The Focus Cayo Disc has already impressed our male test team this year with it’s feistily powerful ride and equally responsive all weather disc braking. But would our female testers enjoy the Donna as much as the blokes or would the lack of chassis alteration and direct ride impress them less?
Compared with three other women-specific bikes we tested at the same time (Trek Silque SL, Cannondale SuperSix EVO and Giant Avail Advanced Pro) the Focus certainly had a distinctive fit and feel. The top tube measurement is only 5-10mm longer than the other bikes. However the seat tube is slightly slacker and combines with a significant rear offset of the CPX Plus seatpost and long carbon stem to make the saddle clamp to bar stretch 40-50mm longer.
The stiff, disc-specific fork holds the wheel with a 12mm thru-axle and plugs into a big tapered head tube with broad faceted ‘cheeks’ before connecting to a massive down tube. This all creates an aggressively stretched riding position that most of our test team needed to shove the saddle all the way forward on the rails to find a useable fit on.
The beefy pipework hints at the Cayo's no-nonsense character
What we’d recommend other riders to do though is to try out a smaller frame than you’d normally think of buying. That would not only reduce the stretch between bar and saddle; it would also give you a seat tube height that allowed more of the seatpost to stick above the frame and potentially decrease the significant amount of punishment that this bike passes from road to rider. (As the proportionally larger diameter and greater stiffness of the shorter tubes on the smaller sizes could be part of what makes the Cayo feel so rigid though there is a risk that it’ll compound the Cayo's uncompromising feel rather than ease it.)
Every part of the component chain between road and rider is stiff too. The Schwalbe Durano tyres might be a larger than normal 25mm width, but their heavy duty construction makes them feel wooden rather than supple and smooth. The DT Swiss Spline wheels use a high tension straight pull spoke construction that’s great for precision and feedback clarity, but not forgiving when you’re rattling across less than perfect surfaces.
The unique twist-lock 12mm RAT thru-axles that hold the wheel in place also create a stiffer connection and reduce lateral wheel flex compared with a conventional quick release cam lever in an open dropout. Finally the carbon shaft stem creates a noticeably more rigid link between fork and bar than most other stems we’ve used.
Focus' RAT thru-axle system makes for a responsive connection
The positive side of all this locked down, minimal deflection equipment is that wheel placement and feedback from the road are vividly precise and richly communicated. That means while the 72-degree head angle of the Cayo is no different to the other bikes we tested alongside it, the steering always felt more immediate and responsive.
While cockpit stretch is long the wheelbase is relatively short too, letting the Focus change direction faster as soon as you twitch the bars or drop a shoulder into a corner.
Devil is in the detail
The Cayo feels equally vital and sharp through the other contact points too. The larger hoods of the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes didn’t trouble our smaller handed testers as we feared at first, but actually gave everyone a more secure feeling hand hold than cable brakes. The actual braking feel through the levers is much cleaner and clearer than even the best cable rim brakes, with masses of immediately responsive fine control through the compression-free hydraulic connection between carbon lever and ceramic brake pistons.
The Shimano rotors deliver stopping power rim brakes can only dream of
Focus has also opted for 160mm rotors, which can give a 20% plus increase in stopping power compared to more normal 140mm rotors. The distinctive wavey extensions on the inner edge of the steel and alloy sandwich ‘Freeza’ rotors also help to radiate away heat so you can brake harder or longer without risking the brakes boiling up. Because you can brake harder that means you can brake later, appealing to another aspect of the Donna’s uncompromising aggressive nature.
The Ultegra cranks, large bottom bracket and chainstays build a solid feel through the pedals too, and there’s certainly no shortage of stiffness as you brace your feet against the bars to maximise drive. All our testers were slightly underwhelmed by the actual results of that stiff feel in terms of acceleration though, because even with carbon stem and other details the complete bike is heavy and the Duranos definitely add drag compared with racier rubber.
Shrink and pink
The overwhelming feedback from our test team though was exactly that: overwhelming feedback. The high levels of vibration and shock from even average road surfaces meant shoulder tension and ache occurred much earlier than normal.
If you're seeking long, comfortable hours in the saddle, you may be better looking elsewhere
While the handling is definitely quick enough to dodge around rougher patches and potholes the need to do it constantly to avoid a proper wallop also accelerated mental fatigue as did the nervy nature of the steering. The Donna frames are identical in geometry (apart from size re-labeling EG XS becomes S) than the unisex Cayo bikes, which meant all our test team had to make continual position adjustments to try and find an acceptable position on the bike.
That's a big contrast to the rest of the bikes on test at the same time, which generally fitted really well with only minimal tweaking. As we mentioned above, hopefully sizing down might also liberate more spring from the seatpost and give a better balanced fit.
There were times when we wished there was a little extra seatpost flex on offer
That said, riders who like a very direct, stiff and stretched-feeling bike might be reading this and wondering what the hell we’re whinging about too – and there’s no doubting the disc brakes and thru-axles make it a proper cutting-edge performance bike (slightly sluggish rolling stock aside). At the end of our test period though most of our riders certainly felt that the cutting edge was often too sharp for comfort for general riding, especially as the stiff ride wasn’t matched with similarly sharp acceleration and vivid velocity.