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All-new Focus Mares CX cyclo-cross machine

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The new Focus Mares CX in its cantilever brake version

The new Focus Mares CX in its cantilever brake version (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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This bike was fitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2

This bike was fitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2 (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The clean lines of the fork crown, unencumbered by brakes

The clean lines of the fork crown, unencumbered by brakes (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The rear seat stay bridge looks to be in a similar place to that on the canti version

The rear seat stay bridge looks to be in a similar place to that on the canti version (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Focus's innovative RAT - Rapid Axle Technology - thru axle combines the convenience and speed of a quick release with the security and accuracy of a thru axle

Focus's innovative RAT - Rapid Axle Technology - thru axle combines the convenience and speed of a quick release with the security and accuracy of a thru axle (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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DT Swiss disc hubs and Ultegra Di2

DT Swiss disc hubs and Ultegra Di2 (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The drive side fixed insert that accepts the axle's T-pin, and is secured with a quarter turn before closing the quick release lever

The drive side fixed insert that accepts the axle's T-pin, and is secured with a quarter turn before closing the quick release lever (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Using the lever maintains familiarity with current systems, and helps foolproof the design, as if the T-pin isn't engaged properly, the lever cannot tighten

Using the lever maintains familiarity with current systems, and helps foolproof the design, as if the T-pin isn't engaged properly, the lever cannot tighten (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The left side of the fork with caliper mount, captive insert and 160mm disc rotor

The left side of the fork with caliper mount, captive insert and 160mm disc rotor (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The fork leg has a cutaway section for disc clearance

The fork leg has a cutaway section for disc clearance (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The DT Swiss RC38C db wheels are disc brake (db) specific, and the C designates that they're carbon clinchers, here fitted with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres

The DT Swiss RC38C db wheels are disc brake (db) specific, and the C designates that they're carbon clinchers, here fitted with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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A look at the rear dropout's new shaping

A look at the rear dropout's new shaping (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Non-drive side view of the Mares CX disc

Non-drive side view of the Mares CX disc (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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First ride testing of the Mares CX in the Hilversum 'cross rider's playground

First ride testing of the Mares CX in the Hilversum 'cross rider's playground (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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First test flight of the cantilever version

First test flight of the cantilever version (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The Mares CX inspires confidence when cornering hard

The Mares CX inspires confidence when cornering hard (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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About the only time we got ahead of the legendary Mike Kluge all day

About the only time we got ahead of the legendary Mike Kluge all day (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Shimano's R785 Di2 hydraulic levers have no groupset allegiance

Shimano's R785 Di2 hydraulic levers have no groupset allegiance (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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A Fizik stem, Di2 control box and hydraulic hose connectors for the Shimano brakes to ease servicing

A Fizik stem, Di2 control box and hydraulic hose connectors for the Shimano brakes to ease servicing (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The two frame models are differentiated by the UCI as MA for the canti version, and MADI for the Mares Disc

The two frame models are differentiated by the UCI as MA for the canti version, and MADI for the Mares Disc (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The new geometry includes a taller head tube than the old Mares model and internal cable routing

The new geometry includes a taller head tube than the old Mares model and internal cable routing (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The fork legs taper much more than before, and feature the rarely seen UCI fork certification decal

The fork legs taper much more than before, and feature the rarely seen UCI fork certification decal (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Fizik supply the aluminium bar, stem and seatpost as well as the saddle

Fizik supply the aluminium bar, stem and seatpost as well as the saddle (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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A fork crown mounted cable hanger and front Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilever

A fork crown mounted cable hanger and front Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilever (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The rear brake bridge is well above Dugast's finest for maximum mud clearance

The rear brake bridge is well above Dugast's finest for maximum mud clearance (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Decent clearance too at the bottom bracket and chainstay junction

Decent clearance too at the bottom bracket and chainstay junction (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Some classic cyclo-cross races are commemorated behind the head tube

Some classic cyclo-cross races are commemorated behind the head tube (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Front view of the chain guard showing how it widens

Front view of the chain guard showing how it widens (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The ISCG-05 standard mountings allow for other compatible designs to be fitted

The ISCG-05 standard mountings allow for other compatible designs to be fitted (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Left side view of the chain guide that protects the carbon frame as well as preventing chains unshipping on the inside

Left side view of the chain guide that protects the carbon frame as well as preventing chains unshipping on the inside (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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An early Mike Kluge race frame, built in conjunction with Alan, and using carbon and aluminium tubing. Note the internal cable routing, steel fork with Magura hydraulic brake, bar end front shifter and Sachs Ergopower rear shifter. Possibly also the first sighting of Kluge's brand name, Focus.

An early Mike Kluge race frame, built in conjunction with Alan, and using carbon and aluminium tubing. Note the internal cable routing, steel fork with Magura hydraulic brake, bar end front shifter and Sachs Ergopower rear shifter. Possibly also the first sighting of Kluge's brand name, Focus. (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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At 50, Mike Kluge is as passionate about his bikes as ever, and still very useful on a cyclo-cross bike

At 50, Mike Kluge is as passionate about his bikes as ever, and still very useful on a cyclo-cross bike (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Cutaway view of the Mares CX frame's PF30 bottom bracket area

Cutaway view of the Mares CX frame's PF30 bottom bracket area (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Cutaway view of the head tube area, showing the carbon headset bearing seats

Cutaway view of the head tube area, showing the carbon headset bearing seats (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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The seat tube cluster shows how the top tube and seat stays butt on to the seat tube

The seat tube cluster shows how the top tube and seat stays butt on to the seat tube (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Mike Kluge's test Mares CX was one of the few disc versions currently in existence

Mike Kluge's test Mares CX was one of the few disc versions currently in existence (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)
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Driving through a long bend in a long sandy section

Driving through a long bend in a long sandy section (Image credit: Robin Wilmott/BikeRadar)

This article originally published on BikeRadar

Focus has officially announced the all-new Mares CX cyclo-cross machine we first previewed last month. As it turns out, our initial speculations were spot-on. According to Focus, this new version is far lighter, rides more comfortably, handles more nimbly, and now comes with thru-axles for the disc brake variant.

Focus hasn't just shaved a few grams from the old Mares; the new model has gone on a bona fide crash diet. Claimed weight for the cantilever version is just 895g (56cm, painted) while the disc version is barely heavier at 922g – a decrease of more than 300g. The all-new matching carbon fork adds just 418g – more than 70g lighter than before.

Focus says the new model nevertheless maintains the old version's impressive stiffness while tempering its occasionally rough ride, too. Credit goes to the more finely tuned carbon lay-up, size-specific tubing diameters, the dramatically slimmer and fully split seat stays, and slimmer blades on the revamped fork (which retains a mid-sized 1 1/8-to-1 1/4in tapered steerer).

Interestingly, Focus has integrated ISCG-05 tabs into the bottom bracket shell and will include its own CX-specific inner chain guide that should virtually guarantee against drops to the inboard side.

Focus also incorporated more conventional contemporary features into the new frame such as convertible internal cable routing, molded-in carbon fiber bearing seats on the integrated headset, a PressFit 30 bottom bracket shell, and full carbon dropouts.

Compared to the current disc-compatible Mares CX, the new version is a more specific design with some trick new bits of its own: front and rear thru-axle dropouts with Focus-designed skewers that are actually quick to use. Unlike standard thru-axle skewers that need multiple rotations to thread in and out, Focus' Rapid Axle Technology (RAT) design uses an innovative T-pin interface that requires just a quarter-turn to engage and disengage, thus offering the security of competitors' systems but with the speed of old-school open dropouts.

Even better, Focus plans to integrate RAT into its upcoming disc road bikes

Standard 100x15mm and 142x12mm dimensions will allow for a wide range of compatible hubs and wheels but don't bother trying to fit 140mm rotors at either end of the new Mares CX because they won't fit. Citing studies done in conjunction with Magura on heat dissipation, Focus has opted to run 160mm rotors front and rear.

Focus has made some big changes in the Mares CX's geometry, too. While the outgoing model used a very low 70mm bottom bracket drop, the new version switches to a more middle-of-the-road 65mm figure to allow for more pedaling through corners plus extra clearance when attacking deep mud and sand. The size range also grows from four to six with additional options at either end to better suit shorter and taller riders, there's a constant 1.43 stack-to-reach ratio throughout for more consistent jumps from size to size, a constant 73.5 degree seat tube angle across the range, and the more realistic head tube lengths have grown 5-20mm depending on size. Just like the new Izalco Max road frame, the Mares CX follows Focus’s Stable Stiffness Per Size philosophy, with each frame size having a customized tube diameter and stiffness, which should better suit the rider’s build.

The final model range is due to be released in May/June, and for now, all we know is that there will be four complete bike models, and two framesets offered – one for discs, and one for cantilevers brakes.

The first bikes are expected to start arriving in shops in July, and as yet there is no information on prices, but we’ll bring it to you when it’s released.

Focus notably built ISCG-05 tabs into the bottom bracket shell for mounting this CX-specific chain guard

First ride report

With only a few pre-production disc-equipped Mares currently available, our test ride in Hoogerheide, home of the 2014 cyclo-cross Worlds, was on the cantilever model. Our 54cm Mares was kitted out with SRAM Red 22, DT Swiss RC38T wheels with 32mm Dugast Typhoon tubulars, Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilevers, aluminum Fizik bar, stem and seatpost plus a Fizik Aliante saddle. Including a pair of Time Atac pedals (290g), the complete bike weighed just 7.1kg/15.6lb.

Out of curiosity, we compared Mike Kluge’s disc version to see how it differed. As stated, the two models are only around 20 grams apart in frame weight, but Kluge’s machine was a size larger, at 56cm, and spec'ed with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and R785 hydraulic levers, with 160mm disc rotors on a pair of DT Swiss RC38C db carbon clinchers shod in Schwalbe Racing Ralph clinchers. It also had Fizik finishing kit, but a carbon seatpost, and all-up weight, including Kluge’s Crank Brothers Egg Beaters was 8.24kg/18.2lb, which considering the added weight of the disc system, Di2 battery and motors, clincher tyres and tubes, is pretty respectable. Built with top end kit, a total weight without pedals of under 7.5kg/16.5lb should be achievable.

With Focus founder Mike Kluge back in the fold and heavily involved in development and promotion, our test ride was already going to be special, but as well as the three-time cyclo-cross world champion, 2007 German ’cross champion, and now full-time Focus employee working on advanced carbon layup, Rene Birkenfeld joined us. And as if that wasn’t intimidating enough, 1990 World Champion Henk Baars was also there to show us how it’s done.

We’d been wondering why a German bike company was launching their latest cyclo-cross bike near Amsterdam, but when we set out in to the woods and common land around Hilversum, we understood. With hundreds of acres, and miles of trails comprising dirt, sand, mud and short sharp hills, the area is a cyclo-crosser's paradise.

Lightweight carbon wheels and tubular tyres can flatter any bike, but the new Mares is a ground-up reworking of an already competitive bike, and the wheels here were just the icing on a very satisfying cake. The new fork is a one-piece construction, and laterally very stiff, whilst maintaining comfort by tapering more than the old model. The head tube has been stiffened too, as has the bottom bracket area, which in the real world equates to urgent acceleration and accurate steering, two of the most important factors in ‘cross, where bike control and slow speed acceleration can determine a race.

In out-of-the-saddle sprints, the Mares can take all you’ve got, relentlessly surging towards the first corner, and the solid connection between front and back gives immense confidence that the bike will go where you want. Arriving at a technical corner, the front end is stable and precise under hard braking, allowing you to take the best line on entry, before firing it out again. Mike Kluge demonstrated the frame’s potential in his own inimitable way, by leading us down a steep slope, and turning hard right before the bottom, with all of his weight on the front wheel, while the rear hung in the air, and maintaining perfect control with his front disc brake. That level of balance takes both extreme talent and a fork that resists braking dive.

The taller head tube offers a far more usable position, requiring far fewer spacers for the average rider, which in turn aids front end solidity, and makes fine control more intuitive. At slow speeds, picking our way through rooty, uphill singletrack, we felt we had more time to change direction or lift the wheel over an obstacle, and when you want power, it’s there. The higher front end was equally beneficial when descending, as if you ride downhill in the drops – and you should – the less extreme position compared to the old Mares allows for better weight distribution, with less over the front wheel, which improves control.

The chain guard was completely unobtrusive throughout the ride, denying the chain any space inside the chainrings to jump in to. Either it worked perfectly, or all 30 of us on the test ride were very careful to avoid possible chain unshipping (we weren’t), but one thing’s for sure, there’s no disadvantage to running one, as there’s no hint of rub even under full load, it’s barely visible from most angles, and it weighs next to nothing. No doubt someone will construct a carbon version before long…

Comfort isn’t a criteria often considered highly in a cyclo-cross bike, as large-volume ’cross tyres at low pressures create the majority of the cushioning effect. But on long stretches of partly frozen mud churned up by equestrian traffic, the Mares was surprisingly good at soaking up the constant hits and vibration, with no noticeable loss of steering control.

The Kluge masterclass in riding long stretches of soft, deep sand in a straight line or around bends showed how useful the raised bottom bracket height is, as especially when turning a bike that’s drifting sideways in the sand, you don’t want to be catching a pedal and losing control. A couple of run-ups showed the value of the internal cable routing, saving us from grabbing a handful of cable along with the frame tubes, and definitely improving the look of the bike. The gear cables do pass beneath the bottom bracket shell, but are protected by a bolt-on cover to keep the elements out. We can’t comment on the long-term performance of this, but it should be a good thing.

After almost three hours of blasting around the test playground, we were still keen to continue. The cantilever Mares CX is one of the most accomplished modern cyclo-cross bike we’ve tested so far, and a very worthwhile replacement of the old Mares platform. We’ll swing our leg over a disc-equipped version later in the year, and expect it to be at least as exciting.