Focus Izalco Pro 3.0 – why it's our Bike of the Year
By Warren Rossiter, Cycling Plus | Monday, March 12, 2012 9.50am
The £1,500 to £2,000* (roughly US$2,350-3,150) road bike market has become incredibly competitive. In fact, we can’t think of a single bike in this year's Cycling Plus Bike of the Year test that we wouldn’t be happy to own.
That said, the test team had to arrive at a winner. Twenty-five contenders were whittled down to a final five, and after days of heated arguments, riding and re-riding, they arrived at their podium topping road bike.
First to make the shortlist was the Cube Agree GTC Race. The German company's pricing and performance has always impressed us, and we expected a lot from the all-new Agree. For 2012 the frame has lost a few grams and now comes with a redesigned fork that offers a little more rake, adding bags of comfort and handling that’s a little more stable than the previous flighty but exciting GTC. It’s transformed the bike from racer’s weapon into mile-eating machine. If you’re in the market for a bike to conquer etapes, gran fondos and sportives, the Agree GTC is a fine choice.
The aluminium Canyon Ultimate AL 9.0 Di2 was the surprise of the test. Because the company sell direct from their website, the prices are unbeatable by high street brands. With a full Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic groupset, high quality wheels and top finishing kit, its spec blew us away. Just as impressive is the ride. The frame is light and lively with an impressively stiff bottom bracket and chainstays; it pulses forward, letting you attack climbs at will. Canyon’s VCLS seatpost uses a clever blend of basalt and carbon to add huge amounts of flex and comfort, taking the sting out of the rear end and smoothing out the roughest roads. It’s the inclusion of this post that gives the Canyon the edge over the similarly specced and priced Rose Xeon RS3100.
Giant’s TCR Advanced 3 uses the same design as the company's top-notch ProTour bike, and although it employs a slightly heavier carbon than the £7,000-plus version, you’d be hard pushed to notice the extra grams out on the road. Its balance of aggressive ride and poise puts the TCR well beyond the majority and, along with the Trek, sparked the fiercest debate.
Which brings us to the Trek Madone 3.5. Its H2 geometry has the perfect handling of the top-level H1 ProTour bikes, but adds a little height to the head tube – a more comfortable position over longer distances for us non-professionals. The Madone was a firm favourite and fought hard for the top spot. Its balanced, all-round ride gives you bags of confidence – as evidenced by the fact that this was the bike we achieved our fastest descending speed on.
The Focus Izalco Pro 3.0, though, slid into victory not because of its specification and not because of its capabilities. It shares the same frame as the Team editions, as ridden in last year’s Grand Tours by Katusha, and it’s this heart of the bike that’s a step above everything else. The fluid tube shapes aren’t just for aesthetics: the carbon layup and profiles are engineered to balance light weight and resistance to forces that can lead to twisting or flex, while the rear stays’ configuration and lightweight carbon dropouts add comfort and unparalleled smoothness.
When you want to step up and push hard, the Izalco responds instantly, but sit back and cruise and it’s couch comfortable. On climbs it’s even more impressive still, its light response and smooth ride making it one that we kept coming back to, to ride more and more. Creating a bike that’s able to match you whether you want to ride hard or cruise along in comfort is a superb trick and one we’ve only really encountered on bikes at twice this price.
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And that’s really the crux of the Izalco’s triumph. For the price you're getting exactly the same frame as the £5,799 team bike, so this Izalco can be upgraded to your heart’s content. Trek, Cannondale and Giant all offer lower grade carbon versions of their flagship designs, while Focus offer their best, making its value for money soar.
You can read the full 2012 Bike Of The Year feature in issue 260 of Cycling Plus magazine, on sale now. There are links to reviews of all 25 contenders below:
* Manufacturers were allowed a bit of leeway in case they had a bike that didn't quite fit within the price limits of this year's test but they felt was worthy of contention. As a result, the 25 shortlisted bikes ranged from the £1,399 Pinarello FP Uno ($ TBC) to the £2,199 Forme Thorpe Comp 1.0 (not available in the US).
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