If looking good is half the battle, Rapha-Focus rider Chris Jones wins half of every race he enters just by showing up with the hottest kit, including his custom Rapha themed Focus Mares cyclo-cross bike.
Jones’s bike is based on an off-the-shelf carbon frame that’s been painted in the black, pink, red, blue and cream colors of the Rapha-Focus team by Cycle Art in Vista, California – and it's a one-off.
By the time the Rapha-Focus partnership came together, the team frames had already been shipped from Germany in time for Interbike and CrossVegas. It was too expensive to hand-paint a fleet of bikes, so Jones has the only one.
The Mares features all of the bells and whistles associated with today’s carbon frames, including a tapered head tube, BB30 bottom bracket and carbon dropouts. It also has some features that are unique to Focus.
The company's Size Stable Stiffness Per Size (SSPS) design uses three different tube diameters across the four available frame sizes. As such, Jones's large Mares gets a larger diameter down tube than the smaller frame sizes for improved stiffness.
The stiffness theme is continued by the oversized seat tube, which tapers from a super-wide bottom bracket junction to a svelte, and presumably more comfortable, 27.2mm seatpost diameter. The tube is shaped to accept a front derailleur.
The fork, however, may be the most striking feature of the Mares. Its bow-legged carbon structure embodies an aggressive, elbows out, attack-the-course attitude. Focus USA’s marketing and cyclo-cross team manger, Brian Dallas, compared the stance to that of a bulldog.
"Fork chatter is always a concern in cyclo-cross," said Jones. "When we jumped to this fork, there was no chatter whatsoever. On other bikes, guys spend hours adjusting toe-in. This fork is nice; the mechanics don't have to stress about the perfect toe-in. The braking is always good."
Jones’s Mares is outfitted with kit that's more working professional than ultra exotic. TRP’s EuroX Magnesium brakes and a mix of Easton’s alloy EA70 and EA90 aluminum cockpit components complement a SRAM Red BB30 transmission and drivetrain.
"I've never had any problems with them," said Jones of his brakes and the emerging trend in ’cross toward more powerful low-profile brakes. "I'd rather have better performance in the mud, which you get with the wider cantilevers... My strength is my power, not necessarily my technical skills, so anything that can give me an advantage in the mud I need to utilize."
Another look at the massive seat tube with relief for the front derailleur.
The Fi’zi:k Aliante saddle, while custom colored, features durable K:ium titanium rails rather than the brand’s braided carbon variety. Even Jones's new 2011 CrankBrothers Candy pedals are the more economical and durable 3 model with a stainless steel spindle, rather than the titanium-clad 11.
The one area where no expense is spared – and arguably the most important when speaking of performance – is the team's selection of wheels and tires. Jones’s quiver of Easton EC90SL carbon tubulars are clad with a mix of Challenge and Dugast rubber; the latter is the choice of most pros both domestic and abroad, thus his Dugasts see plenty of use.
“We mainly have Challenge tires [noting that they're the team's official tire sponsor],” said Jones. “But we have some Typhoons and Rhinos on hand, so we end up riding whatever tires we feel most comfortable on.”