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Dawes Galaxy: is this the perfect bike?

26 Jun 2020
Verdict:

For even the most zealous road cycling snobs, it doesn’t take long to be sold on the practical wonders of a touring bike

Road cyclists like speed. We enjoy stripping away all but the most essential grams, reshaping frames into aerofoils and routing all the essential cables into convoluted mazes within complex components to save a few watts of drag.

As far as those criteria are concerned, the Dawes Galaxy is an anti-bike.

The Dawes Galaxy is perhaps the most famous of the multi-day adventure touring bikes. With a legacy stretching back over 90 years, Dawes is a British success story, and the Galaxy has been the flagship bike since the 1960s. It was the very first dedicated touring bike in the UK.

This version, which itself is a few years old, deviates little from the original iterations. Disc brakes (on some of the newest models) and lever-indexed gears have been the only significant visible change in the Galaxy’s history.

 

This Galaxy Excel has full mudguard and pannier mounts, centre-pull Shimano BR-CX50 canti-lever brakes and 32mm tyres off the shelf, with plenty of clearance to spare, even beneath the mudguards.

It even has a set of spare spokes mounted on the chainstay – if one of the several hundred spokes currently in the Alex Ace19 rims could even conceivably pop.

Buy a steel Dawes Galaxy from Evans for £1,200

 

With its relaxed geometry, upright position, thin Reynolds 631 steel tubes and hefty overall weight, this is not a bike for riding quickly but does provide an incredibly comfortable platform for riding. For me, that’s quite a departure from the cycling I know and love.

I was wearing a full body skinsuit for laps of Regent’s Park a decade ago, when that sight was even rarer than today. I’ve almost never ridden with a saddlebag, rarely use a second water bottle, and I'm confident I may have been the first person in the UK to wear an aero road helmet regularly on a commute.

I’ve tracked my CdA in real time, I’ve taken to dual carriageways in gale force tailwinds when a personal best was within sight.

I’ve winced at temporary mudguards, saddlebags and winter tyres. Who would dream of sacrificing that sort of speed?

But then I happened upon the Dawes Galaxy. At first it was just a great solution to heading to the gym or the shops. It could mount a set of sturdy locks, ferry a large quantity of shopping, and I could ride it in casual clothes.

Then something occurred to me: why don’t I always ride a bike like this?

Practical magic

One issue that sometimes irritates me with modern bikes is that practicality often seems to be a smaller and smaller priority with new bikes.

Bikes that cost £10k often have seatpost wedges that only a handful of allen key tools can adjust, and rarely arrive with a set of accompanying water bottle cages, saddle bag, or a spare derailleur hanger.

12-speed cassettes are tougher to clean than ever, and ever-thinner chains wear down more quickly. Totally internal cabling can spawn night terrors amongst those who want to fly abroad with their bike.

 

The goal of performance, fed down from the requirements of pro riders, has given way to incredible bikes with a unique ability to deliver speed. Meanwhile, touring bikes have seemed to drift away from the mainstream of bike riding. Touring itself has often been replaced by its less practical broadly pannier-less cousin – bike packing.

The Galaxy is like a journey into the past of bike design, only so many of the challenges of modern bikes seem to have mysteriously been solved.

The Shimano Alivio triple chainset and XT rear derailleur put our perceptions of impressive range to shame. There are 27 gears with a range going from a 48-11 to a 26-34. That’s a lot of ratio to play with.

The cabling is external, and even an amateur mechanic could give the lot a thorough clean or replace the cables in a matter of minutes. Not only that but there’s a delicate elegance to the routing of the brake cables at the front and rear.

 

What’s more, with the mechanics of the bike laid out so clearly, this is a bike that almost anyone anyone could fix, almost anywhere in the world – no doubt a key appeal of the wonderful world of touring.

As a dedicated roadie, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never used a set of panniers before. These Ortlieb bags offer impressive protection against the elements and intuitive use, but the broader concept of mounting bags on my bike rather than my back is a revelation.

I also have to admit to being quite taken with the aesthetics of the front Blackburn Outpost rack. Between them the racks can take an impressive 45kg of weight.

The integrated full-length SKS mudguards are yet another embarrassingly fresh experience for me. They put an Ass-Saver tucked below my carbon-rail saddle to shame.

 

Buy an aluminium Dawes Galaxy from Evans for £700

Something about the practicality of the Galaxy – it's simplicity – really gets to the heart of what cycling is about. Strip away that quest for speed and performance and your left with those elements of cycling that fill the gaps. The scenery, the journey and the detachment from everyday life.

I began to wonder which towpaths I could follow, what multi-day adventures were awaiting me in the countryside. I wondered whether I could fit a tent and sleeping bag (I own neither) in a set of rear panniers. I wondered if I had suddenly become very old...

On a simpler note, the Galaxy made me wonder why I spend my working days changing into lycra, back out of lycra and have three showers a day. All so I can commute on a rapid road bike and save myself 5 minutes over 10kms.

And with 50kg of potential cargo, do I ever need to use my car again?

Of course, simply nothing will ever replace the fun of an intense effort with the rumble of tarmac flying beneath me. Or taking a criterium corner at 40kmh and testing the limits of a tyre.

So, certainly don’t ditch your road bike, but if ever you feel like a holiday from the lightweight world of aero carbon, a little time with a touring bike can be a breath of fresh air. All the better if it’s a Dawes Galaxy.