The Focus Mares AX 4.0 arrived at RCUK Towers with the sun.
Were it not for the enormous sense of well-being brought about by the great provider of serotonin, we would have cursed.
The AX 4.0 is a machine so ideally suited to winter, a seemingly perpetual climatic state on these shores, that to ride it at anything less than high tide, and in temperatures more than about four degrees, would be to squander its talents.
After more than a year of downpours, broken only by a fortnight of sun for the Olympic Games, we felt confident in squeezing in another winter bike test before April. Ho hum.
To business: the flagship Focus Mares AX 4.0 is a machine with all the sturdiness of a battle cruiser, but with an almost identical geometry to the CX 1.0, ridden by the Rapha Focus team of Jeremy Powers and Gabby Day. It is the same frame, in fact, as the upscale AX 1.0.
The most notable feature of this ‘cross race ready geometry is the extremely low head tube, which measures just 125mm on our 56cm test bike. In other regards, however, the more relaxed geometry necessitated by ‘cross racing should deliver a comfortable companion for long winter miles.
With a wheelbase of 1018mm, just 1mm longer than the CX 1.0, and a head angle of 71 degrees, we’re expecting ‘slow and steady’ to be the mantra of the AX 4.0, at least on the road.
The frame and fork are fashioned from 6061 aluminium and equipped with mudguard mounts (the colour-coded units pictured here are supplied with the bike). Increasing numbers of aluminium frames are aping the design principles of contemporary carbon offerings (a good thing in our view), but there’s no sign here of a tapered headtube or oversized downtube, still less a smoothed weld to give the appearance of more exotic material.
Instead, the AX 4.0 seems to be a sturdy machine built for rigorous use. The gusset at the junction of headtube and downtube, and chunky, reinforced dropouts, capping chainstays that splay dramatically on their journey to the axle, presumably to accommodate the disc brake, all appear to represent a triumph of function over form. We’ll let you know.
The top tube is ovalised to near flatness, while the hydroformed seatstays curve pleasingly en route from seat cluster to drop out.
Focus has taken a similarly utilitarian approach to spec-ing the Mares AX 4.0, which on the whole is well considered.
The most notable of the components are the Tektro Lyra disc brakes. We haven’t been hugely impressed by Tektro’s caliper offerings in the past and we’re hoping for better here. More reassuringly, Focus has paired them with Shimano’s underrated Tiagra STI levers, whose external cabling wins approval from some diehards (John Stevenson of this parish, for one) who question the wisdom of routing cables under handlebar tape.
Tiagra components make further appearances at the front and rear mechs, but sadly not at the chainset, which is an FSA unit, fitted (sensibly, we’d say) with a ‘compact’ 50-34 chainrings, rather than a ‘cross-specific ratio.
The finishing kit is Focus’ own, as are the wheels and hubs, but more pleasingly the tyres are Continental’s Cyclo-Cross Speed: a 35mm profile offering a stippled centre ridge and nobbly shoulders.
All that’s left to cover is the finish: a high-gloss, battleship grey, that blends to black at the tips of the chainstays.
We’ll be testing the Focus Mares AX 4.0 come rain or shine in the weeks ahead, and while it may be overstating the case to say we’re hoping for rain, such conditions will certainly be the most suitable for such a machine.
Website: Focus Bikes
Size: 50, 42, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62