Jeremy Powers has dominated the North American cyclocross race circuit this season – as well as placing respectably in several World Cup events – aboard his flagship Focus Mares CX 1.0. While J-Pow’s disc-equipped bike is light and sexy, its price tag puts it out of reach for most weekend warriors.
Enter the Mares AX 2.0 Disc, an aluminum cyclocross bike with a sensible build kit and a price tag that’s within the reach of cyclists who want to try their hand at the sport for the first time or are on a tight budget.
Ride & handling: Reasonably responsive but with worrying fork shudder
The Mares AX 2.0 Disc’s aluminum frame is reasonably stiff and responsive. Smaller riders might appreciate the slack front end, as there’s considerably less toe-overlap than is often found on steeper bikes.
New riders may find the handling confidence inspiring, while seasoned veterans might find the geometry numbers excel in high-speed situations – the faster you go, the more intuitive the bike’s handling becomes.
The downside to this design philosophy is that the front end requires significantly more input when navigating slow-speed turns, and the low bottom bracket might result in more pedal strikes.
It’s worth noting that we experienced significant brake shudder from the Mares’ carbon fork. Under hard braking, the lower legs would flex approximately an inch fore and aft – worse than poorly adjusted cantilevers.
After making sure the headset was properly adjusted, we set about swapping out the stock quick-release, rotor, brake caliper and wheel in an effort to eliminate the shudder. All for nothing, as the culprit appeared to be the fork itself.
Focus say this is the first they’ve heard of the issue. Nevertheless, it was a disconcerting experience to come in hot to a turn, grab a fistful of brake and watch as the front end chattered off the desired line.
Frame & equipment: Hefty but with progressive geometry
The Focus Mares AX 2.0 Disc’s frame shares the same low, slack geometry as the company’s high-end race bikes. And of all the ’cross bikes we tested this season, this is the one with the most progressive geometry: 70mm of bottom bracket drop and a head tube angle of 70° on our 52cm test model.
We’ve come to appreciate Shimano’s 105 group for its stellar value and reliable performance. The Mares AX 2.0 comes equipped with 105 STI levers and front and rear derailleurs, along with an FSA Gossamer crankset. Tektro’s Lyra disc brakes bring things to a halt when needed, although we missed the tool-free adjustment of Avid’s BB7 stoppers.
As you might expect given the price, the Mares AX 2.0 Disc is several pounds heavier than its more expensive, carbon-clad brethren. Our 52cm test bike weighed 10.04kg (22.14lb), the frame contributing approximately 3.5 of those pounds. Much of the bike’s heft can be attributed to the disc brakes – the cantilever-equipped version of the Mares 2.0 weighs approximately 2lb less.
It’s a low blow to criticize a cyclocross bike for a lack of rack and fender mounts, unless the company bills the bike as able to double-duty as a commuter/utility bike, which Focus does. The inclusion of such mounts would make the Mares AX 2.0 Disc a much more well-rounded package for the casual racer.
Overall, the Maries AX 2.0 Disc offers decent value for the money, with decent handling and a reasonably stiff frame. The weight is somewhat disappointing, though not as much as the fork shudder.