The Focus Cayo range has been shaking up the carbon road bike market for the last couple of years by offering outstanding performance at ridiculously low prices, sweeping the opposition aside to take the Cycling Plus 2007 Bike of the Year award in the process.
Now the German brand is back with a revamped four-bike range that's headed by the new SRAM-equipped Pro model. We've exclusively got our grubby race mitts on a pre-production version to find out whether Focus can continue to set new standards...
Frame: Fantastically light and stiff carbon construction
We loved last year's Cayo frame but after several tweaks, the 2008 version is even better. Made from 12k carbon composite, this chassis is incredibly light, our XL (58cm) version weighing in at just 1129g. Of course, low weight is easy to come by if you don't mind tubes that flop about like wet spaghetti, but the Focus is exceptionally taut with it. The wide top-tube and massively oversized down-tube ensure the two ends of the bike track perfectly, while the burly junction around the bottom bracket provides a solid platform for putting in the power.
Teardrop section seatstays link up with chainstays that are stiffer than previously to hold the rear wheel tight, while the newly designed full carbon fork with its deep blades does a similar job up front. We don't want to give you clichés about German efficiency but that's really what this frame is all about, transferring your power as directly as possible into pure road speed.
Equipment: SRAM Force kit adds a new dimension
The Cayo Pro is one of the relatively few bikes that breaks the Shimano/Campag duopoly and specs a mostly SRAM Force groupset, the middle of the three ranges from the US manufacturer. Broadly speaking, the components are a similar quality to Shimano's Dura-Ace or Campag's Chorus, offering light weight and high performance.
After just a couple of rides, SRAM's DoubleTap shifting system feels natural and our set-up worked faultlessly throughout testing. One click moves you to a smaller chainring/sprocket; push further to go in the opposite direction, a maximum of three gears up the cassette at a stroke. The levers offer comfortable fingertip control whether you're on the hoods or the drops, while the magnesium and carbon construction adds a classy look.
Although it's as chunky as your Christmas cardigan, the carbon Truvativ Rouleur compact chainset (34/50T) is lightweight and, matched up to a 12-27 cassette, it'll get you up most climbs even when you're hanging. And you only run out of gears down the other side when the descent is really long, steep and straight.
Ten per cent lighter than Dura-Ace, the Force dual pivot brake callipers provide a decent balance between power and control while the headset, stem and seatpost are all good quality offerings from FSA. The only own-branded kit comes in the shape of the Concept Extreme bars and saddle, both of which hold their own alongside the rest of the spec.
Wheels: Well proven hoops for training and racing
We're fans of Fulcrum's Racing 3s. The smooth sealed-bearing hubs do a good job of keeping out water and grime while flat profile steel spokes slice through the air with the minimum of disruption. We've always found the rims to be impressively stiff laterally. Even when you get out of the saddle and hoof the cranks round against their will, there's little energy-embezzling flex. Uncharacteristically, the back wheel on our set was slightly out of true and the brake rub that we initially got on steep climbs was more irritating than the Boyzone reunion. Maybe it was damaged in transit. Whatever, a few minutes' fettling got it sorted.
Once tweaked, the wheels stayed perfectly straight for the rest of the test and proved super-responsive when we increased the power, supported by Schwalbe's light and grippy Ultremo tyres that have become firm favourites.
Handling: Fast and responsive performance; superb on the climbs
A short (150mm) head-tube and just 15mm of spacers means that the Focus's ride position is low and aggressive which, alongside the light weight and the efficient character of the frame, makes for a really fast bike. If you wanted a higher front end, though, you could always flip the stem.
The Cayo Pro cruises along swiftly on the flat and irons out gentle inclines without any bother. Hitting the serious stuff is no problem either, and you find yourself floating up climbs that can reduce you to a wheezing wreck on a bike 4-5lb heavier. And although you might not burn a hole in the road on out-of-the-saddle slogs, they certainly become more manageable as well.
As for coming down the other side, well, some bikes of this weight can skitter about on the descents, particularly if the road winds a lot or the surface is uneven, but the Focus stays well planted at speed, giving you the bottle to lay off the brakes for longer.
We've really got nothing negative to say about the Focus's performance. Okay, seeing as you're twisting our arm, some people might find the ride a little too firm for all-day comfort, and others might not want to make the switch to SRAM, in which case you could go with a Shimano Ultegra (£999) or Dura-Ace (£1399) build, or the Campag Chorus version (£1499). But we love it, and we reckon most other riders will too. The sharp handling and superb responses mean that if you're in the market for a £1500 to £2000 bike that delivers high performance, the Focus Cayo Pro demands your serious attention