Friday, September 21, 2018

Focus Paralane

Sometimes it just happens

Focus Paralane Ultegra 2018

Same bike in my condo.

How I got here

I've been ogling the gravel grinder segment for some time, and have even dipped my toes in the water with the Salsa Colossal and the Ritchey Breakaway. 

Gravel bikes?  Both work well for the purpose but neither ever got my heart racing.  Ritchey is now in the hands of another guy named Max out in Oregon somewhere and the Salsa is for sale.  (Interested?)

The best of the best

After a bit of development and innovation and experimentation and market testing, one maker - Gerard Vroomen, of both 3T and Open (the same Vroomen who's name is all over the early Cervelos) - seems to have cracked this particular nut wide open.  He is selling framesets for road-capable bikes that take full mountain-bike tires.

These are not cheap bikes but appear well worth what the respective companies are asking.  I'm just not in the market in that way.  

The best of the rest

After these category killers there is a long list of very road capable bikes that take tires up to 42 or even 45 mm.  You can't be a major make without one.  Salsa was early with its Warbird.  There's the Specialized Diverge.  Trek, BMC, Cannondale, and the list goes on. 

I did a write-up on the options a couple of years ago here.  The primary change since then is the major "grand tour" brands getting into the mix. 
Salsa Warbird

GT Grade
Specialized Diverge
These are all true "gravel bikes," as distinct from the original in the segment - the cross bike, frequently turned into a gravel bike instead of a cross racing rig by using a standard crankset.  Problem with the cross bike is that it rides like a crit bike - quick and a bit squirrelly.  I never have loved the feel.


I was particularly interested in Focus.  I ride the supremely perfect Focus Izalco Max Disc in a DA build.  The current version has 6cm Williams disc wheels.  It is a marvelous bike.  The Izalco Max Disc is my second Focus - the lovely Cayo from 2013 was my first.  (Unfortunately, after an encounter with a car, that bike is now in the trainer.)

Could I keep the magic of Focus while going to the gravel riding setup?

One good question - is it necessary?  I've been riding this Focus Izalco Max with 28mm tires fairly aggressively on the towpath (see number 3 behind the link) in recent weeks.  I've even ridden single-track when needed to make a detour.  And its pretty fun.  One thing, though - it vibrates something fierce.  50+ miles of that and I feel like I've been jack-hammering all day.

Some internet surfing . . .

And it turns out Focus has an offering in the real gravel bike space with the Paralane.  Advertising clearance for 35mm tires and long-distance geometry, it is supposed to be a "road plus" offering, equally happy on smooth pavement, chip-seal, gravel roads, rutted dirt, and where needed true muck, sand, or single-track.  Or so this video, from the Focus website, suggests:

I like that the guy who dialed him up is named "Max."

Other reviews are very strong, with the 9/10 or 4.5 stars kind of being the norm.  The only complaint I read is that 35mm is a skinny tire in this segment.  One write-up says 38mm is known by "company insiders" to fit.  My assessment, after building mine with 35mm tires, is that the right 38mm might fit at low pressures, but it's probably not a daily use option.

Focus bikes also seem to underprice the competition a bit.  The advertised price for the Ultegra build is $3500.  That compares to $3800 for Trek's Checkpoint; $4000 for the Specialized Diverge; and $4300 for the Salsa Warbird, all with similar builds.   (Cannondale's Slate and GT's Grade are priced comparably to the Focus at $3500, and I've just seen the Grade Ultegra on Jenson USA for $2200.  So there are other deals out there to be found.)

Then I found the 2018 Paralane Ultegra for $2800 new from an eBay merchant, made an offer, and got it shipped to my door for $2600 total.  While it's not hard to get deals on a bike, to be well below $3000 for a top end frameset with Ultegra build is pretty sweet, I think. 

Here it is

The Focus Paralane

This one in XL (58cm).


The glossy black with white graphics frameset is a little gauche in my opinion.  (Sam also bought one and has the 2017 black-on-black.  Lucky!)  
  • Double WB bosses (an oversight or just a bad choice - any bike made for going long should have the under-the-downtube bosses installed).  
  • The Paralane comes with fenders and built-in-mounts, presumably a lesson from the success of Specialized's Diverge; they would fit with 32s mounted but not likely with larger.  
  • The Paralane is advertised to clear 35mm tires and these Panaracer Gravelking SK, the gold standard in gravel tires, do fit well at 35mm.  (Photos are not all unambiguous, but I can attest to 5mm of clearance in every direction.)
The frame was apparently made in Taiwan (if the sticker is accurate).  It is a lovely carbon lay-up with beefy joints.  That front end looks a lot like the front end on the Cayo.  I have not studied this, but I have read about the Cayo in its disc brake version being a choice for early gravel races. This makes me wonder if the Paralane is just the offspring of the Cayo.

The graphics are not pretty.  Focus may build perfect bikes, but listing a minimum wage position for a graphic artist would serve them well.  (I was glad that the frame stickers were all easily removable.)


The Paralane came with Mavic Aksium tubeless-compatible wheels.  I hate Mavic on principle, but a few things to note here:  
  1. These Aksiums are understated, something Mavic has never accomplished in the past - all the more so because the yellow trim strip on the hub is just a sticker that I removed; 
  2. These avoid those gosh-awful hyper-bladed spokes that Mavic invented and nobody thought worth imitating;
  3. These feel remarkably light for a builder-spec wheelset (although I was in too much of a hurry to weigh them);
  4. Although Mavic was late to the wide-rim game, these have an internal width >19mm (labeled at 20, but its not quite that wide); and
  5. Mavic has figured out how to make its rims easy to mount.  Swapping tires was a breeze.
So I'm not at all unhappy with the wheels.


Bike came built with Continental 28mm tires.  Those are now on the Salsa for resale with that bike.  (Wanna buy it?)
  • As you can see in the pictures, I have Panaracer Gravelking SK tires in 35mm mounted.  And they are *beautiful.*  
  • I am pretty sure this Panaracer Gravelking is just a Compass Steilacoom with a different tread pattern.  Or maybe that should be written the opposite way - Panaracer does make Compass tires, after all.  I got mine for $40 per tire, an incredible price for what may be the most praised rough road tire sold.


Full Ultegra R8020 group with hydraulic disc brakes, 160mm rotors.  
  • Awesome.  
  • But one thing:  a gravel bike makes so much sense with a 1x.  I love the Ultegra road groups, but it will be no more than 3 years before I rebuild this, sorry to say.

Finishing Kit

Focus used to use its proprietary branded stem and seatpost.  This bike came with BBB stem and post, but they look nearly identical to the ones on the Izalco Max - which suggests to me BBB was always building for Focus, but is now being allowed to keep its brand on the products.  That seatpost has the built in shock absorption feature just like on the Izalco Max - not as effective as the perfect Specialized CG-R, but more comfy than most, and a visually elegant design.

Handlebars are also BBB.  That's a 25.4 mm seatpost, keeping with the common approach of skinny posts for riding comfort.  (Cannondale does this too on its Synapse.)

I changed the saddle for this Brooks Cambium that I had on the Salsa.  I think it looks good, although it adds maybe 100gms over the build-spec. Prologo.  That saddle is going out with the Salsa.  (Did I say it's for sale?)

My eggbeater Candy C pedals and rear lamp. Waiting for Elite WB cages in orange and I have Camelbak orange bottles - I think the black with orange accents look may work for a while.  It will also match my Specialized helmet.

The Ride

Why are all the pictures taken inside, you ask - and in the middle of September, no less?

It's been a busy week at work and I'm waiting for the merchant to send me a replacement faceplate bolt.  So the review will have to wait for the next post.  I hope to be able to report some legit flogging the next time I write.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Ritchey Breakaway 58cm (XL) For Sale


Selling This Bike - $1500 asking

Of the maybe 20 bikes I have built from a naked frame myself, this is without a doubt the one I am most proud of.  Somehow the anodized red parts match perfectly including with the paint job on the bike.  It rides nicely and does indeed come apart for travel exactly the way it is supposed to do.  

If you are interested, please comment below.  Comments are moderated, so you should including contact information (write your e-mail in a way to foil web-crawlers) - and I won't publish any comments with contact info.  I will also be listing this on Washington DC Craigslist.

Sales price does not include shipping.  If we go forward, I will charge you $200 to ship, then I will Paypal back to you the difference (assuming it is less than that).  Payment will be by Paypal unless you are local, in which case I can take cash also.

Or, here it is on eBay.

The two obvious uses are 
  1. traveling and 
  2. gravel riding.  
Plenty of blogs online from guys (and gals) who have raced these Ritchey breakaway cross bikes to victory in ultra-distance dirt road races.  Here is one racing this exact bike (though he is now on the same bike in the titanium version).

If course, I suppose it is literally a cross bike, so:
  • if cyclocross is your thing, here's a bike made for it.
I reviewed the bike here.  But look to the many other reviews online also.  The fan base for this bike is rabid.  (I hope that proves out in this sales effort.)

I am selling because I'm just not riding it.  Somebody else - please - take this on an airplane and enjoy the fall riding season!

This is the Ritchey Breakaway Steel Cross.  

It is an XL 2012 frameset (pretty sure that's the case - the color scheme changes yearly, so easy to check me).

  • That's a full Ultegra 6700 10-speed shifters and drivetrain with 
  • compact crank (175 mm crank-arms), and
  • 11-30 cassette. 
  • TRP mini v-brakes.  
  • Thomson Masterpiece (the lighter version of the classic) seatpost.  
  • Thomson X4 stem.  
  • 3T ergonova pro bars wrapped in white Lizard Skins tape.  
  • John Neugent handmade wheelset with 28mm Vittoria Rubino Pro tires.  
  • Matching egg-beater pedals, pump, and rear light included.

The Breakaway comes apart at the junction of the two triangles.  It is a more elegant technology than the common break-apart technology called "S&S couplers."  More pics. of this below.

The view from the saddle.  Those are 44mm 3T Ergonova Pro bars (the ones with the slightly flattened top for comfort).

The tall white spacer is actually reflective tape wrapped on the spacers.  Those are TRP CX-9 Mini-V brakes, near top-spec for the V-brake crowd.

That's a WTB Rocket V saddle.  I bought it because it matches.  Next to no use.

What's included?

Everything you see here, including the pump (Topeak with the hose for high pressure pumping) and rear light (Planet Bike).  

Also three packing bags shown below.

Yes, I will take anything off or keep anything that you don't want, but no, I'm not planning to lower the price for doing so.  (Maybe this is obvious, but I don't have much use for a bag to pack this in if I don't have the bike.  And things like the pump and lamp don't have much value on their own.)


Here is the geometry specs for the XL, screen-shotted from the Ritchey website.  Some real-world data:
  • I'm 6'2" exactly with 33.5" inseam and 34.5" shirt-sleeves.  This bike is perfect for me.  
  • You can see the amount of extension on the seatpost - you could drop that a couple of inches and it would still be a good fit.  So I would posit this could fit a 5'11" cyclist comfortably.
  • My brother is 6'4" with more like a 34.5" inseam.  This bike felt a little cramped for him, even with seatpost extended, but it wasn't ridiculous.  Maybe the max. ideal height for a rider is 6'3".
  • As always, your experience may differ.
This is from, original at this link.

Breakapart and Packing Technology

The bike breaks at two points where the front and rear triangle meet.  My first instinct, and yours might be too, that those attachment points are areas of maximum flexion under hard pedaling.  Feel free to conduct your own online research, but I've heard of nobody who has experienced that in any way, and I can tell you I myself have not experienced it - even under full power on a 20 percent climb.  

Some good write-ups on this process.  Here is one at

See pix for more detail:

 Upper connection.  It uses the seatpost as a connector, with a clamp above and below the break.

 Upper connection from the side.  That's a 5mm hex-head bolt.

Lower connection is a removable metal clamp.  There are lips on the down-tube and on the short tube emerging from the bottom bracket housing.  This one is the more delicate connection -- there is a strict 4nm tightening limit.  So its good I am including the torque wrench designed for this clamp.

And the packing materials:

 I bought this soft-sided case but never used it.  It has the advantage of backpack straps and the ability to fold it up for storage.
 Here is the quasi hard-sided case.  It measures 66" in total dimensions (L+W+H), which is literally larger than airlines allow without a charge, but close enough that nobody has ever measured it. (Again, research that online -- I have read dozens of reports of the same experience of never having been challenged.)

 Same case with lid down (but not zipped).  Case has two wheels making it easier to drag.

I will include this wheel bag.  You don't need the wheel bag.  But if I traveled with this again, I would pack the frame, padded out with my helmet, water bottles, and kit, in the case - and the wheels separately.  That's just because it is easier and I like easy.

It's a used bike

I make no claim to new bike perfection.  With this build, if it were new, I'd be asking $2500.  There are paint chips that you might expect from a bike that is taken apart and packed in a suitcase small enough to travel without paying a fee.  Also, there is reflective tape, which could be removed but would require a chemical like Goof-off, and there is a piece removed on the left brake hood.  

The paint chips are visible in various pictures here on the post.  I have not tried to photograph them directly.  For the other flaws, please see pictures.
 Reflective tape on rear triangle (here seat-stay underneath the TRP v-brake).

 Reflective tape, chain-stay.

Reflective tape on the fork.  Picture above shows the final piece wrapped around the headset spacers.

 Cut-out in the brake hood.

There's me gripping the brake hood.  Point of the picture is that the cut-out does not contact your hand in any conceivable riding position.

Some random shots showing components etc.

 Thomson X4 stem.  The gold standard in lifetime use componentry also looks good.

Vittoria Rubino Pro tires in 28mm.  This bike easily clears 38mm, but these were new so I'm including them.  Schwalbe tubes if you are a rubber geek.

I liked that rear lamp mount so I'm leaving it for you.  Don't need to, of course, but I don't see myself discounting for removing it.

Maybe it is just me, but I think I really did a good job matching the anodized red parts here.  Skewer, hub, and ferrule in this pic.

More anodized red - spoke nipples and ferrule.  They look good with the paint job.

Ultegra 6700 10-speed rear derailler in the better deep gray coloration.

Ultegra 6700 crankset, 50-34, 175mm arms.  Also I'm including the egg-beaters.  I don't need to but I won't discount for taking them off.

Rear cluster from the opposite side.

TRP v-brake matches the front hub, skewer, spoke nipples, frame paint, and rear hub visible in the back.

Interested?  Comment below, including contact information.  Please write your e-mail in a way to foil web crawlers.  Because comments are moderated, I won't publish any that have contact information.