Focus Black Forest Expert review

A light, lively and well equipped all-rounder with practical spec

BikeRadar score4/5

Designed and built in Germany, sold by UK mail order giant Wiggle and delivered direct to your door in a very big box, the Expert sits in the middle of the three-bike Black Forest range. It's a racey bike that’s ideal if you’re looking for pure cross-country speed over hardcore performance on gnarlier trails. But a pair of meatier treads are all that’s needed to turn it into something with a lot more attitude.

Ride & handling: A great option if speed is your priority

The Expert accelerates and climbs quickly thanks to a combination of low weight (11.5kg/25.4lb) and fast rolling tyres. The 24in riser bar and comfortably neutral ride position ensure that handling is good on almost any type of trail and the Manitou R7 Super fork can handle pretty much anything you ride it on. 

Unfortunately, the fork’s linear compression feel combines with the steep head angle to make things a little nervous on quick descents with drops, so you get used to spending a lot of time off the back of the saddle. 

A parts run-down suggests that it’s superb value for money, which is no surprise as it’s sold direct from the importer. If you don’t mind web-buying over testing it at your local dealer, you’ll be pleased to know that the ride backs up the parts package. It’s a great option if speed is your priority.

Focus black forest expert: focus black forest expert
Focus black forest expert: focus black forest expert

Frame: Light and strong, but unnecessary brake bosses spoil tidy lines

At first glance the Black Forest frame seems like a standard 6061 aluminium offering, but there are plenty of subtle tweaks here to create an even lighter, stronger structure. 

The top tube and down tube morph from round to oval in order to create big weld areas and a laterally stiff centre where they join the seat tube and bottom bracket shell. A ring-reinforced head tube is gusseted into the underside of the down tube and a 1in spacer stack offers good stem height adjustment. 

The seat and chainstays offer lots of room for big tyres and heel clearance, but the generally tidy lines are not flattered by cantilever brake bosses on a bike that has disc brake-only rims. It’s rounded off by two pairs of bottle cage bosses and a quick-release seat clamp.

Shimano’s slx crankset is a worthy alternative to xt: shimano’s slx crankset is a worthy alternative to xt
Shimano’s slx crankset is a worthy alternative to xt: shimano’s slx crankset is a worthy alternative to xt

Equipment: Impressive brakes, excellent drivetrain and fast wheels and tyres

The Manitou R7 Super fork offers 100mm (3.94in) of well controlled travel, with decent rebound damping and a leg top lockout lever that’s great for climbs if you flick it all the way on, but causes an irritating knocking sound if you only turn it part way. 

Shimano’s new SLX drivetrain parts provide manufacturers with a worthy, low-cost alternative on bikes around this price. They’re put to good use here, and sensible crankset trimming has allowed Focus to fit a pair of XT gear mechs. Our test bike had LX shifters, but spec lists say Deore should be fitted. Either way, shifting was slick throughout the test period.

The wheels aren’t the lightest but the Shimano hubs are a much better option than the anonymous ones that often crop up as a cost-cutting measure in this price category, and the Expert’s Alex XO rims seem tougher than many other lightweight variants. 

Big profile 2.2in Race King treads from Continental provide comfort and shock absorption because of their big air chambers, but the low profile knobs are built to be ridden fast. The downside is that they’re not all that great in slippery mud and any overzealous hard cornering soon finds the limits of their traction.

 Avid Elixir brakes are great stoppers, and the finishing kit is good quality from Focus’s house brand Concept.

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