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Triathlete senior editor Aaron Hersh reviews the Focus Izalco Chrono Ultegra 20G, which retails for $5,000.
Written by: Aaron Hersh
If you haven’t heard of Focus, it’s not because it’s a start-up—it’s because its outstanding road and cyclocross bikes have been confined to Europe. But not for long. Focus bikes have been proved in Europe’s cycling toughest races for years and it’s finally establishing a presence in the States. The company has demonstrated its ability to build excellent road and cyclo-cross bikes, and the Izalco is its first honest effort at a time trial (TT) bike. And I call it a time trial bike rather than a tri bike because Focus clearly prioritized the needs of its ProTour cycling team over those of the triathlete. However, that isn’t all bad because the Izalco boasts a ride experience that most tri bikes can’t match.
The Izalco is unfailingly solid and predictable; it is truly a joy to ride. The road-tuned geometry calmly maneuvers through twisting roads and the frame rigidly withstands any sprint. Most bikes as stiff as the Izalco widen the downtube to bolster the bottom bracket but this alteration increases the frame’s aerodynamic drag. Focus was able to create this ride experience without flaring the downtube by thickening the chainstays and seat tube.
The Izalco steadily handles sweeping corners because of its conservative front-end geometry and even weight balance between the two wheels. These two characteristics slow the Izalco’s handling and make it more predictable than many tri bikes.
The instructors at F.I.S.T.—the premier triathlon bike fit school—have determined that 79 degrees is the average seat tube angle preferred by triathletes. Some people favor a steeper angle and others prefer shallower, but a 79-degree effective seat tube angle allows most riders to optimize comfort, power and aerodynamics. ProTour cycling teams, however, must have their saddle farther back so the Izalco is constructed with a slack 76-degree seat tube. This shallow seat tube angle forces most riders to raise their handlebars, but the Izalco has a short stack across all three sizes. The headtube length is the same in both medium and large frame sizes so tall riders will struggle even more than shorter cyclists to find a comfortable position. These two design characteristics make the Izalco difficult to ride in an ideal tri position.
Roadracers rarely use their TT bike, but we triathletes log the majority of our miles on a tri bike. That factor combined with ProTour regulations are the biggest differences between a triathlon bike and a TT bike. Since triathletes spend so much time on a tri bike, we benefit greatly from an aero bike that is both fast and functional. The Izalco eschews the potential aerodynamic benefits of hidden brakes and creative cable routing for the functionality of traditional placement. Focus did not forget the importance of frame aerodynamics, either. Every tube is both narrow and deep. The downtube and chainstays have razor-sharp trailing edges.
Focus stayed true to its road roots when it spec’d the Izalco Chrono Ultegra 20G. Focus tapped category-leading companies like fi’zi:k, 3T, Shimano and Continental to equip the Izalco with a first-class build. Instead of spec’ing the Izalco with a flashy rear derailleur but going budget on other components, every part on the Ultegra 20G is truly exceptional. Focus-branded single-pivot brake calipers and moderately deep carbon wheels complete the spec. The Focus Clincher Carbon wheels are, presumably, more aero than standard training wheels, but most consumers in this price range would be better served with a cheap pair of training wheels and a dedicated set of race wheels. Although a $5,000 Ultegra bike seems overpriced, this spec is far superior to so-called Dura Ace kits with a DA rear derailleur and cheaper components everywhere else.
Verdict: The Izalco Chrono Ultegra 20G is a blast to ride because of its outstanding ride quality and well-rounded parts kit. Izalco’s road-oriented geometry, however, makes it hard to fit for the steep-riding triathlete.