If there was one bike that blindsided us is this year's Trail Bike of the Year awards, it was the SAM from Focus.
While there’s much more to bike geometry than head angles, they’re a dominating aspect of handling DNA. Sitting on the Focus with the front axle way out ahead of the bars – courtesy of a downhill-slack 65-degree head angle – it’s plain the German company has taken the gravity performance of this new bike very seriously.
Video: Focus SAM 2.0
Frame and equipment: control freakery
The big flat bars and short stem are an aggressive combination that keeps you low and directly connected, so you can drive the front wheel as hard as possible. The top quality soft-compound Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres are fattened up by Reynolds’ new wide-rimmed AM wheels, while an internally-routed KS Lev Integra dropper post lets you get suitably low behind the flat bars. Add a suspension setup that likes to hunker down into corners and the SAM is glued to the ground, with grip levels that tamed even the loosest of Finale’s corners.
A super-steep 75-degree seat angle from the extended, externally braced seatpost puts rider weight well forward too, so there’s no danger of the front wheel washing out if you’re pedalling through the turns. You can guarantee climbing grip and line obedience even more by flicking the travel on the TALAS fork down to 140mm to grind up the steep stuff.
Sticky tyres and slack geometry – the SAM 2.0 corners like it’s on rails
While the frame is on the sturdy side, the good value XT-based kit on this 2.0 model means the complete bike is competitive on weight with similarly gravity-focused trail bikes. There is one obvious obstacle to rapid climbing besides the tacky tyres, though, and that’s rider position.
Ride and handling: have it large
While the wheelbase is as long as most bikes, the distance between the seat and those low-set bars is comically short. You’re going to have to size up if you want even the slightest amount of breathing space rather than a bike that feels like it’s stuck the grips to your knees. Or you can do what everyone who jumped on the Focus in Finale did – resign yourself to plodding or pushing up climbs, and just let it rip on the descents.
Despite concerns about unproven dampers, the Magura shocks on all three SAMs we’ve ridden have been fine. There’s initial stubbornness, but that damps pedal bob and, once moving, it has an impressively smooth (if generously linear) feel that’s great for sustaining speed through big rocks and stuttery roots.
The SAM is long and low, making gravity-fuelled adventures a blast. It ploughs through rough terrain at speed, while handling technical trails with confidence.
It does blow through off big drops, which shows up twist in the rear end, but it always collects control straight after touchdown. It’s only the mid-stroke choke of the Evolution-damped Fox 34 fork that holds it back at full chat.
The slack angle and forward weight focus mean, though, that even this isn’t as big a deal as normal, and the Focus SAM more than deserves its place in the 2014 top five.