Dawes Audax

The Dawes Audax is my principal bike, which I ride on most occasions: day-rides & touring.  Only if conditions are unsuitable will I revert to my Trek 830 MTB, which usually means off-road, rough track, snow and ice.  More recently I have also acquired an Airnimal Joey folding bike, for use with public transport, maybe including touring, but still expect the Audax will continue to be used on most occasions.

Dawes Audax - fully loaded in Flanders, Belgium 2012

Dawes Audax – fully loaded in Flanders, Belgium 2012

After a few years riding a Dawes Giro 500 road bike I decided I needed more gears and as I aspired to start touring again, greater carrying capacity and more strength than the Giro 500 provided.  In general I had been pleased with the Giro 500, the way it rode and its price so what better place to start looking for a replacement than Dawes again.

Established in 1927 at Castle Bromwich in the West Midlands, Dawes has long been a successful manufacturer of British bikes, being especially known for its touring bikes.  However, like so many British companies the manufacturing process has for some time taken place overseas, in this case Taiwan. Notwithstanding, under the current ownership of Tandem Group (also owners of Falcon Cycles) the management, R&D and development of Dawes bikes thankfully has remained in the UK and they still make good, solid well priced bikes, though it has to be said without the cachet of some other modern and significantly more expensive makes.  Dawes flagship bike is probably the Galaxy, which has long been the stalwart of the touring fraternity.

I think of the Dawes Audax as a fast touring bike, somewhere between the Giro 500 road bike and the Galaxy, which is just what I was looking for. Purchased in 2007, my bike is the 2006 model (57cm / 22.4” & 130mm dropouts), with classic geometry but an unusual elliptical down-tube; I liked it at the time but with the benefit of hindsight I’d go for round-shaped next time.  Most importantly the frame is Reynolds 631 tig-welded steel, which is strong, light and rides well.  Although this is classed as a long distance road bike (Audax), one item points to its touring ability: rear and front lugs to attach pannier racks and a triple chainset.  The drop alloy handlebars are wide-fitting, making for a comfortable, open riding position.

The metallic silver livery is, I believe, attractive but not flashy.  The bike is quite well kitted out with a Shimano Tiagra front chainset and derailleur and 105 rear derailleur and STI brakes; this was my first experience of indexed STI gears, which makes changing very easy but can be less reliable than old fashioned friction levers.  Probably the most significant difference between the Giro 500 and the Audax is the addition of a ‘granny ring’, to create a triple chainset.  This has completely revolutionized my cycling in two ways: (i) it just makes getting up hills and carrying loads easier, and (ii) it makes spinning more practical and thus riding more comfortable and sustainable over long distances. With cycling there are two trains of thought regarding riding style: (a) those who slowly push a high gear (small rear socket) on the flat and up-hill, and (b) those who, using lower gears (large sprocket) maintain a fast spinning style, which is what I now tend to do whenever possible.  As I currently have a bad left knee, spinning can make the difference of between being able to continue cycling and having to stop all together.

Modifications and additions Whilst I have been very pleased with this bike it had some shortcomings which I have tried to overcome through modification, the addition of various bits and bobs has also improved the bike in various ways. The stem was originally an NVO ATS system, which I had to adapt with a BBB extender and spacers after few years in order to lift my head as at the time I was suffering from arthritis of the neck.  I also changed the headset form WTB to Cane Creek.

Probably the most significant issue was the wheels.  The original x 32 spoke Rigida Nova 700c wheels are good and I have no complaints but to improve the bike’s strength for touring I purchased a hand-made x 34 spoke Rigida Chrina rear wheel, which I now swap with the Rigida Nova for touring.  Notwithstanding the improved strength of the wheel, I had a broken spoke on the new wheel but that’s just cycling wear and tear.

More of a problem is the maximum tyre size that the frame will accommodate.   Not being a fan of a getting a wet back I have narrow SKS mudguards, which together with the less than generous wheel clearance of an audax bike compared with a full-blown touring bike, means that only tyres of up to 28mm can be fitted.  This makes for a decent ride, with good rolling performance but is not ideal for load carrying when touring and last year (2014) led to a catastrophic failure of a Panaracer Pasella Tourguard tyre.  As a result I have stopped using the Pasella tyre for touring and at the moment am trialing the Panaracer RibMo tyre instead on the rear Chrina wheel.  From appearances it is certainly a more robust tyre, with a noticeably stronger sidewall, which is the achilles heel of the Pasella tryre – as a result it is very, very hard to fit and the clearance is perhaps even less (if that’s possible) than the Pasella.  In the long run, if I continue touring and certainly if I expand my touring horizons, I will probably need to get a full touring bike that will take 32mm tyres, which size I suspect will still provide good rolling characteristics that I like but with added strength and better clearance.

When first renewing the rear sprocket cassette and again on purchasing the additional Chrina wheel I have also changed the largest sprocket size to provide that little bit of extra help on hills when fully loaded.  As a result the x10 speed cassette has gone from 25 – 12, to 27 – 12. I have played around with chains too but can’t say I find too much technical difference, only price!  I therefore currently use the SRAM x10 speed chain with a powerlink, which I still struggle to remove.  In my opinion and most importantly, I soak and clean the chain every couple of months using Fenwicks FS-1 fluid and change the chain every 12 to 18 months, depending on mileage at the time.  I’d like to think that improves wear and tear on the other drive train components, it certainly feels and runs better after a clean.

The brakes need to be considered in three parts: levers, cable and calipers.  The Shimano 105 STI indexed brake levers make for comfortable braking but, as they also include the gear changing mechanism they are mechanically complicated inside.  I found this out after a few years when the cable broke from the nipple deep inside the lever mechanism and, try as I may, I could not get it out, as a result I reluctantly resorted to my local bike shop.  They looked at it and quoted me £10 for the job, which considering I had already been struggling with for at least two days, I was happy to accept.  It took them another two days and when I went to pick the bike up it was obvious they had underestimated the difficulty of the job too; I therefore felt my decision to go to the shop had been vindicated. The actual brakes are Tektro cantilever style, which are easy to work with and provide a good, even pull.  Finally the bake blocks. On the face of it a minor detail but when you are heading downhill and it’s wet, their performance is the only thing that counts.  Therefore, after reading some threads on the CTC Forum, I decided to replace my original blocks with Kool-Stop – the difference was amazing.  The Kool-Stop blocks are noticeably more effective, stopping the bike more quickly but with better control without being sharp, especially in the wet.  Although quite expensive to buy  compared to ‘standard’ blocks, they have also lasted nearly 3-years.

Bits & Bobs  

Saddle: In the past I had always ridden a Brooks B17 leather saddle, inherited from my Dad.  Since getting back on the bike I had been using various synthetic saddles, but now I intended to increase mileage and start touring again, I felt a return to a Brooks would be beneficial.  On this occasion my brother in-law was kind enough to give me a spare saddle he had which importantly was already broken in – so I was doubly thankful.  The saddle is a B17 Narrow Professional and, as expected, has been a pleasure to ride.

Mirror: I can’t imagine riding without a mirror; with today’s traffic conditions I can honestly say it is the most important piece of safety equipment I possess.  I have a Bike Eye mirror fitted on the down-tube but it’s field of view is poor and when panniers or even a saddlebag are fitted, the rear view is completely obstructed.  As a result I have fitted to the Zefal Spy mirror on all my bikes.  The mirror is quite small but with a well-designed, convex mirror provides an excellent rear view, sufficient to see what’s coming or going on behind.  Furthermore, with a soft rubber strap it fits on the bars and comes off easily, making it practical to take off the bike when left unattended and quick to switch when you arrive in Europe on the right hand side of the road.  Personally I would make mirrors compulsory as they aid safety so much and this mirror should be branded the Gem, because that’s what it is.

Pump:  The only decent way to pump up the tyres is at home with a track pump; I currently use a Joe Blow which is excellent.  On-the-road pumps are all poor, so it’s a matter of trying to find the best of a bad bunch, which I think I have now succeed with.  The Lyzene micro floor pump is in itself an attractive piece of equipment, with a polished aluminium barrel.  In addition, a number of more practical features make it a really excellent pump: (i) a long, rubber hose provides good, easy access to the valve, (ii) a brass, screw-fitting connector for Presta and Schrader valves ensures good, secure attachment that won’t slip off, (iii) a simple in-line transparent tube provides an easy to read psi and bars pressure gauge, (iv) a small, fold away, stainless steel clamp allows the pump to be held steady with your foot whist pumping, (v) it look good on the bike, held in place by a plastic shoe that utilizes the bottle cage screws and, for good measure, a velcro strap too.  The one minor issue I have is that the top T-piece pump-handle is small and quite uncomfortable when pumping.  Notwithstanding, this small pump does the job well, inflating a 28mm tyre to +90psi quite quickly.

Lights: I use a Cateye x5 LED light rear light at all times in the UK, simply to let motorists know I’m there!  Otherwise I don’t have permanent lights on the bike, as I don’t generally tend to cycle at night.  However, when Touring I’ll use a small LED ‘be seen’ light that will clip on the handlebar or under the bar-bag, which can also usefully double-up as a reading and convenience light in the tent.

Bell: An old, small, black ping-type polite bell – sufficient to let people know I’m coming without blasting the message: GET OUT THE WAY!  I hope in so doing not to give offence but ensure they are aware of my presence and will nonetheless please move out the way.  Fundamentally a bike is quiet and it is amazing how unaware people can be of you coming, especially when they, (i) maybe deaf? (ii) can’t hear because of other noise? (iii) are too busy talking, (iv) have earphones in their ears, or (v) have their head in the clouds!  It is a real danger to them, you and other road users – in the event the bell still doesn’t get their attention, don’t be shy – SHOUT, it’s better than crashing into them.

Rack: As an accessory at the time of buying, the bike came with a Blackburn pannier rack.  It is nicely fitted and does the job but I do have a few quibbles and would probably get something else next time: (i) the solid aluminium is narrow and I have to change the pannier clips each time after I use the Trek bike, which has a thicker tubes, (ii) not sure this is unique, but the bars are literally wearing away at the point of contact with the pannier, (iii) there is nowhere to attach a rear light – a fixing plate would be good but the rack won’t take one, so I have had to fit (with difficulty) a small aluminum bracket.

Bag clamps: These come in two types that take Carradice bags, (i) The SQR block fits on the seat post, into which fits a wire frame attached to the saddle bag and g=hold the bag securely off the rear of the saddle – putting the bag on and taking it off is very easy and quick – about 2 seconds, whilst meanwhile it remains securely fitted whilst cycling and does not unduly swing about, (ii) At the centre of the front handlebars a KLICKFix fitting bock enables the compatible Carradice Super C bar bag to be quickly secures and taken off.  Both of these items are simple, elegant pieces of equiopment that do the job well. So that’s mostly my bike.  In some ways it’s like an old broom where parts have been changed to create a new broom which sweeps better.  The detail and preferences take time to work out and are important, as when touring I may spend more than 8-hours a day riding so you need to know it works, it works well, it is comfortable and it is safe.

SUMMARY

Make & Model Dawes Audax 57cm
Year 2006
Frame Tig-welded Reynolds 631 steel, traditional style
Forks Chomoly + low rider and mudguard bosses
Rear Derailleur Shimano 105 x10 speed
Front Derailleur Shimano Tiagra + N-Gear Jump Stop
Shifters Shimano 105
Chainset Shimano Tiagra 52/42/30 + 175mm cranks
Bottom Bracket Shimano sealed Octalink
Chain SRAM x10 speed
Freewheel Shimano x10 speed hyperglide 27 – 12 = 29.7” to 116.0” gear inches
Headset Cane Creek
Brakes Tektro calipers + Kool-Stop blocks
Rims (1) Rigida Nova x 32 spoke 700c
Rims (2) SPA Cycles hand-made Rigida Chrina x34 spoke 700c
Tyres (i) Panaracer Pasella Tourguard 700×28 – day rides
Tyres (ii) Panaracer RibMo 700x 28 – touring
Inner tubes Continental + yellow caps
Saddle Brooks B17 Narrow Professional, black
Pedals Powerplay Force (300g) Performance MTB clip on
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