Dawes say the Sportif Elite is designed for – surprise, surprise – sportives. But judging by the steel frame with its horizontal top tube, rack mounts and standard-ﬁt mudguards, this looks like an audax bike to us. In truth, a bicycle like this can take on commuting or light touring too.
The Dawes' stiff frame doesn't waste any energy but it's not as comfortable as the best steel bikes, and the narrow sizing range won't suit all riders.
Ride & handling: Steady and stable without being dull, and descends conﬁdently
Get out of the saddle on a steep climb and there’s very little movement from the bottom bracket, just an immediate response to each pedal stroke. If you think traditional steel bikes are all soft and woolly, the Sportif Elite will surprise you.
The ﬂip side is a ﬁrmer ride than you might expect from steel. It’s not uncomfortable, just a little less forgiving than we expected. The 25mm-wide Schwalbe Blizzard tyres help take the edge off road buzz, though. They’re not the lightest, but they’re tough and roll well.
In spite of their low spoke count (16 radial at the front and 20 two-cross at the rear), there’s nothing wishy-washy about the Shimano WH-RS10 wheels when climbing or cornering. The carbon-bladed fork also helps keep steering precise, with steady and predictable handling that is well suited to long days in the saddle.
Frame: Reynolds 853 makes for a stiff, responsive frame that doesn’t waste any power
Sadly, the days of Dawes building their frames in the UK have passed. Instead, the Sportif Elite’s frame is made in Taiwan. There’s no shame in that, though, since some of the world’s ﬁnest bikes are put together over there.
It’s made from one of the very best steel tubesets: Reynolds 853. As an ‘air-hardening’ steel, 853 actually gains strength as it cools in the air after welding, which promises long-lasting and robust joins between the tubes. Stronger and stiffer than more humble steels, 853 should build into a resilient and responsive frame.
The Sportif Elite is only available in a limited range of sizes – 54cm, 57cm and 60cm – which means short riders in particular may struggle to ﬁnd a frame that ﬁts.
Equipment: Ever-reliable Shimano shifting and wheels, but uncomfortable saddle
A pair of traditional 32-spoke handbuilt wheels would look more at home on the Dawes than the RS10s specced here, but we've no complaints about the Shimano wheels' performance. They’re durable, strong and the bearings are easy to service. Schwalbe Blizzards are quality all-weather tyres, with a layer of Kevlar for extra puncture protection.
As well as the wheels, Shimano also supply the 105 groupset. The shift action is lighter and quieter than that of SRAM-equipped bikes, but changes are just as quick. The brakes show impressive bite when you need to slow in a hurry, but are easy to apply smoothly too.
The rest of the ﬁnishing kit is a mixture of the humble and the practical – money has been spent on some components and saved on others. The handlebar and stem are workmanlike Dawes own-brand items. The Kalloy seatpost is aluminium and swapping this for a carbon ﬁbre post would be on our list of potential upgrades.
Selle Italia are a big name in the world of saddles, but we found the XO ﬁtted to the Dawes rather unyielding and didn’t get on with the shape. Saddle comfort is very subjective, though, and the XO could easily be replaced with your favourite perch.
It’s good to see a quality set of mudguards included in the price. SKS guards have a deserved reputation for durability and still leave room for wider tyres to be ﬁtted. Unusually, the Dawes also comes with a set of Shimano SPD-SL pedals – a nice touch.