FOCUS SAM 1.0
Words & Photos by Steve Jones
Focus is not a brand we have featured on these pages before and to be fair most of their mountain bike range doesn’t really interest us, but in the matte black, aluminium SAM 1.0 the German brand seem to have produced an absolute belter. Is this one of the darkest horses in the substantial 160mm travel market?
SHAPE AND PURPOSE
At 160/160, the Focus SAM’s intentions are clear, matched with one of the slacker head angles (65º), longer wheelbases (1205mm) and 7mm drop on the bottom bracket (test bike size large/rider 6ft) give it all the basics for an attacking and aggressive enduro bike. These are the simple things taken care of. It weighs in at less than 13kg (28.6lbs), another big positive, it comes with some of the cleanest cabling in the business, even better, and is built of alloy not carbon, which for many riders bashing the bigger stuff (ultimately what this bike is designed for) will be a welcome addition to the market. And it all comes in at £4299 for a build, which you will see includes a 27.5 carbon wheelset. Nice. As a package Focus have done a top job, visually the low-key blackness will attract many riders not drawn by beauty parade bikes that are high on gloss, low on brawn.
This is some package, a mix of SRAM X0 and XX1, the RockShox (RS) Reverb Stealth, RS Pike RC Dual position fork and RS Monarch Plus RC3 HV rear shock. The FSA bar is a shade weird and too flat, the Concept stem a touch long. Most importantly the bike came with the fork steerer cut too short which meant no room for manoeuvre on a cockpit that is too low. Fixable, but with a new steerer or a high rise bar. The frame detail and finishing is exceptional with a mix of pinch bolts and torque-adjusted pivots. The internal cable routing is super neat and doesn’t suffer the same cable crimping problems we’ve had on some bikes when the bars are turned full–lock. The rear calliper is mounted inboard and the swingarm remains stable enough, but not too wide as we have found on some Lapierres last year. A set of Reynolds carbon wheels completes the look, not something you often see on bikes under £6K.
Focus have done a nice job on the rear damper/suspension combination, it pushes in softly and then increases in resistance giving a sturdy ride particularly when you start bashing on. We’re not massive fans of the dual position Pike, preferring the simpler Solo Air for its ride characteristic with a brace of red volume spacers fitted. Still its quality, reliability and sensitivity are fantastic. The frame is a simple design and the engineering involved appears to be incredibly long lasting. For climbing the lock–out provides a good platform, way better than many bikes.
Now there’s a lot of mocking about car park testing and most of it is true. However, there are basics to a bike which need tidying up before addressing the hill to which you are presenting your best. Yes the bar needed raising to something closer to 41″ from floor to outside of bar end, the seat needed pushing back a touch, and the usual shifter mount moving inboard. However, when bouncing the bike side to side there was a certain weak spot which at first I believed was a suspension issue. Moving onto the hill this began unnerving me as the bike felt like the tyres were flatting on the harder G–out corners. I pressed on, scratching my head, but continued to enjoy the sound rear suspension combination (shock and linkage), good sizing and attacking shape. The bike pulled me back to the top tidily, was silent on descents and the frame had a positive thud in its nature.
It wasn’t until I flatted that the reasons behind the double–take cornering and wandering ride characteristic became clear. For starters the tyre doesn’t sit well on the rim outer, possibly due to the very wide and round profile of the top edge of the rim, it feels like the tyre is folding on this. Second, the wheels have too much flex, partly due to the narrow hub lacing, the triangulation could be a fair bit wider. The swingarm also suffers from flex too, far too much for a 160mm-travel bike and there were occasions when the tyre was hitting the frame. The main pivots seem quite small too. Under the bottom bracket the cables had been wearing grooves into the frame after only a short period of riding.
The Focus SAM is a good bike, but they will need to make quite a few changes to make it a 160mm contender. The wheels are not good, yes it’s possible the alloy Reynolds wheels on the SAM 2.0 might be a better option, but then you have the Fox 34 to sort out and the not so good Magura damper. Be careful when you buy a Focus SAM that the steerer has sufficient spacers too. On a more positive note it’s sub 30lbs, the frame is silent and it offers a more forgiving ride than some carbon offerings, but there is too much flex in the rear, which affects the handling. Overall the suspension, build quality and visual of the Focus is excellent. Slam a set of Mavic wheels in for about six hundred pounds and you still have a reasonably good purchase, but unfortunately one of the main reasons that the Focus SAM looked such a good deal (the wheels) is sadly one of the reasons for maybe not choosing this bike.
Frame Focus SAM 1.0 – Alloy, 160mm
Shock RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 HV
Fork RockShox Pike RC
Stem Concept Ex 60mm
Bars FSA Gravity Flat 777mm
Shifter SRAM X0 11 speed
Derailleur SRAM XX1 Type 2
Brakes Avid X0 Trail
Seatpost RockShox Reverb Stealth
Seat Fizik Tundra 2
Crank SRAM XX1
BB SRAM XX1
Ring SRAM XX1
Cassette SRAM XX1, 10-42
Chain SRAM XX1
Wheelset Reynolds AM Carbon
Tyres Schwalbe Hans Dampf
Head Angle 65º
Bar width 777mm