A really nice riding aluminium bike with dependable equipment and the added bonus of mudguards, the £1,399 Focus Paralane AL Tiagra would be a solid choice for a dedicated winter training bike, commuting, audax or any long distance ride where comfort and practicality are desirable. It's decent value for money too, ready as it is to tackle any ride from the shop floor.
Launched two years ago, the Paralane represents the German company's first proper entry into the popular endurance and sportive bike market. Up until now most of its range has been focused on racing and high performance. It hasn't cut any corners in designing the Paralane; it's a really well-thought-out bike that meets all the necessary requirements for the riding it's aimed at.
I tested the carbon fibre Ultegra-equipped model last year and it was easily one of my standout bikes. Fast and smooth, with a comfortable riding position, disc brakes, and that rarest of things, mudguards fitted as standard, plus space for very wide tyres, it was very impressive. So I was very keen to see how the cheaper aluminium version would take to my local roads and perform.
Very well, is the simple answer. The same great handling traits and surefooted stability I found with the carbon Paralane are here in this aluminium model. There's no situation that fazes the Paralane at all. The handling is measured and the bike feels planted at any speed, with the long wheelbase and slacker head angle giving great poise and control at all times. It's a relaxed and easy bike to live with on long rides.
The position is extremely comfortable for longer distances too. The front may be high but you can easily move your hands onto the drops for a racier position when you're in a rush to get home, or battling a headwind. And thanks to the lower bottom bracket and longer fork, you feel more 'in' the bike than perched on top compared with some bikes. The slightly lower centre of gravity provides really assured descending ability, too.
The aluminium frame delivers a ride that is firm but, critically, never harsh. Aluminium used to have a reputation for being harsh and overly stiff, but that criticism doesn't really stick anymore thanks to the latest advances. Granted, it's not as compliant as the best carbon endurance bikes, but the difference isn't as big as you might imagine.
On smooth roads, it breezes along very nicely with all the comfort you could ask for. It's only when the tyres meet a crack or hole in the road that you get a reminder that you're on an aluminium bike, as it transmits quite a bit of the energy from the impact to the contact points. It's tolerable though, and in no way ruined the otherwise sparkling performance of the bike.
The more expensive carbon Paralane models come with a Concept CPX seatpost, made from carbon with a specially shaped head design to provide deflection; it's something I feel would be of benefit on this aluminium frame, just to take the edge off harder impacts. The same could be said of the aluminium handlebar: a swap to carbon might eke out a little more isolation from the road surface.
For reference, I ran the 28mm tyres at about 65-70psi for my 65kg weight. Wider tyres are one route to comfort – strip the mudguards off and there's space for up to 35mm tyres. Ample, then, to really ramp up the comfort factor if so desired. And if you wanted to head off on the occasional foray into the wilderness, it will accommodate tyres suitable for gravel tracks and towpaths.
At a whisker over 10kg it's not going to trouble the superbikes of this world, but for rides conducted at a steady speed, any concerns about the weight of the bike fade away. Sure, you can feel it when ascending a long or steep hill, but the wide range of gears lets you keep the cadence high and the stiff frame and fork make for an encouraging response when out of the saddle. It's definitely a bike that's happiest cruising rather than being hustled along in a fast-moving bunch with lots of changes in speed.
I'm regularly spoilt by high-end carbon superbikes, but I've been bashing the Paralane along my local country roads in all weathers and taking in a variety of road surfaces, and it's been nothing but impressive. It's stiff enough to provide an engaging ride without being overly reactive to bumpy roads; the geometry delivers a comfortable position for long winter training rides, yet it's sporty enough for fast group rides.
Focus has retained the key styling and design features of the higher end carbon bikes in this 7005 aluminium frame, with the same curved top tube and head tube junction that gives the bike its unique look. It looks like a carbon frame from a short distance and has even fooled a few people into mistaking it for one.
Internal routing for the gear cables and brake hoses keeps the bike looking clean. An externally threaded bottom bracket will please home mechanics, and during testing the Tiagra bottom bracket caused no complaints, despite being ridden through some horrendous weather and frequently washed.
Like its carbon big brother, the aluminium Paralane has disc brakes (there is no rim brake version), with the now-standard flat mount brake callipers and 12mm thru-axles. While the diameter of the thru-axle is familiar, the RAT (Rapid Axle Technology) levers are very different to what you might be used to.
Cleverly, Focus has developed a lever that only needs to be rotated 90 degrees to lock the wheel securely into the frame. It's much quicker than conventionally threaded thru-axles. Granted, it takes a few goes to master, but it really speeds up wheel changes, if wheel change speeds are a priority for you... Even if they aren't, the RAT, despite the daft TLA, is really nice to use.
The fork is a carbon fibre affair with very slender blades. The seatpost is slender too: 25.4mm in diameter (like the Cannondale Synapse), intended to offer a bit more seated comfort.
The bike has eyelets for mudguards which, as I've mentioned, come fitted to the bike as standard. That's right, they're not an optional extra, Focus fits them right out of the factory. Why more bike brands don't do this I don't know. It makes great sense for the UK market, especially at this time of year, whether it's raining or the roads are just really muddy. They keep the majority of puddle and mud splatter off bike and body.
The mudguards here are made by Belgian manufacturer Curana and fit seamlessly onto the frame and fork, but I did find their flat profile less effective than more rounded designs from the likes of SKS, and I gained a fair amount of mud and water on my overshoes and ankles on very wet rides. I returned drier and cleaner than if I was riding without mudguards, but it would be nice if they offered just a bit more tyre coverage to really keep spray at bay.
My other minor gripe is that the rear mudguard is occasionally noisy, with a bump or hole in the road producing a high pitched rattle. It's something you get used to, but you might find it annoying enough to attempt a modification to soothe the noise.
One thing the aluminium Paralane has over the carbon version is the addition of rack mounts, which boosts the versatility. Want to fit a rack to use panniers for cycling to work or a week touring around the UK? No problem.
Geometry defines how a road bike will ride, and generally speaking an endurance bike is longer in the wheelbase with a shorter reach and higher stack than a race bike, to provide both a stable ride with a more comfortable fit. (Stack and reach are the vertical and horizontal measurements from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the head tube.)
The Paralane is no different to the other major players in this category. With seven sizes available, the size L/56cm test bike has a 385mm reach and 596mm stack, which compares very closely to a 56cm Cannondale Synapse, to pick one other endurance bike as a comparison.
But rather than just stretch the head tube, as on some endurance bikes, to get the higher stack, Focus has used a longer fork and dropped the bottom bracket (75mm drop) to ensure the handlebar is higher in relation to the saddle height.
This lower bottom bracket also contributes to a very stable ride, giving a slightly lower centre of gravity, and a feeling of being 'in the bike' rather than perched on top. The long wheelbase (1,011mm) and slacker head angle (72 degrees) also adds to the Paralane's rock-solid stability and planted feel, at any speed.
There are seven models in the Paralane range and this is the cheapest of the two aluminium offerings (the Paralane AL 105 will set you back another £100). Focus has sensibly specced an entire Shimano Tiagra groupset on the bike, and that's a good thing because the groupset works pretty much perfectly. It might 'only' be 10-speed but the compact 50/34t chainset and 11-34t cassette provided a usable range of gears for my local undulating, and occasionally bloody steep, local testing roads.
Shifting gears via the Tiagra levers is a delight – they're light and tactile – while the hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors front and rear were (once bedded in) superbly powerful and full of the sort of modulation that lets you effortlessly brake one-fingered with ample confidence on any road in any weather.
Okay, the hood shape might not be the most satisfying to the eye, but when you're riding the shape is impressively ergonomic. For long rides at the speeds where you spend most of your time in the hoods, they are well suited.
The budget has to go a long way, and while the Alex CXD-6 aluminium wheelset isn't the lightest on the market, the wheels are robust and up for a hammering.
The 17mm internal width rims are fitted with Continental Ultra Sport II tyres in a 28mm width. It's an okay tyre with pleasingly good rolling resistance, and about 65-70psi provided good cushioning on the rough roads I have to ride on my way.
On the downside, I did find that they punctured a little too easily, because of the lack of a puncture resistance layer like that found on Conti's more expensive rubber. They were no match for freshly trimmed hedgerows, I can tell you. A tyre with a bit more puncture resistance would better suit this bike in my opinion.
The BBB Basic aluminium handlebar has a fairly common 125mm drop and 75mm reach, which provides a comfortable riding position and easy access to the drops without doing your back in.
I couldn't get on with the shape of the saddle, a Velo VL-1489 with steel rails, so I swapped it out for a Fabric Scoop.
The Paralane AL Tiagra offers reasonably good value for money: you're getting a lovely frame packed with good, useful features and it looks great too. However, do your research and you can get better equipment on a similarly feature-packed frame. The Ribble CGR, for example, costs £1,069 with a Tiagra groupset, and you can customise the spec.
Focus has really nailed it with the new Paralane. While this bike might not have the glamour of the more expensive carbon versions, it's a highly competent and remarkably enjoyable bike to ride.
It may not be the lightest or the outright smoothest, and the mudguards may rattle from time to time, but the performance, ride and handling really impressed. I reckon it's a solid choice for anyone looking for a reliable winter training or commuting bike that has the potential for touring, audax and even Gravel Lite*.
*Yes, I just made that up.
Highly competent aluminium endurance bike complete with mudguards
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Focus Paralane Tiagra
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.
7005 hydroformed aluminum, disc, BSA BB, 142x12 mm through axle, RAT Evo technology, flat mount 140 mm, internal brake & gear cable routing
Carbon, disc, 100x12 mm RAT through axle, RAT Evo Technology, flat mount 140 mm, internal brake cable routing
Shimano Tiagra 4700, braze on
Shimano Tiagra 4700, 10-speed, long cage
Number of Gears
Shimano Tiagra RS405
Shimano Tiagra 4700, 50/34T
Shimano HG500, 11-34T
Shimano Tiagra RS405, disc, 160 mm/160 mm
BBB Basic, Aluminium, drop: 125 mm, reach: 70mm
BBB Basic, aluminium, 31.8mm, +/- 7 degree
1-1/8", tapered, IH 50/33
Alex CXD-6, disc center-lock,aluminium, 100x12/142x12 mm, 24/24 spokes, 17 mm inner rim width
Continental Ultra Sport II, 700 x 28C
Velo VL-1489 Steel Rail
BBB Basic, Aluminium, 25,4mm, 350mm, set-back 20mm
Tell us what the bike is for
Focus says, "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.
Intended use: Classic tours, long mountain tours – on tarmac roads, as well as gravel tracks
for leisure cyclists who like to spend longer in the saddle and don't mind unsurfaced roads
comfort + weight + geometry = ride quality
fitted with disc brakes
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
High quality aluminium frame that looks like carbon from a distance, with a carbon fork up front.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
7005 hydroformed aluminum, disc, BSA BB, 142x12 mm through axle, RAT Evo technology, flat mount 140 mm, internal brake & gear cable routing
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Designed for long distances, the endurance geometry and comfort-orientated frame will keep you out riding for longer.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Compares well to other endurance bikes.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Reasonably comfortable, once I changed the saddle. A posh carbon seatpost would deliver a bit more comfort I feel.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It certainly doesn't lack stiffness when climbing out of the saddle.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, it felt very efficient.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively Relaxed.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The handling is relaxed and surefooted; it's an easy bike to ride at any speed.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
I'd swap the tyres for ones with a puncture resistant belt to stave off thorns and glass better.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
I was impressed with the Shimano Tiagra groupset and hydraulic brakes.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Lighter wheels would drop the weight a bit.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
You might get on with the saddle, I didn't, but saddles are such a personal thing.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Maybe
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Focus Paralane is a very complete package right down to the inclusion of mudguards and offers a very assured ride.
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, mountain biking
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.