The new 2014 Focus Mares CX 3.0, is a disc version of their highly successful carbon cyclocross frame. It's fitted with SRAM's new S700 hydraulic brake system, which is designed to work only with 10-speed (11-speed SRAM Red 22 has its own disc option), and runs SRAM Rival and Apex derailleurs, DT Swiss wheels, Schwalbe tyres, and Focus and Fi'zi:k finishing kit.
- HIGHS: The hydraulic brakes push it to another level
- LOWS: Relatively hefty wheels make their presence felt on the uphills
- BUY IF... You want a nimble, precise cyclocross bike for the long haul
The racy dimensions of our 55cm frame meant a 12.5cm head tube, so even with a compact drop bar we needed a few spacers under the stem. The Mares routes all cables along the top tube, keeping them well out of the filth, and the lack of cantilevers gives it a clean and integrated look.
The first thing you notice is the shape of the new S700 lever hoods, whose taller 'horns' contain the brakes' hydraulic master cylinder. Some consider them ugly, but as we explored the hand positions, we found them excellent off-road – on the hoods they feel like a normal SRAM lever, but when you hit rougher ground they're more secure because you can't bounce over the tops. In the drops they also feel familiar, but on smoother surfaces that enlarged top creates a separate handhold, which is great for getting into an aero tuck.
It's what they control that is more impressive though. We were expecting the discs to give instant raw power, which they do, but they also offer so much more than that. Braking with the S700s feels like using a road calliper, with some free movement and then a gradual application of the brake that builds as long as you increase pressure. And you don't need to have the arms of a track sprinter to use them, as the lever weighting is excellent.
Modulation is as instant as a good cable-operated calliper, which we used to great effect flowing through the trees, with the taut and reactive Mares CX frame unaffected by braking forces and springing rapidly out of corners. In the dry we found the discs more consistent than our usual carbon rim and canti configuration, making descents more fun too.
Running disc brakes requires wheels with at least 24 crossed spokes to cope with the stress, and Focus have played safe with the 28-hole DT Swiss X1900 wheelset, which is designed for 29in mountain bike use so should easily cope with cyclocross. With eyeleted rims and straight-pull spokes, they're well built, but with tyres, cassette and disc rotors, they weigh in at a pretty chunky 3,730g. This makes its presence felt uphill, and considering they don't have a brake track, there's a lot of extra mass. The square tread blocks of the Racing Ralphs rolled quickly on road.
Shouldering the Mares CX 3.0 up the trail
As we ploughed our way along an overgrown and waterlogged bridleway, the complete lack of mud building up around the wide, uncluttered fork crown was satisfying, although the seatstay bridge did shave the thickest muck from the rear tyre. But crucially, no matter what the rims were coated in, the brakes worked just the same, with no loss of power or feel and no dip in confidence, allowing us to maintain our speed.
The Mares CX 3.0 handles 'cross duties with ease, and hydraulic braking really helps its handling and confidence.