturdily attached.

Rate the product for weight, if applicable:
 
2/10

Massively heavy.

Rate the product for comfort, if applicable:
 
4/10

If you're riding without much effort you can relax into it, but the ride position doesn't allow you to use your upper body properly and the saddle isn't as comfy as you might expect.

Rate the product for value:
 
5/10

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Fine at low speeds.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The looks are a love/hate thing but received many compliments. Full chain, mud and dress guards will be loved by those who like the looks. Sturmey gears and brakes are excellent.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

The weight.

Did you enjoy using the product? Not particularly.

Would you consider buying the product? No.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? No.

Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?

Those who buy will probably buy purely on aesthetics, which are good enough for a shop window display.

Overall rating: 4/10

 

16 comments

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nbrus [293 posts] 2 years ago
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Did the tester 'Steve Worland' (according to the heading) wear a frock whilst riding this?  41

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KiwiMike [1162 posts] 2 years ago
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Said it before. You can't make a properly Dutch bike for less than £/€750.That rear rack/stand mount is a dog's breakfast.

Good for a teenager, so long as they don't try to double a friend.

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Ush [644 posts] 2 years ago
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" it has Sturmey Archer hub brakes (combined with a three speed hub out back)"

Aren't they actually drum brakes?

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dafyddp [345 posts] 2 years ago
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I really dislike the laziness that goes into designing, manufacturing and marketing these kind of bikes. No modern bike should weigh in at 20 kg unless it's bright blue and made to dock in a rack. Instead of encouraging more women to cycle, this bike will re-enforce the perception that cycling is hard-work and frankly, not worth the effort. After a few goes, they will lay dormant in the shed.

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sidesaddle [78 posts] 2 years ago
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Why on earth would a lycra-luvvies site like RoadCC review a bike like this? Anyone got a Pashley to compare it with? Surely a pure shopping trolley can only be judged on how often it needs maintenance and whether it gets any admiring glances from the ladies who lunch. If it got looked at that's 4 stars right there. Nothing else matters, these things will be pushed stoicly up hills and freewheeled down them. It's hardly Dawes' fault that you are only allowed to make something like this if your factory comes with a windmill and is surrounded by tulips. I think it's cute, good luck to them for having the balls to offer it to the ravening maul of Atkinson et al.

On a bike testing tack, would love to know how the olde worlde drums compared to these spiffy new discs that are being recalled all around.

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KiwiMike [1162 posts] 2 years ago
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@Daffyddp: My Workcycles FR8 weighs damn close to 30kg. My wife's Velorbis Scrap Deluxe a mere 18kg in comparison. Both are excellent bikes, can be ridden all day, over surprisingly long distances, in normal clothes carrying sensible stuff (children, booze, picnics, rugs etc). Unlike show pony road bikes, you can ride one every day for years, have it living on a barge in the Thames uncovered (as mine did), and it still looks/works perfectly. Zero accessories - racks, lights, locks, stands - needed, as they are built in.

I was surprised to see this Dawes reviewed here too, and all the leading comments reinforced that. Any comparison to any other category of bike is a total waste of time. Like asking why the team Transit van doesn't handle as well as the DS Octavia, and why the estate can't carry 20 bikes  7

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Come on guys, surely you've been a little mean with your score, given the purpose for which this machine has been designed.

Some poor lass will do a Google search, see your disparaging "review", tell all her friends on Facebook, and that fragile tenure on a potential lifetime of happy bicycling memories could be lost, like tears on a rain soaked cycle path. Have you no shame, oh bicycle scribes of Bath?

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PJ McNally [591 posts] 2 years ago
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I don't think this review is harsh.

Rather, entirely appropriate. If Dawes want to make a heavy town bike, it should be bombproof.

This clearly isn't. No excuse, when tried and tested designs are available. Particularly if it weighs in 4kg over the stated weight! (Did the framebuilder subtitute cheaper, heavier steel or something?).

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pjclinch [89 posts] 2 years ago
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I think the comments seem fair, but people should get out of the mindset that any heavy bikes are impractical.
My tourer (a full-sus 'bent) weighs around 20 Kg and as all the weight is stuff that makes it better for what I want, I'm happy with that weight, and I tour including big hills and extra luggage.
My cargo bike ( a Burrows 8 Freight) is about 20 Kg (pretty good for something that size!) and I'll haul an extra 50 Kg in it. Fairly upright riding position too, and it's not flat round here.
Our recently sold-on Me'n'U2 triplet was around 20 Kg, and having dropped the stokers off at school I'd carry on to work. Up some big hills.

You do need the right gearing, and if it weighs a lot it really ought to be able to take serious cargo, but heavy is not a deal breaker by itself.

And a "Dutch" bike without dynamo lights built in?

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Matt eaton [742 posts] 2 years ago
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Surprised to see only 3 gears on a £550 bike. I suspect this would be much more usable with an 8 speed hub. Let's face it, this bike is not for people in a hurry and having a range of gears that allowed you to keep clicking down and plodding up that hill would make it a much more attractive prospect.

Can't see why the rack isn't built into the frame though...

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blinddrew [44 posts] 2 years ago
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Very similar to the wife's Pashley (looks and weight) but without the dynamo lights. Does the job on the flat ground round here as long as you don't plan to be in a hurry. Interestingly this weighs about the same as our tandem...

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KiwiMike [1162 posts] 2 years ago
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Matt eaton wrote:

Surprised to see only 3 gears on a £550 bike. I suspect this would be much more usable with an 8 speed hub. Let's face it, this bike is not for people in a hurry and having a range of gears that allowed you to keep clicking down and plodding up that hill would make it a much more attractive prospect.

Can't see why the rack isn't built into the frame though...

My £2k FR8 is a 3-speed  1

The rack and stand are clearly bolt-ons so they only need one frame for the range, then add that for the 'deluxe' model. Workcycles manage to do this without compromise (bolt-on rear rack CE-rated for circa 150kg, Hebie centre stand can support 250kg load plus bike), so it's a cost-saving thing IMHO

Mostly what 8-speed gives you is choice. The top and bottom aren't much higher/lower

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Argos74 [383 posts] 2 years ago
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There's one pootling around Fallowfield somewhere. And it's beautiful in the same way as a pair of high heels with SPD clips. Pretty, but lacking in functionality.

If my Nan were to call to ask about for advice about a bike for going to the shops and her friends and back, this wouldn't be anywhere near the top of my list. Less flowers, less weight, less leather bits. Just something easy to get somewhere and back again.

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caaad10 [184 posts] 2 years ago
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It reminds me of the bikes you find in africa, and if you have ever ridden one you'll see why I think that the design should be outlawed. Bicycles are supposed to be efficient machines, not torture devices, and these days there's simply no excuse for such a heavy monstrosity, even if it does look like a classic.

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KiwiMike [1162 posts] 2 years ago
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caaad10 wrote:

It reminds me of the bikes you find in africa, and if you have ever ridden one you'll see why I think that the design should be outlawed. Bicycles are supposed to be efficient machines, not torture devices, and these days there's simply no excuse for such a heavy monstrosity, even if it does look like a classic.

Yes. Clearly these people have got it totally wrong. What Africans need are £2000 full-carbon Ultegra machines with 23c tyres.

http://www.uk.worldbicyclerelief.org

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Avatar
caaad10 [184 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
KiwiMike wrote:
caaad10 wrote:

It reminds me of the bikes you find in africa, and if you have ever ridden one you'll see why I think that the design should be outlawed. Bicycles are supposed to be efficient machines, not torture devices, and these days there's simply no excuse for such a heavy monstrosity, even if it does look like a classic.

Yes. Clearly these people have got it totally wrong. What Africans need are £2000 full-carbon Ultegra machines with 23c tyres.

http://www.uk.worldbicyclerelief.org

 29

I think you're being pedantic. You don't need to be a genius to see how badly designed most african bikes are - something that has bothered me since I had to endure one whilst living in Kenya. Good, simple & efficient bicycle design costs nothing - so why burden people with unsuitable machines? You might argue that's better than nothing, but personally I think that's a poor excuse.

And I level that argument at the Dawes equally.