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Dolan L'Etape review

5 Oct 2018

Page 1 of 2Dolan L'Etape review

Verdict:

A sub-£1K do-it-all road weapon that handles like it costs twice as much

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£999.99

This review first appeared in Issue 44 of BikesEtc magazine

Dolan’s aim is to build a bike that costs south of a grand, and which is lightweight, responsive and comfortable.

They say the L’Etape is ‘the ideal weapon of choice in a variety of disciplines, from general riding to road racing.’

This is the cheapest build available from the direct sales company, but if you’ve more money to spend you can spec up the wheels and other components to match your budget.

Frameset

Dolan’s L’Etape frame shies away from the boxy tubing of other affordable carbon road bikes by using swooping lines throughout.

The shape of the sloping oval-section top tube is emulated in the oversized down tube which arcs towards the base of straighter, beefed up chainstays; these have the job of keeping flex to an absolute minimum along the drivetrain.

Curved seatstays are angled to minimise vibrations by acting like dampers. The cabling is all internally routed, and is compatible with both electronic and mechanical set-ups.

The sloping geometry of the bike gives us a compact rear triangle, which is evident even at a glance, and which should also ensure a minimum of losses at the rear end, boosting power delivery.

A measured head angle of 72.3° puts the bike on the cusp of racy in its steering geometry, while a head tube that measures 145mm in length does lend a direct feeling to proceedings.

30mm of spacers are available in order to tweak your height at the front end.

Groupset

A Shimano 105 50/34 chainset works with 105 front and rear mechs to shift through an 11-28 cassette.

The brake callipers as well as the shifters are 105 equipment, too, which lends a pleasing cohesion to the build, and is excellent value at this price.

Finishing kit

The Dolan’s contact points are equipped with alloy components throughout.

Hands grip a 400mm diameter Deda RHM01 handlebar, which in turn is clamped to a Zero 1 alloy stem, of 100mm – it’s an ergonomically pleasing set-up which is a perfect match for the frame size.

The Selle Italia X1 Flow saddle sits atop an alloy Alpina seatpost. As we’ve said, Dolan’s online bike builder website allows you spec up the finishing kit should you want to.

Wheels

Shimano’s RS010 wheelset is often found on bikes where the manufacturer is trying to keep the cost of the build below a certain price point.

To break under the magic £1,000 mark, Dolan has specified these relatively sluggish hoops that contribute just shy of a quarter of the entire weight of the build.

But, as ever, wheels are the first thing you’d upgrade further down the line, and a number of Mavic upgrade options are available when you’re speccing your bike on Dolan’s website (Cosmic Elite S wheels being the obvious choice, but at a premium of £240).

Conti Ultra Sport tyres in 25c diameter are budget fare, but puncture-resistant and long-lasting.

On the road

Our previous experience of Dolan’s L’Etape was as a Shimano Di2 build (which cost an incredibly palatable £1,800).

This mechanical groupset build seems to be a perfectly priced and sensitively equipped carbon road bike that we already know has enough in its frame to supply us with hours of enjoyment in the saddle.

The willingness to please that we’ve found with previous Dolans is in evidence from the first miles of our test loop.

It really is a smile-inducing bike to ride, and especially to ride quickly. What’s most noticeable is that the budget wheels are the obvious weak point in the package, however.

While perfectly adequate for most applications, and with the benefit of undoubted durability, they really don’t allow you to get the very best from the bike when the gradient rises.

However, once they’re up to speed on flatter or rolling country roads, you’ll be able to hang on to speed well enough.

The Shimano 105 groupset is as reliable as ever, allowing us to fire quick gearshifts into the cassette in order to keep momentum when hammering it on the drops, and not grumbling too much when a cack-handed upshift under load is required to make the most of our uphill pace.

The brakes allow fine metering of stopping power and hauling up the bike in short order for downhill sweepers on questionable road surfaces.

What we took from our time on the L’Etape was that it’s a supremely comfortable ride, as well as happy to respond to big power inputs.

It encourages hard riding, but wearing these wheels does struggle to fulfil its promise totally.

When it comes to putting a smile on your face, the Dolan has that covered. Thanks to its relatively quick-steering geometry, it feels a touch nervous, especially if you’ve played around with spacer positions on the stem, and found yourself nice and low for full-on ‘belting it’ riding mode.

But once you do pick up speed, any twitchiness disappears, to be superseded by a steering response that’s just as good as any £2,000 carbon bike, not to mention one at this price.

The worst of the road vibes from the rear end are suitably damped by running the Conti tyres at a slightly lower pressure, but some jarring from both ends remains, likely as a result of the aero-profile carbon fork and particularly unforgiving alloy seatpost.

Continental’s 25c Ultra Sports aren’t the first tyres we’d choose, but despite a few spin-ups under power on greasy uphill lanes, they performed perfectly adequately.

The whole package holds together really nicely as something on which you can corner with confidence – the star of the show is definitely the frame, which we can guarantee is worth hanging on to for years to come, and upgrading as you go.

Of course, one other option would be to buy the frameset directly from Dolan (£499.99) and spec it yourself, but you’d be very hard-pressed to appoint it as well as this build with a sub-£1,000 budget. 

RATINGS

Frame: Swooping lines give it an elegant, speedy look. 8/10 
Components: Well chosen throughout for value and performance. 8/10 
Wheels: One area that would benefit from an upgrade. 7/10 
The ride: A well balanced package, racy yet comfortable. 8/10 

Verdict: A sub-£1K do-it-all road weapon that handles like it costs twice as much.  

Geometry

Claimed Measured
Top Tube (TT) 545mm 543mm
Seat Tube (ST) 480mm 480mm
Fork Length (FL) N/A 371mm
Head Tube (HT) 145mm 145mm
Head Angle (HA) 72.5 72.3
Seat Angle (SA) 73.5 73.2
Wheelbase (WB) N/A 982mm
BB drop (BB) N/A 64mm

Spec

Dolan L'Etape
Frame Dolan Carbon frame and fork
Groupset Shimano 105
Brakes Shimano 105
Chainset Shimano 105, 50/34
Cassette Shimano 105, 11-28
Bars Deda RHM01, alloy
Stem Deda Zero 1, alloy
Seatpost Alpina, alloy
Wheels Shimano RS010, Continental Ultra Sport 25c tyres
Saddle Selle Italia X1 Flow
Weight 8.62kg (48cm)
Contact dolan-bikes.com

Page 1 of 2Dolan L'Etape review

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