As my esteemed BikeRadar colleague Matthew Allen has said on this very website, and would probably testify to in a court of law, given half the chance, there are basically two different types of road bikes you can buy if you’re spending around £1,000: those based around sophisticated high-end aluminium frames and what he would argue are less-rarefied carbon fibre frames.
As he put it late last year: “This is why it’s time to stop buying cheap carbon bikes.” I do wish Matthew wouldn’t beat about the bush, though.
- The Dolan L’Etape Carbon 105 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
It is possible that Matthew hasn’t ridden Dolan’s L’Etape, which is a shame, as it’s a real treat. The name of Dolan’s most bank account-friendly carbon road bike suggests this is aimed at sportive riders, but Dolan recommends it for racing, sportives and training.
The Dolan appears to be covering all the bases, like Ribble and its similarly priced R872. And just as with the Ribble, the geometry of all frame sizes in the four-bike range nods more towards the racy than the sedate.
The sizing itself is slightly confusing, being labelled 44, 48, 52 and 56cm, which relates to the length of the seat tube. So my 52cm model has a very similar effective top tube length to the 59cm Rose Pro — 570mm for the Dolan, 572mm for the Rose.
Head tubes are also on the short side with frame angles around the classic 73-degree parallel; lowish stack and longish reach figures on all four bikes also push this towards more aggressive riding rather than endurance bike territory.
The result is a bike that absolutely romps along on the flat, with ample stiffness from the frame and carbon fork, and its tapered, oversized aluminium steerer.
Dolan L’Etape Carbon 105 kit
Get down on the drops and fuss-free sprints are handled with the minimum of flex from the front end, and the L’Etape climbs decently too. The wheels aren’t that light, but get out of the saddle and it’ll reward your efforts impressively.
Descending is controlled at all times and comfort is very reasonable. There’s not a massive amount of give, but the carbon successfully takes the edge off of the worst road surfaces.
Dolan’s L’Etape at 8.62kg is one of the lighter bikes at this price, losing out by a barely perceptible 260g or so to the 8.36kg Canyon Endurace AL 7.0. Frame weight is a claimed 1.2kg for the smallest model, on a par with aluminium frames at this price, but slightly heavier than the 1.07kg Ribble claims for its small R872.
It comes with a full Shimano 105 groupset with compact 50/34 chainset and — dovetailing nicely with the Dolan’s racier aspirations — an 11-28 cassette. However, one advantage of ordering a bike online rather than buying at your local bike shop is that you can customise some of the L’Etape’s kit. You could go for an 11-26 cassette at the same price or an 11-32 for £25 more if you like more help on the climbs. I’d go for the latter because I need all the help I can get to fight the effects of gravity when I’m riding.
My test bike came with Shimano’s budget RS010 wheels, which favour toughness over lightness, and they should give you loads you of mileage before they need replacing.
Dolan also gives you the choice of four Mavic wheelsets, from Aksiums for an extra £59.99 to Cosmic Pro Carbons for £659.99. I reckon the frame is easily good enough to consider these.
Continental’s Ultra Sport II tyres are a good match for the Shimano wheels and 180TPI is a decently high thread count for the price, and help towards the Dolan’s supple ride.
I got on well with the Selle Italia Flow X1 saddle, but Dolan offers other choices from Selle Italia, Fizik and ISM too.
Like Matthew Allen I’ve a lot of time for aluminium bikes at this price (I even bought one years ago, putting my money where my mouth is), but I’d have no qualms recommending Dolan’s L’Etape, even if the name is a bit of a misnomer — though you could argue that the Etape du Tour itself is more race than sportive, so there’s a certain symmetry to that, too.