Focus Izalco Pro, Part I


Focus is one of those bike brands that has fascinated me since they first appeared on my radar five or so years ago. The company is more than 15 years old and was started by a German PRO mountain biker, Mike Kluge. He was one of the gods of cross country back in the early ’90s. It’s possible I ran across the early mountain bikes, but if I did, they didn’t stay in the database.

It was the sponsorship of the German Milram Team that made me really take notice. There are literally dozens of brands around the world that offer an incredible range of bicycles but they do no in-house engineering. What that means is that they have product managers who design bikes a la carte, picking options off a menu, beginning with frame material and geometry and finishing with every part detail down to cable housing. Send them graphic files for your decals and what you end up with is your bike. A good example of this in the U.S. is Jamis; a popular French one is Go Sport.

I raise this point because with Focus I wasn’t sure at first if they fell into this category or not. I took my first serious look at the line in 2008 and saw frame shapes that demonstrated quite clearly they weren’t buying open-mold designs. I was intrigued.

The Izalco is unusual in that its frame design is asymmetric at the bottom bracket. A small rib runs down the center of the seat tube (not asymmetric) and then curls to the left (from the rider’s POV) toward the crank (very asymmetric). I’ve been told this is meant to counteract twisting forces exerted on the frame as a result of torque that comes from the drivetrain. I have to confess that I’m a bit suspicious of the real necessity of this particular design feature for most riders. That said, I’m aware that an engineer with one prominent American manufacturer told me how when one of the giants of the Euro peloton rode their TT frame you could see the rear triangle flex in the direction of the drivetrain. That expression of wattage notwithstanding, my concern about asymmetric designs is just how necessary they are.

The Izalco is easily one of the most exciting bikes I rode this year. This bike handled with the precision I’ve come to expect from a top design. As I’ve mentioned, when I review a bike I make sure to do a few rides up to Malibu and take it on the canyon roads there. I recognize that very few places in the U.S. have roads as challenging these; I go for two reasons:

  1. When I push a bike here, so long as it performs well, I know it will perform for you even if you’re 200 lbs. and put out 1200 watts in a sprint.
  2. It’s a helluva a lot of fun.

At a point when most companies are designing their own forks for use with their frames, I’ve noticed this 3T fork on bikes from several manufacturers. There’s a good reason why: It provided plenty of stiffness when the bike was leaned over in turns. But stiffness isn’t an arbitrary improvement that can be applied to any bike. What I can say from experience is that if a fork flexes side-to-side the bike won’t track well in corners and that whole “confident handling” thing goes out the window faster than a housefly. The easiest way to illustrate this is by taking a turn with 60 psi in your front tire. Once you get into that range of pressure, the sidewall of the tire starts to squirm and occasionally buckle under hard cornering. It’s a slightly more extreme version of what happens when a fork flexes side-to-side. Trust me, you won’t like it.

The Izalco Pro is a few rungs down the ladder from their ne plus ultra Izalco Ultimate. The carbon used in the layup varies a bit, but the two bikes use the same mold and the Pro gets the same 3T Funda fork as the Izalco Team. What I rode was the Izalco Pro 3.0, the least expensive of the pro series of bikes. This was without doubt the best riding and most intelligently spec’d $2700 [update: this price is what I’ve seen on the Internet; the suggested retail for the bike is $4040] carbon fiber bike I’ve ever encountered. I could probably conclude the review with that previous sentence, but it’s worth telling you a bit more about why.

As I mentioned, the 3T fork is stiff laterally. It gives the bike crisp handling. The mungo BB area pictured above combines a BB30 bottom bracket with seemingly more carbon fiber than can be found in the hood of a tuner car. But like designs were seeing from Cervelo, Specialized and others, the seatstays on the Izalco have the wispy appearance of bridge supports. I’ve been on carbon fiber bikes that were stiff to the point of being harsh; I can recall notable examples from Look and Orbea, models that have (thankfully) been discontinued.

So how can Focus offer so much bike for so little money? Well, that’s one of the brand’s real selling points. Parts spec is more an art than a science. It’s less about what you pick than how you negotiate, and whoever serves as Focus’ road product manager is quite the negotiator.

 

Stay tuned for Part II.

 

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8 comments

  1. Joe

    I don’t really have anything to add, or any questions. I just wanted to say thanks Padraig. I like my bike and don’t have the budget to buy another one, however I always read your reviews anyways as they are so insightful and well written. They are a joy to read.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Uh, the Interwebs? I usually report suggested retails, but that price (and several places are in that range) makes that bike a screaming value.

  2. Chromatic Dramatic

    Thanks for the write up. I look forward to part II.

    I too have been fascinated with them since they first came on to my radar (say ~2008), and even more so when I found out what good value they are.

    The thing was you couldn’t get them in Aus directly. You had to order from o/s. That has changed, and I thought, ‘great’ now the price will be stupidly expensive.

    I’m pleased to report they haven’t become super exy.

    Anyway, when I’m finally in the market for a new roadie, Focus will definitely be high on my list.

    When it comes around

  3. tv_vt

    Just curious about a comment you made about a Look bike being stiff to the point of being harsh – what Look frame was that? Certainly not a 585 (origin)…

  4. IloveFOCUS

    Bought the Izalco Pro 3.0 (2012 model) a few weeks ago. The bike is really value for money. All the reviews on the bike is true ! It is responsive and the ride is very good. The only let down is the stock wheel set but that’s easily rectified.

    BTW, after I read this review about the asymmetric design, I look closely at the frame and it seems that the chain stays are different as well. The drive train chain stay is wider and flatter whereas the other side is not as wide and it is rounder. The seat stays looks the same though.

    The downtube is not of uniform diameter. It is thicker at near the head tube and thinner at the middle before widening again at the bottom bracket.

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