The Dawes Clubman certainly looks the part for those long days in the saddle checking out the scenery or carrying your kit to work and back every day, though appearances can be deceptive. It's heavy on the wallet and even heavier on the legs; you'll be strong come summer time, mind.
Steady is best
At its heart the Clubman has a hardy but pretty basic chromoly steel tubeset, Reynolds 520. It's double butted to save some weight, which means the tube walls are thinner in the middle than at the ends. It doesn't give that same smooth ride as you get from thinner-walled, heat-treated steel but it's in no way harsh either.
Tapping out a rhythm is where the Clubman is most at home. Ride steady and smooth and it's a comfortable place to sit and wile away the miles. The geometry is long and low with our 54cm test bike having a 56cm top tube but with just a 12cm head tube meant that I needed the full quota of spacers to ride for any considerable time.
The wheelbase is over a meter which makes for a very stable-handling machine making it much easier to ride on rough roads or when fatigue kicks in. It also brings the bonus of feeling very planted and solid on greasy, slippery winter roads when paired with its overall weight of 24.8lb (11.3kg).
For climbing or load lugging (it has mounts for a rack as well as the mudguards) you get a triple chainset with 50, 42, and 30-teeth rings which help in some way to offset the weight. The ratios have a lot of gaps though, especially due to the cassette being eight speed and spread across a 12-25 tooth range. This means you can find yourself in between gears a lot of the time, most noticeably on those long draggy gradients when it's too long to get yourself out of the saddle.
This hampers acceleration too. Away from the lights in traffic for example, the 30-tooth ring is too low and spinny while the middle 42-tooth when paired with the cassette is a little on the high side. This is the main reason I didn't get on with the Clubman as a commuter: busy roads with fluctuating traffic speeds, roundabouts and traffic lights all take their toll on your legs every time you make a change of pace. The only way I can explain it is that riding the Dawes my legs were feeling like a Friday on a Wednesday; not ideal when you've still got to finish of the week's miles.
Audax or touring tends to bring with it a lot of hills and while the climbing isn't the easiest, the Clubman's descending isn't half bad. The weight, long wheelbase and sensible 72° head angle gives you the same feeling I mentioned above about slippery road conditions. It feels trustworthy, predictable and while it isn't the snappiest handler is does offer plenty of feedback when you need it most.
Bang for buck?
On the whole I feel the Clubman is overpriced, not that the kit is any way bad I'd just expect a bit more for the £850 price tag.
As far as the frame goes it's well put together and decently finished with a tough paintjob. I've got a fixed wheel bike with the same tubeset and can guarantee from experience the tubes are tough as old boots making it ideal for the rough and tumble of the daily commute.
As mentioned there is a full complement of mounts for rack and guards plus two bottle cages. All the cable guides are welded to the frame rather than riveted which makes repairing them easy and look tidier too.
For the speeds the Dawes is likely to be ridden at it's plenty stiff enough around the bottom bracket area and at the steering end. Stamp on the pedals and you'll feel a bit of whip in the tubes but to be honest it's not what the Clubman is about.
From the 'Just In' piece we ran it was easy to see the carbon fibre fork divided opinion on aesthetics. I personally like it but it also brings a lot of benefits in terms of performance giving you a tighter front end for less weight without removing the ride quality.
The shifters, cassette and mechs come from Shimano's Claris group which sits below Sora in the Japanese manufacturer's pecking order. It gives nothing away in performance terms though as the gear change feels exactly the same as the shifters are basically the same just with eight speed internals rather than nine.
The shifting is decent enough with a solid clunk as it drops down or climbs the cassette, and missed shifts are rare. The wider chain of the eight speed system seems to deal with the harsh elements of winter riding better too. I seemed to be spending a lot less time tweaking compared with ten and eleven speed groups.
The rear mech will also cope with up to a 32-tooth sprocket so that's an easy upgrade to make on the Clubman to offset some of that weight in the hills.
The Dawes uses an FSA Tempo chainset and while it's acceptable, runs pretty true and certainly looks hardwearing enough, I would have preferred to see a full groupset here for the price. The Claris groupset has 53, 39, and 30 rings, which smooth out that middle ground.
Another deviation from Claris is the Tektro brake calipers which worked pretty well in the wet and grit, though pad wear was rapid, with them turning to paste in the hard winter conditions.
Alex R540 rims highlight the load-carrying intentions of the Clubman with their double wall construction and three cross, thirty-two spoke pattern. A build for strength rather than lightness.
The Clubman comes with 25mm Vittoria Zaffiro tyres, cheapies in the large scale of things but rubber that I actually rate for all round, crappy weather riding. They put up with all the rain washing thorns and gravel into the road without a single puncture or cut so certainly no complaints there.
The frame and mudguard combination will take 28mm tyres with ease should you want to go bigger without any clearance issues, and you could probably get some with a bit of tread on too if you want to take to the gravel tracks.
The aluminium finishing kit is unbranded and overly harsh which takes any benefits of the steel frame out of the equation. Pair the bars and stem with the thin leather look bar tape and comfort isn't really there in abundance.
On a more positive note though I did get on really well with the saddle even though padding is on the minimal side.
You do get mudguards as part of the package though if this were my bike they'd be soon heading for the bin to be replaced with something of a decent length. The front doesn't really stop any water from hitting your feet at all so even with overshoes you're going to be arriving with wet socks, and the rear isn't much better for following riders. It'll keep your rear dry but little else and the whole bottom bracket area takes a real kicking from the elements.
I really like the look of the Clubman and I'm certainly a big fan of steel for long distance machines but I just couldn't live with the Dawes long term. The weight is the defining factor of the entire ride and unless you're on the flatlands it becomes a chore to ride. Changing pace or stop-start riding in built up areas just saps your power and energy. Yes it's built for sturdiness and longevity but to really enjoy going out for some miles on it you do need much lower gearing and if possible some lighter wheels.
The ride position and handling is good though and tapping along on the flat the Clubman is a very nice bike to ride requiring very little in the way of concentration to keep it pushing along.
As a winter commuter it makes a lot of sense as the parts don't look as though they are going to wear too quickly and they'll be cheap to replace. At list price it is too expensive though for what it is with similarly priced bikes coming with better kit and less weight. However, shop around a bit and you'll find it quite a lot cheaper at the moment.
Overall the Dawes Clubman is a nice to bike to ride and look at but it's just too heavy to be fun and a proper contender for long hilly miles.
Good looks and sorted geometry can't offset the heavy weight and high price
road.cc test report
Make and model: Dawes Clubman
Size tested: 54
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Sizes: 54cm, 57cm and 60cm Frames
Frame: Double Butted Reynolds 520
Fork: 3K Carbon
Headset: 1 1/8" Aheadset
Shifters: Shimano ST-2300 STI Levers 24spd
Rear derailleur: Shimano RD-2300 8spd
Front derailleur: Shimano FD-2303 3spd
Chain: KMC Z-72
Freewheel: Shimano CS-HG50 8spd Cassette 12-25T
Front hub: 32H Quick Release, alloy
Rear hub: 32H Shimano FH-2200 Quick Release, alloy
Rims: ALEX R450 Double Wall Alloy, with CNC braking surface
Spokes: 14G, Stainless Steel
Tyres: Vittoria Zaffiro 700 x 25C
Chainset: FSA Tempo Triple 52-42-30T Chainrings
Bottom bracket: FSA Sealed Cartridge BB, 118mm axle
Brakes: Tektro Alloy Caliper Brakes
Handlebar: 400mm wide (54cm), 420mm (57cm & 60cm)
Stem: A-Headset Stem, 100mm reach (54cm), 110mm reach (57cm & 60cm)
Seatpost: 27.2mm x 300mm
Saddle: Dawes Leather Look Sports saddle
Grips: Dark Brown Cork Tape
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?
The Clubman wears an audax sticker and that's the type of riding the Dawes is most at home with. Steady state, tapping a rhythm out on the pedals. It can pressed into winter commuting duties or even some light touring, provided things aren't too hilly.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame looks a decent quality and well put together with the paintjob giving it a bit of a retro theme.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Reynolds 520 tubing is a chromoly steel alloy but unlike more expensive tubesets it's not heat-treated so the tube walls have to be quite thick for strength; that means it's not the lightest out there. It is hardwearing though.
The fork is a 3K carbon design with an alloy steerer. Mudguard compatible.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Long and low. Details here: http://dawescycles.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Audax-Geometries.pdf
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Most long distance machines these days are higher at the front end for comfort so the reach is bigger than most while the stack is much lower thanks to a 120mm headtube length.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yeah within reason. The overly stiff components mask the qualities of a steel frame though.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It's stiff enough for it's intended purpose though steep hills will see the frame flex around the bottom bracket.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The heavy wheels and frame all counter laying the power down.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
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?
The weight and geometry means it is a very stable bike to ride and corners pretty well without surprises.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The saddle is pretty comfortable but overall it is actually quite a harsh bike considering it's steel.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The finishing kit is overly stiff and destroys the ride quality.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
It's a combination of everything that goes against the efficiency of the Dawes.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
I didn't get on with the triple chainset spacing, it just leaves so many gaps that you are never really in the right gear.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The wheels are heavy but robust and will stand up to plenty of rough roads and load carrying.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The bars and stem felt really harsh and stiff taking the shine off of the rest of the ride.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? It had its good points & bad points.
Would you consider buying the bike? No.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? No.
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The Clubman just falls short on pretty much everything, it's too heavy, too stiff, too expensive that I just couldn't live with it long term. For my relatively flat commute it did the job and embraced the awful weather but it was never really a joy to ride.
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 180cm Weight: 76kg
I usually ride: Kinesis T2 My best bike is: Kinesis Aithien
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: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.