Intended for enduro racing, the Focus First inspires full-tilt efforts both up and down Dale.
The Focus First – it stands for ‘Focus Integrated Rear Suspension Technology, doncha know – just squeezes into the ‘mid-travel’ category by virtue of offering 109mm (4.29in) of rear wheel travel.
However – for reasons best left in Teutonic obscurity – it actually offers more travel than Focus’s all-mountain designs. But, more importantly, it’s an interesting counterpoint to the trend for more and more travel in all-day trail bikes. Is 109mm enough?
Ride: eager for go-faster action but no slouch downhill
With a big weight advantage over similar longer-travel bikes in this test, it’s clear that the Focus is going to offer something different. The stretched cockpit, 100mm fork and eager feel of the rigid chassis all hint at a bike designed to cover ground quickly.
Stomp on the pedals and it squirts forward with an eagerness that its burlier counterparts can’t hold a candle to. Climbs are dispatched in bigger gears and singletrack is viewed through an endorphin-spiked haze of frantic pedalling.
The well matched air-sprung front and rear end stick the Focus’s light rubber treads to the ground without losing rider feedback. Riders used to the ‘connected’ feel of a hardtail will love it.
None of this whippet-like speed comes at the expense of downhill prowess. While the Focus can’t match the solidity of heavier competitors with more travel, it flies through rough sections with fluidity and poise.
Sure, you’ll be hauling on the anchors earlier than your friends on 140mm (5.5in) bikes, but they’ll be behind you anyway, because you’ll have reached the top first.
Chassis: elegant and connected
The Focus First is an elegant bike. In a feat of engineering genius, Focus’s designers have created one of the very few full suspension bikes that looks convincingly like a hardtail from a distance… if you squint.
Nestling the RockShox Monarch shock at the rear of the top tube looks neat and keeps it clear of mud and water thrown up by the back wheel. It’s also one of very few full sussers that can be relatively comfortably thrown over a shoulder for carrying on unrideable sections of trail.
There’s even room for two water bottle mounts inside the main triangle. The shock looks easy to remove for servicing (we had no reason to do so in our test), and a rotating air valve makes adjusting pressure easy – although ours came loose and developed a leak.
The organic curves of the carbon main frame contribute to the bike’s good looks, and internal cable routing prevents cluttering up the clean lines with unsightly lengths of housing – although this does mean some fiddly cable replacement.
The rear end is more conventional, with aluminium stays joined via oversized Horst link pivots. Focus uses needle bearings instead of ball races, citing the fact that they’re better at coping with radial forces. The whole lot is finished in a way that complements the clean lines, although aesthetically minded riders may find the oversized rocker pivot clamp bolts clunky.
Holding up the front of all this swoopy, carbon-flavoured loveliness is 100mm (3.93in) of RockShox Recon Race fork. It’s got all the adjustable bells and whistles, including a bar-mounted remote lockout for riders who feel that reducing bob on sprints and climbs is a good thing. As 100mm forks go, it’s a good ‘un, serving up the full range of its travel in an entirely invisible, smooth and fuss-free way. The one fly in the ointment is miserly brake arch mud clearance – though it’s not as bad as on the Bionicon.
Equipment: fit for enduro-racing purpose
There are hints of the Focus’s intended enduro race market in many of the spec choices, from the narrow (but comfy) saddle to the shallow treaded (but comfy and grippy) Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres.
Mavic CrossRide disc wheels add a pimpy touch, while all the stop-and-go parts – from Magura brakes to SRAM-based transmission – work well. Like the frame, it’s all intended to blend reasonable weight with adequate strength and durability.