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group test: Claud Butler Dalesman £1,074.99

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10th November 2010   Words: Matt Lamy

The Dalesman is one of Claud Butler’s flagship models, and that counts for a great deal because it’s obvious that a lot of thought and a fair bit of pride has gone into its construction.

It’s the little details that are so endearing — the Dalesman comes with a nicely polished set of traditional steel pedals and toe straps, while a faux leather, Brooks-style saddle handles seating duties. My favourite ‘added extra’ is the three spare spoke holders that have been fabricated to the left-hand chainstay — a neat touch that could prove invaluable if something goes ping.

At an initial glance, the Dalesman’s frame looks very similar to the Galaxy. It’s made from identical Reynolds 631 tubing and features a very similar, ovalised down tube. The smart gun-metal paintjob isn’t quite as evocative as the BRG on the Dawes, but it fits the general ethos of a touring bike perfectly. However, when you place the bikes side by side there are some substantial differences. The Dalesman’s seat tube is less vertical than the Galaxy’s, while its head tube — even ignoring the huge tower of spacers on the Dawes — is noticeably shorter.

Number crunching

At Cycling Active we don’t like to go into the minutiae of frame geometry — vague numbers tend to do little to help explain the riding characteristics of a bike — but something feels just a little strange with the Dalesman. The dead-level top tube is proportionally a little longer than the Galaxy’s, so you’re a tad more stretched, but we think the true culprit is the really short head tube — the tube that the fork passes through.

While we may have slightly mocked the Galaxy’s tower of spacers the Dalesman suffers from the opposite problem, and you find yourself adopting a low-back, head-down position, which isn’t quite what we were looking for in a touring bike. In many ways the frame’s shape probably has more in common with touring bikes of days past than its rivals, but there are often good reasons for why things change.

The (very) semi-compact shape of the other three bikes on test don’t just look more modern, they also ride better. When you’re bouncing between potholes and over rough surfaces the Dalesman simply doesn’t offer as cosseting a ride as the Galaxy, or indeed the Compass or Panorama. On flat, smooth surfaces the frame shape encourages pure speed. But once you hit even mildly rough stuff, bad vibes come up the seat tube and along your elongated upper body.

Solid stoppers
Stopping duties are handled by a set of Tektro Oryx cantilever brakes, which are also fitted to the Galaxy and Pearson. Although I’m not a big fan of Tektro brakes — they get fitted because they cost bike firms half the price of Shimano stoppers but are apparently only moderately less efficient at bringing you to a halt — I am going to have to rethink my prejudices soon, because these examples work just fine.

Another little extra that Claud Butler has opted to specify is a supplementary pair of bar-top ‘frogleg’ brake levers, for emergency speed scrubbing when you find yourself cycling upright, distracted by the scenery. They work surprisingly well, as do the integrated Tiagra STI levers, which feel just a little more surefooted than the brake levers on the Galaxy.

But what the Lord giveth, he taketh away, and while the STI levers might offer a more pleasant handhold, and a more chunky lever to squeeze when braking, they also provide an added complication in the gear shift department. To people coming direct from road bikes, an STI lever might be a welcome friend, but demonstrating just how big an effect set-up has in the operation of a bike, they were another weak link on the Dalesman.

Despite the drivetrain being almost identical to the Galaxy’s, the rear gear shift was a hopping, skipping process and when we first got it, the front derailleur didn’t work at all. Here, graphically demonstrated for any cycle tourist, is the point of bar-end shifters — they are so much more reliable.

So I have to confess to being a trifle disappointed with the Dalesman. It’s got a classic look, and some sweet little touches, but it feels wrong to ride and in some areas it just didn’t work.

Comfort Value Handling Wow Factor Build Quality OVERALL
13 17 16 16 15 77%

Read on….

Group test: 4 top tourers introduction
Dawes Galaxy
Pearson Compass Touring

Ridgeback Panorama

Group test verdict