Focus Mares Rival 1 review£2,499.00

Lightweight cyclocross special

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Focus is forged from cyclocross, its first bikes were ’cross bikes, and the founder has been a cyclocross world champ. So the company has accumulated a fair bit of knowledge over 25 years, which shows the minute you ride the impressive Mares.

At just a smidge over 8kg (58cm) it’s lighter than both the more expensive Ridley Noah SL Disc Ultegra Di2 and Trek Domane SL5 Disc, bikes built for road racing, not mud plugging. It’s impressive just how light the Mares is, especially when you consider that it’s only shod with budget A-Class wheels. Step up to a set of race-level wheels and you’d shed a good half a kilo.

Over rough ground the svelte 960g frame tracks perfectly
Over rough ground the svelte 960g frame tracks perfectly

The aggressive ride position with a stack of 568mm and reach of 397mm [vertical and horizontal distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the centre of the head-tube] is matched to a slack 71-degree head angle and steep 74.5-degree seat angle. So, while it looks very much a racer’s beast when you’re riding it’s a far more comfortable proposition than you’d think.

Over rough ground the 960g frame tracks perfectly, and the combination of the lengthy fork and compliant CPX seatpost makes it remarkably smooth, the excellent Schwalbe tyres are a massive help here too. Spot-on high-speed stability and low-speed manoeuvrability mean the Mares really challenges what’s acceptable terrain for a drop-bar bike.

The details are pretty special, with Focus’s own RAT thru-axles used front and rear. A stainless steel chainguide is bolted onto the bottom bracket shell, the plate using the mountain bike-standard ISCG-05 mounting system, with three bolts on the shell offering rotational adjustment to match chainring size.

Focus’s RAT axle system shaves time off wheel fitting and removal
Focus’s RAT axle system shaves time off wheel fitting and removal

The 48g it adds can be overlooked, as in my opinion there’s no penalty to pay to save your frame being gouged by a miscreant chain. Not that that’s likely to happen as the Mares uses SRAM’s Rival 1 with its thick-thin tooth pattern, which holds the chain so securely I never experienced any chain drops.

The 48-tooth ring and 11-32 block is well suited to the rigours of racing and ample for those who’ll use the Mares as a go-anywhere bike. On the road you do feel a little robbed at the bottom end, and extended climbs with 48-32 will be taken a little slower than on road-focused rivals, but you can always take an off-road short cut.

I wasn't a massive fan of the CPX aluminium bar, but the shallow drops are well shaped and there’s ample width at 44cm. The narrow diameter did make them feel a little stiff and I never felt quite so secure as with a larger diameter top section, so I’d upgrade to carbon.

I’d upgrade to a carbon bar over alloy, but the drops are well shaped
I’d upgrade to a carbon bar over alloy, but the drops are well shaped

The wheels proved tough and smooth running but I could induce a little flex under hard cornering, especially on hard-packed or rocky surfaces. The Schwalbe X-One tyres’ studded pattern is impressive in wet dirt, and they shed mud well. They grip well on wet grass but the trade off is slower performance on harder surfaces, especially tarmac.

The bike itself is very nicely focused (pun intended) for cyclocross racing. It’s just that the Mares is so good I feel it would be a shame for it to only come out for competitive hour-long blasts come the weekend.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Warren Rossiter

Senior Technical Editor
Approaching two decades of testing bikes, Warren can be found on a daily basis riding and exploring the road and off roads of Wiltshire's Salisbury Plain in the UK. That's when he's not travelling the world to test the latest kit, components and bikes.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 188cm / 6'2''
  • Weight: 92kg / 203lb
  • Waist: 86cm / 34in
  • Chest: 112cm / 44in
  • Discipline: Road
  • Preferred Terrain: Big, fast descents and rough surfaces like cobbles or strada bianca
  • Current Bikes: Decade Tripster ATR, Dedacciai Temarario, Cannondale Synapse, BMC Granfondo Disc Di2, Genesis Day One CX, Parlee Z Zero Custom, Storck Scenario Comp Custom, DMR Trailstar, Bianchi Pista, Cube SUV 29er e-bike
  • Dream Bike: Bianchi Oltre Disc, Bianchi Specialissima, Cannondale Slate, Buffalo Bike
  • Beer of Choice: Brew Dog Punk IPA
  • Location: Wiltshire, UK

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