The Dawes Transporteur: a Lovely Frankenbike for Everyone and No One
Some time ago I wrote about a mystery Dawes frameset that was bought by a friend under the impression it was a tiny 53cm frame that could be built up as a winter racer. On receipt, the frame turned out to be of the "long and low" variety - its 50cm seat tube and virtually non-existent head tube completed by a whopping 56cm of top tubage. The purchase price not being worth the return postage, the frameset was kept - and submitted to me on a "see what can be done with this!" basis.
I looked at the frameset this way and that, but truth be told was not particularly inspired. I knew the only way it would fit me personally, was if I were to put swept-back handlebars on it. But I just wasn't feeling an upright setup for this frame. So I consulted with my friend Bryan, who is a bit of an expert on building up fabulous beater bikes. He suggested a drop bar transpor-touring type setup with a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub and low gearing. Now that sounded like the right direction! However, when we pooled our available spare parts for the build, we did not have the right brakes for that setup. Or a second 700C wheel to go with the Sturmey Archer one, for that matter. So we scrapped the idea of trying to make this bike into something interesting, and instead decided to throw whatever parts on it we had between us just to see how it rode.
The pot luck of spare parts included an old steel 27" wheelset with crumbling 32mm gumwall tyres, a cottered crankset, a random early '80s 10-speed drivetrain with a pair of stem shifters, a set of long-reach calipers, a straight seatpost and a shorty stem - all pulled off of discarded bikes. Clashing wildly with this mashup was my more contemporary contribution of a Selle Anatomica saddle, Nitto Noodle handlebars and Tektro short-reach brake levers. We used a roll of old NOS shimmery teal bar tap as a temporary measure, expecting it to look weird, but were pleasantly surprised at how nice it looks with he 5 shades of green of the frame's aftermarket spray job!
At the start we had planned to build the bike up with just the bare minimum of parts to make it ridable; no racks or fenders or anything extra. However, just as we started the build I rereceived this front rack to test from Pelago bikes in Finland, and this porteur rack bag from Inside Line Equipment's UK distributor. Both were said to work particularly well with a drop handlebar setup. Did I have a bike to fit them on? Hmmm, as a matter of fact!
And that is how the Dawes became a transporteur, if you will.
Of course, once it was getting fitted with a rack and bag, it couldn't do without mudguards. Amazingly, we found a couple that looked sufficiently similar to one another to resemble a matched pair.
Rejecting my offer of clipless Crankbrothers, Bryan supplied these old MTB pedals with Power Grips - exciting, as I used to love these things but have not ridden with them in a couple of years.
With the build completed at the start of this month, first Bryan rode the Dawes for a week, then I did the same, and will soon hand it over to yet another rider. The ride quality of this bicycle is just excellent. I mean, really: Unless you are after a racing/ performance-oriented roadbike, or something really specific like a low trail 650B type of thing, the vintage roadbikes tend to ride so much nicer than anything of the same category on the market today, and at a fraction of the cost - that I would encourage anyone looking for a reasonably priced "all arounder" to explore this option. It need not be a fancy frame either. As readers have pointed out in the earlier post about this Dawes, it is most likely a low/mid-range Star Celeste model. Nothing special, and yet the ride quality is soft as butter, the speed does not disappoint, and it climbs pretty well even with a decent amount of weight in the front!
I have not ridden a dropbar roadbike with a wide porteur rack setup before, but it's a combination more riders seem to be embracing lately - offering the benefits of both hauling utility and long distance coverage. As long as the rack and bag are attached well, and the weight sits sufficiently low, I personally do not feel that a low-trail front end is necessary for this setup. This perfectly ordinary mid-trail Dawes, for instance, feels very ridable with a day's worth of stuff in the front. Just make sure that your bicycle's frame and fork are beefy enough to handle the weight you are planning to carry and give it a try. From Velo Orange and Soma, to CETMA, Pelago, and a range of custom options, there is now a slew of wide front racks to choose from for this purpose.
With its 56cm top tube, our little franken-Dawes project is definitely too long for my comfort zone, so it is unlikely I will end up this bicycle's owner. But the setup itself, I think, is a winner. And having ridden the Dawes in this configuration makes me want to turn one of my own roadbikes - most likely the fixed gear Mercian - into a "transporteur." A winter project perhaps.
In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed the show and tell of this bicycle. I have certainly enjoyed riding it, and hope its quirky dimensions will eventually find a permanent companion. You can view the full picture set here. And if you're local and would like to try it, drop me a line!