Until very recently it was quite reasonable to expect to get a carbon bike based on Shimano's 'entry-level race' 105 groupset for £1,500, it is now possible to bag one equipped with pro-level Dura-Ace components for the same money.
One of the big factors in this has been the stiff competition being offered by web-based retailers like Wiggle in the UK acting as both distrubtor and sometimes even manufacturer of their own high end house brands. In Wiggle's case this amounts to a very close working relationship with the German brand Focus which has seen them take a growing slice of the British market. So if you take the online route what do you get for your money?
We take a look at the Focus Cayo Expert, second from top of their road range. All the Cayo models have the same frame, with prices based on the equipment spec.
The Cayo frame is made from uni-directional carbon with a larger number of cross-layers where stresses are the greatest. It's finished with a decorative outer layer that is covered only by the down-tube graphics. At 1,206g, the bare frame is impressively light, just a whisker away from what we would term superbike status, and the separate seatstay tubes - a feature seen on their German compatriot Isaac's range - add stiffness. The chainstay bridge adds strength and the bottom bracket and chainstays are swathed in a shade of beige metallic that contrasts well with the bold, grey graphics and finishing layer of coarse-weave carbon. Sizes range from 48cm to 60cm.
When you hear the name Cayo, it probably invokes thoughts of a relaxing holiday on the Caribbean island of the same name, but in reality the Focus Cayo is most rewarding when ridden with determination. The short wheelbase makes for vivid responses to steering in tight corners, and the short head-tube allows a lower riding position than the others. This is an important consideration for those who want the Cayo as a basis for time trialling, and you can of course flip the stem and stack the spacers for a handlebar height that is on a par with the others.
In absolute terms, it is a shade less stiff than the Scott CR1, as it is possible to fluff a gearshift when changing under pressure, but you have to be trying really hard to notice. And over longer distances it is kinder to the rider's contact points than the Scott.
You can find bike's sporting the more refined Dura-Ace kit for similar amounts of money, PBK's Team 2007 springs to mind, but they are likely to be compromised in other areas such as the frame, the Ultegra-equipped Focus Cayo Expert really scores because of the level of kit elsewhere. Shimano Ultegra has always been at the top of the price/quality-of-finish index and with lighter finishing kit and wheels, the Focus, at 18lb, is the lightest bike on test. The finishing kit includes their own-branded Concept Extreme handlebar and four-bolt stem that have more than a passing resemblance to the highly regarded components from the German Syntace stable. The FSA Gossamer compact chainset looks better than the Shimano equivalent but we would like to see this bike available with a 39/53 chainring combination for the die-hard competitors. Consumers who want a triple chainset must plump for the Shimano 105-equipped Cayo Triple that retails for £959.99.
Easton have huge experience in the design and manufacture of handlebars, stems and tubing, but are relatively new to wheel production. Despite this lack of experience, their mid-range Ascent 2 wheel is one of the best we have come across at any price. The Vista wheels on the Cayo represent the entry point on the Easton range. They use stainless steel j-bend spokes - 20 at the front, 24 at the rear - all radially laced apart from the two-cross pattern on the driveside of the rear wheel. The rim is a 30mm depth in a v-section and the hubs use cartridge bearings. Both wheels remained perfectly true throughout the test. The Michelin Lithion tyres fitted are the most reasonably priced tyres from the French firm and have a folding bead and eco-friendly silica tread.
Incredibly, it is now possible to get a carbon bike with Shimano 105 for under a grand - we found the new Raleigh for this price - but there is no doubting that you can get your money's worth by graduating to £1500; as we have found here, you are getting either a high-end carbon frame or a top-end groupset as part of the package.
The Focus is right on the money and certainly the best in terms of low weight and an enviable balance of handling and comfort. The Cayo frame falls just short of the 'team issue superbike' status os something like the Scott CR1, but what it loses in terms of weight - being 200g heavier than the Scott - it makes up for with more interesting wheels; this combined with the mainly Ultegra groupset and thinly-disguised Syntace finishing kit make for an unbeatable combination of top end performance and value.