Dawes XC 1.6 £500

Budget mountain bike

BikeRadar score 2.5/5

With well treaded front and rear specific tyres, excellent brakes, rack mounts and Crud Catcher bosses under the down tube the XC 1.6 will attract riders looking for a sturdy workhorse from a brand that’s still designed in the UK. Unfortunately, like so many other bikes at this price, its trail potential is limited by a poor suspension fork. We’ve seen worse forks on £500 bikes but this certainly isn’t among the best.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Dawes, either on or off road, but it’s not particularly well equipped compared to the best £500 bikes we’ve tested and, apart from the hydraulic disc brakes, which can’t be taken for granted, at £500, it doesn’t really have any redeeming features. While it’s not the heaviest bike we've tested, there’s a lot of competition at this price point.

Ride & handling: Efficient ride position adds to handling confidence

As with the Diamondback, the 36-spoked wheels are strong but heavy, good for aggressive or enthusiastically clumsy trail riding but contributing to the fact that it feels sluggish on the climbs and in initial acceleration. An efficient ride position helped, and added considerably to handling confidence when we began to tackle the rocky, rooty and twisty trails that make up much of our local test routes.

Tyre traction was excellent in the wet but the stiff fork spring offered no favours on bumpy sections, recoiling too rapidly to full extension. Still, we don’t feel inclined to make this too big an issue as the RST forks we’ve tested on this and other bikes behaved better than recent SR Suntour forks we’ve tried on £500 bikes. The rebound to full extension is more of a thunk than a clunk on RSTs.

The 31.8lb all-in weight goes against the XC 1.6 on the climbs, but the gearing range will still get you up almost anything if you sit down and work at it. The grippy tyres, while welcome off road, are a slowing factor on hard surfaces, so if you’re going to use your MTB for commuting you’d be better off getting the dealer to fit faster rolling treads.

Frame & equipment: Nicely put together frame but below average finishing kit

The Dawes frame is nicely put together, and worth spending extra cash on when some of the parts wear out and/or your off-road ambitions blossom. An oversized down tube is bi-axially ovalised for torsional stiffness and gusset reinforced behind the head tube. Curvy seatstays seem to help take some of the kick out of the back end on rougher terrain but a softer saddle would help more. Take a close look at saddles, especially on sub-£500 bikes. It’s an area that often suffers from cost cutting. The saddle on the Dawes isn’t bad but it’s not very comfortable either, having more in common with a race-bred perch. Most beginners need a bit more padding than this.

There’s a fair amount of mud room around the 2.1in Kenda treads, which boast different tread profiles front and rear to cope better in filthy conditions. A grippy set of treads like these will drag a bit on hard, even surfaces, but you can’t have it all. Crud Catcher bosses under the down tube are probably the only thing left to distinguish a bike designed for the UK market, but look at the mud clearances around tyres too. We’ve seen Euro and US bikes that collect mud behind the bottom bracket because there’s not enough drop-through room.

The geometry has a stable feel with a longish top tube (23.5in on the 20in bike) and steep seat angle helping to sit you dead centre on the bike with a power-efficient stretch to the bars on sit-down climbs. Unfortunately the RST fork on our test bike had a stiff spring and a fairly harsh rebound: it was hard to get more than 60mm of travel out of the theoretical 100mm and it took a while to get used to the thunk back to full extension on bigger bumps.

The drivetrain parts were slightly downmarket but the Shimano gears were 100% reliable in shifting. The biggest sprocket on your cassette cluster might have anything from 28 to 36 teeth, although 36 are rare at this price level. The Dawes has 30, which combined with a 22-tooth item up front should get you up most climbs. The Shimano hydraulic brakes are great stoppers too, with a good lever feel adding to general confidence off road. Two riders commented that they’d have felt happier on rough terrain with more handlebar width, but there were no specific complaints about the ride position.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

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