Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

Focus Izalco Max review

31 Oct 2019
Verdict:

Does well to blend aero design with classic road bike attributes, albeit this means it much more Jack of all trades than true master

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Acceleration • Light weight • Position adjustability
Against 
Twitchy handling • Some compromised characteristics

What makes a good bike? According to Focus, it’s making sure that ‘each element of the frame has a purpose’.

And how many elements is that, you say? It’s 56 different individual pieces if you include every part the German brand has redesigned for the Izalco Max frameset.

It’s a redesign that went right down to the flanges on the proprietary thru-axles – and 671 individual carbon plies per frame, each designed to help hit the numbers Focus was after. And boy does the company have a lot of them to share.

I’m not going to ‘enlighten’ you with them all here, suffice to say this latest iteration of the venerable Izalco platform is stiffer, lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor in every way.

But there is one stat that is telling of the direction the brand has taken with this new bike. It’s now a full 90 seconds faster over 50km pedalled at 200W than the outgoing model.

Winds of change

That is significant, and if nothing else the manufacturer should be praised for bringing us a number-based factoid that we can actually understand and relate to. No ‘three watts less drag at 48kmh at 15° yaw’ here. Who rides at 48kmh except down a hill or in a chaingang?

According to Focus’s lead engineer, Fabian Scholz, the target for the new Izalco Max was increased speed, ‘because weight is only one way to make a bike fast, and we understand how to build a lightweight frame, so we started to improve the aerodynamics’.

At a glance, though, you could be forgiven for thinking the Izalco is something of a ‘normal’ road bike.

The cables are more or less fully hidden, but that’s the case with many standard road bikes now, and although the tubes are purposefully shaped they do not scream aero in the way the new BMC Timemachine or Cannondale’s SystemSix do. These are bikes that wouldn’t look out of place on a time-trial start line.

Aero bikes, then, seem to be splitting off into two camps. There are the more and more outlandishly shaped (in my opinion currently spearheaded by the Cervélo S5, which looks quite unlike any other bike on the market). And then there are the understated aero bikes, those organically smooth machines such as the Ridley Noah, Giant Propel and Scott Foil.

If nothing else it’s proof that designers are really trying, but it’s also proof that aero need not be complicated.

Consider the latest Venge – it hardly looks aero, yet Specialized claims it is eight seconds faster than the gull-wing-barred, high-sided, tyre-hugging Venge ViAS it replaced.

In pure aesthetic terms I consider this a big plus for the Izalco. The more normal a bike looks, the better it will age, and also the more graceful I think it appears on the road.

I do enjoy the fantastical world of time-trial bikes and those ultra-aero looking bikes listed above, but putting myself in the shoes of an owner I can only see their futuristic nature being their undoing, as time marches on and new design trends emerge.

And what’s more, this KISS philosophy – keep it simple, stupid – seems to have done little to hold the Izalco back.

Slight twitch

The Izalco really is a ‘push and swoosh’ bike. A mere few turns of the cranks and it surges into action, reminding me of something a Specialized engineer once said – that ‘reducing the drag at 0° yaw is what gives people the “holy shit this thing is fast” feeling’.

The inference here is that you could make a bike feel immediately aero, even if the bike didn’t ultimately perform that well in real-world conditions.

I’d stop short of uttering swear words on the Izalco, but there is a real sense of zing to the bike, and I would put it not just at the feet of the aero design, but also its weight.

Focus claims the frameset has shed 182g over its predecessor, and this build weighs 7.37kg. Not UCI rule-bending, but in the current disc brake-aero bike market that is on the lighter end of the spectrum (a similar-spec BMC Timemachine, for example, is nearly 8kg).

That low weight really helps this bike out where other aero bikes suffer, which is in climbing and in swift changes of direction. There is a lightness to the controls and climbing feel more akin to a regular, stiff, lightweight racer than your average aero bike.

However, it’s the controls where I had to meet the Izalco halfway, because for all of that lightness of touch – and indeed the quite long 997mm wheelbase, a number usually indicative of a pretty neutral-handling, steady bike – I felt the Izalco was somewhat twitchy.

I had to be more cautious during my early rides than on other bikes I’ve tested recently, specifically when sprinting, where the bike wanted to pull itself off line when I was wresting hard on the bars.

The solution to that, I found, was to put my weight further forward than usual over the front axle, and in the end we grew to accept this about one another. But it remains that I have ridden bikes with better all-round handling, although I can’t fault the Izalco’s eagerness to rail into corners. It’s a fun bike to ride, as well as fast.

Slippery but cultured

What the Izalco is, then, is less an aero bike than a road bike gone aero. It still uses a round clamp bar, for example, not a one-piece system, the engineers preferring the ease of adjustability and maintenance.

But in so doing they’ve sacrificed a totally integrated look to the front end, as a cover on the underside of the stem hides the bulk of the cables before they disappear into the frame, but not every inch. However, elements such as this shouldn’t be dealbreakers, because the trade-off is that Focus has created an aero bike for all occasions, and one I think will suit most tastes.

The Izalco does look clean and sharp like we might expect of an aero bike, but it performs like a proper all-round race bike as well. I dare say a like-for-like test would reveal competitors’ aero bikes to be faster, but I’m happy with the balance the Focus engineers have struck, and I can see most riders feeling the same, too.

Spec

Frame Focus Izalco Max Disc 9.9
Groupset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Disc
Brakes Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Disc
Chainset Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Disc
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Disc
Bars Easton EC90 Aero
Stem Focus Izalco Max Custom
Seatpost LFocus Aero Carbon 
Saddle Prologo Dimension
Wheels DT Swiss ARC 1450 48, Continental GP4000S II 25mm tyres
Weight 7.37kg (size medium)
Contact focus-bikes.com
Price: 
£7,899

Read more about: