Dawes have obviously made a very conscious choice to keep their mountain bikes plain and simple this year. The XC 1.6 is silver grey, with understated graphics and mainly black components. The UK-designed frame is the same throughout the cross-country range, priced from £200 to £550 and the all-in weight of 30lb is slightly less than average for bikes at this price, and over 2lb lighter than that of the same priced Decathlon full susser.
The only thing that really says the bike was designed in the UK is a set of Crud Catcher bosses on the down tube - the Crud Catcher is the UK's best-selling down tube mudguard. But there's a bit more going on here besides the Crud Catcher. At this price it's hard to know what sort of rider to design frame geometry for, so Dawes have been clever and compromised between casual and sporty.
The geometry is intended for light and lively handling and the top tube's length offers an efficient stretch without making it too racey for first time mountain bikers. There's a big stack of washers on the steerer so it's easy to find the right handlebar height, and luggage rack mounting bosses have been placed on the seatstays so that the rack won't interfere with the disc brake position.
The tube profiles are interesting. The sloping top tube is almost a concave beam section, the big down tube is efficiently gusseted behind the head tube and biaxially ovalised for maximum weld contact areas at the head tube and bottom bracket. The seatstays curve in for ankle and heel clearance and out for tyre room, and we like the cowled dropouts. A forward-facing seat clamp slot would have been nice, though.
The SR Suntour XCR fork has a very basic, almost undamped spring that's a bit of a handful if you hit a succession of bumps because of the super fast rebound. Still, it rarely suffers from the top-out clunk of many low-cost forks.
The Dawes drivetrain is pretty normal for bikes at this price, and there are bound to be those who like the fact that the gears are Shimano. The gear mechs are from the 8-speed Acera group and the shifters are the combined brake and gear Quickfire units with big numerical gear indicators - a popular option for beginners. A steel-ringed SR Suntour crankset with a trouser guard performs front shifting duties efficiently.
The wheels are pretty hefty affairs, with decent rims, a Shimano hub at the back and stainless spokes. The Kenda front and rear tyre combo is grippy but predictably draggy on hard surfaces. The Tektro cable-pull disc brakes are among the best of the budget discs and we're happy to see that Dawes have fitted a full outer cable to the rear brake, which should keep the inner cable running smoothly for longer.
The handlebar, stem and seatpost (long enough for riders up to 6ft on the 18in bike) are all functional, anonymous affairs and the saddle is a comfy WTB offering.
Many £300 MTB manufacturers seem to assume that the riders who buy their bikes want to ride with a bolt-upright, short-reach stance. Dawes have created something a bit different - a frame with good performance potential as well as comfort. The steepish frame geometry makes for very lively but still predictable handling and the low bottom bracket makes the bike feel stable at both low and high speeds, but inevitably results in occasional pedal strikes on rocks and roots until you get used to the leaning into corners limitations. But the overall ride position and parts choices result in a very comfy ride.
Dawes have managed to keep the total weight of the XC 1.6 reasonable (30lb) so it's not too difficult to haul it up the climbs, and the generous top tube stretch combines with the steep seat angle to produce an aggressive singletrack personality that's unusual on a £300 bike.
It does have limitations, as you'd expect. Ride too aggressively and you will find that the fork struggles with bigger square-edged bumps, rebounding with a loose thunk if you hit something too hard and too fast. But if you ride as most relative beginners do, you probably won't get to that point and the fork rebound can deal with any normal bumps perfectly adequately.
This is a good £300 worth of bike. We've seen slightly better equipped bikes at the same price but not many with a frame as good as this one.