We test the Focus Izalco Chrono 2.0 20-G Ironman / triathlon bike

Focus Izalco Chrono 2.0 20-GFocus Izalco Chrono 2.0 20-G
£3,359
focus-bikes.com

Co-created five years ago by Andreas Walser, one of Europe’s top custom aero frame builders, can the minimal-profile Focus Chrono still slice its way through the air and the competition?

FRAME AND FORK

Five years might seem a long time, but Andreas Walser has always been ahead of the game – hence the long list of top pro racers riding his frames stickered up under another name. Focus is now under the same owner umbrella as Cervélo, and shared wind tunnel time shows that the Walser design is comparable with the legendary P3C in front of the fan.

The razor sharp, skinny-legged, straight-steerer fork plugged into a sucked-in-centre head tube creates a minimal front profile. Ultra thin, sharp-edged tube profiles from the down tube to the wheel-wrapping seat tube and deep-bladed seatstays show Walser’s intent to slice through the air, rather than smoothly shape it. While the stem sits proud and the side-pull brakes are conventionally mounted, the flush seat clamp is a much-copied drag reducer and the frame is fully Di2 compatible.

There are only three frame sizes and the seat angle is more TT than tri, so you’ll need to shove the sliding saddle clamp on the aero seatpost right forward for a run-ready set-up. Keeping such a narrow frame stiff in terms of steering and power delivery also makes it surprisingly heavy despite
its slim lines.

THE KIT

Apart from Walser’s work, the big sell with the Chrono 2.0 is the Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting – and it is amazingly smooth and fast once you learn which button does what. However, you’re only getting the electric shifters on the extensions, not a second set on the brake levers. This removes the biggest advantage of Di2 on an aero bike – with no post/pre-corner or climbing shift facility, it’s merely a refinement of conventional cable shifting rather than the revolutionary ‘any gear, any time’ upgrade it could be.

The broad-armed Vision chainset is a heavy piece, although the full-size rings and close-ratio rear block are totally appropriate. The skinny Vision base bars feel cheap compared with the rest of the kit and can twang a bit out of the saddle, but the composite armrest extensions are great. Less flexible riders will need to add the optional spacers under the arms for a higher ride position.

The Fulcrum semi-aero wheels with Continental tyres are dependably smooth rollers. As much as we normally like the Fizik Aliante Tri, the Chrono’s firm ride feel means a really soft-nosed saddle might be a smart upgrade to ward off numbness. We’re dubious about any significant aero advantage from the side-pull TRP brakes, and they feel spongier under braking than conventional dual-pivots.

THE RIDE

You don’t have to be a forensic specialist to have picked up a good idea of how the Chrono rides from the test notes so far. In its default ‘no spacers under the elbow pads’ set-up it’s a long drop down to the extensions, putting stress on shoulders and neck straight away if you’re not naturally limber. There’s also a lot of road surface rattle and thump coming through the normally smooth-feeling saddle and cantilevered carbon armrests. This means that even if you raise the pad position, this is a machine for athletes prepared to sacrifice comfort as long as they cut some seconds from their split times.

The Focus has one of the lowest, flat-backed ride positions we’ve tested. Whether we were punching through the wind on point or trying to draft another tester, it was obviously a very efficient bike. The minimal fork and top tube also make it impressively impervious to gusts of wind, even with 80mm wheels fitted.

It’s definitely a machine best suited to sustained-speed courses rather than more variable or vertically-rich races though. The high complete bike weight means more effort when accelerating and climbing, and as it carries a lot of that weight in the frame, it’s never going to be a great altitude hunter. The broad-armed FSA cranks also felt softer underfoot than we expected, giving dull rather than dynamic power delivery out of the saddle.

If you’re looking for an extremely efficient and naturally fast flat-course bike then you should definitely consider the Chrono. The heavy, harsh frame is all about work not play, though.

BIKE SPEC

  • Frame and fork

Size tested: M
Sizes available: S, M, L
Weight as tested: 9.42kg
Frame weight: 1,906g
Fork weight: 410g
Frame: Focus Chrono Walser, carbon
Fork: Focus Walser, full carbon, 1.125in steerer

  • Transmission 

Chainset: Vision TriMax Pro TT, 52/38T
Bottom bracket: FSA
Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 6700, 11-25T
Chain: N/A
Derailleurs: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra Di2 tip shifters

  • Wheels

Front: Fulcrum WH-CPX 1700
Rear: Fulcrum WH-CPX 1700
Tyres: Continental Grand Prix 700x23c
Wheel weight: 1,230g/1,640g

  •  Other components

Stem: Vision OS
Bars: Vision B250 Aero
Headset: FSA
Saddle: Fizik Aliante Tri
Seatpost: Focus Walser, carbon, aero
Brakes: TRP T925 TT, side-pull

Pros
+ Naturally aggressive, fast and aero efficient frameset
– Digital shifting speed and smooth rolling wheels

Cons
+ Unforgivingly stiff ride and aggressive position can take its toll
– Heavy frame and cranks, and only half the potential e-shift package