It might have just 120mm of travel at either end, but Focus has gone against the grain with its new budget full sus platform by giving it the geometry you’d expect to see on a much harder hitting bike. That means that despite the relatively small price tag, the Focus Vice Pro is more than capable of putting a serious squeeze on rivals.
- Boardman Team FS 27.5 review
- Best mountain bike: how to choose the right one for you
- Focus Bikes reviews and buying advice
A virtuous heart
There are three bikes in the Vice range with this Pro spec model being the most affordable. All share the same single pivot aluminium frame and this is definitely a good thing. For a start, it’s got bang up to date Boost 148 wheel spacing at the back end and thanks to a single ring only design, the rear triangle is braced on both sides and that single pivot has a nice wide stance, meaning that there’s very little waggle from the back end.
Compared to many rivals, this is extremely noticeable once you start pushing hard into corners, where the bike feels impressively solid and tracks true through terrain that has weaker willed machines clattering and twanging off line.
That feeling of capability is compounded by some decidedly aggro geometry. With a reach of 440mm in the medium and 460mm in the large — the only sizes available sadly — it’s decently spacious with plenty of room to move about when climbing or descending.
The nicely steep 75-degree seat angle makes the most of that space when you’re seated too, naturally making you weight the front wheel which improves grip and stops the front end getting away from you when climbing. A 67-degree head angle isn’t extreme but offers decent stability, especially as the relatively short travel doesn’t allow the bike to get drastically steeper under compression. Add in the low slung bottom bracket and you’ve got a bike that allows novice riders to flourish without fear and the more experienced to really push on.
Because Focus sells through traditional bike shops, the kit on the Vice isn’t as shiny as you’d get on a direct sales rival, though it does mean you get in-person set up and advice. Despite being at a disadvantage there, the bike has a very well thought out selection of kit for the most part.
The SRAM NX drivetrain sports 11 gears, though it uses an 11-42T cassette on a conventional hub driver body, slightly restricting range compared to the more expensive SRAM 1x transmissions. Combined with a 30T chainring up front, it wasn’t noticeable in normal use however. Elsewhere, the own-brand Concept dropper seatpost offers 120mm of travel and proved to be reliable during our test period, even if the bar mounted remote is a bit sticky. It’s another string to the Vice’s bow to have one fitted out of the box and the same goes for the cockpit, which has a thoroughly modern 50mm stem and low-rise 760mm handlebar while a set of decent lock-on grips and comfortable saddle round out the contact points.
The Shimano M396 brakes have a rather large and unwieldy lever and use resin pads that aren’t that full of bite but they do their best to haul you up in a decent manner. The own brand wheels have a wide rim that gives good shape to the tyres, but the cup and cone bearings of the rear hub on our test bike came loose, which is definitely something you'd want to keep an eye on.
Russian roulette rubber
The biggest issue by far is the quite incredibly sketchy Continental Mountain King rubber. It might have plenty of volume, and the reasonably broad internal width of the rims make it much less prone to roll and flop than it would otherwise be, but in wet conditions the over-round profile and hard compound make every root and rock a case of Russian roulette. Hit one at the wrong angle and you'll be picking dirt out of your face before you know it. It really undermines the otherwise planted feel of the bike and seriously limits how hard you can push on descents, which is a real shame as the well sorted chassis definitely wants to egg you on.
The fork might be an air sprung RockShox Recon Silver RL with basic damping, but it’s impressively well controlled and respectably stiff thanks to a 15mm thru-axle and Boost spacing. Combined with a RockShox Deluxe R shock and a back end that’s neutral under pedalling but progressive enough to take decent sized drops in its stride and you’ve got a well rounded and very capable trail bike.
Although good geometry and suspension design don’t cost a thing, many bikes at this price point still get it wrong so it’s full credit to Focus for not pandering to preconceptions that bikes at this price should have tall and steep geometry to better suit less experienced riders. Okay, at 14.2kg it's a bit heftier than the lightest but a lot of that is down to the steel legs of the fork and cheaper kit, but it's still a very well mannered machine for all day work.
Grumbles with the tyres aside, the Vice Pro is an excellent companion whether you’re just getting into mountain biking or are looking to upgrade. While the kit list isn’t going to give the likes of Canyon a run for its money, when it comes to handling the Vice really will give bikes that cost quite a bit more money a tough time on the trails, meaning that as a long term prospect it could well be a winner.