Buying online can be daunting but there are some savvy purchases to be made. Words: Guy Kesteven Photos: Mick Kirkman.
As part of our buying direct feature, we review three bikes, the Terry Dolan Scala Ultegra (£1,999.99), the Planet-X Exocet 2 Ultegra (£1,999.99) and the Canyon Speedman AL 9.0 (£2,199)
Dodging the inevitable costs that a bike shop has to add to keep its lights on and doors open makes direct-sell bikes a tempting bargain.
But do they cut corners with their design and performance, or do they just cut out the middleman?
The first thing we’d say is choose wisely. It seems there are always several new brands importing frames or bikes direct from a far eastern manufacturer, but few stick around for long. This may leave you out in the cold if you ever have a problem with your bike, whether that’s spares, warranty or worse still a legal claim.
We have deliberately stuck to long-established direct-sell brands with guaranteed back-up for this test. Even then you’re unlikely to get the same friendly support like that from your local shop.
Secondly, be prepared to wait. While you might be able to walk into a conventional bike shop and walk out with the bike you want, most direct-sell outfits build on demand. Holding large stocks of frames and components is expensive, therefore direct sell brands order in small batches or wait until favourable price opportunities from suppliers.
That gives more flexibility in finished bike specs, but can mean several days or even weeks before your bike gets put on a van to your house. And, because new designs are expensive, you’ll find models stay in the range much longer than mainstream brands. In fact lack of supply of new models meant direct sell specialists Quintana Roo, Rose, Sensa and Ribble all recorded a DNS (did not send) for this test.
But the bikes we did get prove that it’s worth persevering and waiting for the postman if you want a bargain.
Terry Dolan Scala Ultegra £1,999.99 dolan-bikes.com
Terry Dolan has put bikes bearing his name under some of the UK’s best riders over the years, including Chris Boardman, and whenever performance for price is the challenge, Dolan’s rise to the top.
The Scala is no exception, especially for longer distance events.
Frame and Forks
The Scala is definitely the most radical frame here in terms of aerodynamics. The vertical seat-post that extends from a seatstay junction short stub, above the radically wheelwrapping seat-tube, is straight out of the Cervelo school of streamlining.
There’s a wheel hugging cut-out in the downtube as well as a flared mid section to help divert air around your water bottle and the multi-section fork dovetails with a cut out behind/below the head tube.
The head of the fork also hides the rear mounted mini V brake while the rear brake is tucked under the chainstays.
Cable routing is internal and compatible with Shimano and Campagnolo electric systems. The seat post has a sliding saddle mount to alter the effective seat angle and it’s the only frame here certified for top level UCI sanctioned time trial use if you fancy taking on the roadies against the clock without having to swim first.
With a frame cost double that of the Planet-X you’re not getting a bonus chainset upgrade, but you do get a full Ultegra transmission including chain and cassette rather than a sneaky downgrade.
While the Mavic Cosmic Carbone SLS wheels aren’t the fastest and can be a handful in crosswinds, the Yksion Pro tyres are a great performance all rounder with ultralite inner tubes to keep them smooth and lively in feel. The Fizik Tritone saddle is our favourite chopped-snout seat and the Alpina bars are comfortable and are widely adjustable.
When we swapped between the bikes during testing, comfort was the most obvious point our testers made about the Dolan.
Right from the tip of the flared trouser-style forks to the ends of the multi-section chainstays, the Scala is designed to smooth out as much rattle and road buzz as possible. While the pontoon pads of the Alpina bars and the chopped nosesaddle take some getting used to (we recommend that you drop your saddle by one to two centimetres from normal for the best results) once you’ve found your sweet spot you’ll genuinely glide down the road.
The carefully sculpted and skinny tubes are oblivious to wind direction too, and even though the Mavic wheels have
a history of crosswind misbehaviour, happily we didn’t have any issues on test.
The softness is also an obvious issue when you put the power down though, and while it was the lightest bike on test by nearly a pound it needed the most patience to accelerate.
Trying to stomp power through the cranks and heave the bars to hurry things up only succeeds to highlight the flex too so you’re best using a sequential spin through the gears to gain speed.
Lack of handling muscle and the high speed manners of the wheels mean it’s best coaxed through corners smoothly rather than carved and sliced.
That’s frustrating if you’re a powerful athlete on a short, technical course where braking and acceleration play a big part. However, smooth pedalling and relaxed cornering are text book techniques for long distance efficiency and in the same way the deliberately fluid and friendly Cannondale Slice is a great choice for Ironman use, so is the lightweight limousine ride of the Scala.
So if it’s a long, comfortable, ride you’re after, this might be the bike worth logging on for.
Most aerodynamically advanced frame on test with a great value Ultegra spec.
Comfortable frame and forks with ergonomic bars and Fizik saddle.
Soft frame also means soft power delivery.
Mavic wheels have high wind and high speed handling issues.
Performance Value Overall
Dolan’s super smooth Scala is an absolute bargain for efficient long distance work but lacks punch for short course work.