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Dawes Century SE 2011

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Tested by Matt Swaine

Review

The last couple of years have seen a surge in interest in cycling, and shiny aluminium bikes that hit the maximum Cycle to Work Scheme allowance have been the entry-level steed of choice for the majority of new riders who want a leg up into the world of sportive rides. But with a range of retro bikes hitting the stores from brands like Genesis, bike maker Dawes are clearly not going to hide their heritage in the bike sheds.

Step forward the Dawes Audax Century SE, a battleship grey, Reynolds 520 steel frame bike with neat retro flourishes that clearly lay claim to 85 years of bike building excellence. Audax rides demand distance and comfort from a bike. They can range from 100km bimbles, up to rides like the 619km Bryan Chapman Memorial Classic through Wales and the thoroughly monstrous 1200km Paris-Brest-Paris ride. (You can find links to the Audax calendar on their website at www.aukweb.net)

And straight out of the box the Century SE delivers a smooth ride that has sufficient pace to cope with a 100 mile sportive and enough comfort to impress on a longer Audax style ride. The majority of bike tourers have owned a Dawes Galaxy at some stage in their careers so it will come as no surprise to them that Dawes really do excel when a ride demands many hours in the saddle.
The mix of saddle and frame geometry really do deal with comfort very well. The frame managed to absorb the majority of bumps and rivets that now litter the roads in my area after two harsh winters and the bike keeps its pace well on the flat thanks to decent wheels (Dawes’ favoured Alex AT450 double wall alloy rims with Vittoria Rubino 700x25c tyres).

The Tiagra components are clearly at the cheaper end of the scale but right out of the box they delivered a reassuringly positive gear change that is still performing well two months and many miles later. The Shimano brakes were sufficiently positive and smooth and compared well to other bikes I own that sport much more expensive componentry.

And while heritage is all important, Dawes manage to make a knowing nod to biking innovations with a set of carbon forks that help keep weight down, dampen road buzz further and give this bike a reassuring hint of modern technology. It’s the kind of update that many experienced riders would be happy to make to their bike frames in pursuit of a bit more speed and performance.

What’s not to love here? Well firstly the steering doesn’t have the kind of positivity I would expect from a bike at this price point. It improved as I got used to its quirks and learnt just how the bike liked to be turned and leant into corners but it lacked something at the end of my test period.

And secondly I struggled with it on hills. It was fine sitting in the saddle – at 10.5kg and with a good range of gearing there were no problems getting this to the top of hills with speed – but when I decided to stand and pick up the pace I really struggled to get the acceleration I was looking for. This could well be down to my personal preference, but I simply wasn’t getting the kind of leverage I expected from the handle bars, when it mattered.

But weirdly as time went on I became increasingly attached to this bike. It is a ‘do everything’ machine that always seemed to fit the bill when other bikes in my garage weren’t quite up to the route or conditions. So when it was wet and windy, this bike felt robust enough to cope with the conditions. When I was heading out for a longer training ride, it ticked the comfort box well. When I wanted to haul a bit of additional luggage it was the best option. And I even used it on a 100 mile sportive where it performed admirably, but I am not sure it would be my first choice again for this kind of ride.

My guess is that the majority of people who buy this bike will never ride an Audax in their life (and more fool them – it’s a great way to spend a day on two wheels). So the Century SE is pitched very nicely at the average rider who wants a bike that is capable of doing everything they need it to. If this was the only bike in my garage, I’d be delighted. It is a great ride, it copes well with my regular 30 mile commute, it’s got sufficient speed and fun factor for weekend blasts and it’s superbly comfortable on longer rides. If I was planning a year of fast sportive rides though, I think I’d be looking for something slightly more dynamic.

And it looks good too. Personally, I’d prefer something with a bit more colour and pizzazz, but the Century SE got an appreciative nod from a number of my more bike-savvy friends, who all like the bikes looks and were keen to give it a go themselves.

At a glance

Verdict Great looking bike with good comfort levels and ideal for mid-distance audax rides.
Value
Performance

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