This brand new version of the venerable Dawes Audax may have humble components but the Century SE gives everything you want from an audax bike.
Dawes know a thing or two about building long distance bikes and they're justly proud of their heritage. They've been going since 1926 - look, it says so on the chainstays. Go on any audax or CTC ride and you'll see more than a few, of varying vintages. Carbon may be more fashionable for the sportive crowd, but steel is still real and this retro-styled beauty will tackle anything from sportives to Paris-Brest-Paris.
There are actually two bikes in the 2011 range, the Century SE reviewed here and its cheaper brother the Clubman (Sora running gear, FSA chainset) which is based on the same frame, fork and wheels, but with a powder blue paint scheme and an £849 pricetag. Although you get two sets of bottle bosses, a rear rack will have to share a braze-on with the mudguards. It's not an ideal set-up, but this a fast audax machine, not a tourer.
Straight out of the box this is a very pretty bike. The battleship grey paintjob looks smart, the cartouches with the Dawes logo accentuate the slim tubing and the gold lining round the star shaped bottle bosses is a lovely detail. Previous versions have been known to stray into oversized tubing and odd profiles in an attempt to look modern (remember when aluminium was modern?) but the 2011 incarnation avoids such cheap temptations. If this bike was a meal it would be a steak and kidney pudding, or a plate of fish and chips. Classy, and with no need to pretend to be anything else (you must have some really good pie shops and chippies down your way - ed).
Happily the ride quality matches the good looks with the exact mix of comfort and pace that you want from an audax bike. The Reynolds 520 frame may be humble (it's only dear old cromoly after all) but it rides beautifully. It would take a more refined reviewer than me to fully unpick the subtle interplay between frame, tyres and thoroughly modern carbon fork but I can confidently assert that this is a very smooth bike. It almost glides along, ironing out road buzz and keeping you fresh for those epic long-haul randones. What's more, it's positively eager. There's nothing stodgy or dull about the ride, this is a bike that likes to be pushed and rewards you with a surprising turn of speed.
The rest of the bike is built around equally modest kit. Shimano Tiagra takes care of the 9spd drivetrain, from rear mech to shifters. Tiagra may be near the bottom of the Shimano road hierarchy, but it's far from bog standard and I was impressed by the level of performance it offers. The star of the show is the chainset, which may look boot ugly but more than makes up for it in stiffness and efficiency. The 50/39/30 triple matched to a 12-25 rear block gives an ideal range of gears, even in hilly Devon. In fact, the bike overall climbs far better than it has any right to. I took it out on the Dunkery Dash audax, which is a proper leg-burner, and it performed superbly, even up beasts like Cothelstone Hill and Elworthy Hill (Google them and whimper!)
Wheels are based around Tiagra hubs and Alex 450 rims. Again, it's not flashy but, despite the rear wheel being 1mm out of alignment they performed well with no brake rub, even on the most taxing of hills. Tyres are Vittoria Rubino, in their 25c flavour. They roll well with a narrow profile and a firm casing that should be hard wearing. Although I got on well with them I'd be inclined to go for something slightly more plush, say 25c Gatorskins, when they wear out. Overall the wheels impressed, although the cup and cone bearings on the hubs will need regular love to keep them happy.
Finishing kit sticks to the basic but good theme - the own-brand stem, saddle and seatpost are perfectly ok (although the saddle was a bit of an unyielding plank after five hours or more) and the FSA Wing Compact bars are excellent, although the 40cm version featured here can be a little harsh on the drops and will make fitting a bar-bag (should you want one) even more of a nuisance than it normally is on STI equipped bikes.
It might seem that £1099 is a tad steep for a 520 framed bike kitted up with Tiagra, and I'd be inclined to agree. Mind you, bike prices have been increasing sharply for the last few years (not so long ago you'd be looking at 631 and Shimano 105 for the same price) so it's not such a great surprise. What is odd is that Dawes have priced this versatile, does-almost-everything cracker at £99 over the Cyclescheme limit, so you'll need a friendly bike shop and a flexible scheme manager if you want to lay your hands on one that way. However, there is some good news, because if you shop around you can find it (and the cheaper Clubman) substantially discounted. Spa Cycles will be selling it for £879 but if you move fast they have it at an introductory price of £715 which makes it a positive bargain.
A real corker - versatile, fast, comfortable and if you shop around, a bargain.
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Make and model: Dawes Century SE
Size tested: 54cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Reynolds 520 butted cromoly frame. 3k carbon fibre fork.
Colour Polychromatic grey
Sizes 54,57,60 cm
Frame Reynolds 520 butted chromoly
Fork 3K carbon fibre blades
Headset FSA Orbit alloy 1"1/8
Shifters Shimano Tiagra 27 speed STI
Rear derailleur Shimano Tiagra 9 speed
Front derailleur Shimano Tiagra triple
Chain Shimano HG53
Freewheel Shimano CS-HG50, 12-25T
Front hub Shimano Tiagra 32H alloy QR
Rear hub Shimano Tiagra 32H alloy QR
Rims Alex AT450 double wall alloy
Spokes Stainless steel
Tyres Vittoria Rubino 700x25c
Chainwheel Shimano Tiagra 50/39/30T
Bottom Bracket Shimano external bearing
Brakes Shimano BR-R450 alloy caliper
Brake levers Shimano
Handlebar FSA Wing Compact
Stem Dawes alloy Aheads
Seatpost Dawes alloy micro-adjust
Saddle Dawes road
Grips Micro-fibre tape with airholes and gel
Pedals Alloy road with straps
Mudguards SKS chromplastic
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?
Dawes say - "The Century SE gives a robust, comfortable yet speed ride with an outstanding carbon front fork that dampens road buzz and keeps steering sharp. A high quality Reynolds 520 frame that makes for an excellent ride and a groupset that allows you to tackle most hills with ease."
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Very nicely finished frame - check out the lining round the bottle bosses. Fork is good too.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Good old fashioned Reynolds 520 steel - thoroughly modern carbon fibre for the fork.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Head angle - 73.5 degrees
Seat angle - 74 degrees
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The perfect sweet spot between upright sportive and low down racer. There are plenty of spacers if you fancy going more aggressive.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Rides well and feels sharp but without sacrificing comfort.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Always feels stiff and responsive - the chainset is superb, as is the frame.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes. The Tiagra chainset may be an ugly duckling but it helps the SE glide like a swan.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
No - even with mudguards.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively, but not race twitchy
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handles very well.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I'd fit some slightly more plush rubber, but only when the fitted tyres wear out.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Chainset and frame. Wheels are pretty tight too with no discernable rub.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Chainset. Great piece of kit.
Surprisingly good - overall stiffness helps, as does sensible gearing
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Brilliant. Tiagra may be entry level stuff, but that doesn't stop it from being seriously good.
Cup and cone hubs are very basic and will need regular servicing.
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 Vittoria Rubino tyres have a narrow profile and feel quite hard - they feel fast and have just enough volume but when they wear out I'd replace them with something a little more plush, say 25c Gatorskins.
Wheels have very basic hubs (Shimano 2200) which will need regular servicing. A nicer set of handbuilts would be the first upgrade - again, after the original kit wears out.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Shimano Tiagra performs faultlessly.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
The non series Shimano BR-R450 brakes do the job but look cheap. Tiagra series brakes would be much nicer for about the same price.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Definitely
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Oh yes
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Modest but mighty. A steak and chips bike in a world of corned beef hash.
Age: 41 Height: 5' 8 Weight: er....86kg
I usually ride: Kona Dew Drop My best bike is: Guess SC1 scandium
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, Audax and long distance solo rides