At this price point I'd typically say go aluminium alloy on the frame front, but wow! This carbon fibre Focus Izalco Race punches well above its weight, confirming that if a designer knows what they're up to you can get an absolute blinder on any budget. Handling, ride quality and above all, fun – it's got it in spades.
- Pros: Excellent frameset, quality components
- Cons: Brakes need a pad upgrade
I ride maybe 25 to 30 test bikes a year and thankfully most of them are very good, but just a few give you that extra little buzz, bringing an uncontrollable smile across your face as you've just chucked it down your favourite descent, nailing every apex, or getting back from a blast of a ride that was hugely satisfying from the moment you left the front door to the second you got back. You don't quite know why, it wasn't necessarily the quickest or most challenging, it just felt right. The Izalco has that gift.
First up it just feels faster than it really is. I'd often look at the average speed on the Garmin and sneer, 'you're having a laugh aren't you?' It felt 3-4mph quicker than that; that's just how engaging the Focus is.
It feels buzzy, like a dog in the back of the car waiting for the door to be opened so it can get out and have a good sniff at the surroundings. The Izalco Race wants to be ridden hard and I can think of few better entry-level carbon fibre bikes if you have racing ambitions now or in the future.
The SL frameset is used throughout the seven carbon models in the range right up to the £3,499 model, and that is always a good sign. It's not often you see a 'UCI approved' sticker on a bike just over the £1,000 mark.
For a start the Izalco is stiff and responsive. The geometry is racy, this medium model having a top tube of 552mm paired with a short head tube of 145mm. That gives a stack of 547mm and a reach of 390mm, a ratio of 1.4.
You can get low in the drops or on the hoods and just smash the tempo out, and you feel like you're getting a decent return for your outlay.
It's a good cruiser too, though. You can head out for three or four hours and cover some decent distance without ever feeling beaten up. For such a stiff bike it's never uncomfortable, even with the 25mm tyres pumped up to 100psi, and it'd make a great sportive machine or one for those spirited group rides on a Sunday morning.
Descending is one of the highlights of any ride for me, and this is where the Focus never disappointed. The head angle isn't massively steep at 72.5 degrees, so the steering is kept just on the tameable side of twitchy, allowing you to really let the bike go through the technical sections of the hill.
You get so much feedback from the frame and fork, the little details of what the tyres are up to and how everything is responding thanks to the layup of the carbon. Some frames can feel a bit dead, taking out a lot of the vibration, but you need some of it to let you as a rider know what's going on. The Izalco does this really well, which lets you take a few risks.
The fact that the handling has a bit of forgiveness in it soon lets you know if things are about to go pear shaped, and gives you time to rectify it... hopefully.
With an all-up weight of 8.92kg, the Izalco Race isn't too shabby when it comes to climbing either, especially when you take into account the 50/34t crankset and 11-34t cassette. It offers a massive range of gears that somehow never really feels that gappy considering it's spread across just nine sprockets. More on that below...
Frame and fork
The Izalco Race follows a common theme, oversizing, especially at the front end.
It has a tapered head tube which has this cool angular design going on, making it look the same diameter top and bottom. This allows for the top tube to be quite wide at the front before it tapers back towards the seat post.
The down tube is round and big in diameter, thanks to the cross sectional area of the bottom of the head tube and the BB86 bottom bracket area. This is why the Focus feels so stiff under load.
BB86 means the Focus uses press-fit bearings for the bottom bracket, similar to PF30 but designed for a 24mm axle diameter like all Shimano cranksets come in.
The key is that the bottom bracket shell is 86mm wide, the same as a standard one including the width of external bearing cups. The upside here is that the Q-factor (the distance between pedal faces) isn't affected but the wider BB offers more stiffness, one of the reasons why the Focus feels so alive when you give the pedals a good kicking.
Move back from the bottom bracket and the Izalco goes all slender in a bid for comfort, especially those narrow seatstays no doubt allowing a little in the way of flex.
All the cable routing is internal, which gives the whole bike a clean look, and I certainly never had any issues with any rattling. You also get a cool Lone Ranger mask on the head tube to avoid any cable rub. If you wanted to go crazy and update this bike to Di2 then the frame is fully ready.
There are nine models in the Izalco Race range, seven carbon and two aluminium alloy. The one we've got here is the cheapest carbon model at £1,099 and it comes with a pretty decent spec.
In use, Shimano Sora is barely any different to Tiagra or 105, it just comes down to how many gears you want: Sora is 9-speed, Tiagra 10 and 105 11. The shifters look and feel identical, as do most of the other components.
It's great to see here that Focus has specced a full groupset including the chainset and brakes, both of which can often get swapped out for a generic replacement under the accounting department's instruction.
Because of that spread of gears on the cassette you get a long cage rear mech, giving you pretty much full rein to change the ratios as you see fit for the terrain you're intending to ride on or, if this is your first bike, as you get stronger.
The brakes are pretty good – way better than they used to be – although the non-cartridge pads don't offer the same stopping capability of, say, the 105s so an upgrade would be on the cards if it was my bike. They don't cause the 'am I going to stop?' kind of scream I used to release on previous Sora and Tiagra brakes, though.
Wheels and tyres
For the wheels you get a set of Alex ALX-210s. At this price point and considering the quality of the frame, I certainly wouldn't dismiss them as needing upgrading too early. Yes, a lighter wheelset totally transforms this bike, but the 210s are strong and don't really feel like they are holding the frame back.
They remained true throughout the test period and the bearings didn't offer up any resistance, even after being taken on the wet and salt-strewn roads of the Christmas period.
Tyres are often a scrimped on part of the build to hit a price point, so it's great to see that Focus has managed to spec a set of Continental's Ultra Sport IIs. These are good at hitting that balance of durability versus grip and rolling resistance for use year-round.
Dry weather grip is decent enough that you can really push the bike through the bends, and wet weather grip is much better than it was on the originals.
Component-wise Focus has specced a BBB Basic bar, stem and seatpost. It's all, well, basic stuff but it gets the job done and provides a decent enough set of contact points.
The handlebar has just a 125mm drop from the hoods, which means the drops are accessible to those riders who aren't overly flexible, and the 70mm reach means you won't find yourself overstretching either.
Prologo provides the Kappa saddle and again it's good to see a branded product here. It's firm but a nice shape, and I certainly never had any issues with it.
Some might look down their nose at a Shimano Sora-equipped bike for over a grand – after all, you can get Ribble's R872 with Tiagra for the same price and similar finishing kit, or even our 2017 Road Bike of the Year, the Tiagra-equipped Boardman Road Team Carbon, that is now £900.
Trust me, though, I can't emphasise enough how good the frame and fork of the Izalco Race are. If this is the most expensive model you can afford, go for it, you won't be disappointed. (Another £300 will get you the 105-equipped model.)
Upgrade the bits that are important to your over time and the bike will literally get lighter, quicker and more responsive.
An awesome carbon fibre frameset that gives a grin-inducing ride, backed up with solid components
road.cc test report
Make and model: Focus Izalco Race Carbon Sora
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME Carbon SL, caliper, Pressfit 86 BB, 130 mm quick release dropouts, Di2 ready, internal brake cable routing
FORK Carbon, caliper, 100 mm quick release
HANDLEBAR BBB Basic, Aluminium, drop: 125 mm, reach: 70mm
SADDLE Prologo Kappa 3 STN Rail
SEATPOST BBB Basic, Aluminium, 27,2mm, 350mm, set-back 20mm
STEM BBB Basic, aluminium, 31.8mm, +/- 7 degree
TYRES Continental Ultra Sport II, 700 x 25C
BRAKE/SHIFT LEVERS Shimano Sora R3000
BRAKES Shimano Sora R3000, caliper
CRANKSET Shimano Sora R3000, 50/34T
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano Sora R3000, 9-speed, long cage
CASSETTE Shimano Sora HG200, 11-34T
WHEELSET Alex ALX-210, quick release, aluminium, 100/130 mm, 20/24 spokes, 17 mm inner rim width
CHAIN Shimano HG53
HEADSET 1-1/8", tapered, IS 47/33
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano Sora R3000, w/clamp 31.8
Tell us what the bike is for
From Focus: "This is everything necessary to distance your friends during those mid-ride city limit sprints. The IZALCO RACE represents fairytale performance at a fair price. From local rides to amateur races, the IZALCO RACE's rigidity and low weight will win your favour, just as easily as you win those sprints. Your thoroughbred for every occasion."
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
The frame looks great with a deep, smooth paintjob and it rides like it's very well put together.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Both the frame and fork are full carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Izalco Race range is aimed at the performance rider with a longish top tube and a short head tube for getting into a low, aero position.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
This medium model has a stack of 547mm and a reach of 390mm which gives you a ratio of 1.4, racy indeed. All five sizes are around the same figure and exactly what we'd expect for a bike of this type.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
It's a firm ride but I wouldn't call it uncomfortable.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes, a huge bottom bracket area and down tube make for an impressively stiff race machine.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
The frame does a really good job of transferring the power, and lighter components would enhance that, but there are plenty of other lighter models in the range.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Perfect for the rider who wants a direct-handling bike without any twitchiness or surprises.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The Izalco Race is very surefooted in the bends and the handling is as quick as it needs to be without being a handful at speed. You can make a mistake or two and the Focus won't bite, while still remaining a fun bike to ride.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Basic bar and stem assembly can be a little harsh on rough ground, but overall it's a good all-round package.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The bar and stem are a little unforgiving because they are so stiff; no flexing under heavy load here.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
This frame is ripe for upgrades and a change of wheels really unleashes its potential.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The latest Shimano Sora has the same feel as Tiagra and 105; it just comes down to how many gears you want. The brakes are okay but I'd definitely change the pads to get the best out of them.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so
The Alex wheels are solid performers and do the job at this price point, but a simple upgrade would pay huge dividends to all-round performance.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so
Bikes of this price often scrimp on tyres so it's great to see the Focus coming with a solid set of Continental Ultra Sport IIs: good tyres for day to day riding that resist punctures while offering decent grip and rolling resistance.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It's basic (Basic) alloy kit as you'd expect at this price point but it's all decent quality stuff and does the job. Like most bikes these days the Izalco Race is fitted with a compact style handlebar, making it ideal for those who wouldn't normally be confident or flexible enough to use the drops.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Considering the quality of the frame you are getting here, I'd say the Izalco Race represents great value for money even against some of the best aluminium bikes on the market. You could upgrade this frame to your heart's content.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: Kinesis Aithein
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed
Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.