Pros: Comfortable, good value for money, RAT thru-axles, wide tyre clearance, mudguards
Cons: Front-end not as smooth as seated comfort
Focus, a German company with strong roots in competitive cyclocross and road racing, has waded into the growing endurance and sportive road bike market with the new Paralane, a bike that offers a fast and comfortablwhe ride with a healthy dose of practicality and versatility.
And at £2,999 for this Shimano Ultegra equipped model, it's a good value proposition against other contenders for the endurance bike throne such as the Canyon Endurance, Cervelo C5, Trek Domane and Specialized Roubaix. You're spoilt for choice, but after testing it, we have to say that the Focus should definitely be on your shortlist.
Ride and handling
The Paralane is a brand new bike for Focus and it's crammed with all the latest technology and a host of interesting details, but what really matters here is that they all come together to form a very cohesive package that provides near class-leading performance.
It represents a clean sheet design for Focus and is intended to meet a brief that includes being able to tackle both smooth and rough roads, cobbles and even dirt tracks. It's not a gravel bike, but with space for up to 35mm tyres it's can still handle a bit of the rough stuff.
On the road, the lightweight frame with its comfort-enhancing carbon layup and tube profiles, along with the skinny seatpost and 28mm tyres, provides a smooth ride that is up there with the best in this category. It isolates you from the worst road buzz but without completely detaching you from the road surface passing beneath the tyres. It's a really nice balance and rewards the cyclist that wants some involvement in the ride but without being shaken to pieces.
I was right at home on long winter rides taking in everything from smooth A-roads to rough and potholed country lanes. Even the odd farm track and woodland path didn't faze the Paralane at all and provided it was dry the Schwable Pro One tyres coped just fine. You could easily fit a lightly treaded tyre like the S-One and go even further afield, there's ample space.
While the Paralane's inherent smoothness clearly owes a lot to the frame design, the Concept CPX Plus (a Focus in-house accessories brand) seatpost with its unusual cutout head design and 25.4mm post diameter does a very noticeable job of providing deflection at the saddle. Wide tyres help too, provided you make use of a pressure gauge and run them low enough to benefit from the extra width. The bike will take wider tyres – up to 35mm tyres – but I never felt the need for more comfort than that provided by the 28mm rubber.
If I'm being critical, the front-end of the Paralane isn't quite as smooth as the sumptuous comfort with which it cossets your bum; the Trek Domane SLR and Specialized Roubaix beat the Paralane for front-end smoothness. But what the Paralane's front-end comfort retains is the balance and the directness of the bike. Instead, it's a communicative ride, the sort you'll appreciate if you like to feel the road surface but not be battered by it. Some carbon fibre handlebars might offer a bit more deflection from the feedback coming through the fork and head tube.
The geometry, as with all endurance and sportive bikes, is more laid back than a race bike. The higher stack hasn't been achieved by simply stretching the head tube. Instead, Focus has increased the length of the fork and lowered the bottom bracket, which gives the bike good aesthetic lines compared to some bikes in this category which can look a bit unbalanced with very high handlebars.
Let's look at the numbers. A size medium has a 375mm reach and 577mm stack, with seven sizes available. Helpfully, Focus prints the stack and reach on a sticker on the frame to help the bike shop and consumer choose the right size bike. The head angle is slacker than a race bike at 72 degrees and the lower bottom bracket (75mm) and longer wheelbase (1015mm) contribute to the solid stability present at high speeds and on rough roads.
Those numbers endow the Paralane with more composure than most race bikes, ideal for challenging, long distance rides when encountering lots of different surfaces, demanding descents and fatigue. The handling balance is measured without being lazy, but there's enough fizz and pop when you want to push on, and up the pace through the bends and up the climbs.
On the descents, the Paralane bristles with enthusiasm. The stiffness of the frame, the geometry, the hydraulic disc brakes and the wide tyres all combine to provide a hugely reassuring balance and stability that puts you in a very confident position to tackle the downhills with aplomb. It's on the downhills that endurance bikes, good ones like the Paralane anyway, really shine.
Perhaps the best thing about the Paralane is how easy it is to ride, with none of the twitchiness that can sometimes make race bikes an intense experience. That makes the performance it offers very accessible regardless of your level of experience or fitness.
'We want to offer people who are passionate about cycling a road bike that they feel safe and, above all, comfortable on, especially on long rides with a wide variety of road surfaces,' explains Fabian Scholz, Focus engineer. After riding the Paralane, I couldn't agree more.
The Paralane is a disc-specific frame and fork using the Flat Mount standard, with space for up to 35mm tyres, mudguard mounts and 12mm thru-axles at both ends, using the company's super simple RAT (Rapid Axle Technology) quick releases. It's available in both carbon fibre and aluminium versions, the former weighing a claimed 907g for a size 54cm frame, while the latter boasts additional rack mounts. All cables are internally routed.
Visually it's an interesting bike full of curves, contours and angular lines, even though the black paint job perhaps doesn't show it off to best advantage. Hiding under its sleek dress is a tapered head tube, oversized down tube and bottom bracket, all helping frame stiffness, combined with svelte seatstays, top tube and a 25.4mm seatpost to deliver bump-absorbing comfort.
Credit to Focus for realising the versatility of endurance bikes requires not just space for wide tyres but provision for mudguards. The Paralane is one of the few new models in this category to come with fixings for mudguards. In fact, Focus goes a step further and fits its own mudguards to every bike in the range. Take notice, bike brands omitting mudguard mounts. Even with mudguards fitted, there's still space for 32mm tyres, more than some bikes in this category will take without mudguards.
Thru-axles are seemingly a necessity on modern disc-equipped bikes, and Focus specs its own RAT (Rapid Axle Technology) 12mm thru-axles at both ends. With a simple 90-degree twist to remove the wheel, these are bloody brilliant and I'd love to see them fitted to all disc brake road bikes.
The pictured bike costs £2,999 and weighs 8.4kg with a full sweep of Shimano Ultegra mechanical gears and hydraulic disc brakes. The company has, like Canyon, opted for the larger 160mm disc rotors front and rear, even though Shimano recommends 140, and I see no reason why you wouldn't go large.
The braking performance is superb, plenty of power and easily controllable with simple one finger activation. Yes, disc brakes are good. Electronic gears might get all much of the attention but when mechanical works this well – light and crisp shifting with no battery to charge – I fail to see the reason to go down the Di2 route.
I've ridden a few bikes now with these DT Swiss R23 wheels and been impressed every time. They just work, they're reliable and fuss-free and the wide profile rim is a good base for the 28mm tyres. They're tubeless-ready so ditching the inner tubes is but a matter of 30 minutes' work and a pair of valves and a bottle of sealant.
It seems the latest Schwalbe ONE Race tyres, here in 28mm width, are a bit slippery fresh out of the box; that was the general consensus at the launch last summer, highlighted because we were riding rain drenched roads. The test bike had been ridden previously so the tyres were scrubbed in and delivered good performance, feeling fast, grippy and durable.
Focus completes the build using its own Concept EX branded parts. I've already mentioned the comfort-boosting carbon fibre seatpost, which is an impressive piece of design and a good rival to Canyon's VCLS 2.0 seatpost, though perhaps not providing quite as much visible deflection on really big impacts.
Up front, the aluminium handlebar has an agreeable shape with short and compact drops, and the aluminium stem caused no issues. A carbon handlebar might be a good upgrade to add just a bit more front-end comfort.
Finally, finishing things off is a superbly comfortable Fizik Aliante R5 saddle, though it does seem to take me some time to get the angle just right. Thankfully the two-bolt seatpost makes micro adjustments easy.
Mustn't forget the mudguards. Focus worked with Belgian company Curana to develop its own mudguards that fit seamlessly on the bike, with branding to complement the frame. Being a disc-specific bike means there's no need for the traditional brake bridge, so to allow the fitting of mudguards, Focus has developed a neat little clip-on bracket like we've seen from other brands such as Bowman. Arguably the mudguards lack the same level of protection that other designs do, with less side coverage, but the length is good and flaps could easily be fitted.
On my brief first ride of the Paralane at the worldwide launch in Berlin last summer I spoke of a similarity with the Cannondale Synapse and Giant Defy, two very good endurance bikes that similarly rely on carbon layup and tube shapes to provide the required smoothness. Extensive testing confirmed that the Paralane rivals those two bikes, and I'd also add the Canyon Endurace CF SLX to the list of worthy rivals.
When it comes to riding performance and comfort, it's clear that the Paralane is in the same league as the Synapse, Defy and Endurace CF. Like the Focus they're bikes that don't resort to gimmicks to provide increased comfort. However, for sheer buttery smoothness, the Specialized Roubaix with its FutureShock steerer tube has the Focus licked.
Where the Focus impresses is on value for money; you're getting a lot of no-nonsense and reliable equipment all hanging off one of the best frames in this class.
The Focus Paralane has all the attributes that make a great modern endurance bike but the performance and comfort are what shine through. This is a bike not to miss if you're in the market for a long-distance comfort bike this year.
Terrific endurance bike that must be on your shortlist if you're looking for a fast, comfortable and practical ride
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Focus Paralane Ultegra
Size tested: Large
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
FRAME Paralane Disc, carbon
FORK Paralane, 12 x 100 mm thru axle, R.A.T, carbon
HANDLEBAR Concept EX
SADDLE fi'zi:k Aliante R5
SEATPOST Concept CPX, 25.4x 340 mm
TIRE Schwalbe ONE Race, 28-622
BRAKES Shimano R685
CRANKSET Shimano Ultegra
GROUPSET Shimano Ultegra
CASSETTE Shimano Ultegra
GEAR RATIO front: 50/34, rear: 11-32
WHEELSET DT-Swiss R23, 622-18, 12x 142 / 100x 12
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
You're caught in the grip of road cycling, enamoured with the sense of speed and liberty. The PARALANE takes these sensations to new levels with its ground-breaking versatility. Finishing high in the rankings alongside friends at a Gran Fondo or tracing a spectacular route over never-ridden-before gravel roads: it's all possible. The PARALANE will awaken your thirst for adventure, instilling a desire to ride where you've never ridden before.
With maximal tyre clearance up to 35 mm, every tarmac and gravel road is part of the adventure.
Meticulously well thought-out, mudguards can be mounted quickly and cleverly. And the best thing: they're included in every PARALANE order.
Designed for long distances, the endurance geometry and comfort-orientated frame will keep you out riding for longer.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Packed with the latest technology and features and clearly made to a high standard
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Full carbon fibre frame and fork - the frame weighs a claimed 907g for a size 54cm so it's not exactly portly
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
More relaxed than a race bike but it's not ultra high at the front like some sportive bikes
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The fit compares well to the Whyte Wessex, Specialized Roubaix and Canyon Endurace CF SLX, and the 56cm was an ideal fit for me
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Wonderfully comfortable, you can ride it all day long with no issue at all
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Focus has managed to ensure there's stiffness in the right place for more enthusiastic riding and attacking
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Stable and communicative
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handles all sorts of roads and rides well, from fast-paced training sessions to relaxed social coffee shop rides
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Focus has adorned the frame and fork with some very functional kit and it all worked well
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
There's nothing I'd change out of the box
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Wheels and tyres
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 score
The endurance and sportive road bike market is a crowded place right now but the Focus Paralane has lots going for it and it needs to be near the top of your shortlist
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
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: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.