Mountain Gear

First Ride: Focus SAM goes carbon fiber

Focus adds carbon to its enduro offering and focuses on gravity-fed thrills with the Sam

Need to know

— Enduro race frame, with geometry to suit the task
— 160mm front and rear travel
— Carbon fiber frame
— 27.5” wheels
— New, better build kits
— Carbon version drops 600 grams and adds stiffness
— 65-degree head angle
— 75-degree seat angle

Focus’ new SAM is a 160mm enduro racer, tuned to high speeds and the sort of European courses favored by the Focus Enduro Team. It’s existed as an aluminum model for two seasons, and the latest iteration makes just a few changes to geometry and zero changes to the suspension design. The big story here is a switch to carbon fiber, which stiffens up the chassis considerably while dropping over 600 grams, and a newly tuned RockShox Monarch shock.

Geometry changes between the old aluminum version and the C Team are relatively minimal, but still important. Chain stays have been shortened from 438mm to 430mm and the bottom bracket has been dropped 5 mm, from -7mm to -12mm. Both changes were instigated by the brand’s enduro team, and serve to add agility and stability to the rear end.

The new SAM is quite light for a big bike, just 5.3 pounds for the frame and 27 pounds complete.

Cable routing is internal and done properly. There is no internal guide, but a massive hole near the bottom bracket facilitates easy routing. The plugs at the head tube can be replaced based on each build’s requirements — swapped for Di2, for example, or for 1x or 2x, with or without dropper, etc.

A bash guard at the bottom of the down tube should help prevent expensive rock damage, and another surrounding the top and bottom of the right chain stay will keep the chain from doing any similar damage.

U.S. prices have not yet been announced, though the bikes will be available in August. The build kits are solid.

The SAM C Team model features SRAM XX1, a 160mm Pike, Monarch Plus rear shock, and Reverb dropper. The SAM C SL will come with XO1, the same Pike, a Monarch RT rear shock, and DT Swiss E1700 Spline One wheels. The final carbon model, the C Pro, has a 160mm Pike RC fork, Monarch RT shock, and a SRAM XO1/X1 drivetrain.

First Ride

The SAM is a big bike. Enduro race bikes continue to trend closer and closer to what we might have defined as a downhill bike just a few years ago, and the SAM is no exception. The trail needs to be fast and rough before the SAM’s true strengths present themselves; anything mellower and it’s dramatic and somewhat frustrating overkill.

Those who don’t live near at least a few good descents, in other words, will likely want to look at the Spine instead.

There is no question that the new, carbon fiber SAM is a big step up from the aluminum version, which we had a chance to test last fall. The carbon version is stiffer, tracks better through rough corners, and comes with smarter build kits across the entire range — much closer to the sort of build we might put together ourselves.

Gone are the DT Swiss rear shock and Fox Evolution-series fork, replaced by a custom-tuned RockShox Monarch Plus (and the regular Monarch for lower models, but more on that later) and 160mm Pike, the best fork in its class.

Focus happily admits that the chunky, diamond-shaped top tube/head tube junction is part of a design initiative intended to make Focus mountain bikes more distinctive, but it serves a more practical purpose, too. Front-end stiffness on the SAM is excellent, thanks in large part to the massive top tube cross section and move to the Pike. It can compete with any enduro frame currently on the market in this realm.

The bike sits rather far into its travel, and it feels best set up with the rear Monarch Plus sag set around 35 percent. The suspension design, a relatively simple linkage-driven single-pivot, is heavily reliant on the tuned Monarch. That means that the top-tier models, which feature the more controlled Monarch Plus, will ride significantly better than those at cheaper price points.

Speaking of the Monarch Plus, aggressive riders will want to add a volume token or two to improve the progressiveness of the shock. Because the bike does sit rather far into its travel during regular trail riding, and the long-stroke rear shock is not particularly progressive out of the box, the rear end can feel a bit vague throughout its travel. I like to be able to push into the back end of the bike a bit and get a response — to know where I am in the travel through feel, in other words — and that was difficult with the SAM. Adding a token or two would likely solve the problem.

The SAM pedals well for a 160mm bike, and thanks to the super steep 75-percent seat tube angle, it’s easy to get over the bottom bracket to put power down. But it’s still a long way from sprightly. This should go without saying, but if climbing is half the fun for you, look for something smaller. With the SAM, descending is all the fun.

Enduro racers will love the geometry, the tuneability of the Monarch Plus, and the stiffness. More casual riders might want something that pedals a bit better for everyday riding.