The brand that was started by bike legend Mike Kluge in 1992 is celebrating its 25th anniversary. A lot has happened with the company since the early beginnings. The company has been in a transitional phase for the last two years, pushing out stand-alone designs, adding renowned riders like Geoff Gulevich, Olly Wilkins, and young gun Axel Weinmann to its roster, and will soon be moving to new headquarters in Stuttgart west in Germany, to be closer to good riding spots, among other benefits.
The new Focus SAM has mainly been developed by lead engineer Fabian Scholz, with serious input from Geoff and Olly. Having seen how Fabian and the rest of the team can rip on a bike puts confidence in the know-how and dedication behind the latest addition to Focus' lineup.
Focus SAM 9.9 Details
• Intended use: enduro
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Rear wheel travel: 170 mm
• Carbon frame
• 64.8° head angle
• 428 mm chainstays
• Frame weight (w/o shock): 2.337 g (M)
• 12 x 148mm rear spacing
• Sizes: S-L
• Price: €5,999
• Color: black/red
• Weight: 13.5 kg (w/o pedals)
With 170 mm of travel, and building on their F.O.L.D. (Focus Optimized Linkage Design) kinematics, which is combining a multi-link shock actuation with a single pivot design, the new SAM is built for the rough. That doesn't mean that it's overweight, with the frame weighing 400 grams less than the previous design, coming in at a very low weight - for this class of bike - of 2.3 kg without shock for a size M.
According to Focus, F.O.L.D. is about traction and control, weight and acceleration. A one-piece rear triangle with no bearings close to the rear axle creates a stiff system that transfers power to the ground quickly, while the main link, guide link and shock create a low center of gravity and are sitting close together. Focus also concentrated on balancing the overall feel of the frame - they can control the stiffness of the guide link to make it a bit more forgiving, giving the rear triangle a bit of intended flex for better guidance and traction over obstacles, especially in off-camber riding situations. The leverage curve is regressive during its first phase of travel, and progressive during the second phase, past 55 mm of travel.
Made from carbon fiber, the 9.9 is the top-of-the-line model with carbon front and rear (a 9.8 version is combining a carbon front triangle with an aluminum rear), and is built from 411 separate carbon sheets with a dedicated carbon layup for each frame size.Geometry
Focus' intent in regards to geometry was to build a fun machine with 27.5" wheels that speaks to a wide range of riders out there. They weren't trying to create the longest bikes on the market, so while the reach has grown from the previous model, don't expect to find any extreme measurements here. With only three sizes to choose from, sizing up is going to be difficult for taller rides.
The head angle has been slackened just a touch below the magical 65-degrees mark to 64.8 degrees. The 75-degree seat angle is measured at the saddle at its highest seatpost extension, compared to the usual measurement of a horizontal line from the middle of the head tube to the center of the seatpost at that level. So in regular terms of measurement, the seat angle would be even steeper. Super-short 428 mm chainstays add to the SAM's playful character.
The seat tube was shortened on all frame sizes to make room for longer dropper posts, while still maintaining room for a water bottle. Plus, the seat tube insertion is long enough to slam down a 125 mm travel RockShox Reverb on a size S frame, and a 150 mm version on the size M and above, all the way to its collar - great for people with shorter legs.Specifications
Two models of the new SAM will be available, going for €5.999 for the 9.9 and €3.999 for the 9.8 version. The 9.9. comes with a RockShox Lyrik RC2 fork, Super Deluxe RCT shock, SRAM GX Eagle shifter and derailleur plus Race Face Turbine wheels. The 9.8 is equipped with a Fox 36 Float Rhythm fork, DPX2 rear shock and DT Swiss E1900 wheels.
The SAM doesen't take long to accustomed to, although it did feel smaller than what I'm used to riding. Studying the geometry specs, it might come down to the super-short chainstays that also shorten the wheelbase, compared to a bike with the same reach and front end spec but longer stays. Of course, each numbers are all over the board today, so comparing one company's size to another is somewhat difficult. Naturally, those short chainstays also provide the SAM with an extra helping of nimbleness that you wouldn't expect from a bike with a 64.8-degree head angle. and flicking the bike into and out of corners was a blast.
Our test trails were littered with small-to-medium-sized drops and every jump possible from mellow doubles to sizeable gap jumps, so the suspension was mainly confronted with dealing with hard hits and landings, rather than the successive hits you'd encounter in a rock-garden, with the exception of a few short root segments and braking bumps interspersed here and there. With limited time in real rugged terrain, I'd rather not come to a conclusion too prematurely, but it's safe to say that the 170 mm of travel take a considerable amount of guesswork out of your line choice. Up to a certain speed and/or level of hit, the rear end was gobbling up obstacles in a plush manner, but running the SAM with the recommended sag of 30 percent had me bottoming out in hard g-outs and over jumps constantly.
I stiffened the rear end to 25 percent sag, which did affect small bump sensitivity a bit and still had me use up most or all of the travel on every run, but not to the point where I’d force the suspension to bottom out harshly (except for when I came up too short or overshot landings, which I seemed to excel on that day). With more time, I'd most likely add volume spacers to the rear shock for added progression and peace of mind that the suspension could handle the big stuff without complaints. That way I'd be able to reduce air pressure down to 30% sag to regain that small bump sensitivity
Our early production models that we were sitting on were equipped with 55 mm long stems, compared to the 45mm ones that should have come with the bikes. While it seems funny that we'd consider 55mm stems as too long these days, I'm certain that the shorter version is going to be a better match for the SAM's overall handling. The 780mm wide BBB handlebar also had an odd bend that kept distracting me, and I wasn't a fan of the outer flange of the Race Face Grippler grips either, but those gripes are a matter of personal preference, and could easily be fixed. On the topic of components, the Guide RSC brakes seemed a little out of place on a bike like this - Codes would be a much better choice. Running a Maxxis High Roller II up front and Minion DHF in the rear is a rather uncommon configuration - swapping those around would make a little more sense.
All of that didn't change the fact that the Focus SAM was easy to handle and very predictable, even at higher speeds, and it excelled at getting airborne. Balanced and easy to lay sideways in the air, it didn't matter if the takeoff was flat or more shaped like a regular dirt jump - handling was simply confidence-inspiring, even when facing tricky landings.
Typical of a single-pivot bike compared to designs that decouple the rear axle from the suspension/braking movement, the rear end did stiffen up slightly under hard braking, although it was comparatively less noticeable than on a lot of other single pivot designs I've ridden in the past. I really can't say anything of value regarding the climbing capabilities of the Focus SAM, as we spent most of the day testing with shuttle runs, and my uphill experience was limited to some short ascents to the entry of the trails at the trail park and short stints at the Audi Nines quarry location. The little feedback I can give is that it looked like the bike wasn't really susceptible to pedal-bob and that the seating position allowed for an efficient pedaling motion.
My SAM 9.9 in size S had a weight of 13.5 kg (29.8 lb) with tubes (no pedals), which is pretty good these days for an enduro bike, especially considering that there were no fancy carbon components, except for the Truvativ Descendant Carbon cranks, to push down the weight. So if you chose to do so, the weight could most likely be dropped below 13 kg with some upgrades.
Focus wanted to build a fun machine to ride and I'd say, after spending an intense day on it, they succeeded. I wouldn't have been able to whip the SAM around over jumps, lay it over low in tight turns and point it down a pretty steep chute in a quarry if I hadn't felt as comfortable as I did, and that was without having had much time to get to know the bike at all. With more rugged trails still to be conquered on the SAM in order to get the full picture of its suspension qualities, I'm still contemplating if I'd rather spend more time on a larger frame size or stick with the playful geometry setup of the SAM I was riding on. No matter what, there's much to like about this bike.