Previous bikes we’ve seen from German company Focus have blended competent performance with good specs and a tempting price ticket. The Northern Lite aims to continue that trend with a spec sheet that ticks all the right boxes and a pricetag that won’t empty your wallet.
Building a good bike isn’t rocket science, but the best bikes are far more than the sum of their parts and these days it’s not enough to bolt decent components to a reasonable frame and expect to come up with a winner. Unfortunately, that appears to be the route that Focus have taken.
Ride & handling: Good beginner appeal, but ride is harsh and noisy in rough conditions
Put a new rider on this bike and they’ll be delighted – the short ride position isn’t as intimidating as the stretched out cockpits of some of the Focus’s rivals. But raise your expectations above newbie level and the cracks begin to show.
That short ride position – the result of a compact top tube and relatively stubby stem – quickly becomes a cramped nuisance, while the slightly sub-par performance of the fork and brakes leaves a niggling feeling that the bike’s holding you back. Which, in fact, it probably is.
The frame is the real disappointment. It delivers a harsh, choppy ride exaggerated by the rear mech’s tendency to clatter noisily on rough descents.
The short wheelbase and cramped rider cockpit don’t make life onboard the Northern Lite easy or comfortable through rough trail sections, and it’s all too easy to end up feeling as though you’re fighting it rather than riding it.
Throw in the miserly mud clearance and dated design, and it becomes hard to recommend the Focus above the competition.
Although it’s well built, it isn’t just about quality of construction – it’s also about good design. The Northern Lite would have passed muster a few years ago, but it’s badly in need of a makeover.
Frame: Solid but dated design with miserly mud clearance
Multi-profiled tubesets have become so commonplace on aluminium-framed bikes these days, it’s a shock to the system to come across a bike that hasn’t had every tube shapeshifted.
The Focus’s chassis is almost retro in its appearance, with not a single hydroformed tube and – an increasingly rare sight – a good ol’ fashioned welded reinforcing gusset at the head tube and down tube junction.
There’s nothing wrong with this straightforward approach, though it arguably reduces the Northern Lite owner’s trail head bragging rights.
The down tube flares where it meets the bottom bracket to reduce flex under hard pedalling, so big gear mashers are well catered for. Mud pluggers won’t be so impressed though – the slender and unfashionably straight seatstays and chainstays have distinctly miserly mud clearance.
There’s only room for a single set of bottle mounts on the medium sized frame, but commuters and tourers will be pleased to discover a full set of very neat rack mounts at the rear. The airy dropouts look very tidy, but the same can’t be said of the redundant rim brake bosses, which may hint at how long this design has been around.
Equipment: Sticky fork, but decent transmission and own-brand finishing kit
RockShox’s Tora fork is usually a reliable budget bump muncher, but our test sample felt sticky in its first few millimetres of travel. There was a noticeable gritty feel over small trail undulations, which detracted slightly from the fork’s otherwise reasonable performance.
Lighter riders may also want to consider a switch to a lighter spring than the stock one – we struggled to extract more than 70 percent of full travel out of ours, despite some spirited riding on rocky descents.
Elsewhere, Shimano and SRAM components are combined in a slick-shifting transmission and the full complement of own-brand Concept SL finishing kit looks good and works well.
The Tektro hydraulic discs combine utilitarian looks with good stopping power, although the long lever blades have a rather wooden feel that makes fine control a little tricky.
The tektro hydraulic disc brakes have plenty of power on tap but the lever feel is wooden and lacks modulation: the tektro hydraulic disc brakes have plenty of power on tap but the lever feel is wooden and lacks modulationSteve Behr