We first saw Focus’s FOLD linkage on the O1E and JAM XC trail bikes launched back in 2016, and since we’ve seen the linkage system appear on the JAM² and SAM² e-MTBs. So it was only a matter of time before it arrived on its longer travel SAM platform.
What is Focus's FOLD suspension?
FOLD stands for Focus Optimized Linkage Design, and is a system that has impressed us at BikeRadar in the past. The linkage is digressive towards the 30 percent sag point, and then has a progressive attitude after that, towards full travel.
Focus claims that the FOLD linkage is super supple at the start of the stroke, and then controlled towards the end — this, Focus says, boosts control and can help prevent rim damage. It also says that the suspension travel of the rear triangle feels longer than it is.
There are other claimed benefits of the FOLD linkage. The rear triangle has no pivots near the rear axle, lowering weight, while the hardware is all central in the bike — the ideal place for weight.
The two links at the top of the shock are integral to the feel of the bike too, says Focus. With the Main Link connecting the frame to the shock, and the Guide Link connecting the rear triangle to the frame, Focus says that it's been able to engineer different stiffnesses in to the links to give the perfect balance between chassis stiffness and flex for a ride that’s perfectly balanced.
These are clearly quite big claims, and ones which arguably are hard to prove or disprove, assuming the bike rides well. More on that later.
The Focus SAM frames
The bikes, across the range, will have a variety of frame materials and builds. There will be carbon/carbon, carbon/alloy and alloy/alloy versions (front / rear triangle).
Through improved construction techniques, and the move to the FOLD linkage (with a lighter rear triangle) Focus claims to have cut 400g from a medium frameset, bringing it down to 2,337g (no shock).
The full carbon framesets are made from a total of 411 individual pieces of carbon and metal.
There’s also now room for a bottle cage, the bikes are 1x drivetrain compatible only, there are shorter seat tubes for a given size to allow for longer dropper posts (or sizing up…) and there’s ISCG05 mounts too.
Focus will only be offering the SAM in Small, Medium and Large. While Focus says that the SAM is its enduro bike, the 170mm of travel isn’t matched by what many would consider ‘enduro’ geometry — the geometry chart looks more like one from a traditional trail bike.
The Large has a reach of 460mm with short 428mm chainstays. Combined with the (slack) 64.8-degree head angle, this gives a wheelbase of 1,221mm. The bottom bracket drops 13mm below the axles and the seat tube sits at 75 degrees.
The Focus SAM range
Focus has a new naming nomenclature, it’s relatively standard fare though. Take the SAM 9.9. The first ‘9’ denotes that this is its top-level carbon frameset with carbon front and rear, and there’s an 8 (carbon front, alloy rear) and will also be two levels of alloy frame.
The second ‘9’ denotes the build — higher numbers mean higher spec components and corresponding prices. The SAM 9.9 is therefore top of the SAM tree.
Focus will be launching the SAM with 9.9 and 8.9 models, more will follow.
Focus SAM 9.9
This is the top-level bike in the range with carbon front and rear triangles. It comes with a RockShox Lyrik RC2 fork at 170mm, and a matching Super Deluxe RCT shock.
The drivetrain comes from SRAM, with the 12-speed GX Eagle group along with the Truvative Descendant Carbon crank. There’s a Reverb and Guide RSC brakes too.
The bike rolls on a set of RaceFace Turbine wheels with Maxxis High Roller II front and Minion DHR rear tyres, both 2.5in wide. Finishing kit comes from BBB and Prologo.
Focus SAM 8.9
The SAM 8.9 has a carbon front triangle with an alloy rear. Up front there’s a Fox 36 Float Rhythm fork with the GRIP damper, and there’s a Fox Van Performance shock.
SRAM’s GX Eagle drives the bike, while Guide R brakes stop it. There’s a KS E30i dropper, Focus saddle and BBB cockpit. DT Swiss provides the E1900 wheels and Maxxis the 2.5in wide HighRoller II front and Minion DHR tyres.
Focus SAM 9.9 early ride impressions
The launch event for the bike was only short, with time for half a day’s riding in a manicured bike park with an uplift. So, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from the time I spent on the SAM 9.9. However, Focus will be sending me a SAM very soon, so I’ll be have some further impressions to bring you then.
I did little climbing on the bike, other than a quick spin to the start of the trails. As with the vast majority of bikes, mashing on the pedals results in some pedal bob, but when seated, it seems relatively well behaved.
As alluded to, the geometry is pretty short, and that’s noticeable when the trail descends. The short back-end combines with the shorter front to give a bike that feels relatively small — some won’t mind this sizing though, because it feels agile and manoeuvrable, even on flat, tight trails — something super-long bikes can often lack, especially if they’re sporting 170mm of travel.
If you are looking for a raked-out enduro race bike, you might want to look elsewhere. That said, treat it like a long-travel trail bike, or one destined to spend time in the bike park popping over jumps, and you may get on well with the bike’s shape.
The rear suspension is effectively a single pivot with a linkage actuated shock, manipulated to give the regressive then progressive stroke. At the recommended 30 percent sag, and with most of the shock’s low speed compression damping wound on, I found the bike too linear, pushing quickly through the second two thirds of its travel very quickly.
Adding pressure helped, but I felt that out of the box it needed more volume spacers — something I’ll play with later. Fortunately, the bottom out itself isn’t harsh.
As with other single pivots, under braking the suspension stiffens up a touch, though it rarely kicked when hitting square edges under braking. While this compromises braking traction a bit, it does help you get the back end stepping out through corners, and we all know that’s fun.
Fortunately, that sub 65-degree head angle means there’s enough bike in front of you, just, to keep things in control.
Kit wise, on the 9.9 there's not masses to say. It's generally all good stuff. SRAM's gearing, suspension and dropper are among the best on the market, though the use of a Guide brake on such a bike is a little misguided perhaps — a Code would be a better match.
The 55mm stem is a touch long, perhaps, and not everyone got on with the bar's shape, but that's a largely personal thing.
Needless to say, when I have the bike on home trails I’ll be doing a lot more climbing and descending to see how it performs, and probably with an extra volume spacer or two in the shock.