With the FOCUS IZALCO MAX 2019 the German brand is introducing a radical overhaul of their fastest bike. We will tell you why this time weight and speed didn’t play such an important role in the development process and also how the IZALCO MAX 2019 performed on the road.
“Somehow the colour scheme reminds me of the Martini Racing rally cars!” was the general consensus in the office when we first pulled the bike out of its shipping box. And that was a deliberate association: when the designers painted the frames they took inspiration from motorsport and even adopted the colour-schemes of both the legendary Team Martini and Mercedes-AMG Petronas for a number of their frames. According to the brand’s own statement FOCUS wants the IZALCO MAX to be more than just a fast bike, despite the racing-style finish. This is why this time developers decided to start from a clean slate instead of re-developing or reimagining the previous year’s model. The question at the core of the development process: “Why do people ride bikes these days?” And what’s your answer? Riding fun, lived as a collective experience while flying over perfectly-laid tarmac with your buddies. Something like that.
The geometry of the FOCUS IZALCO MAX
Modern race geometries are based on a compact riding position: your upper body lies flat on the bike (as far as your flexibility allows you to) but the hip shifts further forward towards the bottom bracket — a similar riding position to time trial bikes. Not only does the wider hip angle allow for a more efficient use of the relevant muscle groups but also increases the blood flow and thus the oxygen supply to your leg muscles. But not just professionals can benefit from this wizardry! Especially weekend warriors like us will be faster for longer and feel more comfortable while suffering less. The IZALCO MAX implements these developments but doesn’t use a seat post with a 0 mm offset. Instead the designers at FOCUS moved the seat tube forward, which becomes evident when you look at the distance between the seat tube and rear wheel. According to their own statement this results in an actual offset of only two 2 mm despite the 15 mm offset of the seat post. The compact riding position however won’t affect riding comfort simply because the design of offset seatposts allows for more flex.
The lively yet predictable nature of the bike is guaranteed to put a smile on your face even in tight corners. FOCUS also lowered the bottom bracket of the new IZALCO MAX to a BB-drop of 78 mm (6 mm lower than the S-WORKS Tarmac SL 6 Disc) to optimise the nimble character of the bike. Riding fun and comfort can be further improved by using chunkier tires. Officially FOCUS recommends a maximum tire width of 28mm but in our opinion the frame can accommodate tires with a width of up to 30mm. Unlike some competitors FOCUS doesn’t use 650B wheels on smaller frame sizes but still promises consistent handling and ride-feeling across all frame sizes. The stack to reach ratio remains the same regardless of frame size.
FOCUS IZALCO MAX models
If you take a look at the model overview you’ll notice that FOCUS uses hydraulic disc-brakes as well and carbon wheels in every available configuration. According to FOCUS carbon wheels offer the clearest, most evident performance advantage — a statement we proudly stick with. However there are differences in frameset performance and integration between the 8- and 9-series models: the in-house stem with internal cable routing is only found on the more expensive 9er series. According to FOCUS the frameset of the 8-series is 110g heavier than the 9er series, its bottom bracket is only marginally more compliant (70 N/mm vs. 65 N/mm).
The FOCUS IZALCO MAX 9.8 in detail
For our test we opted for the 9.8 version of the IZALCO MAX . The bike in the Martini Racing look (or was it Tommy Hilfiger?) weighs in at 7.55 kg in size L — which is ok for an aero-racing rig with disc brakes. For comparison’s sake you can find the weights (and much more) of the Specialized S-WORKS Venge 2019, Cannondale SystemSix and Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc in our latest group test “the best aerobikes of 2019”. Our test bike came with the (still) current SRAM RED eTap groupset. We believe that FOCUS will release the bike with the latest eTap version as standard.
The DT Swiss ARC 1450 SPLINE DB wheels are paired with 160mm discs front and rear. FOCUS’ in-house quick-release axles measure 100 x 12 mm at the front and 142 x 12 mm at the rear and rely on an updated version of the Rapid Axle Technology (R.A.T.) — which was developed to allow for fast wheel changes. FOCUS relies on Continental tires. Our test bike came with a set of 700x25c GP 4000 S II but these are likely to be replaced with the newer, recently launched GP 5000 version. On the DT Swiss rims the actual width of 27,5 mm of the Conti tires noticeably exceeds the manufacturer’s specifications .
The Prologo DIMENSION saddle and Easton EC90 Aero carbon handlebars are combined with an in-house D-shaped seat post and a specially-developed 100 mm stem with a -15° negative rise.
Now the cockpit really is a topic for discussion: the aerodynamic shape of the Easton handlebars doesn’t allow for any GPS or navigation devices. FOCUS wants to provide a remedy and designed a specific mounting bracket which attaches directly onto the stem clamp. With some of the bikes from the competition the internal cable routing in the stem results in a restricted and sluggish steering angle. To the delight of our test-riders this wasn’t the case with our test bike. Moreover the built-in ACROS headset makes for an incredibly smooth handling — an absolute dream! But these are not the only clever, well thought-out details. FOCUS also supplies the IZALCO MAX with a set of two-piece spacers which make it easier to cut the fork to length. The highlight: when deciding your ideal stem height you can also use conventional spacers on top of the stem. Clever!
Testing the FOCUS IZALCO MAX 9.8
Boom! When it comes to acceleration the new IZALCO MAX won’t do things by halves. The stiff bottom bracket area provides direct power transfer and almost catapults you forward. Whether you’re sprinting from a traffic light from a standstill or accelerating out of a turn the carbon racer feels smooth, efficient and rides almost without making a sound. Feint a pass to the right, indicate to the left and overtake the entire group towards a clear victory on the final espresso sprint.
As soon as you touch the brakes the hydraulic SRAM RED aggressively bite into the 160mm rotors and sometimes even tempt you to lock the rear wheel altogether. However it’s not just the brakes that are responsible for this feeling but also to the playful and lively handling of the bike. This is not a high-speed racing machine but rather a sprint-eager, corner-slaying Supermoto. The front-end especially feels very nimble and drags the rear-end with it on sudden direction changes and a fast-paced riding sections. In these scenarios however you’ll have to help it a little and adjust your trajectory from time to time. Having said that the bike inspires tons of confidence and always feels predictable.
The sporty, compact riding position feels just right and doesn’t ever make you feel guilty about cruising on the flats after the mega adrenaline-rush on the downhill. Having said that you should be careful with side-winds and hold on to the handlebars: The agile front-end combined with the 48 mm deep carbon rims is rather susceptible to sudden wind gusts. The “I could if I wanted” feeling of this bike is directly proportional to the way you experience it; the race performance doesn’t strike you as a brutally stiff ride but unfolds on demand, whenever you abandon the comfortable riding position. The rear-end of the IZALCO is a little more compliant and comfortable than the stiff front-end.
Between new-school racing, café excursions and modern engineering, FOCUS seems to be reinventing itself. The new IZALCO MAX comes with an array of well thought-out detail-solutions and wants to bridge the gap between race-performance and allroad potential. If you’re a keen town-line sprinter as well as a re-offending coffee stopper looking for a lively fun machine, you are looking at the right bike. But this is also why the IZALCO MAX might appeal to an entirely different type of customer than its predecessor and might be a little too similar to the FOCUS PARALANE for some of you. Nevertheless… we had a blast with the IZALCO MAX 2019. Fun, authentic, honest and innovative – we like the new FOCUS racer a lot!
For more info head to: focus-bikes.com
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Words: Photos: Alex de Cortada, Valentin Rühl