Focus Paralane Ultegra review (first ride)

New all-road bike for adventurous endurance riders

Focus’ new Paralane disc-brake bike is apparently the fruit of long lunchtime rides by the German brand’s design team – which often necessitated a few crafty off-road detours in order to get back to the office in time to do some work.

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Accordingly this is a modern go-anywhere kind of machine, though Focus reps were at pains to insist that it isn’t a gravel bike, honest. We took it for an early June spin near Berlin – so how did it measure up in comparison to the ever-expanding all-road competition?

Deceptively racy appearance

The Paralane’s endurance-adjusted geometry, with its longer fork and lower bottom bracket, means that at first glance the Paralane looks far more racy than its riding position actually is. On the XL test bike we rode, that meant shipping a fair few spacers above the stem to get a suitably low position, but the height difference of around 30mm over an equivalent and racy Izalco Max is in no way extreme.

Our test ride involved 100km around and to the north of the German capital, taking in tarmac, vicious angled cobbled sections, gravel and even some out-and-out dirt (which with the torrential rain we experienced for more than half of the rides distance were reduced to slick, slippery segments of singletrack through the woods).

On the road, where the Paralane is destined to spend most of its time, it feels like a seriously well-sorted modern disc ride. The use of thru-axles, in the shape of Focus’ suberb and user-friendly RAT units, gives a real feel of solidity to how the bike reacts, and shod with deep-section Fulcrum Racing Quattro carbon wheels the sturdy feel was further enhanced. (It’s worth pointing out that these wheels are nonstandard to this Paralane model; Focus told us it had equipped the test fleet with these super-stiff wheels so we could really feel the chassis doing its job in the comfort stakes.)

Meanwhile the fat 28mm Schwalbe One tyres, which were running at 6 bar (88psi), offer superb levels of grip on tarmac even in the wet.

The fork crown is 10mm taller than on the izalco max, adding tyre clearance and more stack without making the bike look ungainly:
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

The fork crown is 10mm taller than on the Izalco Max, adding clearance and more stack without making the bike look ungainly

The first true test of the frame’s quality came on some long cobbled sections through the suburbs north of Berlin. Here I could really get a sense of just how much work the so-called ‘pre-loaded’ or tensioned rear triangle – a piece of design influenced by Focus’ Raven cross-country hardtail – was doing. Its combination of flattened seat- and chainstays and super-flattened lower section of seat tube merged well with the flex of Focus’ excellent CPX post in its smaller 25.4mm guise.

At speed and pushing harder, the back end feels alive with compliance, almost like the experience of running a much fatter tyre at a much lower pressure. It’s truly impressive stuff, and is reminiscent of the not-too-dissimilar bike that is the Cervélo C5.

You can see a lot of the cayo, izalco max, and even the raven xc hardtail in the tube shapes of the paralane:
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

You can see a lot of the Cayo, Izalco Max, and even the Raven XC hardtail in the tube shapes of the Paralane

Up front the fork weaves its magic too – its not quite par with the back end (or indeed the Project California fork found on the spendier C5) but it still impresses and feels miles superior to the model found on the Ergoride, Focus’ other endurance model.

Surefooted in the rough

Our excursions onto puddle-ridden, rooty dirt tracks through evergreen woods proved to be a whole lot of fun. The Paralane’s balanced enough to cut through tight turns, and compliant enough to bundle over roots at speed.

The swift handling means that in these low-grip situations you need to be on top of your game, but for me that’s half the fun of this type of bike. Take it and yourself out of your comfort zone and rides become Cheshire Cat-grinning, wide-eyed adventures, thinking less of heart rates or power figures and more simply about staying upright and picking the right line.

A newly refined version of focus’ rat thru-axle system is featured on the paralane:
Warren Rossiter/Immediate media

A newly refined version of Focus’ RAT thru-axle system is featured on the Paralane

The Ultegra drivetrain and flat-mount 805 brakes combined, as you’d imagine, smooth shifts (with a 50/34, 11-28 range) with capable and controlled braking. I did get the occasional screech from wet muddy pads on wet discs, but that’s pretty much to be expected as these were box fresh before we started.

The wheels, as mentioned above, aren’t standard – though perhaps they should be, because the slightly wider carbon rim (25.4mm external, 17mm internal) with its usefully aero 40mm deep shapes the 28mm tyres well. Hopefully the full production specs of the Paralane will feature a tubeless-compatible wheel as we reckon plenty of potential Paralane riders will be game for tubeless setups.

The paralane certainly proved to be a true go-anywhere bike:
Gruber photos

The Paralane certainly proved to be a true go-anywhere bike

This brings us onto the only other niggle we had with the Paralane. While the 28mm Schwalbe Ones ensure the bike holds its own admirably on the road, the lack of any grip on the shoulders means there’s very little in the way of traction on gravel or dirt. We’d have preferred a tyre with a bit of shoulder grip, or even something like Schwalbe’s great new all-rounder the G-One.

This is a minor quibble though – in all we like the concept of the Paralane, and its notional occupation of the middle ground between endurance and gravel machines makes it a great all-round option. Plus the geometry, which sits between race and full-on endurance, also makes perfect sense to us.

  • Price: €3,799 / £2,999 / $3,500 / AU$4,899