Focus Izalco Race AL 105 review£999.00

Racy geometry, a stiff aluminium frame and German engineering

BikeRadar score4/5

Focus uses the Izalco name for both aluminium and carbon fibre road bike models. There are two aluminium bikes, one with Shimano Sora for £799 and this one with mainly Shimano 105 components for £999.

  • The Focus Izalco Race AL 105 is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.

The three carbon models range from £1,099 with Sora to £1,699 with Ultegra. As for the name, the only Izalco reference I could find — courtesy of Wikipedia — is a volcano in western El Salvador, so we presume Focus was aiming for an explosive performance from its Izalco, or something like that.

But the Focus Izalco proved to be a bit of a slow burner. At least at first. On my initial, largely flat long-distance commutes, it seemed to live up to all those German engineering stereotypes, delivering a slightly uninspiring ride that favoured firmness and efficiency over everything else, and there’s certainly no lack of stiffness from the aluminium frame.

The down tube is oversized and there’s little going on that’s surplus to requirement, no unnecessary hydroforming, little in the way of radically shaped tube profiles and the seatstays are on the chunky side as well as joining the seat tube at the same level as the top tube.

Finishing kit is courtesy of BBB and Velo
Finishing kit is courtesy of BBB and Velo

The top tube is nearly horizontal too, which should appeal to traditionalists. The geometry is very much on the racy side, with frame angles around 73 degrees and shortish head tubes throughout the five-bike range.

Lowish stack and longish reach figures also suggest this has some quite aggressive riding aspirations. But there’s a little more to it than this, and the black frame is enlivened with plenty of pink and pastel colours.

The 50x11 top gear — a whopping 120 inches — should prove big enough for any of us this side of Chris Hoy.

The rest of the kit is also pretty typical of what you’ll find on a road bike at this price, though slightly unusually this isn’t branded with the Focus name. So you get BBB’s ‘Basic’ stem, bar and 27.2mm aluminium seatpost and a steel-railed Velo saddle, all of which is decent enough.

The Shimano 105 groupset offers no surprises, just its usual accurate shifting and excellent stopping from its caliper rim brakes, which again helps with control when you’re descending.

Focus Izalco Race Al 105 ride impression

The more I rode the Izalco the more I began to appreciate its properties. My later rides were longer, more challenging affairs over some of my local Mendip hills and it really came into its own.

Tootle along and it’s a decent ride, but up the ante, put the hammer down and the more fun you’ll find it. That stiff, efficient frame rewards your pedalling efforts, so the faster you ride the more thrills you’ll get from it.

My large test bike weighs 9.24kg
My large test bike weighs 9.24kg

It climbs well enough, controlled if not exactly exhilarating on ascents, and you’ll notice a weight that’s a little on the wrong side of 9kg — and some of us would also have preferred a larger sprocket than the 28-tooth the Izalco comes with for when things got really steep. But crest the hill, hit the descent and that frame delivers exactly what you want.

You can really attack and it bombs down hill without a murmur, the aluminium frame and tapered carbon fork tracking accurately and changing direction smartly, even with its comparatively modest Continental Ultra Sport tyres and Alex wheels.

While the ride may be firm, this never strays into undue harshness and you don’t feel battered and bruised as the miles mount up. I'm not talking plush like the Trek Domane ALR3 and it’s not as comfortable as the similarly priced Giant Contend, but if you’re looking for a fast ride even for long-distance riding, this will have you sprinting just for the sheer thrill of it, with the perception that not an ounce of your energy is being wasted.

Focus Izalco Race Al 105 overall

The Focus Izalco is great fun to ride
The Focus Izalco is great fun to ride

If you’re looking for a bike for Sunday afternoon dawdling, hands resting on the handlebar tops as you watch the world go by, this probably isn’t for you. But if you like a bit of exhilaration and getting down in the drops, breathing deeply and digging deep into your suitcase of courage (thank you, Phil Liggett, for that), Focus has delivered a fast and well-designed bike that should appeal.

If you’re a larger, stronger rider this should have all the German-engineered stiffness and efficiency you need, fulfilling national stereotypes in the process too. And don’t go telling anybody, but this Focus Izalco is great fun too.

Simon has been cycling for as long as he can remember, and more seriously since his time at university in the Dark Ages (the 1980s). This has taken in time trialling, duathlon and triathlon and he has toured extensively in Asia and Australasia, including riding solo 2900km from Cairns to Melbourne. He now mainly rides as a long-distance commuter and leisure/fitness rider. He has been testing bikes and working for Cycling Plus in various capacities for nearly 20 years.
  • Age: 53
  • Height: 175cm / 5'9
  • Weight: 75kg /165lb
  • Waist: 33in
  • Discipline: Road, touring, commuting
  • Current Bikes: Rose SL3000, Hewitt steel tourer
  • Beer of Choice: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  • Location: Bath, UK

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