Old school and proud of it, the Dawes Sportif is a steel framed Audax machine in the traditional mould, that offers a decent balance between a robust build and a good quality ride. It's a bit docile for the new sportive set but if you're looking for a workhorse bike that'll handle long rides, light touring and winter commutes then the Sportif might well fit the bill.
Built around a Reynolds 520 frame the Sportif has a typical audax geometry with a longer headtube and shorter top tube than a more hunkered down road machine. It's matched with a raked Cromoly fork and the two are painted with a smart looking metallic red finish that's proven to be fairly hardy, dealing with minor scuffs well. Transmission duties are taken care of by a Sora groupset and the wheels are good quality Alex DA22 rims mated with Formula hubs, and they're shod with Vittoria Zaffiro tyres, one of our budget favourites. Dawes finishing kit and a Selle Italia XO saddle finish things off.
My first impressions of riding the Sportif were a bit mixed. At 11.5kg it's no lightweight, especially when the last steel sportive machine I rode was the 8.6kg Salsa Pistola, and it's not the liveliest bike straight out of the box. That's not to say it doesn't ride well, the position is spot on for a long stint in the saddle and the steel frame delivers a good ride. That steel spring? Well, it's in evidence to an extent but I wouldn't say the Sportif was the most responsive bike I've ridden. The large diameter down tube stiffens things up, especially at the bottom bracket, but I'm not sure it's good for the overall ride.
The fork is great though, offering comfort and crisp tracking, and the handling generally is excellent. Cruising and climbing are good but the best part is pointing the Sportif downhill, it's a riot on the swooping stuff with the quick handling bringing a grin to your chops. Back up the other side you'll be struggling for gears though, for some reason Dawes have mated the very sensible 50/34 compact chainset with a close ratio 11-23 cassette. I've no idea why they couldn't have fitted an 11-28 but I certainly found the Sportif overgeared on steeper climbs. If you've a hilly commute or you're thinking of touring on the Dawes then you'll want to swap it out.
Speaking of touring, the Sportif is an excellent platform for a bit of loaded riding and in fact I completed a 3,600km tour of Chile with a friend riding a predecessor of this bike. There's low rider mounts for front bags as well as a rear pannier. I found that the rear mounts on the chainstays were too close to the brakes and fouled the callipers but a few washers sorted that out.
So who's the Sportif for then? Well, if you're looking for a bike just to buff up and swank about with the sportive set then you're best off looking elsewhere. The Dawes is much more Audax than Etape and although you'll probably get beaten up the hills you'll have a blast catching up on the descents. But the Sportif is too versatile just to wheel out when there's a big ride to do. It's a good commuter bike, fully equipped to see off a winter of daily riding with the minimum of fuss, and it's plenty happy dragging the weekly shop back from the supermarket too. Add to that the touring capability and you're looking at a worthwhile option for your spend if you need a bike for all seasons.
All things considered the Dawes Sportif is a likeable bike and happy to be pressed into service for a variety of riding. Its overall heft counts against it as a thoroughbred sportive machine but it's plenty capable of a big ride, and rides well loaded too. It's not perfect for sure, but it's a good choice if you want one bike to cover all bases.
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Dawes Sportif
Size tested: 57cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Fork: Double butted chromoly
Headset: Cane Creek Ahead 1.1/8"
Shifters: Shimano ST-3400A 18 speed STI
Rear Derailleur: Shimano RD-3400SS
Front Derailleur: Shimano FR-3400BS
Chain: Shimano HG53 super narrow
Freewheel: Shimano CS-HG50 12-23T
Front Hub: Formula alloy anodized 32H QR
Rear Hub: Formula alloy anodized 32H QR 8/9spd
Rims: Alex DA22 double wall with CNC side wall
Spokes: 14G stainless
Tyres: Schwalbe Blizzard, 700x23c
Chainwheel: Shimano FC-3450 50/34T compact
Bottom Bracket: Shimano SM-FC4500 included in Chainwheel
Brakes: Tektro dual pivot alloy caliper
Brake Levers: Shimano ST-3400
Handlebar: Alloy polished black
Stem: Alloy polished black
Seatpost: Kalloy 27.2mm x 300mm
Saddle: Selle Italia XO special edition
Grips: Velo cork
Pedals: Alloy with toe clips and straps
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?
"The Sportif range is designed especially for Sportif or Audax riders. The geometry is just a little more upright and shorter than our standard road bikes and with frame materials specifically chosen for added comfort for longer hours in the saddle. The Comp features a Reynolds 520 chromoly frame and double butted chromoly forks. Fitted with top drawer brands with the Shimano Sora 18 speed compact gearset, Alex DA22 double wall rims and Selle Italia XO saddle. Stopping power is supplied by the Tektro dual pivot caliper brakes and finished with Schwalbe tyres. A great bike for a great day out."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nicely put together from Reynolds/unbranded Cromoly
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Fork: Double butted chromoly
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Head angle: 73°
Seat tube: 73.5°
Effective top tube: 570mm
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Fine for more upright road riding. Given that I'd normally ride a 58/59cm I could probably get on with either the 57cm tested or the 60cm okay.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Generally fine, although not as lively as I'd like a steel bike to be
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too felxible?
It's possible to induce some chain rub with a bit of effort but the frame didn't feel flexy on the road
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Power transfer is pretty good, the bike is maybe a touch on the heavy side though
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? On the lively side of neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is a really nice mix of stability in the straights and chuckability in the corner, it's nice and responsive to rider input.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes for a workhorse/tourer but not for a sportive mount
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes if they wanted a one-bike-does-it-all machine...
About the tester
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I\'m testing... My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with Ultegra 6700
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.