Focale 44 is a fixed/commuter bike brand from BMX Groupment, an Andorra-based company that – you guessed it – specialises in BMX. This is the third year of producing fixie bikes, and there's a range of models, which seem to all be built around the same basic frame. This test bike is the Focale 44 Relax, a flat-barred commuter bike that the company places in the middle of its range.
First impressions are that it's quite smart. The matte-black paint job is good, and, whether you like or loathe white tyres (I'm not a fan), they're not too garish. Overall, it's an understated package.
The integrated bar and stem – rather like the original Specialized Globe Rolls – is also an interesting touch. The standard gearing is 42/16, a decent go-anywhere gear for negotiating traffic and gentle hills, and fine for rolling around London. The wheel has a double fixed flip-flop hub, so you could run another cog on the other side if you wanted a choice of gears.
Thumbs up, more or less, for the looks then; and the ride, too, is pretty good. Being a fairly heavy package, it's not the fastest bike on the block, and it's not going to win any prizes for power transfer or stiffness. That's not really what it's about though: it rides well enough on the commute, and clips along once you get it going.
The tight, track bike-inspired geometry means it feels nippy, despite these disadvantages. It tracks dependably through the corners, though the fairly upright position and wide bars meant that I took it a bit easier when weaving through traffic than I would have on my own bike. There's a lot of toe overlap too, another reason for caution.
Though the handling was good, I was seriously unimpressed with the tyres. They were made of such hard, unyielding rubber - tougher than home trainer tyres, and shinier - that I worried about grip in the wet, or over road paint, or manhole covers. Nothing bad actually happened, but if you don't have confidence...
They were also hands down the most obstinate tyres I've ever had to manhandle on and off a wheel. Add to this a narrow rim, with a deep, bevelled (almost sharp) internal profile, which leaves little room for the inner tube to sit, and you've got a big headache when fixing punctures. One last wheel gripe: the front wheel went significantly out of true during the test period. That's partly the fault of London's roads, but all in all the wheels didn't seem very robustly built.
Where next? Oh yes, the brake. The lever was fine, but the calliper was incredibly flexible, resulting in very spongey braking. Also, the quick-release lever did not actually loosen the callipers, or at least the finest minds in the Road.cc office couldn't make it work. It's a real let-down, and given there's only one brake – standard fixie issue – a pretty poor show. To give it its due, it did stop pretty well, though there was a fair bit of shudder in the wet.
The pedals, too, seem cheap. I liked the fixed-freestyle velcro straps, but the plastic pedals angled away from your foot as they came around, making it difficult to get securely in, and with the fixed gear you only get one chance per revolution.
In all, then, the components felt like a bit of a letdown. The bike seems to have a list price of £559, which is a good whack of cash. Given you can get a basic race bike or an entry-level hybrid for significantly less than that – with multiple gears, two brakes etc – it's disappointing to get so little for so much.
Good-looking bike, that rides fine, let down by poor tyres and brakes - and you should get more for this kind of money.
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Make and model: Focale 44 Relax
Size tested: 55cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
4130 Cro-Mo steel, frame and fork both. TIG welded. Available in 49cm, 52 cm, 55 cm, 58 cm sizes.
The website goes on to say:
* full 4130 Cr-Mo frame and fork
* 1-1/8" integrated headset (Campagnolo standard)
* narrow flat handlebar/stem Cr-Mo combo
* 42/16 gear ratio
* sealed bearings BB set, JIS taper
* plastic BMX type pedals with straps
* sealed bearings hubs
* flip flop rear hub (fixed both sides)
* double wall rims, mid-profile : 21 mm
* 1/2" x 1/8" chain
* aero-padded saddle
* built to last, around 10.5 kg / 23 lbs
* colors : matte black or red clear coating
NEW FOR 2012
* frame : higher BB position (+ 5 mm), thinner seatstays, thicker dropouts (5 mm), bigger tire clearance, up to 35c.
* bar/stem combo : shorter stem (75 mm).
* rear hub : dual-threads for fixed cog both sides.
* rims : double-wall.
* tires : 700x28c.
Every Focale 44 bike is delivered with brakes, freewheel and fixed sprocket.
Bikes are shown without brakes.
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?
The website calls Focale 44 bikes fixed/commuter bikes. They sponsor a few messengers in Barcelona, the city closest to their Andorran base, but it's fair to say that these are aimed at commuters who want a bit of style on their morning ride, and don't
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Both frame and fork are sturdy and well finished, though the fork's styling could charitably be called 'utilitarian'. The welds are quite neat, and the matte-black paint is pretty smart.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
4130 Cro-Mo says the site, and a straight-blade fork. All in all, it's not a light package, but it's what you'd expect from a bike at the cheaper end of the price spectrum. Amazingly, £559 is fairly cheap for an off the peg fixed-wheel these days.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Pretty tight and track-bikey. Means it's nippy, but the toe overlap is fairly epic.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Good. The company have apparently shortened the stem for 2012, so the position was fairly upright.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, it was pretty comfy. The stock saddle was pretty good, though a little spongier than most.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
It was passable. But compare it to a frame built with decent steel, and a nice pair of wheels, and it was soon found wanting.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Not particularly. I suspect the lively-ish ride is more down to the tight geometry than any stiffness qualities inherent in the frame. I have another track bike that usually takes commuting duties, and it feels a lot more responsive to power, without any toe overlap.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Epic. But it's a "track" bike, so that's the style.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? It was quite precise, but let down by the tyres, which did not inspire confidence.
None of that flick-of-the-ankle fun of a light, stiff bike, but this
Not really made for it, being heavy cro-mo steel, but it's a town bike, so
Once you get it going, it pootles along quite nicely.
A bit crappy through tight spots in traffic. You sort of worry about toe clearance.
The bike tracked well, but see my comments about the tyres...
Does not really reward effort climbing, felt a little leaden. Plus there's something about the short top-tube and flat bars. Then again, it's a town bike...
Seemed like a fairly standard fixed-wheel drivetrain.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The lockring wasn't well tightened on the test model we received. A bit disconcerting when applying foot pressure on the brake, as the cog slipped to and fro. We know you should check these things over, but many people wouldn't.
The front, laced radially, quickly went out of true. The tyres are very hard, plasticky and a total pig to get on and off. They did not inspire cornering confidence.
The tyres didn't wear at all, so hard were they. The wheels weren't really up to the London potholes - but not too many are.
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
I would definitely swap the tyres. The wheels went out of true, though I wouldn't heap all the blame on them for that, that's London's roads too.
The grips were abrasive. Aside from them, the only 'control' the bike had, really, was the front brake. The lever was fine, but the calliper was poor quality.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? It was OK. A decent ride, no hassles.
Would you consider buying the bike? No - it's poor value for what you get.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? No
Age: 31 Height: 1.78m Weight: 65kg
I usually ride: Cinelli Strato road or fixed commuter hack. 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: commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,