This article originally appeared on BikeRadar
There's plenty of change in the air when it comes to cyclocross bikes, and although cantilever brakes still dominate the top steps of the podium today, it doesn't take a fortune teller to see what's coming. One of the most progressive machines on the circuit is the Focus Mares CX, as ridden by American racer Allen Krughoff (Noosa Professional Cyclocross Team).
Focus' latest Mares CX borrows plenty of features from modern mountain bikes, such as its front and rear disc brakes, front and rear thru-axles, press-fit bottom bracket, feathery-light carbon fibre construction, internal cable routing, and 1x drivetrain. While some might think all of that is overkill, Krughoff is gushingly happy with the setup.
"That thing is the ticket," he told BikeRadar. "It's super sturdy and also ultra light at the same time. Nothing feels like it's twisting or loose but it doesn't feel like it beats you up when you're riding, either. And the braking is crazy good. I know that everyone says this but I literally can't think of a shortcoming on this bike."
American 'cross racer Allen Krughoff says his Focus Mares CX is stiff yet comfortable, light yet solid
Included in the bike's impressive feature set is the novel RAT thru-axle system, which accepts the same hubs and wheels as what's already out there but with a slick pin-and-socket design that's far faster to operate than standard setup. Instead of opening the lever and then unthreading the skewer, all that's required is a quarter-turn twist after the lever is opened to remove or install the skewer.
At least in theory, this provides all of the benefits of thru-axles – namely, increased interface stiffness and reduced rotor rub – while minimising the drawbacks.
More importantly, Krughoff says that whatever differences in wheel change speed do exist between conventional quick-releases and the Focus RAT system are essentially moot, at least at this level of the sport where complete bike changes, not wheel swaps, are the norm.
"If you compare the speed of the RAT system to a regular quick-release on a fork with lawyer tabs, I'd say they're dead even," he said, adding that the end caps can also be adjusted for consistent lever positions. "We have all of our bikes lined up the same so it's an easy thing to remember."
The Focus RAT thru-axle system is faster to use than standard thru-axles
The thru-axle thing may be new to Krughoff (at least for cyclocross) but the SRAM Force CX1 group is more of a natural progression after several years on other 1x drivetrains and disc brakes (although he does run a conventional 2x11 setup on his training rig). As compared to other setups he's tried, Krughoff suggests that the new Force CX1 bits are more finished and refined-feeling.
"There's so much less variability day to day [with a hydraulic setup]. You just don't notice that it's doing anything because it's just working all the time. I ran a 1x setup on Raleigh last year so going with the 1x11 with the narrow-wide tooth profile and clutch rear derailleur is pretty much perfect."
Like many SRAM-sponsored racers, Krughoff is using the new Force CX1 1x11 drivetrain
Krughoff may of course be somewhat biased in his opinion but there's one measurement that can't be argued: this thing is light. With a complete carbon fibre cockpit and tubular wheels from Enve Composites, Shimano XTR pedals, and a fi'zi:k Tundra 2 saddle, total weight as shown is just 7.28kg (16.05lb) – less than some top-level road bikes we've profiled in the past.
Nevertheless, Krughoff insists that the bike feels anything but fragile.
"It feels like you can ride like a bat out of hell and the bike's not going to fall apart," he said.
Allen Krughoff's Focus Mares CX