We’ll get the basics of this bike out of the way first. It’s got 29er wheels. It’s got a carbon frame. It has no suspension at all. Some people say Germans don’t have a sense of humour. Anyone who’s been there knows that’s simply not true – and this bike is the proof of that.
On the face of it, this is a bike designed for the kind of marathon riding that’s highly popular on the continent. Think endless miles of fireroad, only broken by trails of moderate to low technical difficultly. Thinking in that way, the Focus makes a huge amount of sense. The carbon frame, rigid fork, fast rolling stock and minimalist 1x drivetrain keep mass to a minimum and efficiency to a maximum.
A sense of urgency
Here’s our video review of the raven max, complete with trail dog action
Stomp on the pedals and every single watt of power is fired through the carbon SRAM crankset, along the chain and thence to the rear wheel with an urgency that defies metaphor. It’s fast. Really, really fast. Riding local climbs without any particular sense of urgency left us higher up the Strava leaderboard than ever before.
Go at it with intention and no matter how hard you pedal, the bike feels like it still wants to gain speed – it’s just the meat sack on the saddle that’s holding it back.
The rigid carbon fork is suspension corrected and has a neat 15mm quick-release through axle: the rigid carbon fork is suspension corrected and has a neat 15mm quick-release through axle
The rigid carbon fork is suspension corrected and has a neat 15mm quick-release through axle
It’s surprisingly comfortable too, despite the seeming lack of mod cons. Focus is well known for making fantastic-feeling carbon frames and the Raven is no exception. Highly sculpted and shaped tubes add stiffness in the right places but allow give in others. It’s also got neat quick-release thru-axles at either end to keep the big wheels under control.
The frame is single ring specific too, allowing the chainstays to be drawn in tighter, so the handling is far from barge like. Because of that low weight, we doubt you’ll ever really miss a multi-ring setup with the 10-42t range of the X01 gearing, even on steep and extended hauls.
To be honest, this isn’t the sort of bike you buy if you spend most of your climbing life spinning away in a low gear. It’s much more of a “get out the saddle and make blood come from your nose” kind of companion.
The 27.2mm post offers plenty of extra give, especially with this arched head design: the 27.2mm post offers plenty of extra give, especially with this arched head design
The 27.2mm post offers plenty of extra give, especially with this arched head design
Surprisingly from such a focused (sorry) machine, the geometry isn’t of the ‘so sharp you can cut yourself’ variety, with a relatively slack 69-degree head angle head angle, 74-degree seat angle and respectable 450mm reach for a size Large frame. Interestingly, Focus actually adjusts the stiffness of the frame as you go up in sizes so that smaller sized bikes are comfortable for lighter riders yet the larger frames are stiff enough to cope with the extra bulk of a taller rider.
A 1x specific frame and flattened seat tube allow tighter chainstays and more mud clearance: a 1x specific frame and flattened seat tube allow tighter chainstays and more mud clearance
A 1x specific frame and flattened seat tube allow tighter chainstays and more mud clearance
Essentially, this thing is like a supercar. Blindingly fast, surprisingly luxurious despite the single-minded purpose and pretty expensive too. Well, like a supercar in all but one way and that’s grip.
The Continental Race King 2.2in treads are certainly fast rolling, but show them some wet rock or mud and they let go of everything faster than a compulsive gambler. Some of that’s the cheap, hard compound, but most of it’s down to the complete lack of shoulder for cornering bite and densely packed tread.
Broad chainstays give very direct power delivery from the single ring drivetrain: broad chainstays give very direct power delivery from the single ring drivetrain
Broad chainstays give very direct power delivery from the single ring drivetrain
While the frame has a degree of compliance, hitting stutter bumps or roots bounces you up into the air where, as everyone knows, braking or steering doesn’t work. Trying to get this bike down a greasy, rooty trail verges on the suicidal. In fact, a good summation of this bike is that it’s like being sat next to that guy in a bar that’s all friendship and flattery one minute and then suddenly decides you’ve insulted him and tries to kick your head in.
Good luck trying to apply the full force of the Avid Guide brakes too – all that happens is that your vision goes blurry as you ricochet off the ground more violently and the tyres slew around like the arm of someone searching for their alarm clock the morning after a particularly heavy night out.
Mad, bad and dangerous to know
Neatly shaped stays give add a little give to the rear end: neatly shaped stays give add a little give to the rear end
Neatly shaped stays give add a little give to the rear end
That means it’s awful then, right? Well, no. Much like any dangerous activity, the Raven is frequently terrifying but also makes you feel very alive, even if you’re aware that it might be all too brief.
Of course, if you enjoy things like grip over rougher terrain, being able to corner in the wet – or are averse to having all the joints in your body slowly turned to dust on descents – then the bike is suspension corrected so you can fit one of those new-fangled moving forks. A more aggressive front tyre is a must for anything but dry hardpack too. You’ll probably want some fatter grips than the slim lock-ons fitted while we’re at it, simply for a little dash of comfort.
Okay, in reality this bike has, probably, simply been designed to stick to those hard-packed, hard-paced marathons. It’s much more fun though to imagine the meeting where, after speccing the rest of the Raven range sensibly, someone piped up and suggested taking Focus’s most advanced cross-country chassis and making it into this utterly bonkers, flawed but fantastic machine. The world is a better place because they did.