The latest big-volume tyres are tough, grippy and comfortable enough to thrive on the worst roads, while still rolling fast. But which of the three here under £2,500 make the most of their potential for year-round triathlon performance?
How will the trend for bigvolume tyres transfer to the tri course? We test three bikes from Focus, Whyte and Genesis to find out
T he latest technology and riding trends mean it’s a great time to be making new bikes. Innovations such as disc brakes allow designers to fit wider wheels and tyres into frames and secure them with thruaxles to create a smoother, more robust, puncture-resistant ride with better braking control.
Carbon fibre lets designers tune the ride qualities of a frame to a much greater degree than is possible with metal. Deep aero tubes can now be made to be comfortable, while squeezing them through tight spaces between components doesn’t have to result in a weak spot. Lightweight frames can be strong enough to skip along farm tracks but still sparkle on a smooth road climb. Flex can be built into some parts and locked out of others, just by the choice and alignment of sheets of fibre.
And it seems riders are becoming more willing to embrace these innovations as attitudes to riding and routes change. They don’t necessarily want to stop when the road does, because that’s when the traffic, noise and danger, for the most part, stops too. And they
don’t necessarily want a different bike for the different types of riding they do.
The three bikes here are intended to offer all of these new comfortand control-boosting, rideexpanding, puncture-preventing, weather-beating advantages while still retaining a reasonable degree of competitive on-road performance.
The first is the Focus Paralane Carbon 105 and, although at £2,199, it’s the cheapest bike here, it’s loaded with innovations and practical touches. The cunning quarter-turn Rapid Axle Technology thru-axles are the fastest we’ve used, and it comes with neatlooking, lightweight, flat alloy mudguards, as well as Shimano wheels and a 105 groupset with hydraulic disc brakes.
As one of the first bikes in the fattyred but fast, ‘all-road’ category, the UK-designed Genesis Datum is now into its third year. By speccing 29er MTB rims rather than road hoops, it takes a slightly different approach to wheels than its rivals, but perhaps that’s what’ll allow this previously proven all-rounder to continue to shine among the current crop of all-roaders.
The Whyte Wessex, meanwhile, launched to rave reviews in 2016 thanks to a great balance of a Britproof frame and component pragmatism with a purposeful rather than sit-up-and-beg ride position. But is its surefooted handling, wheel-hugging mudguards and Shimano Ultegra Disc groupset enough to justify choosing it over its cheaper competitors on test? There’s only one way to find out… FOCUSSED ON COMFORT Focus’s Paralane delivers a springy, long-distance and back-road, badweather-friendly ride with some neat frame and kit features. The carbon frame makes this Paralane £700 more expensive than the identically specced alloy version, but it’s a well-thought-out chassis and one of the few in its category under 1kg.
By using long fork legs with a step-down midway, Focus gets plenty of impact compliance, while the angular head tube boosts steering stiffness. Top tube, seat tube and rear stays all use flattened sections to allow flex from below without introducing sideways softness. The stays are also curved so that they limit impacts and vibration, and that engineered spring is obvious in the ride.
It’s not just the frame that flexes to soak up shocks. A short seat tube relative to top tube length means there’s more of the carbon seatpost showing than normal. It’s also a skinny 25.4mm-diameter shaft for extra sway.
Previous editions of the Paralane Carbon 105 came with 25mm Schwalbe Pro One tyres, so it’s good to see Focus has gone up to 28mm Continental Ultra Sport II tyres as standard for 2018. The wider rubber provides a little more insulation from the rougher roads even if the Ultra Sport IIs don’t have the same fluid feel as the previous Pro Ones.
There’s clearance for tyres up to 35mm wide if you unbolt the flat alloy mudguards, which is a good idea for rougher rides anyway. While the metal mudguards are relatively light (450g) and tidy in their minimalist appearance, the single stays and flat design mean they tend to bounce off the tyre on ragged surfaces. Our rear set soon spat its bolt out, so check for tightness regularly and don’t ride through any rattling noises thinking they aren’t important.
The bump isolation through the saddle and frame helps when turning over a gear or taking corners on rougher roads. A slightly relaxed 72° head angle and low bottom bracket give it a safe and composed feel in more challenging conditions. But it’s a fine balance. The longer you ride, the more the smoothness saves your legs and shoulders from vibration fatigue, but things can get bouncy when you’re trying to lay down power on smoother surfaces. You’ll also want to take advantage of the short seat tube and go up a size if you’re looking for a more stretched and aggressive ride position, rather than compact and upright. INFORMED BY EXPERIENCE Whyte’s Wessex takes everything its designer – Ian Alexander – has learned about day-in, day-out UK riding over years of elite-level racing and training, and leverages
“The Focus Paralane is the cheapest here and comes loaded with innovations and practical touches”