With its emergence as one of last year's biggest surprise packages, we knew what to expect from the bang on trend, super slacked out (65.8 degree head angle) shape of Focus’s SAM frame this year.
Frame and equipment: solid SRAM selection but vulnerable treads
While opinion was divided on the Air Defence Grey aesthetics, there was no argument among our testers about how wide the matched neon orange grips were held apart by the 760mm Concept bars. The RockShox Pike fork is colour synced too and while you don’t get as much adjustment as the aftermarket spec RCT3 version the factory tune of the RC on the Focus doesn’t lose any technical trail confidence.
We’re big fans of the matt look alloy cranks from SRAM, and the X01/X1 1x11 gears are a superb ride simplifying, sequential shifting setup. A Reverb Stealth dropper post completes the SRAM family contribution in typically smooth, slick style. Focus has stuck with fellow German Magura for the MT5 brakes. With 200mm front rotor and 180mm rear the already exceptional power levels of the four-pot callipers are turned absolutely brutal in terms of anchorage. The power comes on abruptly a long way from the bars too so be wary with your braking until you’re used to them.
We found the Continental rubber combo an unconvincing choice
Continental’s new Far Eastern factory means a much grippier compound than previous cheap Conti treads, with overall mass surprisingly low. The Mountain King/Trail King combo doesn’t feel or roll fast and the lightweight sidewalls and massive 2.4in size on relatively skinny 21mm rims leave them feeling perched and vague rather than planted and predictable when you start getting sideways – and during group test rides in Spain they proved prone to flatting.
Ride and handling: tune to unleash a mini gravity rig that can still handle the climbs
The fact it comes with a RockShox Monarch RT shock rather than a Magura item like last year didn’t change the ride feel as much as we thought it might. The much more sensitive start stroke of the RockShox unit means more movement under power.
With no Pedal mode between the Open and Locked damping modes on the RC model you have to choose between soft pedalling but super-smooth traction or solidifying the shock almost completely for sprinting or stomping up climbs. The very linear way the long stroke shock blows through its travel means adding volume reducer rings (a thankfully simple job) if you want a progressive feel for pushing hard rather than its naturally super plush, pillowy feel.
Slack angles and low slung geometry make this one for the enduro racers and raggers
Add low rear ride height effectively slackening the angles and lengthening the wheelbase plus a 60mm stem on top of the slack fork angle and the Focus's steering occasionally struggles to react fast enough to keep it inside successive tight turns. It sucks down onto big sweepers and ploughs through the roughest sections with insolent ignorance however.
While we’ve gone deep on the bits that aren’t quite right (to help you make them right), with a bit of tuning and tyre swapping it’s a potentially outstanding gravity groover that’s light enough to get back up for another go – faster than most.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.