For Part I, go here.
Imagine for a moment that you work for a big bike company. Your job is to develop a new road bike for the market, something that will be ridden by professionals in the world’s biggest races. Prior to the 1990s, you’d have been charged with sourcing a tube set from one of the big manufacturers, such as Columbus, Reyonlds, True Temper, Tange or Ishiwata. You’d choose one set of tubes, give the factory the geometry for each size and then start talking colors. The sad truth is that the difference between Company A’s Columbus SL bike and Company B’s Columbus SL bike amounted to size and handling geometry. No one was in a position to claim they were doing anything substantially different, though they always did.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, by which time most companies have introduced some variety of carbon fiber monocoque frame. The looks were diverse, though they shared a certain swoopy aesthetic. From the Pinarello Prince to the original Giant TCR, the frames featured smooth junctions between the various tubes because compaction—making sure all the layers of carbon fiber bonded together with no voids—was an ongoing challenge. The alternative was to glue a bunch of mandrel-wrapped tubes together with lugs.
Carbon fiber doesn’t like sharp corners; the fibers tend to break if they are bent too far. Previously factories would use bits of foam to fill the spaces that the carbon fiber couldn’t, smoothing the transitions for the fibers. The bottom bracket was one such location for the foam. Finding a way to shorten these long transitions and reduce the use of foam were the technical challenges limiting frames from reaching and then breaking the kilogram threshold.
The last six years have seen a number of advances in layup technology. New kinds of bladders and inner molds that are later removed have enabled engineers to use an ever-decreasing amount of fiber, and this has been aided by improvements in the fiber sourced, as well. The result, of course, is that we’ve got a veritable crop of sub-900-gram frames on the market, a few of which weigh in at less than 750g. Cosmetically, these bikes are starting to look more and more alike, with short transitions between tubes and an increasing number of tubes taking on a round profile.
So when you look at the lines of the Izalco Max, it may look a bit like some of the other bikes on the market, but the interesting observation here is that while two completely different looking bikes could be built from Reynolds 853—one TIG-welded and the other sporting lugs with the sculpted lines of a Renaissance cathedral—as long as the sizing and geometry were the same, they’d have the same ride. Not so with carbon fiber. As the broken faux Pinarellos and Specializeds have shown, you can have two bikes that may look the same from the outside, but the layup is what determines the bike’s stiffness, it’s strength.
Focus is owned by the large European conglomerate Pon. Being owned by a big multinational can often mean being starved of resources rather than being treated to a buffet. While I respect that they probably have at least one or two employees somewhere who would contest this idea, on paper, Focus seems to have benefitted from the opportunity to develop a deep and diverse line of bikes. What helps make the Izalco Max, or any of the other Izalco models, worth considering is the range of sizes. Most bikes I see come in six sizes, though sometimes fewer. Practically speaking the extra size comes at the low end of the range with a 48cm frame. The full size range goes (according to top tube length) 52.1cm, 53.0cm, 53.6cm, 54.9cm, 56.5cm, 58.0cm, 60.4cm. Seven sizes, great. Initially, the utterly inconsistent jumps in top tube length make as much sense as letting Hugh Hefner teach a gender sensitivity course. Beginning with the 52.1cm top tube, the jumps go 9mm, 6mm, 13mm, 16mm, 15mm and, finally, 24mm. However (notice how I opened that last statement with “initially”?), when you look at the reach numbers, the frame geometry begins to make better sense. The numbers go, 37.5cm, 37.9cm, 38.4cm, 39.0cm, 39.8cm, 40.5cm and 42.0cm. Those numbers make great sense because they start with small jumps and increase in size as the size of the frame goes up. Unfortunately, this view kind gets weird when you consider the stack: 50.8cm, 51.5cm, 52.0cm, 53.7cm, 56.5cm, 58.4cm and 60.3cm. Let’s look at those jumps: 7mm, 5mm, 17mm, 28mm, 19mm and 19mm. I’m sorry, I can’t make any rational sense of that and anyone on the bubble between the 54.9cm top tube (39.0cm reach) and the 56.5cm top tube (39.8cm reach) is going to struggle with that Pinocchio-esque 28mm increase in stack. But if you go back to head tube length, it makes more sense. The lengths go 11.0cm, 11.5cm, 12.0cm, 13.5cm, 16.0cm, 18.0cm and 20.0cm.
So on one hand, Focus deserves some praise for offering the Izalco Max in seven sizes, but they go down as the only company I’ve encountered that designed a bike around reach and head tube length. I mean, who does that? Only by looking at reach and head tube length can you come up with a reasonable explanation for the sizing run, and I’m doing my best to to find an inner logic to the design; after all, they are German and I’m willing to grant them the respect that they didn’t come up with a bunch of crazy shapes first and a bike design later.
For Part II, go here.