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Dolan Ares SL review

23 Sep 2016
Verdict:

The Dolan Ares SL is a top-spec racer from a big British name, but can it compete with the big brand giants?

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£2,630
For 
Great fun to ride
Against 
Finish leaves a bit to be desired

Terry Dolan’s pedigree more or less ensures his firm doesn’t turn out bad bikes. The Dolan Ares SL is aimed squarely at ‘racing and fast sportive riding’, with racy geometry and a stiff carbon frame. Specced out with the quickest wheels of the four bikes we tested, and still coming in below our budget of £2,700, it’s a very tempting prospect – standard Di2 builds start at £2,500, and a full custom build is available, too, via the online bike configuration tool. Plus, if you wanted to build your own, the frameset costs an appealing £950.

Frameset 

Dolan Ares SL bottom bracket

The Ares features semi-aero tube profiles, meeting at the junction of down tube and seat tube in an expanse of bare carbon weave that suggests serious power transfer. There’s no denying this frameset is decidedly eye catching, although the finish isn’t perfect, which detracts slightly from an otherwise premium feel from this rapid and responsive chassis. Short, flared chainstays project from the bottom bracket, while the seatstays intersect with the rear of the top tube, arching either side of the tapered seat tube. A mid-height 165mm head tube makes getting either an aggressive or relaxed riding position easy work, too. The cabling is internally routed, and the frame is also compatible with Campagnolo’s EPS electronic shifting system.  

Groupset 

Dolan Ares SL Ultegra Di2

Dolan adopts a unified approach, with Shimano Ultegra kit throughout. The chainset is a 50/34 compact set-up, but in matching this to an 11-25 Ultegra cassette, Dolan is offering a similar range to the 52/36 and 11-28 set-up of the Canyon. Ultegra Di2 shifters are excellent, of course. That chain won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we reckon it adds something special to the build.

Finishing kit 

Top-notch alloy 420mm handlebars and 120mm stem from Deda’s Zero 100 kit offer a comfortable ride over most road surfaces, while 30mm of headset spacers offer plenty of scope for height adjustment. The 31.8mm carbon seatpost performs very well, while the highlight for us is Selle Italia’s very comfortable perch. 

Wheels 

Dolan Ares SL rim

Mavic Cosmic Pro carbon clinchers on a sub-£2,700 carbon bike is a pleasant surprise. This £895 wheelset has a 60mm deep carbon rim and asymmetric spoke lacing design to account for torsional pedalling forces. They come with Mavic’s very good Griplink/Powerlink tyres, in 25c but there’s clearance in the frame to go wider, for even better comfort and confidence.

The ride

It’s immediately obvious that the Dolan is supremely stable as we hammer downhill on the opening mile of our test loop in the big ring. On a clear road we try to zig-zag quickly across our lane in an attempt to provoke misbehaviour from the set-up. It’s solid, but also exceptionally agile.

The Ares SL offers a fair amount more comfort than we might have expected. Even the wider diameter carbon post copes admirably with road buzz, aided by a fairly flexible Selle Italia Flite saddle. The compact nature of the frame ensures a fair amount of seatpost is exposed, too, which helps to isolate vibration. At the front, comfortable Deda Zero 100 bars handle their duties admirably, flexy enough to give wrists an easy time, yet stiff enough to promote confidence sprinting on the drops and pointing the Ares SL down some quick direction changes on our favourite local descent.

Dolan Ares SL review

As you might expect from the ‘SL’ moniker, this is no heavyweight cruiser, either – at 7.58kg is has an assured feel on any climb, despite a close-ratio 11-25 cassette. Combined with a compact, 50/34 chainset, we were never in need of a smaller gear, and the lightness of the package makes up for what you might be losing in not having a 28-tooth sprocket. In fact, knowing you’ve only a 25 to fall back on encourages out of the saddle climbing, and some big efforts where normally we’d tend to sit and spin. Talking of power, the extremely stiff frame does allow you to positively wallop the Dolan, whether on longer climbs, flat roads or – even better – small crests on rolling roads, where sprints for the summits become addictive. Shimano’s Di2 shifting works flawlessly on this terrain, slotting home the next gear for seamless sprint efforts.

The amount of feedback available through the bare-carbon frame is impressive, and the good manners of the 60mm deep section Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon wheels conspire with the chassis to bring out our competitive side, carving through downhill turns with late braking and big angles of lean. While the wheels do spin up quickly enough, they’re not the fastest to get up to speed. However, as with a lot of aero rims, their trump card is the way they allow you to hold on to your speed once you’re above 20mph. This bike allows you to fantasise about being in a break at the front of the race, and really does flatter your abilities in that respect. There’s plenty of scope to adjust your riding position with headset spacers, and the 165mm headtube contributes to a day-long comfortable platform, should the need to hammer your next century ride not be a priority.

Geometry

Geometry chart
Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 565mm 562mm
Seat Tube (ST) 520mm 520mm
Down Tube (DT) 628mm
Fork Length (FL) 374mm
Head Tube (HT) 165mm 165mm
Head Angle (HA) 73 72.4
Seat Angle (SA) 73.5 74.5
Wheelbase (WB) 980mm
BB drop (BB) 70mm

Spec

Dolan Ares SL
Frame Dolan carbon frame & fork
Groupset Shimano Ultegra Di2
Brakes Shimano Ultegra
Chainset Shimano Ultegra
Cassette Shimano Ultegra, 11-25
Bars Deda Zero 100, alloy
Stem Deda Zero 100, alloy
Seatpost Dolan carbon, 31.8mm
Wheels Mavic Cosmic Pro Carbon
Saddle Selle Italia Flite
Weight 7.58kg (52cm)
Contact dolan-bikes.com

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