Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dawes SST-AL Pictorial Review

Click any image to view it full size.

On Friday the thirteenth of February I received my tax refund. At 11am that morning I placed my order for the Dawes SST-AL (52cm) from bikdesdirect for $359.99 USD delivered. I was looking for a way to rekindle my interest in cycling, which had fallen off some in the past couple of years. I figured riding fixed could do the trick. Since it had been 10 years since I last bought a bicycle (my road bike), I was pretty excited about getting another bike. At 11:40 I received a UPS tracking number. Bonus points for the quick shipping!

My budget for the bike ran about $500, so right after ordering the Dawes I went to ebay and picked up a Cateye Strada wireless cycle computer, and a cheap pair of Wellgo 823 clipless pedals. The bike comes with clips and straps, but since I already ride a pair of Wellgos on my road bike I decided to get the same for this bike so I could be sure I could use my only pair of cycling shoes with both bikes.

Dawes in boxI had it shipped to my office. I ordered it the Friday of Presidents Day weekend, so with their 5-day shipping estimate I figured it would be at best Thursday or Friday of the following week when the bike arrived. I was stoked when it arrived at my office on Tuesday(!) morning at 9:30. That's a little under 4 days for delivery, across a holiday weekend. The bike got to me so quickly that I had to wait a few more days to get my clipless pedals and cycle computer. The box was in pretty good shape, so I wasn't worried about the condition of the contents.

Open boxThe thing felt pretty light. Opening the box was a pretty good wrestling match; once it was open, I could see everything tucked tightly into place.

Seatpost and saddleThe seatpost is a Kalloy Micro Adjust 27.2x300mm in black, mounted with a nondescript black saddle. Since I already had a Fizik Pave' saddle on hand, I've been using it in place of the stock saddle while riding.

Unloaded boxThe wheels looked nice, and the packing job was thorough, with cardboard, foam, and clear plastic taped or zip tied in place to protect all the shiny aluminum of the frame and the black components. I admit that when I placed the order I was concerned about the level of care that would be used in packing. Everything came through just fine. There was the seatpost and saddle, a parts box, and the mass of the frame and wheels. The rear was already installed, while the front was zipped in place. Interestingly, the front also had the left crank slid in place between the spokes. It made for a solidly packed mass with little room to move around. That's good, since there's no one to inspect the bikes between the factory and the customer.

Parts box contentsThe parts box had the pedals, the 17-tooth freewheel (the 18-tooth fixed cog was installed), and a rear brake and brake lever with cable and housing. Also included was a laughable "owners manual" with a few pages of (very) generic content.

Rear wheel, bottom bracket, and crankThe welds are not especially pretty, but that's something I was willing to accept for the deeply discounted price at bikesdirect. The axles were covered to prevent them punching through the sides of the box. I took a good look at the rims and other components before beginning to assemble the bike.

Cane Creek HeadsetThe headset is a Cane Creek -- I was glad of that, though I'm sure it's low-end Cane Creek. The whole head tube was loose on arrival, but there was no apparent harm in that. Contrary to what you may have heard on the web, the Dawes stickers are all under the clear coat. The only sticker on top is that "Made in Taiwan" sticker on the head tube.

Side shot of head tubeHere's a shot of the welds where the top tube and seat tube meet up with the head tube. Keep in mind that this is a 52cm, so everything pretty much runs together here.

Handlebars installedWith the handlebars in place and the headset tightened down it was starting to look like a bicycle. Initially I left in the full complement of spacers. I've taken about half of them out while adjusting my fit. The handlebars are 44cm C-C, which is a full 6cm wider than the bars on my road bike, and likely too wide for anyone who buys a 52cm frame.

Ready for the first rideI bolted on the front wheel and installed the seatpost and the clips and straps, and voila, it's a track bike. There's no toe overlap at this frame size, and there's plenty of clearance in back for fenders, with braze-ons for racks and two water bottles. I didn't put on the rear brake right away, but of course this bike has cable guides on the frame, so I was sure I would install it soon. In this picture everything is still stock. At this point I was ready to go for my first ride.

The clips and straps took me back to my high school days. Everything on the bike was pretty tight. The only thing that slipped was the rear cog when I backpedaled to slow down. For the rest of the ride I stuck to the front brake for stopping. We're a little too close to winter here still, so the 30F temps and light drizzle meant the first ride was short.

Saddle and seat bagSince I didn't have any track-bike specific tools yet, I tightened the cog by standing on the pedals. I carefully used a hammer and nailset to tighten the lockring, which tightened about a quarter turn. The crank and all other parts were already all the way tightened down. Since I bought the bike mail order, I've been trying to be nice to my LBS by going there to buy a lockring tool and a chain whip, as well as a Topeak bag mounted under the saddle to carry my spare tube, 15mm wrench, and multitool.

Complete bike, with some upgradesI have a day job and the days are still short, so I can only ride on the weekends, but right now I have about 70 miles on the bike, including a couple of rides of 20 to 25 miles. This picture shows my bike as it looks now after a few modifications. The provided rear brake is installed, and a few new components have been swapped in. As I mentioned before, I already had a Fizik saddle I intended to use, and my clipless pedals and cycle computer arrived from the land of ebay. I knew the handlebars were silly wide, and after I road it a few times I realized that I missed the hand positions afforded by brake hoods. So I returned to ebay where I picked up a 40cm Nitto Noodle handlebar, some Tektro R200 aero brake levers, and Cinelli macro-splash cork tape. My LBS had the 38g Bontrager composite water bottle cage. Now the bike really felt like it was mine. I was amused, after I thought about it, to realize how closely the setup of the Dawes mirrored the setup of my regular road bike. So far I'm pretty happy, but I'm still making adjustments to the fit to find the most comfortable position. logoMany thanks to the fixed gear folks over at where I lurked for about 6 weeks prior to ordering the Dawes, and where I continue to find inspiration.

I need to put some more miles into this setup to be sure it's right, but I find it more comfortable than the stock parts. I'm a roadie by nature, and most of my rides are 20-40 miles on flat to rolling hills. My only shorter rides are tooling around town with my kids.

Riding and working on the bike has been an education in fixedness. On my road bike my cadence is generally 90+ ... on the fixed gear, particularly on hills or into the wind, I'm forced to generate a lot of force at lower cadences. It's a different kind of workout.

Track endsAs delivered, the rear wheel fits at the tight end of the track ends. There's some kind of black, protective plastic on the right chainstay.

StemThe stem is solid but uninspiring. It's 110mm; I may swap that out for a 90mm soon.

Closeup of the right aero brake leverAnd here's a closeup look at the Tektro R200 aero brake levers I switched to. They're heavier than the cross levers that came with, but I like riding on the hoods. Since I'm on a budget I wanted cheap, and I knew the Tektro levers would work with the stock Tektro brakes. A note for anyone else considering this upgrade -- I needed new brake cables and housing because the existing ones weren't long enough. The hoods mount far enough out on the bars to make both cables several centimeters too short. I did keep the stock rear brake cable and cut it down to use as the front brake cable so that I only had to purchase (again at the LBS) a new cable for the rear.

Complete bike, grain elevator in the backgroundI live in a town of 1800 people in the middle of Illinois corn and soybean fields. All of my riding is on blacktop chip and seal roads. I don't ride in the winter, so I'm just getting used to being back in the saddle. This makes it hard to compare the comfort of the Dawes vs. my road bike, which I still haven't ridden since early December.

Bike closeup from below frontThe 48x18 gearing is good while I'm learning to ride fixed, but I may knock that rear cog down to around 16 teeth to increase my top end. I haven't made up my mind yet whether that will cause me trouble in the open on a windy day. Give it a couple of months and the corn will be over my head on both sides of the road, and that will help some with the wind. Bikesdirect states that the crank length varies based on frame size; these cranks are 170mm. If a future edition of this bike comes with a carbon fork, that would be a nice enhancement over the current design. I hesitate to add an aftermarket carbon fork due to the cost.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments; I'll try to answer them. I'll also come back with an update that gives the full list of changed components with their costs.


Anonymous said...

great review and photos! do you think it'd be relatively easy to scrape off/remove the logos on the downtube?

Don Appleman said...

I don't think you could do it and have it turn out looking good.

You would first scrape away clearcoat before you could scrape away the decals. Once the decals were removed, the frame would probably look ok from a distance. But I suspect you would need to strip the entire frame and then reapply the clearcoat to get something that would look good instead of ghetto when viewed up close.

I'm not sure how the brushed aluminum finish would look without the clearcoat if you just stripped the frame. That might work. For my bike, I've decided to leave the logos rather than mess with the finish on the bike.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. I was wondering if you knew the maximum width of tires you could use with this Dawes model?

Don Appleman said...

There are pics of the front and rear brakes showing tire clearance at that I posted for someone else who had the same question. The stock tires shown are 700x25 ... the forum guy guessed that 32s would fit, and I imagine he's right about that. I dunno how much wider you might be able to go.

Anonymous said...

Hey Don, are the decals removable on the SST-AL?

Unknown said...

Excellent review. Really influenced my decision to buy from online retailers. I bought this exact model. You should be a salesman!

Don Appleman said...

^^ Anonymous, see my first comment (overall comment #2) for my take on what would happen if you tried to remove the decals -- they're under the clearcoat.

kwena said...

Great review, thanks for the detailed info. What is the weight of the bike (with your setup)? Also, how smooth is the ride? I am interested because BikeIsland is selling the frames right now for $124 and I have a Windsor Hour from BD that I might upgrade to a SST-AL at that price.

Anonymous said...

okay so i recently purchased this bike and right from the start i had issues with the parts,my lockring became stripped when i tighten it,so i had to buy another one,then theres something wrong with the headsetso that the fork+handle bars move when i stop or hit a bump.this all happend not even 2 days of having this bike,but other than that it has impressed me,so all i have to say is replace all thekey compents on this bike like cogs.lockrings,headsets,chain and whatever else.

Don Appleman said...

Kwena -- I just re-weighed it, and it came in at 21.4 pounds. About 1/2 pound of that is the aero brake levers that I added ... they're listed at 260 grams per pair, which is between 8 and 9 ounces.

They're Tektro R200A; I probably should have gotten the R100A's, which are meant for smaller hands, but I see that the weight is about the same for either pair.

Now that I've messed around with the fit for a while, the ride is pretty comfortable. The stock fork is steel, not aluminum, so it has some compliance. The guys at BikesDirect have indicated that the next version of the SST-AL will likely come with a carbon fork. I've never ridden a carbon fork, but that would be a nice upgrade for the ride. I haven't heard anything about the pricing or timing of the next version.

Don Appleman said...

Anon, I'm sorry to hear that you had trouble right away with your Dawes. The lockring is aluminum, and therefore not very sturdy. I'm considering upgrading to a decent steel lockring myself for durability, since they're not too expensive.

I lowered the handlebars on mine, but in doing so found that I had to keep 3 of the wider 5mm spacers and place them on top of the stem. With just two on top, I couldn't snug the headset all the way by tightening the top cap -- and without it being all the way snug, there is play in the headset like you describe. If you've removed some spacers, try re-installing them on top of the stem; it won't affect your handlebar height, and it will allow the top cap to be tightened appropriately. Another option, if you're sure you want the handlebars where you have 'em, is to cut off the excess steerer (search online for how to do this) or take it to your LBS and have them cut it down for you.

If you haven't messed with the handlebar height, you might want to take the whole bike to your LBS and see if they can resolve your loose headset problem. Although it's a mailorder bike, a lot of shops are willing to take $25 or so to ensure that all of the parts are installed and tightened to spec.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, and for the comment on yahoo answers. I tried to get the 2009 bike a week or so ago, but it was out of stock. Just ordered the 2010 model with the carbon fork and hoods instead of cyclocross brakes. Only $10 more than last year's bike. Thanks for the extra detail on the bike that confirmed some questions I had. Looking forward to some great times with the new bike when it comes!

Anonymous said...

Just got the new 2010 bike a few days ago. Got out on one good ride and it rode very well. It gave me no trouble. It is a little heavy but very nice overall. Jump on the good price while it lasts!

Anonymous said...

Nice review!

Quick question:
Does the Top tube slant/slope at 52cm?

From your pictures it looks like there might be a slight one, but tough to tell.


Don Appleman said...

I like that they switched to a carbon fork for the 2010 model. I'm hoping to be able to purchase that fork from BikeIsland for use with my 2009.

CD, yes, the top tube does slope on the 52cm. It looks to me like there is a 1cm or 2cm rise from where the top tube meets the seat tube to where the top tube meets the head tube. This gives a little more stand-over clearance than you'd have with a level top tube.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch for the review and putting it a format that allows comments and responses - DeWayne

Ryan said...

Hi there, great review! I am considering purchasing one of these bikes from Bikesdirect, but I am unsure as to whether I should go with the 52 or the 54. I'm 5'7.5" tall with a 30" inseam. What do you think? I know you're 5'7" as well, does the 52 fit you well, do you think the 54 would be too big?


Don Appleman said...

Thanks for your interest.

My road bike that I've had for years is a 52cm and fits me perfectly, so I was confident when I bought the bikesdirect bike in a 52cm as well. However, I've found that the bikesdirect bikes actually fit a little larger than their sizing would indicate. I'm confident that a 54 would be too big for me, and I recommend the 52 for you as well.

As far as reach goes, my 52cm road bike has a 52cm top tube. The bikesdirect 52 has a 53cm top tube, while the 54 has a 55cm top tube, according to the sizing chart at

On my 52cm I've replaced the 110mm stock stem with a 90mm to reduce the reach. I'd be uncomfortable stretching out on the longer top tube of the 54.

Regarding standover height, my jeans have a 30" inseam, and there's just enough clearance for my soft bits when I straddle the top tube with shoes on. I for sure don't need the top tube another half inch higher, as it would be on the 54.

Though the SST-AL in 52cm is a little bigger than my 52cm road bike, it's not enough of a difference that I feel I should have bought the 50cm instead of the 52, but going up to the 54 would be too much for me.

Buying the 52cm may mean showing a little more seatpost, but it's better to have a frame that's a little smaller (and lighter) than to risk having one that's too big.

Anonymous said...

im looking at the 2010 Dawes SST-AL on theres no large decals on the frame, is that actually true?

Don Appleman said...

Anon -- Based on the images at it does appear that they've dropped the decals from the SST-AL.

However, I'm awaiting confirmation on that from people who have recently bought this bike. There is a discussion on bikeforums at where the question has been raised but not yet definitively answered.

I'll try to remember to post here after someone who has just bought the bike is able to confirm whether the decals are still there or not.


i just bought one of these frames, grinded down the cable guides, and had it powder coated matte black for pretty cheap (wherein the clearcoat and decals were sandblasted off) and it looks great!

Don Appleman said...

Very cool. I'd like to see a pic of how that turned out.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 5'6 1/2 145 pounds.
Was wondering how the 52 cm fits you?
I m debating to get 50 or 52 cm.
Thank you!

jin123401 said...

Thank you for your review, it helped me alot and bought the same bike!
I had a question regarding the chain tension,
How tight does the chain tension have to be on this bike?
It seemed a bit lose with some slack on arrival, so I've tried to make it tight, but Don't know the best tension for the fixed gear.
Also in different parts of the pedaling, the chain tension seems to be different is this normal?
Thank you so much,

Eli said...

Did you change out your handlebar to an oldschool Nitto Olympiade?
Thanks for the review.

Edward E Spaghetti said...

hey, i'd like to get the weight well under 17 lbs if possible. I'll be removing the rear brake immediately, and probably sticking with the front at least until i get really comfortable with riding fixed.. (i live in nyc and have to contend with traffic). Which components would you swap out first to reduce the weight if you were in my shoes? Did you notice that the stem or anything were particularly heavy when you were putting it all together?


Don Appleman said...

Anon, I'm the same height and weight as you, so I'm confident that the 52 would also work for you. However, depending on how you like your bike to fit, you would also fit the 50 quite well. I wouldn't say that the fit of the 52 is too big, but I feel that I would be equally comfortable if I had gone down a size and left a little more seatpost showing.

Don Appleman said...

Eli, I swapped the stock handlebar for Nitto Noodle bars, which have a very comfortable rearward sweep of a few degrees on the tops.

Don Appleman said...

edspaghet, probably one of the best ways to drop weight from this bike would be to replace the tubes and tires. Since you're going for a pretty dramatic weight reduction, you'll probably also want to replace the aero wheels with something lighter, like the box-section CXP22 rims available at various wheel builders on-line. I'm confident that replacing the wheels, tires, and tubes is your biggest opportunity to shave weight.

The seat is also a bit heavy; a new seat is likely to be both lighter and more comfortable.

On my bike, I had the stock steel fork of the 2009 models, which I swapped out for an after-market carbon fork. For me, this made a pretty big difference on weight. The 2010 and 2011 versions of this bike come with a carbon fork stock.

Beyond that, you're really starting to pick at items that don't weigh very much to begin with, so it's hard to get dramatic additional savings. The handlebars aren't particularly heavy, but lighter are available. Likewise the crank, which isn't very heavy, but could be lighter.

Carbon seatpost, stem, and handlebars are all possible, and at least the seatpost shouldn't be too expensive.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how tall you are. I am looking at the same setup(52cm) and I am 5'8" with a 31" inseam. Let us know. Thanks

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I also purchase the SST AL but only the frameset. Its a great frame for the price. The fact is, there are not too many aluminum frame options with a horizontal dropout.

My only mod was changing the fork to an aluminum one. Seems a shame to spoil all that shinny sliver frame with a black fork, either steel or carbon.

Ondrej said...

Do you realize you are using the brake levers in an "open" position intended for wheel removal ?

That is the reason you mention that "maybe you should have bought the model for smaller hands".

The release mechanism is identical to Campagnolo. Look it up.

Best regards,

Don Appleman said...

Ondrej, thanks for your comment. Perhaps the angle of the photo misled you. I can assure you the quick release for the brakes is correct. I've had the wheels on and off, and can't remove the wheel without using the quick release on the brakes.

My hands are small enough that I could use the smaller levers anyway.

In any case, I've switched out the Nitto Noodles to cheap Nashbar bullhorns with 2cm drop, with the matching time trial brake levers. I kept everything set up so I could do a quick switch back and forth between the two sets of bars. As windy as it's been lately, I may be back to the Noodles sooner than expected.

Anon, I'm about 5'7", 29.5" inseam, 145 pounds.

Anonymous said...

Hi! so im looking for a reasonably light weight bike im also a beginner cyclist. my only fear is that picking up the bike or transporting it will be a hassle. Id like to be able to pick it up with atleast one hand at ease, Is this a good bike for it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,
I'm looking for a light, yet not too expensive bike for riding on the local velodrome. Checking out the 2012 (2013?) version of the Dawes SST-AL, probably from the same seller. My 2 questions are: How much does your '09 52cm weigh? (I'd buy a 54cm & remove the brakes, but this will give me a 'ballpark' number.) Also, what is the distance from the ground to the center of the bottom bracket? There is no bb location info on the geometry chart.

David said...

Hey there,

Thanks for the review. I was wondering how tall you were and how he 52cm fits you? I realize there is more to fit then height. I am just looking for an idea of fit for a Dawes bike.


David said...

Hey there,

Thanks for the review. I was wondering how tall you were and how he 52cm fits you? I realize there is more to fit then height. I am just looking for an idea of fit for a Dawes bike.


Don Appleman said...

I'm about 5'7", 29.5" inseam, 140 pounds.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking about buying the 2013 model to get into road riding. I was wondering if you still ride yours and how is it holding up?

Don Appleman said...

Thanks for asking.

I do still ride mine. I've probably got about a thousand miles on it. Everything I liked about it still applies. Nothing has broken. All parts are holding up fine

The feel of riding a fixed gear is very different from a road bike with a freewheel. The bike is light and reliable; it's what I ride around town for errands and short trips.

I've been riding my road bike a lot lately for longer rides, but when I switch it up, I always switch to the fixed gear.

The 2013 appears to be mostly the same as mine, except that it comes with a carbon fork, and the price has gone up a bit. I got around to adding an after-market carbon fork to mine. I'd say it looks like it's still a good deal.

Good luck!

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