Read Part I here.
On a detail-by-detail basis the Izalco is perhaps one of the more unusual bikes I’ve ever seen. All of the cables (except for the front brake) are routed internally. The derailleur cables enter the frame at the head tube and run down channels in the down tube. The channels make noticeable bulges in the down tube. From everything I’ve seen over the years, this design feature should be terribly difficult to execute properly. The challenge is maintaining proper compaction for the carbon fiber around those tubes the cables pass through. What I’ve come to appreciate though is that frames with poor compaction have an oddly dead feeling, a sensation that’s different from a bike with deliberate vibration damping properties, such as some of the Time frames.
The Izalco doesn’t suffer that dead feeling. It’s a lively feeling bike, though not so lively as an unpainted carbon bike. So I’ve used the descriptors lively and crisp and I’ve mentioned that it’s not so stiff that it beats you up like some other carbon bikes I’ve ridden. The question is, where does that balance come from?
Part of that answer lies in details found in the top tube. The shot above is a top-down view from the saddle. The Izalco has one of the smallest (in diameter) top tubes of any carbon bike I’ve ever ridden. It’s close to round or actually round for most of its length beginning from the seat tube. Shortly before reaching the head tube it begins to swell, largely in width, less so vertically. The effect here is to counteract twisting at the head tube.
Years ago our concern with bikes was how stiff they were at the bottom bracket. It wasn’t hard to make the chain rub the front derailleur when you made a jump in the 53×19 on a steel bike. Carbon eliminated that but showed us something else that had been happening with steel bikes all along: frame twist, or lash as some called it. Tapered forks, big head tubes, big head tube-down tube junctions and swelling top tubes are all part of frame makers’ responses to that issue. It’s also why a carbon bike with a highish bottom bracket short wheelbase and not much trail can feel as neutral in handling as it does. I hated steel bikes with geometry figures like those.
Okay, on to what is one of my favorite features of the Izalco: its sizing. The Izalco isn’t a bike for midgets or giants. Okay, not to be flip about this, it won’t accommodate the absolute widest array of riders. Riders shorter than 5’4″ are probably not going to be able to ride this bike; women that tall or less so will almost certainly have to look elsewhere. And that crack about giants? That was a bit of hyperbole. Anyone taller than about 6’1″ is likely going to have an issue getting fit on this bike. So why do I like it so much? Because Focus offers the Izalco in eight sizes between its smallest size (a 52cm top tube) and its largest (a 58.8cm top tube).
Let’s put this in perspective. Most companies design their size run in 2cm increments and work out from a 56cm top tube, which is the size around which most bikes are designed. It’s also the first production sample which is why if you’ve got an engineer who’s 6’2″ things can get a little weird. So most companies would go 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60cm sizes. That’s five sizes covering a slightly broader range than what Focus offers. Their run goes like this: 52, 52.5, 53.7, 54.3, 55.5, 57, 58.2 and 58.8. Okay, so there’s no linear function that can explain those particular increments chosen, but the largest single jump in top tube length is 1.5cm, from the 55.5 to the 57 (which I’m guessing was their start size). Not another review of this bike has made mention of its eight sizes and that truly is one of its best features. I don’t care what other production carbon lines you’ve looked at, if you’ve had fit issues and aren’t shopping at petites or big and tall, the Izalco comes in a size that will fit you.
I can’t explain the asymmetric lines of the Izalco, but I must say the contours remind me of some of the finer examples of industrial engineering I’ve seen. And by the way, that K-Edge chain catcher is spec’d with the FSA compact crank. It’s a great example of Focus’ attention to detail.
Okay, back to geometry. The 3T Funda Pro fork is available in three rakes. Focus chose to spec the 43mm rake on each size. What that means is that four sizes—from the 55.5 to the 58.8—all have the same trail because they all share the same 73.5-degree head tube angle. As the sizes get smaller, the trail increases because the head tube angles get progressively slacker. The 54.3 TT gets a 72.5 HTA, the 53.7 gets a 72, the 52.5 gets a 71.5 and the 52 gets a 71.25. Going to a 45mm rake for those small sizes would seem to make sense.
My experience with the 57 was really enjoyable. Equipped with Ultegra, the bike weighed in at 16.5 lbs. It was enough heavier than most other bikes I’m riding that I noticed the extra weight when trying to accelerate for sprints on group rides and on those early ramps on longer climbs. Which is to say that I never noticed the weight, except when I noticed it and at those moments, because I was deep in the red, I’d have paid good money to lose two pounds from that bike. I’d have paid even more to drop that much or more from me as well, but I’m done with eating like a broke college student.
There’s a road in Malibu called Stunt. It’s among the many tricky descents there, but unlike the great majority of others it’s a road that sits right at the threshold of my ability. On the right day with the right bike, I can get down Stunt without touching my brakes. The Izalco is one of maybe five bikes I’ve descended Stunt on and never touched the stoppers. When I say it offers truly precise handling, I mean it’s a bike I count among a rarefied few, though that list has begun to grow.
Honestly, I’m glad they didn’t send me the sub-5 kilo Izaclo Ultimate. I’d have had to buy it.
For as long as I’ve been a cyclist, I’ve been gearing obsessed. Because speed is a function of gearing and cadence, and I liked speed, each of those numbers was as important to me as the number of miles I rode, at least at first. My priorities have shifted since then, but I’m still obsessed with speed and the most efficient means to attain it, which means I’m still preoccupied with gearing.
My first serious road bike featured a triple with half-step gearing. For those unfamiliar with half-step gearing, this was a setup used in touring where a fairly widely spaced freewheel (say a 13-28) would be paired with a crank with 50/45/30 chainrings. Done right it resulted in a drivetrain with almost no redundant gearing and by making sequential shifts between the freewheel cogs and chainrings, riders could make smaller steps in gearing than if they used more traditional selections. It was perfect for nerd like me.
I haven’t ridden half-step gearing since I sold that bike; I can’t say I miss it. I’ve remained fascinated with gearing choice though and have tended to err on the side of lower gears for long climbs. I continued to use triples off and on; I had an FSA carbon fiber triple on one of my bikes as recently as 2007. To me, the beauty of using a triple was matching the widely spaced chainrings with a narrowly spaced cassette. Stateside, I’d run a 10-speed 12-23, while in Europe I’d run a 12-25. Sure there were issues with chainline, Q, shifting and weight, but there’s a price to be paid for a drivetrain that spanned from roughly 30 gear inches to 120.
FSA is to be credited with the invention (if we can call it that) of the compact crank. They also get credit for offering the first carbon fiber crank that was stiff enough to be ridden by racers. The combination of smaller chainrings and carbon fiber meant that cranks, which often weighed a full kilogram weigh less than 700g; some less than 600g. They were as stiff as many of the old-style aluminum cranks and the 50/34 chainring combination moved the chain down the cassette, no matter how strong a rider you were.
In truth, the compact has all but eliminated the need for a triple. It weighs less, offers greater stiffness, improved chainline, lower Q and better shifting than even the best triple. Plus, when paired with some of the more mountain-oriented cassettes such as the 11-26, you get nearly all the low end found with the old triples plus more high end.
Then there’s the fact that this K-Force Light crank set enjoys a stunning white finish with graphics you can read at 30 paces, rather than only 30 inches. My 175mm crankset weighed in at 613 grams, which is a bit more than advertised, but they are still lighter than many options on the market. Flex? I’ve ridden exactly one crankset in my life in which I could feel the crank arms twist when out of the saddle and the only reason I could detect that was because I was also riding a bike equipped with the Dura-Ace 7800 crank concurrently. There may be stiffer cranks out there than this, but I’ve found nothing to criticize here.
Pricing on these is all over the place thanks to the Interwebs. While it’s no good for bike shops, the fact that you can install these with only two tools means that purchasing them online can save you perhaps as much as $200.
I still run into a great many cyclists who look upon compact cranks with the same disdain they reserve for helmet mirrors and neon-yellow windbreakers. In some riders’ eyes, it’s just not PRO. My view evolved when Tyler Hamilton rode one through the 2003 Tour de France, launching an epic breakaway to Bayonne and climbing the cruelly steep Col de Bagargui in a 36×25. It occurred to me that if your average PRO can pull the peloton along at nearly 40 miles per hour in a 53×12, then maybe I didn’t need a high gear bigger than I could do an interval in.
Honestly, I can’t do an interval in a 50×12. By shrinking the chainrings a bit, I get more usable gears out of my cassette and in my experience, selecting equipment to suit your needs is always PRO.
There are more different bends of handlebars out there than there are makers of helmets. That is to say there are a bunch, but not so many as, say, species of fish. It’s a miracle, really, as the basic shape of the handlebar hasn’t changed as much in the last 50 years as health insurance.
I’ll admit when the original K-Wing was introduced by FSA I laughed. It’s a riser bar for road bikes. ‘What are we going to add next?’ I wondered. ‘Hydraulic brakes?’ Nevermind. Let’s not look to me for innovating new road bike parts. As I mentioned in my review of the original FSA K-Wing, the epiphany for me came when I realized that the way to set up the bar was to set the bottom of the drop equal with the drop of your current bar.
The upshot is that the top of the bar sits more than a centimeter higher than usual, allowing you to sit up more on climbs. It was the smartest use of a deep-drop concept I’d ever encountered.
So I wasn’t exactly thrilled when the bar was discontinued. It’s not exactly FSA’s fault, though. In talking with staffers, they said that when they introduced the K-Wing Compact—a bar intended for riders whose flexibility was so reduced they couldn’t manage the change in position required with the deep drop of the K-Wing—sales of the new bar so completely dominated those of the old K-Wing that orders for the original bar essentially stopped.
Let’s be honest about the original K-Wing, though. The internal cable routing of the K-Wing was comparable to the internal brake cable through a steel Merckx, Colnago or Pinarello the way Paris-Roubaix is comparable to an industrial park crit.
The new bar weighs in at 252g (42cm). Still not the lightest on the market, not by a trailer park mile, and a bit of a surprise that it weighs a few grams more than the original. Think of this new bar as The Who jettisoning Kenny Jones for Zac Starkey. It’s still not Keith Moon, but he knows a thing or two about history and can quote him chapter and verse.
Cable routing on the K-Wing Compact is easier than changing a flat on a front wheel. Really. It’s not worth discussing.
The wing section of the K-Wing Compact is smaller than in the past. It’s still flattened and sloped, but the width of the wing is noticeably shorter. While I didn’t wrap mine, the first thought I had when I looked at it was that you could wrap bar tape around it and: A) not run out of tape, and B) not end up with something so ridiculously large that you feel like you’re gripping a car bumper.
The K-Wing Compact features a 125mm drop, which is one of the shortest drops I’ve seen, but in my measurements, that number seems a bit deceptive. I get 125mm from the center of the drop to the bottom of the clamping section; the wing section still rises a couple of centimeters above this.
I’ve been riding this bar on one of my bikes for several months. Out on the road, my perception isn’t that I’m riding a compact bar. That short compact drop is usually a bit of a shock when I’ve been on more traditional bars. Reaching for the drops feels very traditional, a feature I like. The reach, at 80mm, is more than some compact bars, but shorter than many traditional bars, and honestly, as long as some levers have gotten (7900, anyone?), that’s a good thing. Were I to run Dura-Ace on this bar, rather than Campy, I’d shorten the stem by a centimeter.
Ultimately, what makes this bar “compact” in my mind is the bend of the drop more than any other feature. That graduated radius I’ve come to appreciate in compact bars isn’t as comfortable to my hand as the old ergo bend, but my hand is positioned closer to the lever with the compact bend, so I’m not complaining.
One interesting feature of the K-Wing Compact is that the bar feature a 2-degree outward bend. That means while the ends of the drops on my bar were 42cm apart (c-c), the levers mount a full centimeter closer together. Whether this feature will work for everyone may be open to some debate, but I found I liked having the levers a bit closer together without sacrificing any width at the drop.
And for you sprinters out there: This bar is plenty stiff. Most aluminum bars I used over the years were more flexible than this bar.
The bar comes in three widths: 40, 42 and 44cm (all measured c-c). Online, it tends to sell for $241, though I’ve seen it for less on occasion.
The bar is finished with a layer of 3k weave over which a thick layer of clear gloss has been sprayed. This will provide the bar with excellent protection from the lever clamps, but more important is the protection the structural carbon will be afforded from scratches, bumps and drops. I’m as confident in the strength of this bar as I am in any aluminum bar I ever used.
I wouldn’t mind running this bar on every bike I own.
The grand touring category of road bikes is growing, but honestly, some of the bikes handle a cow on roller skates. Not so the Specialized Roubaix. Newly minted is the Roubaix SL3, which I rode at Outdoor Demo. The big change for the SL3 is the fact that the Zertz dampers are secured to the frame with small screws, increasing the dampers’ effectiveness. The new design cuts down on the number of bladders used (four fewer) and simplifies the molds, the upshot being a somewhat lighter frame.
I still run into Zertz non-believers. While I can accept that not everyone wants a frame that dampens vibration that much (I certainly don’t want that experience all the time), there’s no doubt in my mind that no other frameset currently on the market does more to minimize vibration than the Roubaix.
Tube shapes continue to be refined as well. If there’s a bike that better combines incredible power transfer, torsional stiffness and vibration damping, I’ve yet to ride it.
I can virtually assure you than no brand took itself less seriously and more stylishly than Ritte van Vlaanderen. It’s a curious balance, that.
The Ritte bikes are all open-mold designs sourced overseas, but they feature, well, they look authentically Belgian. What else do you need to know?
Be careful if you buy a Ritte bike. You’ll be expected to drink beer after your race is over. And that’s not a bad thing.
I tend to get more excited about the concept of city bikes than actual city bikes. This Breezer comes with dynamo-generated lighting, a rear rack, a chain guard, fenders with flaps, a nearly infinitely variable drivetrain and a built-in lock—the sort that keeps honest folks honest. Oh, and it doesn’t weigh 50 lbs.; rather, it weighs a bit less than 30. I could see myself running serious errands on this thing.
Let’s be honest, calling a set of brakes, derailleurs, bottom bracket and cranks a group is like calling a pair of speakers a stereo. For that reason, FSA’s claims that they make a road group were, until just recently, rather laughable. The crux move of a group is the integrated brake/shift lever. Without that you’ve got a clown car and no clowns. The Vision Metron shifter takes an important step in the right direction, though. Product managers can honestly spec a full set of parts from FSA and Vision now, even if they can only do it on time trial and triathlon-specific bikes. The shifter function is terrific, though one does wonder just how often triathletes will downshift when they mean to brake.
The carbon fiber rear derailleur is amazingly light, as is the cassette. The other manufacturers need to keep an eye on these guys. Should they get really aggressive about OE spec, they could become very dangerous, if not dominant, as they now offer cranks, bottom brackets, headsets, wheels, derailleurs, brakes, cassettes, shifters, bars, stems, seatposts and saddles. Heck, even Shimano doesn’t do all of that.
As a postscript, every exhibitor I spoke with liked the date change to August 8-12. The only concern they expressed was for shop attendance. Surprisingly, some shops did voice support for the date change as well. The shops that did like it said it was easier for them to get away that time of year due to the fact that they had solid college student staffing that time of year, something they lack in late September. However, all but one New England-based retailer I spoke with said they wouldn’t be at the show—no question.
The new location got mixed reviews from exhibitors and attendees alike. For some, Anaheim represents an opportunity to have a bit of a family vacation. But for those who really want to cut loose and have a party, Anaheim is … a buzzkill.
Interbike reports that attendance is up 3 percent to more than 24,000, while the shop count held steady at 4000. Outdoor Demo attendance was roughly the same as last year with 3900 attending. Interbike reports there were 120 exhibitors at Outdoor Demo; figures were not reported for last year, so it’s unknown if that’s up, stead or down from last year. Figures for the number of exhibitors on the Interbike show floor were not reported for this year or last year.
Of course, the great hope is that attendee numbers will hold steady while exhibitor numbers will climb with the return of companies like Trek and Giant. We’ll have to wait a bit more than 10 months to find out.
When I was initiated into proper roadiedom, I was taught that if you were serious about doing things the right way, the Euro way, then you did things a certain way. The quickest way to show others you knew what you were doing was to show up on a Campagnolo-equipped bike with a Cinelli bar, stem and seatpost. Your saddle was Italian and your tape was the same color as your decals or the accent color in the windows of your lugs.
That mindset, though it created some gorgeous bikes that served well for tens of thousands of miles, squashed some great ideas over the years. I’m reminded of a Pasadena company, Sweet Parts, that made cranks and stems from steel of surprising stiffness and low weight. Alas, in the mid-1990s it was hard to get a rider to break rank with those suites of parts used in the gruppo or other componentry. After all, if your bar, stem and seatpost were supposed to match, what did you pair an oddball stem to?
Times change, and so do bikes. And while sometimes too much emphasis is placed on weight, it is tough to argue that today’s bikes aren’t noticeably superior in almost every performance aspect: Lower weight makes them easier to accelerate and speeds climbing; increased frame stiffness improves power transmission and more sophisticated componentry has improved shifting, given us more gears and increased brake modulation.
The proliferation of aftermarket components—everything from bars to brakes—means that we’re more accustomed to seeing bikes with parts that may not match. Zipp helped lead the way into this fray some years back. In fact, carbon fiber has been the company’s bread and butter for close to 15 years. Fortunately, the 3k weave used in many carbon fiber parts makes them more similar than not, even if the decals don’t match.
Zipp’s latest crankset for road (as opposed to TT/Tri) use is the VumaQuad. It uses a four-arm spider (the crankarm is one of the four arms of the spider) and is available in two different chainring configurations, either 53/39t or 50/34t; interestingly, both configurations use a 110mm bolt-circle diameter, so you can change chainrings out depending on the conditions or your fitness. The crankset is available in four lengths: 170, 172.5, 175 or 180mm. The spindle is oversized and machined from aluminum to the new BB30 standard; it is integrated into the non-drive arm and secures to the drive-side arm with a self-extracting bolt. And because Zipp is predicated on making you faster, the bottom bracket is offered with ceramic bearings (as well as precision steel); the cups are available in either English or Italian threads. All this in a sub-600g package.
My review setup was 50/34 rings with 175mm arms and ceramic bearings. I tried the cranks first on a bike that previously had a set of carbon fiber cranks that had some detectable flex. I immediately noticed the increased stiffness as well as a weight reduction. The easier spin of the bearings was noticeable (if not hugely apparent) when I sat down and shifted to a small gear for a hill; I felt like I was turning out an extra 10 watts or so.
Next, I swapped the crank over to my preferred ride. This frame is stiffer at the bottom bracket and I was curious to see how much of an improvement I’d feel over the Super Record Ultra-Torque crankset (a review of the Super Record will be coming). The change I felt was comparable to my first ride on the Dura-Ace 7800 crankset—I was stunned by the seamless transmission of power. I had the sense that the bike itself was stiffer at the bottom bracket, even though I knew that wasn’t the case.
Ten years ago I had concerns about parts not matching on my bike. Five years ago I had concerns about the durability of carbon fiber cranks. Last year I started wondering if you could even tell whether your bike had ceramic bearings anywhere other than the wheels. The VumaQuad has super-hero-like powers to alleviate me of anxiety and improve my performance. Of course, all this performance will cost you; $1250 (with ceramic bearings) is a weekend getaway at a swanky resort, but there’s no question in my mind this crankset is superior to every crank I have tried from Campagnolo, Shimano, Specialized and FSA. Honestly though, for that kind of money, you shouldn’t be left wondering if it was worth it.