Focus Izalco Max, Part I

Focus Izalco Max, Part I

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.

IMG_7418The Pressfit 30 BB gave the engineers behind this bike a big palette from which to make the bike ultra-stiff.

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.

IMG_7416The fluorescent yellow decals help illustrate the ribs that run up the head tube and into the top tube.

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.


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  1. John Kopp

    I am confused by the way sizes are determined for this model bicycle. Bicycles were usually sized be length os seat tube, which correlated to inseam measurement of the rider. But this was 30 some years ago. Perhaps I am just not understanding the terminology.

    1. Author

      John: You’re not alone. Your confusion isn’t as a result of you not comprehending terminology; I simply couldn’t find a consistent logic behind the sizing run. I looked at it in several different ways and couldn’t find a rational underpinning for those sizes. It just isn’t there.

  2. Scott G.

    Padraig, obviously you are not a Mason or a student of the geometry of
    the Great Pyramid Giza, then the Foci geometry would make sense.

    Back to this astral plane, some of the Focus bike say “Made in Germany”
    do they mean made in Taiwan and given an expensive paint job in the Reich ?,
    or are they really made in the Black Forest by elves ?

    1. Author

      Scott G: Dude, don’t hold out on us. If you can make sense of the geo, lay it on us, baby. I’m definitely not a Mason (*shudder*). To your other questions, I operate, no matter what I’m told, with the basic assumption that if a frame weighs less than 900g, then it was made in Taiwan or China. There are some exceptions (let’s get Parlee, Alchemy and Argonaut out there), but anything in full-scale production like this is coming from Asia. The laws that allow a company to say “Made in ____” are really lax all over the world. E.g., Parlee does just enough work on its Z5 that it’s allowed to claim that bike is made in the U.S. To their credit, the company has enough integrity not to go there.

  3. Paul McNamara

    I ride the Izalco Team SL 2 and also have a Bianchi Pinella (Boron Steel) supposedly a soft ride. I’m 63, 94kg and ride around 400 km per week on a variety of roads from gravel through 20mm spray seal to AC10 and AC5. Ride distance is from 60km to 130km. The Izalco on the same track at the same heartrate is consistently 2.2km per hour faster than the Bianchi. I do notice the stiffness and love it and prefer the Focus over the Bianchi for that reason. Handling on the 80kph downhills on rough corners has never been a problem for me, crosswinds however will make me slow down due to instability. I find the ride on rough sections good while just slightly harsher than the Bianchi. I have never considered the ride harsh or the bike uncomfortable. The bike must be OK as I have several over 55 segment fastest times and regularly at cruising speed have fastest daily segment times in my area.

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