If you judge a bike solely by the frame, the fork and componentry attached, it’s hard to fault the Focus – it's one of the best specced bikes we’ve seen at £850. The ride is competent, to the point of being among the very best in the price category, but it’s up against one or two others that feel sprightlier and more fun on the trail.
Ride & handling: Good all-rounder but lacks the on-trail spark of the best bikes at this price
While the overall ride personality of the Black Forest is conﬁdently neutral and without issue in handling terms, it feels slightly less animated than the best bikes at this price when under pressure. You can feel the small amount of extra heft on the climbs and the spacey-knobbed tyres drag a bit on hard surfaces.A plus side is that the treads grip well, especially in the wet.
The super-stiff back end makes its presence felt over hard edged bumps, but that can be tamed by replacing the basic saddle with one offering a bit more support, or running bigger, softer tyres. The low 11.5in bottom bracket height will be an issue for many riders though, and not only when pedalling through bumpy corners – there were times when we were hitting the pedals on rocks or roots on technical climbs.
These are minor gripes but they tend to conspire to make it a less conﬁdent and less comfortable ride than the best bikes at this price, and that has to be considered against the superb parts spec.
Frame: Built with an emphasis on toughness over weight saving
At 12.33kg (27.4lb), the Focus isn't the lightest bike at this price, and part of that heft is in the frame. While the Black Forest is in Focus’s Sport Pro Series and the mainframe tubes are double-butted aluminium, it’s a very sturdily built offering, capable of taking a fair amount of abuse. That’s in no way a criticism: Focus back up their performance conﬁdence by using the same frame on the Black Forest 3.0 selling at £350 more.
The hydroformed tubes are conservatively formed compared to some brand rivals, with efﬁcient straight lines getting the upper hand over fancy curves. Ovalised sections are used to boost strength where appropriate and there’s a big reinforcing gusset behind the head tube.
Equipment: You're unlikely to ﬁnd a better fork or drivetrain on a bike in this price range
The Recon fork is among the heaviest RockShox air forks for normal trail use, but its 100mm of travel is smoothly controlled, with efﬁcient rebound damping adjustment and a handlebar-mounted lockout control that’s easy to set up to leave a small amount of compression for minor bumps.
The Shimano XT 30-speed drivetrain is an obvious highlight on a bike at this price. The gear range is as much as anyone could need and SLX shifters are superb, slick and precise at all times. Tektro’s Draco brakes may be seen as a budget-cutting move on paper but they’re powerful, well modulated and have a 180mm rotor up front to boost speedy slowing in poor conditions.
The wheels are above average for a bike at this price too: DT Swiss XR3500 rims on Focus’s own Concept hubs. They’re shod with Continental’s Mountain King 2.2in treads, which are all-rounders that roll fast and grip well in most conditions. Focus own-brand Concept ﬁnishing kit is all nicely made stuff but no one found the slimline saddle very comfy and a couple of riders expressed a preference for a wider handlebar than the 25in one ﬁtted.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.