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Mountain Gear

Focus Spine C: Light trail ripper with potential

Heading up the mountain or down, the Spine is a light trail/aggressive XC machine made for a well-rounded ride and real fun on descents

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Need to Know

– Ultra-capable XC ripper or light trail bike
– 120mm front and rear travel
– Carbon fiber frame
– 27.5” wheels
– 68-degree head angle
– 75-degree seat angle
– Four carbon models, six alloy options
– Two alloy women’s models
– Carbon frame weight: 1,980 grams; aluminum is 2,400 grams

Focus’ all-new Spine slots into the light trail/aggressive XC category that has sprung up in recent years. It’s a category headlined and defined by ultra-fun bikes like the Yeti ASR, and for the vast majority of riders — those who don’t race, don’t shuttle, ride up as much as they ride down — it hits a sweet spot between efficiency and fun.

The Spine is a worthy addition to the category. Its 120mm of front and rear travel provide a stable climbing platform when it’s needed, and a surprisingly capable, wide-open feel when pointed downhill.

The bike is available in 10 different models, six carbon and four aluminum, including two women’s bikes, and each one has a smart parts spec while offering impressive value. There are no stinkers, and it’s clear that Focus set out to build each model, even the cheaper ones, to a performance standard, not a price standard.

In fact, our favorite model isn’t the top-tier Spine C; it’s one step down.

The Spine’s simple suspension design, a single-pivot with linkage off the top tube, doesn’t hold it back. Far from it.

Focus engineers designed a specific linkage for each frame size to keep suspension feel consistent across sizes (an effort that is surprisingly rare), addressing a common problem with top tube-mounted linkages. They managed to keep the top tube very low, too, offering impressive stand-over height.

Cable routing is all internal, cleverly done, and looks like it won’t be a complete nightmare for mechanics thanks to a large opening near the bottom bracket.

U.S. prices have not yet been set. Build kits range from a RockShox RS1 and SRAM XX1 equipped Spine C 0.0 to the Shimano XT and Fox equipped Spine Elite. Two women’s models, both in aluminum, use the same geometry and swap in narrower bars and a women’s saddle.

First Ride

The Spine is nothing special going uphill, but it’s no pig. There’s a bit of bob out of the saddle, but the suspension is relatively stable for seated climbing and the steep 75-degree seat tube angle keeps the rider in a good position for putting power down. Those who need more setback will struggle, though, as most dropper posts offer none.

Rolling terrain is handled well, and the Spine responds well to brief out-of-the-saddle bursts. The wheel size seems to help here; Focus is a proponent of 27.5 for every frame with more than 100mm of travel, and its easy to see why — the Spine felt far more nimble than any 120mm 29er we’ve ridden.

The Spine truly came to life going down. Test trails included steep, loose, and wet sections of rock, as well as slick roots, and the Spine felt bombproof through it all. It’s incredibly flickable, perhaps thanks to its ultra-short 428mm chain stays, and it was easy to pinball around the trail in search of the best line.

Those short chain stays did have one downside: One test rider had a 2.4” Continental rear tire, and it would rub slightly against the stays in hard corners, as the wheel flexed just a few millimeters. Clearance could be better, though most riders will not likely mount this type of bike with a rear tire so large.

The brand new 27.5” RockShox RS1 fork mounted to the top-tier Spine CC 0.0 test bikes was excellent, and notably stiffer than the 29er version, but sends the price through the roof. We’d look one step down, at the Spine C Factory, which comes with a cheaper, equally capable (perhaps more capable, albeit slightly heavier) RockShox Pike fork.

In fact, this bike was so lively and capable on the descents that we’d consider throwing something longer on the front, a 130mm or 140mm fork, to turn it into a true trail ripper.