Understated, hard-wearing paint job? Check. Sensible, functional equipment? Check. Sturdy, pothole-proof wheels? Check. The Focus Arriba certainly ticks all the boxes we’d expect for an urban bike, but it does so at a price point where it’s going to face plenty of competition from rivals bedecked with a variety of kit for a variety of roles. If you want hub gears, or multi-purpose Mtb geometry and wheels, you’re well served at around £400; similarly, you can take your pick of 700c-wheeled townsters.
The Focus, then, has its work cut out – can it carve out a niche in what’s becoming an increasingly crowded marketplace? At first glance the Focus looks like its cloth is cut for the faster end of the commuter market, but how does the ride compare to the looks?
Frame 8 Solid, faultless build The plain gauge aluminium frame weighs in at 2kg, so it’s no lightweight. There’s no need for triple butted tubes the thickness of a beer can on a bike like this, though, and it’s faultlessly constructed, wearing the semimatt black finish that we’ve all come to know and expect from our urban steeds.
The wheelbase is reasonably long at 106cm, and there’s plenty of cockpit room. But despite its streaky looks, the riding position is more upright than you might expect for the frame size.
The matching fork is also aluminium, and it’s impressively stiff: the fork and strong wheels virtually eliminate brake rub when climbing out of the saddle. While we’re on the subject of flex, there’s very little in evidence at the bottom bracket either, the oversized and ovalised down-tube ensuring a very effective transfer of leg power. There are all the fittings for full mudguards, and rack mounts at the rear too. Curiously there’s only one bottle cage mount, with the usual seat tube bolts omitted.
Rock solid stability
It might be the longish wheelbase and reasonably slack head-tube. It might be the solid frame and fork combination. It might be the slightly overweight wheels doing their gyroscopic thing. Whatever it is, this is one of the surest footed and most neutral handling bikes I’ve ever ridden. Whether it’s nipping through town on office business, pootling along a bike path or streaking down a dangerous descent on a dubious surface, it’s pretty much unflappable.
Despite the short stem it’s not the fastest handling bike; this may not suit the die-hard traffic dodgers, but if you’re after a bike that’ll go where it’s put with the minimum of fuss, then you won’t go far wrong here. The 24lb all-in weight means that it’s fairly fast even on longer rides, and comfort-wise, the bike is a lot more forgiving than the plain gauge tubing and alloy fork would suggest. Some of this is definitely down to the big Schwalbe tyres. If you fitted a rack you’d have a very capable light touring machine, given the limitations of the single bottle cage mount, that we’ve mentioned, and some of the equipment choices, that we’re coming to…
Solid choices, some reservations
I’m well aware that I’m no superman, and that hills are always going to hurt. That said, I’m very much an advocate of lower gearing, especially on bikes like this one. In an urban environment, where this bike is designed to be ridden, there’s scant use for the 117in gear that a 52/12 ratio gives you. And if you regularly take your laptop/shopping/child home, and home is up any kind of hill, you’ll more than likely be dipping into the lower reaches of this bike’s range fairly often.
I won’t turn my nose up at any triple chainset, and the FSA Vero specced here, spinning on an unbranded square taper bottom bracket, is stiff and assured when shifting. However, an 11-23 cassette is something I’d fit to my TT iron, not my town bike. I swapped it out for a standard 11-28 mountain bike cassette and it was a big improvement. My own 700c urban bike wears an Mtb triple and a 12-25 road cassette, which in my opinion is a more sensible set-up for a bike of this genre, and one seen on some of the Arriba’s competitors. Given that the stable and neutral ride characteristics of the Focus would endear it to the light touring fraternity, all the more reason to revisit those ratios.
Other equipment is all solid and sensible. The Black Comp seatpost, stem and bars are all well finished and functional, and it’s good to see a generous stack of washers on the headset for stem height adjustments. The Shimano STR221 integrated levers take a bit of getting used to, as the finger release position is a little high. They work well, though, with a positive action. Braking duties fall to a set of superb Avid SD-3s, which have bags of power and modulation. The Velo saddle is firm without being uncomfortable, and the alloy/resin pedals are serviceable units if you’re not planning to bring your own. All in all, there’s no faulting the level of equipment offered for the money.
Heavyish hoops, big tyres
Bikes at this price tend to err on the side of caution with their wheel choices. After all, the urban environment is strewn with traps for the unwary bike wheel; all that pothole jumping and kerb hopping would soon take their toll on a really lightweight set of hoops. Having said that, the wheels on the Focus are probably a bit heavier than they need to be, especially when you consider the fact that they’re sporting fairly big tyres which will do a lot of the bump-soaking without transferring the shock to the rims.
The rims in question are semi V-section Schümann Eurolines; they’re well finished with a black powder coat and a machined braking surface with a wear indicator. Black stainless spokes lace them to basic but well made Shimano quick release (QR) hubs. They roll fairly well on their Schwalbe 700×30 tyres, but they’re not the fastest. This contributes to the steady handling, and they’re also plenty sturdy enough to cope with a rack and panniers should you want to venture further afield than the town centre.