The DSS1 Performance Disc road bike is the first stock bike offering from renowned custom bike builder Thomas Donhou, and represents a distillation of the design ideas expressed in his bicycle creations over the years.
What Donhou has created in the DSS1 is a signature bike, a culmination of his bicycle design ideas. One common signature on many of his bikes over the years has been disc brakes. Donhou started adding disc brakes to steel frames many years ago at a time when doing so was still far from the commonplace sight it has become this year.
The Reynolds 853 frame is specifically designed for disc brakes. The rear brake is mounted inside the rear dropout and all the cables routed externally along the down tube - the brake cable runs a full length of outer housing for protection from grime and grit. There are no mudguard mounts; the DSS1 is not meant as an all-weather commuter/winter training bike, it's pegged as a high performance disc-equipped bike.
And on that front it delivers. This is a bike with exemplary handling and top notch performance. The ride displays a superb smoothness from the Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubeset and a high class build kit that shines in every department.
The only sticking point for some will be the price, but making comparisons of a solo framebuilder against bigger companies with more buying power is perhaps a little unfair. It's undercut by the new Enigma Evoke Disc Titanium 1.3 by nearly £500 for example. If the price is too high for you, that's fair enough, there's plenty of choice on the market at the moment. But there are few bikes that offer the distinctive looks, attention to detail and creative flair you get from one of the UK's most highly regarded framebuilders.
Donhou has used custom selected Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubes for the DSS1, and TIG welded them into three available sizes; 54, 56 and 58cm. The attention to detail is exquisite, the welds are of the highest quality and small touches like the seatstay bridge and cable guides on the head tube and downtube are well thought out. There's space for up to 28mm tyres if you want to go wider than the standard 25mm tyres.
The tube profiles are reasonably oversized, and combined with a 44mm head tube and Enve carbon fibre disc fork, provides a stiff and taut ride quality. The frame relays power from the pedals to the rear wheel with a good sense of urgency; there's not a hint of wayward flex when you stomp and stamp on the pedals. It's got plenty of get up and go. It reminds me of the excellent Enigma Elite that I tested last year.
Unlike Donhou's custom creations where the only limit on the paint job is your imagination, there's just one paint job for the DSS1. But what a creation is it. The base colour is a deep granite grey with a pink to lime pearl fade along the length of the down tube, with a white panel near the down tube. It's painted in-house. There's a Signature Steel head badge featuring the Donhou Swallows.
Steering is precise and well balanced, the Enve fork provides a high level of front-end stiffness that slightly overshadows the steel frame. The bike feels very stable. It doesn't bounce and skip across rough roads, rather, it's all very settled and that composure makes it a good distance bike for bagging some big rides. That it never feels rattled on any sort of road surface is helped by the fitment of 25mm tyres but there's an inherent suppleness in the frame too.
The geometry is spot-on with a 170mm head tube on the 56cm bike I rode, combined with parallel 73 degree seat and head angles. There are no nasty surprises in the way it handles, it's all very predictable. It's very easy to adjust the bike mid-corner with plenty of feedback through the controls.
At 8.7kg (19.1lb) it's no featherweight but it is, interestingly, a competitive weight to some carbon fibre and hydraulic disc brake road bikes that I've tested, so for a steel bike that is very impressive. The DSS1 doesn't at all feel heavy, and displays a high sense of pace and acceleration that makes it a real hoot to blast along the lanes.
The high quality wheelset shines through when you get the bike up to speed. Chris King hubs on H+Son Archetype rims (built by August Wheelworks) are a superb quality wheelset. The black anodised aluminium rims have a 23mm wide profile and this gives the Continental Grand Prix 25mm tyres a nice wide platform and creates a bit of extra cushioning and a more stable feeling than a wide tyre fitted to a narrow rim can achieve. The rims are reasonably light at 470g each are a decent weight, yet are also brilliantly robust. The wheelset is a gem.
You can buy the DSS1 as a frameset for £2,295 and build it with any parts you want, or go for or the complete bike with the pictured build kit for £4,385. For this bike, Donhou combines a dependable and durable Shimano Ultegra 11-speed mechanical groupset with Avid BB7 SL disc brakes. Avid's simple mechanical disc brakes are generally highly rated, and the brakes on the DSS1, maybe because they were really well bedded in, providing a really nice feel with good consistency and plenty of bite.
There's no shortage of nice kit on the bike, and it all combines to create a smart looking package. The Fizik Cyrano handlebar, stem and seatpost are rarely seen despite being available for a number of years, but the bars have a nice shape, the seatpost is easy to adjust, and from an aesthetic point of view, it all matches the bike nicely. The Fizik Ardea Versus saddle was as comfortable as you can imagine.
Based on ride quality and performance, it's top marks for the Donhou. It has a refined comfort that delivers more smiles the faster you push it, with a lovely sprightliness that makes it an involving ride. It doesn't hang about and it's very absorbing fun to ride. The front-end is very reactive to steering inputs and it corners without hesitation, the Enve fork is possible a smidgen on the stiff side, but it just about gels together with the steel frame. And make no mistake, the DSS1 benefits from the disc brakes with brilliant all-weather retardation and bags of stopping power.
The finishing kit is all premium stuff and it's nicely thought out, and it's certainly a very good bike, but the high price will be a sticking point for some. That aside, in every other department the the DSS1 sparkles. It's a fabulous bike.
Fabulous bike with sparkling ride and handling, but the high price will put some off
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Donhou DSS1 Signature Steel
Size tested: 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
The DSS1 is handcrafted performance steel at its finest. A few years ago we were ahead of the curve when we introduced disc brakes onto one of the Rapha Continental builds, and all that we've learnt from that project and the many disc road builds we've built since feeds into this. Built for the purpose of all day road riding, this bike is comfortable and forgiving but very importantly remains a lot of fun to ride. It's quick yet stable, comfortable yet punchy, it will take the edge off that punishing climb and will blow your mind coming down... All the important factors that add up for an amazing ride.
The bike is disc equipped for comfortable all weather, all season braking and is built from oversized Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubing. Reynolds 853 Pro Team is Reynold's highest quality, highest strength seamless air hardening steel, drawn to give an incredible ride while keeping minimal weight. Its heat treatment increases fatigue resistance, making it incredibly strong and impact resistant. We have custom selected the tube diameters, butt profiles and wall thicknesses to give the incredible ride of the DSS1.
The DSS1 is TIG welded and coupled with the excellent light weight and confidence inspiring ENVE Disc Road carbon fork. It is available in 54, 56 and 58cm sizes and includes a Chris King Inset 8 headset. There are options for Di2 cable routing and the frame will accept both cable and hydraulic discs.
Finished in deep granite grey with the striking pink to lime pearl fade it flies the 'Signature Steel' head badge, featuring the two Swallows, symbolic of speed and safe travel...
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?
'Signature Steel' is an exciting new series of Donhou designed and built bicycles, offered in stock sizes, paint and geometry to accompany our custom builds. TIG welded as opposed to the fillet brazing of the custom builds, the 'Signature Steel' frames are built with the same precision and passion as the custom builds and wear the 'Signature Steel' badge.
If a long wait on a custom frame doesn't work for you, then 'Signature Steel' is a more accessible way to own a handcrafted Donhou bicycle with all the love, care and quality of craftsmanship that Donhou is known for.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Top notch quality with plenty of nice attention to detail.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Reynolds 853 Pro Team tubing TIG welded with custom selected tubes.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The geometry is spot on with a 170mm head tube on the 56cm bike I rode, combined with parallel 73 degree seat and head angles.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Perfect - I just had to fitted a longer stem for my fit.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The frame has a wonderful smoothness aided by the 25mm tyres.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
No lack of stiffness when you stomp on the pedals.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Possibly
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Based on ride quality and performance, it's top marks for the Donhou. It has a refined comfort that delivers more smiles the faster you push it, with a lovely sprightliness that makes it an involving ride. The the high price will be a sticking point for some however.
About the tester
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
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, mtb,
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.