Saturday, February 4, 2017

2016 Focus Izalco Max Disc

While at Sam's over Thanksgiving I got the bug to look for the "perfect" road bike.  Parameters for perfection are various, but I basically narrowed down to:

  1. Carbon.  This is a hard call but after enough riding on steel (see the recent post re: the Gunnar), aluminum (the Cannondale, the Neuvation, the original Cervelo), and titanium (the Salsa), I am convinced of the performance advantage.
  2. Lightweight.  I know, I know, I could stand to lose a few myself, but I will dispute you all day long if you say I can't feel a 2# difference between 18.5# and 16.5# bike.  They ride differently and with some exceptions the lighter-weight one rides nicer.
  3. Well-spec'd.  Another area for credible disagreement:  is Dura Ace better than Ultegra?  It is lighter, see 2 above, and has the reputation for shifting cleaner and lasting longer.  
  4. Well built.  I've never splurged for a top end bike at retail and the result is that most of mine have one or more quirks caused by my amateur build jobs.
  5. Attractive.  Like weight, I know this one is halfway meaningless, but the other half is that riding a bike is supposed to be a pleasure.  No different from a car or a new ski jacket, the look is a realistic part of the experience.

I started surfing and looking at reviews.  In 2016, the hands down favorite for a performance road bike with disc brakes was the Focus Izalco Max.

The Focus Izalco Max 2016, Dura-Ace Mix:  

The reviews are quite positive.  Here is's commentary.  Here is cycling news.  Here is bike radar.  Here is  Here is cycling weekly.  (With an awesome product video.  Try watching that and not buying one.)  Everybody rates at 9 or 10 out of 10, and at least one -- Cycling Weekly -- rates it the best disc brake road bike of 2016.

Here it is on Focus' website:
Picture form
That is, of course, a Focus* frameset, which one assumes is made in China or Taiwan.  One commenter on this 2012 "Who Made Your Bike" article cites Focus and Look as two of very few in-house carbon fabs in the bike industry.  That would not impress me necessarily -- I'd rather have my carbon from Taiwan than, say, Texas -- but Focus is a German brand.  And my experience so far is precisely that German manufacturing is top shelf.

Wherever it is built, the Focus Izalco Max Disc is still reported to be, at 790g, the lightest-weight production carbon disc frame made.

(I happen to have another Focus in the stable since 2014, when I bought the Cayo Evo Di2 for $2200 from Jenson USA.  I have discussed that bike on this blog before.  It is a really nice riding bike that has carried me through some of my hardest rides, including the ridiculous 25000'-climbing fl├Ęche in 2015, the Big Savage SR600 in 2015, and the Natchez Trace 444 in 2015.  The Cayo is now an awesome commuting bike in Indianapolis.)

Focus bikes come from the factory well kitted.  The Cayo Evo was a full Ultegra Di2 build with carbon post and stem.  The Izalco Max Disc 2016 uses

  • DuraAce 9000 derailleurs, 
  • that ubiquitous FSA SLK carbon crank in a 52-36 configuration, 
  • the same carbon stem as on the Cayo, 
  • a Focus-specific shock absorbing carbon post, 
  • top-spec (Ultegra level) RS805 flat-mount hydraulic disc brakes, and 
  • Ultegra-level Shimano RS-685 brifters;
  • Ultegra 11-28 cassette (11 speed, of course).
The wheel-set is a nice DT Swiss hub and rim config with bladed spokes, a 32mm semi-aero rim, and a 17mm inside-width profile. The hubs are through-axle front and rear.

That is a Fizik saddle, which I have replaced with my own WTB Rocket V, and a Fizik R3 compact bar.  As built with my finishing parts I weighed this at just under 17# for a 58cm frame.

Finally, about Focus: the price point puts comparable built bikes to shame.  This bike is 3300 pounds new or 2200 pounds as a demo bike (mine).  After the pound crashed following Brexit I was able to get it for $3000 shipped plus import duties.  (Much more about importing in a recent post.)  Just to note it, the Red eTap version is 6500 Euros, or about $7000, which I think is well in the range of what I would pay for a true dream machine -- if you can talk a shop into shipping to you.  It is hard to find in the USA and you cannot find it for that price stateside.  But again, mine was $3000 and it was used, so I could get it shipped.

So, in short, I bought it.  

Here it is:

That is the Focus shock absorbing seatpost.  Not quite as bouncy as the Specialized.  It does look good and make for a comfortable ride.
Fizik R3 bars is a nice build spec.
The bridge-free rear triangle is a good look.  That's a 25mm Schwalbe tire.  Clearance for 28mm is certain and maybe a lower-profile 30mm.
Not a huge fan of that FSA crank, but it is meaningfully less expensive than the Dura-Ace alternative.
Intriguing to have external cable routing on a modern carbon frame.  Nice from the perspective of replacing cables down the road.
After my fork-in-the-ground wreck in 2011, I am a huge fan of through-axles.  This is my first bike with one.
Understated graphics; I love the blue accents; and look -- it has my name on the top tube!  Those are Specialized cages and the front has the hidden multi-tool.


I've now ridden it twice.  It has been winter, of course, and I recently finished the Gunnar rebuild, so more of my rides have been on that bike.  But here are some initial impressions:

First, it rides like a super light bike.  The Cycling Weekly video suggests the heavier rims slow down climbing, which may be true -- but compared to my experience I would say it feels every bit as snappy being worked from out of the saddle as any bike and wheelset I've ridden.  The front end is almost disturbingly airy: minor shivers from my shoulders and arms make it wiggle in a way I am unaccustomed to on my other bikes.  (One caution:  I have reported here a wide collection of bikes.  Sometimes my judgment on a bike's handling is driven by my recent rides on a very different bike.  I was on the fat bike more than one day this last week.  FWIW.)

Second, despite the note above about weight, it plants itself on the ground and holds the road over rough pavement and curves as well as anything.  I should say my prior first choice for a rough road descent was the Focus Cayo Evo.  This may eclipse that.  Is it a German thing?  Because driving a BMW is an apt comparison.

Third, it is a comfortable sit.  Today's ride was a cold-weather affair with very hard pavement, hard tires, and bumpy roads.  And I was padless in the winter tights.  But it never once felt harsh.


I'm not a great bike reviewer because I'm all excited about everything new I ride.  This bike, though, is something special.  P asked whether it was my "dream bike," a title I have trouble bestowing because bike technology improves like that in computers.  But in truth, this is about as dreamy as I could have imagined.  I hope to get many good miles on it from now until the new new thing comes along.

*More about Focus:  according to Wikipedia, on a page that looks exactly like it was created and is curated by the company PR staff, Focus has been making bikes since the early 1990s, got into race bikes in about 2003, and made its first carbon fiber frame in 2006.  (Because carbon fiber was fully adopted in all racing applications well before 2006, I don't know what Focus' racing bikes were like before then.)  Focus is part of the Dutch Pon Holdings conglomerate, which also owns Cervelo and Santa Cruz.