Squared, Kammtail tubing and dropped seat stays might well be the hallmarks of a fast bike, but you'll have to work hard to get the Focus Izalco Max to live up to its speedy designs. Swap out the heavy Alex Rims wheels however and the bike sparks into life, with lighter wheels improving the bike's acceleration and giving space for the frame to prove its comfort and sporty design.
Heavy and sluggish wheels
Cables rattle in the frame
By Paul Norman
The Izalco has always been the main stay of German giant Focus for many years, but in this latest iteration the bike has undergone a major design change. Boasting a new integrated front end and an aero optimised design, the updated Focus Izalco Max is a far cry from the Izalcos of yesteryear.
Focus Izalco Max 8.7: Design updates
When Focus re-designed the Izalco Max, the German brand's lightweight climbing bike received a major overhaul. Gone were the skinny tubes and in their place sat the squared, Kammtail shapes of a bonafide aero machine.
In fact, the new Izalco Max has undergone the same design changes that a slew of lightweight bikes received in 2019 – Cannondale's new SuperSix for example, or the new Scott Addict. These design changes include the same dropped seat stays, squared tubes and sculpted front end. To further prove the bike's aero credentials, Focus has wind tunnel tested the new Izalco Max (with a dummy rider) and claims that the new design will save you 1.5 mins over 50km when riding at 200 watts.
My particular test model - the Focus Izalco Max 8.7 - comes with a slightly heavier carbon frame than the higher end 9-series. The top of the range model boasts a frame and fork weight of 1248g while my 8-series model weighs in at 1420g, but at 8.04kg for the complete build.
Those higher end models also come with integrated aero bars and stems, my 8 series test bike came with a round aluminium cockpit. Although it may not offer the same aerodynamic performance, I personally found it useful as I only have a round out front mount for my cycling computer rather than an aero one.
It also makes adjusting the front end a lot easier than if its integrated, and it was a cinch to get my correct stack height.
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Although not routed through the bars, the bike's cables are routed internally through the downtube to give the bike a stealthy look. Less stealthy, however, was the cables constant rattling inside the frame, which was particularly poor company on long rides.
Focus uses the same Rapid Axle Technology as found on on the Cervélo R5 and Cervélo R3 (amongst other brands). It's a counter-intuitive system that involves lining the axle up and then turning it to lock it into place, as opposed to screwing an axle in.
Not only is it fiddly and difficult to find the correct angle but the locking has started to wear the end of the axle, so I fear it will not always be secure. Often, despite it feeling locked in and tight, there would be play in the wheel. On the whole it caused a fair few headaches, and is not an improvement on a standard screwing axle.
Focus Izalco Max 8.7: Ride quality
Out on the road the Focus has a comfort I've come to associate with dropped seat stay bikes. It's similar to the Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL 6 in its ride comfort; a sort of numbing of the road rather than ironing it out altogether. It leaves you with the sensation of pace but without the often associated discomfort.
However, the Izalco's sensation of pace wasn't immediate. The Alex Rims CF45 Disc wheelset that ships with the bike felt like the equivalent of putting anchors on the bike. I presume the decision was made because the 45mm carbon wheels look better than shallow section box wheels - and they do - but their performance doesn't match the quality of the frame. It was difficult to accelerate the bike and I couldn't sit at a pace beyond 25 km/h. They also contribute to the overall weight of the bike, which came in at 8.5kg.
To solve this problem I swapped on Prime's Black Edition CeramicSpeed wheelset which improved the bike's acceleration and rolling speed immediately. Following the swap, it was now comfortable to sit at above 30km/h – a pace befitting the style and claims of the Focus Izalco Max.
My test bike came with an excellent Shimano 105 hydraulic groupset. The only miss-shifting I experienced came after being rear ended by a man on a Boris Bike at a junction on my way out of London – and I can hardly blame the groupset for that.
This model pairs a 50/34 compact chainset to an 11-30 cassette, which isn't my first choice of gear ratios. I think a larger 52/36 would compliment the aerodynamic design of the bike more, but ultimately it's rider preference.
While the extra spread of gears did help lift the additional weight of the bike up my usual test hills in Surrey, the bike actually climbed very well (once the Alex Rims wheels were swapped out).
This also represented my first opportunity to ride the dedicated Shimano 105 hydraulic brakes which I found to be very impressive and every bit as good as the higher end Ultegra hydraulic brakes. The feel through the levers was spot on and when descending on the drops it felt comfortable and easy to feather the brakes, scrubbing off speed in a very controlled way. The only downside being the size of the hoods when used with a mechanical groupset as tested here.
The only other change I made to the bike was swapping out the Prologo Scratch saddle for a Bontrager Aeolus model. It wasn't that the Prologo was uncomfortable but that I prefer saddles with cut out sections.
Focus Izalco Max 8.7: Value
As I've mentioned, the Focus Izalco Max comes with a Shimano 105 groupset and although that groupset is very good, for £2,899 you'd expect to see mechanical Ultegra instead.
There are a few brands that operate as exceptions, for example a recent £3,000 BMC Roadmachine 02 Three that came through the CW offices had Shimano 105 specced but it general that's not the case. Pair that with the Alex Rims and I couldn't describe the Focus Izalco Max 8.7 as good value.
However, if you want to own the decent frame, you can purchase the 8-series Focus Izalco Max frame for £2,499 or if you have the cash, you can step up to a 9-series model such as the Ultegra Di2 and DT Swiss equipped 9.7 model for £5499.
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