After six months of commuting in all weathers, a long haul recce ride and the Paris-Roubaix sportive we found that the Focus Ergoride ST delivers on its promise, but it's not without its faults and quirky little ways.
Focus tout the Ergoride ST as a machine for the long haul: a sportive contender that won't break the bank and can double as a performance commuter too. It’s all that, but in pursuit of the upright sportive position, Focus have introduced some handling quirks that take a bit of adapting to.
Ride & handling: lively front end needs a firm touch
It's amazing what lopping 19mm off the wheelbase does to a bike's handling – that's the difference between the large and medium versions of the Ergoride. The shorter wheelbased medium is from the nippy, shading into twitchy, school of road bike while its longer sibling is a much more stable bike that rides more like a fast tourer (we rode the '07 model which has identical dimensions to this year's version). If you've got a 30in inside leg you'll fit either – so you pays your money… We went the short, nippy route, but the longer model does have its charms.
For a bike that’s supposedly built for long rides, the Ergoride is rewardingly nippy in the sprint: the short, tight frame makes for excellent power transfer to the Alex 295 rear wheel – and once there not much is going to be lost through flex. All very efficient, and great for kicking through gaps in traffic on city streets or a sportive bunch. Efficient power transfer is also a plus when you're going to be pedalling hard all day and you don't want to be wasting your watts.
So the back end feels nice and tight, and so does the front. This makes for very light handling.
The Ergoride responds to every twitch of road or rider. It's not going to throw you offline (there's plenty of understeer courtesy of the longer fork), but feedback is continuous.
This is not a machine you can comfortably ride no-hands in a straight line for very long. In fact you don't want to be taking your hands off the ‘bars at all – the Ergoride more or less demands your input at all times with a light, but firm, touch on the tiller.
The narrow 38cm Concept bars don't help, but this front end livelieness is mainly down to the way Focus has achieved the now classic upright sportive position by combining a shortened top tube with a longer fork. The extra length in the fork, plus 9mm of rake, also helps get the front wheel away from your feet avoiding toe overlap.
This means that while on paper the 71.5° head and 74° seat angle are well within the range of 'normal' the Ergoride actually rides like something with a far slacker head angle.
That said, this is a well mannered machine at speed. You can spin along on the flat all day and it won't step out of line, it will rail corners on fast descents happily, and should you need to scrub off a bit of speed in the turn the Tiagra stoppers are more than capable giving you plenty of stopping power and modulation through the levers, particularly when riding on the drops.
You can chuck it over rough terrain and it still behaves. This bike ate up and spat out the Roubaix pavé when more illustrious machines were found wanting.
There's plenty of grip in the Schwalbe Lugano 23mm tyres which offer a pleasing combination of grip and durability and are a vast improvement on the Michelins sported by the '07 model. And should the bike step out of line it's nimble enough to step straight back in again.
So what's the catch? The catch is that all this applies so long as you don't stand up.
Do that, and the Ergoride can bite your arse – even when you are used to its little ways. This was brought home on a smooth slice of French tarmac running in to Roubaix. As I pulled up out of the saddle, sprinting for the last 'ceremonial' section of pave, the front end dived to the side I was pushing the crank down on. The bike recovered almost instantly as I hauled on the bars and pushed down on the other side, it’s just that I didn't need the extra adrenaline at that point.
Again it’s that short top tube/long fork approach to getting an upright riding position that’s to blame, and the short wheel base doesn't help either.
When you stand up a large part of your weight is suddenly way out in front of the bike’s centre of gravity (you feel noticeably further forward than you do on other bikes) and that is inevitably going to effect its stability. This effect is even more extreme on the longer ’07 model because of the sharper contrast in handling between riding seated and standing. In fact on that bike even a short-legged type like me could touch the 'bars with my knees when I stood up.
Unsurprisingly things can get wobbly at low speeds – particularly when moving through traffic on climbs – where the understeer can lure you into over-correction. Again the longer '07 model was, if anything, worse.
The compromise on handling does achieve its aim. The Ergoride is a comfortable bike, more so than you might expect from something made of 6061 aluminium. The Concept carbon fork does an acceptable job of filtering out road buzz and the compact frame allows for a generous length of exposed seat-post another comfort enhancer.
Frame: short, stiff, surprisingly comfortable
As you'd expect of something made in Germany the Ergoride frame is well put together, with neat welds and an excellent paint job which has proved pleasingly chip, scratch and scuff resistant.
All the things you would expect are here: replaceable dropouts; neat, smooth welds; the Concept carbon fork has an alloy steerer; the downtube and head tube are both pretty beefy helping keep everything nice and stiff and in the same vein, the shortish chainstays are neatly shaped for maximum rigidity at the back.
The frame weighs in at a respectable 3.8lb: it’s no featherweight, but it is strong. If Paris-Roubaix couldn't break it you won't, and it does offer a fair amount of scope to drop the bike’s overall weight (21lb out of the box) and boost performance with a few well chosen upgrades when funds allow.
Equipment: Good package let down by narrow handlebars
The Tektro extension brake levers weren't really necessary with the narrow bars
Shimano’s Tiagra groupset may not be glamorous, but it does all work and keep on working even on a long haul through ugly weather. Gear changes may lack quite the lightness and snap of 105 or Ultegra, but they work well enough. If you need to work them riding through a sportive bunch, who might be in the same place but are all going at different speeds, it will deliver. Ditto on hills, and ditto for the brakes.
Purists may sneer at triple chainsets: let 'em! When it comes to the really steep stuff the purists will be walking up while the Ergoride’s 50-39-30 chainset matched up to an 11-25 rear cassette will get you up a wall if necessary. Yes a compact can do that too, but for me that third cog scores by giving a smoother run of gears for minimal to no weight penalty. On a big lumpy ride that can make a real difference to your knees.
A stack of four spacers gives some room for cockpit height tweaking and except for the fact that they were too narrow (38cm). I liked the Concept SL shallow drop 'bars. (Concept is Focus' in-house component brand).
In the interests of comfort, most manufacturers fit wider bars to their sportive bikes so I'm not sure of the point of going narrower, particularly if you then stick on a pair of Tektro extension brake levers. I didn't really use these, but they worked well enough and I can see the attraction, but on a 38cm bar they take up all the available space leaving nowhere for lights, computer, or GPS, all things a sportive rider or commuter may well deem essential.
No complaints about the generic, but no worse for that, Velo Pronto saddle. It got me through a long day at Roubaix and I could still sit down afterwards.
My candidates for upgrade would be those Concept bars and the alloy seatpost. Not because there's anything wrong with it, but replacing it with a carbon one would drop a little weight and add some extra cush to the ride.
Wheels: a pleasant surprise
Alex Class A ALX 295s wheels are surprisingly good
The Alex Class A ALX 295s wheels – to give them their full title – have had a pretty mixed press over the years so I expected a flash looking, wannabe racing wheelset that either weighed a ton, or flexed horribly, or both.
What you get for your money is a pair of aluminium sealed cartridge bearing hubs, 20 hole at the front, 24 at the back. The front is laced radially, the rear two cross with bladed spokes to Alex ALX 295 aero rims – that deeper section also adding some strength and stiffness into the mix.
Alright, they're not that light, but they're not that heavy either. Standard fare for the money and on a level with Mavic's Ksyrium Equipe's or Aksiums. I'm not kind to wheels and before I hit the French cobbles I was nervous that the 295s might be a tad under-spoked for the job, but they took their punishment without complaint.
They are upgradeable, but you are going to need to spend between £200 and £300 to shed a significant amount of weight with something like a Ksyrium Elite or Shimano R601s or 660s. If the sportive bug really bites it could be worth having some lighter wheels and keeping these for training/commuting duties.
Conclusion: tough, but flaws mark it down
Sportive bikes are all about comfort and performance – the reason so many have an upright position is that it’s thought to be more comfortable for those of us who aren't race-hardened elites. But an upright position should not be an end in itself. This is a fine little bike, well priced, well specced and well put together, but it would be so much better with a longer top tube plus either a taller headtube or a bigger stack of spacers, or both to get that more comfortable upright position – and it's up against some very stiff competition.
£625 buys you the Giant SCR Ltd, Giant's own take on the sportive/commuting performance bike, the spec package is similar too although the Shimano R-500 wheels are lighter. £850 gets the SCR1 with Shimano 105 and an upgraded spec package. For £699 you can also have Cannondale's take on the comfort performance machine, the Synapse Tiagra Triple, with essentially the same drivetrain as the Ergoride, or for £799 the Specialized Allez Elite – pretty much the benchmark for affordable road performance bikes.
Footnote: Focus '07 vs '08 sizing
Someone at Focus must have picked up on that truth known to condom manufacturers the world over that it's not good for business to rub the small person's nose in it - Focus's '07 range started at XXS. This year the bikes are the same size but the range starts at XS and goes through to XXL. Obviously the condom lesson hasn't been completely absorbed or they'd start at Large and go through to XXXXXL. Maybe next year.