Its taken an age to get part 2 of the Focus Izalco Max Disc review out due to not only a plethora of late season missions, but also because I have been studiously mulling over how to sum this bike up. First up there was the all important task of logging some decent K’s on it. Not only in volume, but also over the appropriate terrain. After all, a rantview is only as good as the battlefield its performed on.
2,300Km’s and one massive Euro mission later and I’ve gotten to know Herr Piggy a whole lot more than when I put out Part 1 of this in-depth look at what happens when you lose your mind and make an illogical bike acquisition.
As you may recall from Part 1, I was somewhat circumspect about the latest addition to the Dirty arsenal. Some may liken it to that horrific feeling of waking up the next morning with a dry mouth and encrusted with the aftermath of being involved in a drunken tryst with someone you swore you’d never partake in such activities with. So, with that notion of regret now firmly in your mind (given you’ve naturally just recalled such an event), we’re set to run through the intricacies of the Focus Izalco Max Disc:
For those that like summaries and can’t be fucked reading today, summing the above machine up into one word? Behold:
Given we now live in the ‘post truth world’, you can read that one word, digest it like you’re a Hillbilly reading Fuckbook ‘news’ and strike the Izalco Max Disc off your potential purchasing list! Hooray! All sorted with at least 7 seconds left on your attention span as well.
If you’d like more ranting, then allow me to indulge you like raving pigs in shit as we work our way through a series of random questions that will help elaborate on the above verdict.
Is it better, or just different?
You know when you put your seat up and go out for a ride and suddenly think “Fuck, this is SO much better!” But then, 8 rides later your scratching your head why things don’t feel right and trying to work out why you have inflamed achilles? That experience goes to my point here about a lot of things is cycling where I have to ask if our perceptions are legit or skewed.
Is it really better? Or just different?
This question applies every time you buy something new, or in this case different, and then subject yourself to the mindfuck of thinking its better, when in fact it may be either A) not or B) just different. I maintain that cycling suffers from this more than most sports given the sheer scope we have to change things both in terms of lengths/Widths (cranks, stem, handlebar, seats, pedals) but also in terms of materials.
Each time we head out the door with something new installed, our mind instinctively wants to believe its better than what we had before: “Yes, these wider bars are SO much better…” or “Fuck, I can really feel the difference with these shorter cranks!” The list goes on and on, but the point remains consistent that the Matrix has retrained us to want to make new acquisitions seem better than where we were before.
My initial impression was that the Focus was SO much better! Epic set up niggles aside, the fleeting glimpses where it was actually a bike made me think it was better than the Evo. As time wore on however, I realised to the horror of my ego and credit card that, well, er… It was just different and not a huge step forward for Nomad kind. Cunty? Yes. Reasons? Let’s move on to elaborate.
What about those discs?
Right then – The whole point of this bike essentially. Its raison d’être… Its key point of difference and so on and so forth. Without the discs its just your standard Izalco Max. So there are therefore two parts to this:
- The whole ‘do you need discs on a road bike’ scenario
- What does it do for the performance of the bike
First up, if you’re expecting moving to road disc brakes to be earth shatteringly transformation, then you may initially be disappointed. If you’re #roadieasfuck then you may be more impressed, but if you’ve ever ridden a modern MTB, then you’ll most likely just think “ok, it has disc brakes”
This is to say that I didn’t find the ultimate power of the Shimano road discs to be as impressive as I initially thought they may be. In spite of my love of discs, my initial luddite view of road discs was that the braking power was going to wrestle the Conti GP4000’s to the ground and make them their bitch. However, this isn’t the case at all.
What is impressive however is the modulation – This is where you’ll notice an upside. The Shimano road discs have this nice big fat band of modulation to them about halfway through their stroke, which is where you’ll start to feel comfort and consistency that shades a normal rim brake. The ramp up and fatness of the power in here is what sets discs apart obviously, allowing you to brake later than you normally would with the rim brake. Super handy if you like out-braking people and assuming you have cornering skills to match.
As to what difference this makes to you as a rider depends on each individual obviously, but it goes without saying that discs come to the fore in two particular situations:
- You ride in the rain a lot
- You have a lot of epic descents
Laugh now as you should, but I partake in neither to be honest, more than happy to drink coffee while its pissing with rain, but its worth dwelling on point 2.
Really good road bike descenders actually don’t need or use a lot of brake… Which of course is what makes them fast. They use it sparingly and precisely, hence your high end roadies don’t even really need discs themselves as they’ve been doing just nicely without. I was reminded of this all the way through the Pyrenees when my non-disc braked (and significantly slimmer) comRADes disappeared into the distance.
Which is a good segway to another couple of points to frown about – If, like me, you give zero fucks about road descending given you’ve worked out the risk vs reward equation isn’t worth it, then you probably don’t need discs either as you’re not pushing the limits into the braking zone of death where discs are useful. Hmmmm, its starting to smell like a marketing gimmick.
Well, then its also starting to sound like one as well. You may think that the Pyrenees would have been the perfect environment to savour the upsides of a disc road bike… And for the first 3-4km’s of an HC descent this was indeed the case. However, then faster than you can command a townie to “Squeal like a pig“, it transforms into a banshee of vibration and screeching that deletes all the sweet modulation I referred to above.
I haven’t been able to trace the root cause of this phenomenon yet, so suspect its a set up and alignment issue after checking the calliper and disc mounting to find everything tight as fuck. Its unusual for a Shimano disc brake to behave in such an unbecoming manner and its not like I am the fastest or fattest of descenders, so I sort of expected a whole lot more.
As you can see, the ‘underwhelming vibe’ is coming on stronger than a creepy rapey orange clown at a beauty pageant. Time to crank it up even further…
How does it stack up against the Cannondale Evo?
If the Cannondale SuperSix Evo is an excited lap dancing stripper named ‘Dakota’, then the Focus is a German Librarian… Not the fantasy kind either. More along the lines of one that has the dewey decimal system memorised in 3 or 4 languages. The Evo loves to react, dance and feels nippy, whereas the Focus is very much steady as it goes, almost heading towards ‘plodder’ territory in a head-to-head comparison.
This is all about geometry at the end of the day and I was definitely looking at the wrong data points. As Das Wolf pointed out to me, that difference in feeling ultimately traces back to these two little numbers:
- Chainstay length – Focus 41.5cm Vs. Evo 40.5cm
- Wheelbase length – Focus 99.2cm Vs. Evo 97.5cm
Subtle numbers, but riding them back to back they scream volumes in the difference between the two machines. The Evo is lively, light, exciting and feels how a road bike should feel when you think about cycling and you minus the suffering.
The Izalco Disc on the other hand… Well, its more Fat German Tortoise than Shaved & Lubricated Hare, except without the happy ending. It has a similar acceleration curve to the much cheaper Aluminium CAAD10 and while its not a total slouch, its definitely a slight nag in your mind when you’re wanting to drop the hammer or close a gap.
It carries this steadiness over into its climbing attitude as well. Granted I’m not exactly a Grimpeur, but when you get onto a climb the Focus is much more aligned to riding tempo, its not exactly going to encourage you to get out of the saddle and try to rip your mate’s balls off. It doesn’t reward shenanigans at all, much like a librarian that hates an audible fart.
“Hang on cunt” – Didn’t I ride this bike on the biggest day of climbing I’ve ever done? Er…
Yes, indeed I did… Which involved about 4 or 5 hours riding tempo in the smooth manner that the Izalco likes to scale mountains at. I may have also spent 95% of that time mulling over if the Evo would have been a much better choice for that mission.
Part of that would be the 1kg in difference between the two as well. Before you accuse me of being a Fattist, in this day and age of hot Road Bike porn and endless carbon technology, road bikes over 7kg’s feel like a disappointment. That’s right Venge owners, keep telling yourself that aero is everything… Or that it ate everything?
Sidenote – Perhaps a more relevant question is how would it compare to the non-disc Izalco? Voila:
With chain stay length, wheelbase and weight much closer to the Evo, I suspect the non-disc Izalco Max, seen above to the right thanks to DN Global Collective member The Jones, is the more lively performer of the two. Indeed this was the ride report from Jonesy coming off an Evo to the Izalco and it makes sense that it would get the thumbs up. If you’re a racer and want a Focus, the non-Disc Di2 model would be the way to go. Speaking of which…
Would I want to race this bike?
No… Make that, FUCK no. It looks like a race bike, it quacks like a race bike and sometimes it even smells like one, but I don’t think it is. You can definitely race it of course, but unlike some actual cycling media websites that creamed themselves over this being a ‘disc race bike’, in the throes of a knife fight when you’re trying to stab your lycra clad opponent in the chest, there would be a sting in the back of your neck that this wasn’t quite the right weapon for the fray.
Modern racing bikes shouldn’t have compromise ultimately and the Izalco gives up too much from a weight and Geo perspective to remove any doubt in your mind that it’s got your back when shots are fired. Making a break, closing a gap, trying to hold that wheel when you just want to fold like an origami pussy – The last thing you want is slight compromises on responsiveness and weight. In amateur racing its not often someone wins a race because they out-braked someone either…
The other factor? I’m not sure I would want to find myself in the middle of a peloton going full gas, in the rain and be the only one on discs. Odd comment yes, but all of a sudden you can stop a shit load faster than everyone else… Good for you, not so much for them. If you like being rear ended, then great, if you don’t like the idea of slowing down only to be cream pied from behind from 5 people with rim brakes and Zipp rims in the wet, then you get my drift.
What nice things do you have to say about it?
Ummmm… Well, it looks good… Plus, its rather smooth to ride on. The combo of the stretch limo frame, Wheelworks Maker Disc wheels and the Angela Merkel inspired seatpost combine to equal a relatively smooth ride that I never consider to be harsh. All this in spite of the BB being stiffer than a CEO at a gentlemen’s club, which comes in handy given you have to kick Herr Piggy to get the party started. I also don’t mind the frame aesthetics, some nice big chunky flat stays out back, even if they are a tad long:
To be fair, once you get Das Panzerwagon wound up to speed, its not too shabby at steady state intervals. It will quite happily truck along like its on the main road to Warsaw. I wouldn’t want to get into any sprint training or motor pacing to be fair, but its happy once at a high cruising speed, ably assisted by the Wheelworks Maker 35’s.
Did I mention the colour scheme is DN compliant? Yeah, that’s kind of my Alamo to be honest when trying to find some silver linings. It is a nice frame aesthetically speaking, interesting curves and the finish is pretty good, so if looks are important then it can tick that box for you.
So what does that make it then?
The flashiest touring bike ever? A super domesitque training bike? The perfect bike for carving out long miles in the hills while its raining? A massive over-investment when you already have a thoroughbred high end race bike?
Ultimately I suspect a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the above tirade list. Its still a bike with a slightly odd spec (Why not Di2 and disc?) that feels a bit like its in no mans land. Its not an aero bike, its not a high end lightweight race bike, its not a, gross, Gran Fondo endurance bike either based on its Geo. I guess it has enough clearance that you could gravel grind yourself into a frenzy on it, but I suspect there are better machines for that sort of cuntery.
Ultimately I think that it was a well intentioned attempt to make a high end race disc race bike, but somewhere along the way things got lost in translation during the lengthening process, before it ate a whole bag of cookies and dressed itself in a strange parts mix. End result? Donning a name badge that says: “Hi, I’m underwhelming”
Some points on equipment
Its a road bike, so yawn, not much wanking to be had on suspension or dropper seat posts etc, but a few mentions to be had on finishing kit:
Look Keo 2 pedals – As a long term Keo lover, this my first foray into the new version. If you live somewhere without traffic lights or any regular stops then these pedals are awesome. If you don’t, then they are total cunts.
By that I mean you will actually call them that at some stage with rage coursing through you as you’ve fucked up yet another clip in. Don’t worry, its not you, its the updated design. So much weight has been carved out of the body that instead of now sitting up obediently like the original blades, these vaguely float around just waiting to disappear at the slightest touch.
If that doesn’t make you hate them, don’t worry, there is always the squeaking cleat situation. Sounding much like you’re murdering ducklings under romper stomper boots, any real efforts are rewarded with a squeaking sound that will drive you slowly more insane as the HC climb wears on. Back to back testing with the original blades confirming this was something unique to the new Keo 2. Yay for progress!
Shimano Dura Ace – I felt a part of my roadie soul die a blunt force trauma death when I specced Herr Piggy with Shimano Dura ace and thus stepped away from Campagnolo for the first time in a decade. I have however been surprisingly impressed with the Dura Ace gruppo, slight frown at the brakes aside.
The shifting is crisp and so light you wonder why you even need Di2. I love the crank and mated to the Praxxis ceramic BB its smoother than Asa Akira covered in oil. Porn star references aside, its hard to go past the economics of the Dura Ace set up, with the cassette and chain combo being almost half the price of a Campy Record cassette alone…. Holy FUCK. Yes, it pains my heart to be off campy, but my head is absolutely stoked.
Is one better than the other? Hmmmm… Not discernibly, but I think Shimano have campy eating pillow when it comes to Front D shifting and, er, electronics obviously. All Alpha Romeo owners do the nod of shame now.
When you ride 780km’s in 8 days through some of Spain and France’s finest offerings, if you don’t fall in love with a bike, there is clearly a problem. Shared experiences underpin any good relationship and whilst I appreciated Herr Piggy during the massive #AT40 EuroRaid, I wasn’t seduced by its German mutterings.
Whilst Disc brakes are better than Rim brakes, I am not sure most of us need a disc braked road bike at this point. If you’re a no compromise road as fuck racer, then I think you should still steer clear at this stage. Until it can be packaged to be as light and nippy as a Evo Black Inc, its still more marketing than performance. Discs are coming, but you need to step back from the purchasing tractor beam and ask yourself if you really need them?
The bigger tale of caution? I really didn’t need this bike… As such, its part of the reason why its been hard to love I suspect. Its not only hard to pinpoint what its real use is, but its a bike in no mans land – Its a generation before disc road bikes will be really cool and doesn’t have Di2 on board. That makes it not only a weird anomaly in the road bike eco system, but also an outlier in the Dirty stable.
If you’re going to pull the trigger, make sure its a bike you really want and/or need and don’t give into weird fever that in the cold light of a back country ride no longer makes sense. Plus, just don’t fuck around and buy yourself a SuperSix Evo.