Bikes of the Bunch: Focus Izalco Max Disc 9 home-build
By day, Francis Lim works in planning and design. By night, he builds and tinkers with bikes in his tiny flat in Hong Kong to “let off steam” after the day’s toil. You might remember a previous Bikes of the Bunch that Francis sent in — the story of his ultralight Factor O2, meticulously customised and built up at his dining table/work desk. Today Francis is back with another home build; this time he’s sharing the story of his Focus Izalco Max Disc 9. Over to you, Francis.
In some ways it’s easy: you just come up with the money, come up with an awesome parts list to match a top-end frame, have your favorite shop work on it, and voila, you have your own superbike! This build is different in that the planning, saving, the parts list, the building, and the modification was done by just one person, and again all in our tiny flat and on the same dining table, and at night, mostly after work. It’s deeply personal and extremely satisfying once you make it work!
With disc-brake road bikes slowing becoming the standard — if they aren’t already — the idea was to build a competent, race-ready disc-equipped build that wouldn’t break the bank. I wanted it to be clean and sleek, and fairly light to tackle the hills of Hong Kong’s New Territories and the windy flats of Lantau Island where I live.
I really like industrial-inspired geometric shapes rather than flowy curves. I also prefer off-beat rather than popular choices and I was looking for a neutral color platform. My budget also wasn’t enough for the VAMs, CFRs and SL7s of the world. And most importantly, it had to be able to run integrated cables thru the head tube.
After some sleepless nights on which size to get, I decided on the Focus Izalco Max Disc 9 Frameset as the base for my build. Just in time as the local dealer was taking heavily discounted pre-orders for the 2021 model year colorway, and in two weeks the frameset was on our dining table.
Now the fun part: the build choices!
Bike build proportion is important to me. Conventional wisdom would say I needed a size XS. Looking at built Izalcos of similar size, it has a very short head tube and most were using a tall stack of spacers on the front end which I didn’t want. But at the same time, I didn’t want my seat post exposure to become too short. I plugged the numbers into the Bike Insights Comparison Tool and realized that a size S is more or less the same as the Factor O2 52 I built before. Still, I wasn’t quite sure so I overlaid a similar size graphically and I had my size!
The proprietary C.I.S Stem at 100 mm came in at 243 g. With a 200 g or so handlebar, I’d be left with a very heavy 400 g+ cockpit. Plus, I didn’t like the dual-angle profile which reminds me of a limp male body part.
I really like the simplicity and lightness of the Black Inc integrated cockpits, but I needed one which had cables exiting on the bottom part of the stem to connect with the frame routing on the headset bearing cutouts. I found one from the OEM market labeled as HB09, with a wedge-type clamp and a truncated airfoil profile which matched the frame. At 290 g or thereabouts, I was able to chop off some weight!
When the integrated cockpit came in, the cable exit location was off by 5 mm on both the front and rear disc brake hose holes on the upper head tube bearing. It could have been done easier in a proper shop with a vice and all sorts of tools but I didn’t want to explain to them anymore what I wanted to do as the local mechanics are usually not very receptive to DIY modifications.
After a good night of drilling, using a box cutter, and filing, I was able to carve out a route that doesn’t restrict the brake hose bends at all. This was easily the crux of the build!
The proprietary Rapid Axle Technology by Focus is touted as having “the stiffness and stability of thru-axle with the speed of quick release”. I prefer the clean look of the hex-key thru-axles and the simplicity of threading it in. I normally carry a multi-tool in my backpocket which has a 6 mm key so the threaded thru-axles work for me better, plus the lower weight didn’t hurt!
I found some options on alternative axles but the key was to find the female axle nut that slotted into the pear-shaped depression on the drop-outs. I found some OEM axles and nuts again and saved 55 g from stock.
Tubular disc wheels
Hong Kong has clean, well-paved roads and most cycling routes have close access to the train system. Taxis and van hires also abound. I have always preferred the ride and feel of tubulars, despite what all recent marketing info on clinchers and tubeless say. I haven’t had a flat on tubulars for more than a year by using road sealant, so this one would be no different: disc-brake tubular wheels.
Now on to the build!
I already had the rim-brake groupset on another bike and was actually intending to just transfer it to this build. I had some cable-actuated hydraulic calipers ready, similar to the Yokozuna Motoko CyclingTips reviewed previously. But in the end I decided that it would be better to have full hydraulic calipers.
Despite what SRAM says I was already running the supposed-to-be-proprietary chain/cassette/chainring combination with different chainrings out front with no problems. I just had to transfer it on this build.
Over several nights after dinner, while my wife was comfortable on the couch watching TV, I was at the dining/work table tinkering on the build. After modifying the axles and carving out the brake house routes on the cockpit, I spent another two nights putting in the rest of the components. And with that, the build was done.
I had to wait until the next weekend to road test it as the disc-brake bleed kits came in delayed which meant one more night of finishing it up. Overall weight came in at a decent 6.63 kg with pedals which leaves some room for improvement, although it should already be lighter than most disc road bikes running around here.
Once I set the contact points to my preferred setup, it felt no different to my previous builds. It’s quick on the flats and corners, it climbs as well as any of my previous builds, and as expected, it’s brilliant on descents. As one of the many who brushed off disc-brakes on road bikes as a fad, I’m now a convert. Feathering has a better feel, no more squealing rims, no more need of aluminum training wheels and most importantly, no more worries getting caught up in traffic on Hong Kong’s numerous hills on carbon rims.
I usually have future plans on my builds, whether to upgrade a component or more modification. Because of the extra time spent planning and working on the build, I don’t have any on my list yet. I could probably go for deeper carbon wheels for less windy days, and yeah, tubeless to see what the fuss is all about. Maybe I could add some Hope RX4 calipers to give a dash of color to a very ‘earth-tone’ build.
After a month of riding, I can say it is already serving the purpose it was built for. It was worth all the late-night work at the dining table!
Frameset: Focus Izalco Max Disc 9 Frame 12×142 size S, Focus Max Disc Fork 12×100
Seat post: Focus Aero Carbon D-Shaped, tuned with carbon cradle, CNC aluminum clamps, titanium bolts
Handlebar/ Stem: Unbranded HB09 integrated handlebar, 400×100, internal Cable Routing, headset covers and spacers
Shiftkit: SRAM Red AXS HRD 12s shifters, front and rear derailleurs
Drivetrain: SRAM Red Etap crankarms 170x110bcd / Extralite RC2 chainrings 50-34t/ SRAM Flat Top 12S chain / SRAM XG1290 10-33T cassette
Brakes: SRAM Red AXS HRD calipers, Quaxar Floating Rotors 160F/160R, Ttitanium rotor bolts
Saddle: Berk Lupina Padded saddle, Grey Leather (Special thanks to Berk for accommodating the request)
Wheelset: Unbranded 40 mm U-Shaped tubular rims, Pillar 1420 spokes, DR35 lightweight hubs with XDR freehub (1,190 g)
Tires: FMB Service Course tubulars 25 mm, Black/tan sidewalls w/ No Flat Joe’s Road Racing Sealant
Axles: Unbranded aluminum thru-axles, black anodized, 12×100/ 12×142
Pedals: Speedplay TI, tuned with titanium bolts and bowties
Others: Fizik Classic Tapes, Silver/ Vini electrical tape, grey