Expectation is always high when a Focus rolls into the bikeshed. Experience has taught us to look forward to a decent German-made frame raised to another level by the outstanding value made possible by online retailer Wiggle’s hefty buying power. Even a quick once-over conﬁrms that the Mares Expert is no exception.
- Frame and fork: World Championship winning frame loves it when the going gets tough and fast. There’s loads of clearance for mud plugging but the lack of rear rack or mudguard eyelets restricts its versatility
- Handling: Commanding and well balanced. Just as capable hurtling down long tarmac descents as picking through root-crossed singletrack.
- Equipment: Full Shimano Ultegra SL including chainset is great at this price. ‘L’-shaped cantilever brakes have plenty of power and you get extra bartop levers as well
- Wheels: Alex rims on 105 hubs laced with three-cross stainless black DT spokes for both front and rear makes for a strong and reliable wheelset
Racing heritage shines through in the rough
Full Shimano Ultegra SL, including the chainset, works as well as ever – excellently – and the 34-tooth small ring alongside the 50-tooth outer makes for a wide range of gears that even load-hucking tourists or hilly commuters will be grateful for if the Focus is put to work away from the cyclocross track. But the Mares Expert is ﬁrst and foremost a rough stuff racer, built for the cut and thrust – and mud – of the 50-minute-plus-one-lap cyclo-cross race.
To this end, it’s seriously stiff and solidly built out of 6061 aluminium tubing to the same design as Hanka Kupfernagel’s 2005 World Cyclo-cross Championship winning bike. With design features such as the ovalised top tube with its top mounted ‘guitar fret’ of cables for comfortable shouldering of the bike, big mud clearances between frame, fork and tyres, and no-nonsense welded-on gussets reinforcing the join of the head tube and down tube, the Mares Cross clearly means business. It’s good to see in-line adjusters on the cables within easy reach of the bars for time saving mid-ride or mid-race indexing tweaks too.
No lightweight, but the faster you go, the better the handling
The ride is equally businesslike. The Focus may not be a lightweight, but once you and the bike are caked in mud, all-up weight may not be the racing be-all-and-end-all anyway. Thanks in part to the tight, shallow drop of the FSA Comp Pro bars and the high, pistol-grip like Ultegra gear lever hoods, you feel like you can take loose or muddy trails by the scruff of the neck. The faster and harder you go, the more rewarding the handling feels.
The Schwalbe Racing Ralph triple compound ’cross tyres certainly help too. Better known as a mountain bike tyre, the Ralphs are nice and fat, with aggressive tread. Racers may like to know the tyre is also now available as a ‘tub’, though you’ll need different wheels to glue it into. Their hard cornering grip was especially good, thanks perhaps to angular chunks of tread protruding from the 35mm width. The wheels on the Mares Expert are CSL 2800 rims made by Taiwanese manufacturer Alex, laced to reliable 105 hubs.
On the versatility front, it’s disappointing to see no rear eyelets for ﬁxing racks or mudguards. But at least you’ll be able to keep your feet dry, as there are guard eyelets at the drop-outs of the carbon bladed, aluminium-steerered fork. If leaving them on this self-confessed racer was an oversight then all the better – shame Focus didn’t put eyelets on the rear dropouts by mistake too! Tektro cantilevers offer plenty of leverage thanks to their traditional, wide, horizontal setup, and bar-top brake levers are fitted.