We tested German brand Focus’s cheapest all-carbon Cayo last year (then £977.72, this year £1,500), and we were impressed. We also know that Focus make some very good bikes further up the price range. So does their new £1,000 entrant deliver the goods?
The Variado isn’t the most lively feeling bike out there but it’s certainly tough, and we’ve no doubt it will survive continued heavy use.
It may be a good choice for the heavier rider – the 4lb frame is likely to survive anything this side of an explosion – but our feeling was that it just doesn’t offer quite enough bang for your bucks.
Ride & handling: Slow to get up to speed and up hills; stable and steady, if not lively, on the ﬂat
The Variado is typical for a machine at this price, with an aluminium frame, functional welds, carbon fork and Shimano 105 levers and shifters.
Our bike came with a ‘Made in Germany’ sticker on it and there was even a little ‘Made in Germany’ paper ﬂag draped over the bar when it arrived. Given the country’s reputation for all things mechanical, we’d have been surprised if there were any oversights when it came to manufacturing.
But would the Focus fulﬁl the German national stereotype of solidity and efﬁciency? If it was a footballer, would it be the resolute and reliable Ballack or have the all-round ﬂair of Franz Beckenbauer?
The ride certainly felt solid enough dodging through the city trafﬁc before we hit the countryside, the tough but relatively hefty frame showing no hint of ﬂex.
Over trafﬁc-calming bumps, that solidity translated into a quite uncompromising and hard ride that felt harsh through the saddle on poorer surfaces. This was an opinion shared by all the riders when it came to swapping bikes. The general view was also that the Focus looked fairly cheap.
Out on the country roads the Variado certainly goes where you point it, with no flex or foibles anywhere in the handling. But when it came to the climbs its extra mass results in less than nimble ascents, leaving it lagging behind the others. Even test riders who’ve tackled some of the big Tour climbs struggled, reckoning that the Focus did them few favours.
Equipment: Shimano 105 is a consistent performer, but Concept wheels are heavy for the price
Shimano’s third string groupset, 105, has yet to receive the major makeover that Dura-Ace and Ultegra have received in the past year or two. But we reckon it can only be a matter of time before 105 enjoys the beneﬁts of reshaped levers and a stiff, hollow chainset.
Speaking of which, the chainset is the one area that deviates from 105, with an FSA Gossamer compact ﬁtted instead. All of it performed without incident, shifts were smooth and braking controlled. No surprises there then.
The Concept components complement the frame, being solid and dependable, but this is less of a good thing when it comes to the wheels, where we’d happily exchange some of that solidity for some svelteness.
The 32-spoke three-cross construction should appeal to purists, and construction quality kept them performing smoothly throughout testing. But these were heavy compared to the hoops found on other road bikes at this price, and when you take into account that it is rotating mass, this is going to have an effect on their performance.
On the plus side, the Focus does come with Continental’s 25mm Ultra Sport tyres. The weight difference between these and the 23mm ones ﬁtted to the Variado’s rivals is tiny, but these should be both more comfortable and barely any slower than their skinnier equivalents – which is why some pro teams use them for certain stages of the Tour de France.