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First ride: Focus Paralane disc-equipped endurance bike

We head to Berlin to test ride the new endurance road bike from Focus

First impressions of the Focus Paralane are very good. The German company’s brand new disc-equipped endurance bike joins a hotly contested category with some very established rivals. It’s a growing market and it’s also a variety of road bike that is evolving, and more than most, the Paralane blurs the lines between an endurance and adventure bike*.

- First look: Focus Paralane endurance disc road bike

I won’t run through all the key features here - you can read the first look article to get the full story on the new bike - but it’s clear the design of the carbon fibre frame, with its skinny seatstays, flattened seat tube and small diameter 25.4mm seatpost (the same as used by Cannondale on its Synapse), combines to very good effect. The ride is very smooth and it smothers imperfections, bumps and crack in the road surface very well.

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The launch for the new bike was held in a rainy and storm-battered Berlin. A 100km ride (most of in extremely heavy rain) provided ample opportunity to get to know the bike and see how it performed, though the limited variety of terrain (and a distinct lack of hills; Berlin is very flat) prevents me from coming to a conclusive verdict. An in-depth test on familiar roads will certainly be needed for a followup review.

But what the ride highlighted was the fact that Focus has built a very comfortable and smooth riding road bike that has plenty of agility for faster paced riders, yet with the sure-footed stability demanded of non-competitive distance cyclists.

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Focus planned a test ride to demonstrate the flexibility and versatility of the new bike, and the bike lived up to the challenge very well. Starting out in the heart of the city, the route weaved through the busy morning traffic, running alongside the Berlin wall for a short while, crisscrossing tram tracks made slippery by the heavy rain, and eventually, with a sigh of relief from some of the more nervous of the group on the congested and fast-moving streets, into the suburbs and eventually out into the surrounding countryside, where lush green fields and rolling roads awaited us.

Getting out of the city wasn’t the best ride experience I’ve every had. German drivers though are very accommodating of large groups of cyclists, but the busy roads, street furniture, tram tracks and extensive white painted arrows and lines,  made slick by the rain, made it a rather unpleasant experience. I can tell I’ve got used to life in the country after a long stint in London!

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Eventually escaping the roads and utilising a maze of gravel paths and dirt tracks, we managed to remove ourselves from the rush hour traffic and exchange buildings and pavements for trees and hedgerows. We would take in silky smooth tarmac, gravel paths, dirt tracks and cobbled roads on this ride, and the variety of surfaces demonstrated how effective the frame and its design features, plus the 28mm tyres fitted to wide rims, are in preventing a rickety and bumpy ride. The Paralane eagerly took in the difference surfaces, the tyres proved tough and durable (and would be even better if converted to tubeless) and offered the confidence that punctures would be held at bay.

It’s this sort of riding, mixing in gravel paths to get away from the traffic and congested city streets, an alternative way out of the urban sprawl, that Focus says led to the development direction of the bike. It sees this demand reflected in the growing customer base for this sort of road bike, and it makes sense that the bike is able to accommodate up to 35mm tyres, really opening up the adaptability of the Paralane if you want to take in even rougher off-road trails and paths. 

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In terms of ride performance and comfort, it’s clear that the Paralane is in the same league as the Cannondale Synapse and Giant Defy, two notable endurance bikes that rely on carbon fibre layup and tube profiles to manage the ride smoothness. Again, more time will be needed to fully assess the bike on roads I’m more familiar with. 

But on some of the rougher roads we rode over, and particularly the cobbled sectors, it was possible to detect a noticeable difference in smoothness between the fork and the frame. It seems, based on this brief ride, that Focus has been more successful in achieving bump-absorbing compliance from the narrow seatpost and rear triangle than it has from the carbon fibre, which had a distinctly firmer feel that is a little at odds with the smoothness felt through the saddle.

The ride position, with its laid back geometry and taller stack height, proved comfortable, with the 56cm bike fitting my 5’11”  frame very well. It doesn’t prevent a racier position from being adopted with the stack only a small degree taller than the Izalco Max Disc.

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Where the geometry really shines is through the corners. The slacker head angle, lower bottom bracket and longer wheelbase inject plenty of stability into proceedings, and with the traction of the wide tyres at 80psi, the bike isn’t easily hustled offline mid-corner when riding at high-speed speed, or unsettled if you encounter an unsighted pothole (not that I found many of those).  

The carbon test bike was shod with 28mm tyres but the frame has space for 35mm tyres. That’s much wider than the Synapse and Defy and is closer to the specification of cyclocross and gravel bikes, a buzzword that Focus is keen to avoid, though it did drop adventure into the presentation. There’s clearly nothing to stop you fitting wider tyres and embarking on more off-road rides if you so wish, it certainly has the stability and balance to be right at home on loose surfaces and there’s the control from the disc brakes and stiffness from the thru-axles to keep it all behaved. 

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As mentioned before, the endurance category is a very competitive place at the moment with more bike manufacturers launching all-new and updated models at a rapid rate. The Paralane displays very good manners both on the road and off it, and like many endurance bikes, it is very easy to ride with none of the twitchiness that can sometimes make race bikes an intense riding experience. Based on this first impression, the Paralane really suits the cyclist that wants a comfortable ride with a reassuring behaviour when you slip off the smooth stuff onto the rough, but hasn’t lost any of its appeal as a pure road bike with plenty of performance potential.

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It’s getting harder to categorise some of these new road bikes, blurring as they do any sort of traditional lines that might have once separated different types of road bikes. I prefer not to pigeonhole bikes, but it does help when explaining the sort of riding the bike is designed for and being able to make comparisons to similar models. Do you find it helpful or not?

David has worked on the tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of 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.

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