On Test | 2023 Focus Atlas adventure bike goes carbon

What happens when mountain bikes and gravel bikes collide? You get the Focus Atlas. Updated for 2023, the German outfit has employed a number of mountain bike-inspired design elements in the frame of this drop bar adventure machine.

Designed to tackle everything from all-day epics to fully loaded overnight adventures, the new Atlas 8 series sees more than just the addition of a carbon model, Focus has totally revamped the frame.

The new carbon fibre Focus Atlas 8 builds on the alloy Atlas 6 series bikes. But this isn’t just a copy paste in carbon fibre.

Carbon frame and refined geo

The most apparent upgrade to the Focus Atlas 8 is, of course the plastic fantastic frame. According to Focus, this shaves 1.6kg off the frameset. We’ll have to take their word for it on this one, however, according to our workshop scales, our test bike weighs in at 9.91kg, without pedals or bottle cages.

With the change in frame material also comes tweaks to the geometry. The bike is based around a long top tube, to extend the reach, and a short stem. Our size 54cm/M tester sees a looooong 567mm top tube, making for a 395mm reach.

Our size M/54 test bike tipped the scales just under 10kg.

Focus has paired this with a 90mm stem and flared handlebars. The aluminium Atlas 6 series has the same reach, but the top tube is 4mm longer, and paired with an 80mm stem. For reference, this is 5mm longer than the Avanti Gran Durance we also have on test.

The brand has also chopped 14mm off the head tube height, which together makes for a pretty stretched-out position. While we’ve only pedalled the bike far enough to see if the gears are indexed correctly, it feels pretty long.

Compared to the alloy version of this bike in the same size, the headtube is 14mm shorter and the toptube is 4mm shorter.

Focus has not changed the slack-for-a-gravel-bike 70.5° head angle, the seat tube angle, BB drop, fork rake or the chainstay length, however, the wheelbase has shrunk by 5mm.

All the figures on the front end, combined with the 45mm tyres, make for a trail figure of about 74mm. This should create a pretty stable steering platform.  This long front end is paired with the 425mm chainstays to bring the rear wheel way in under the rider.

The Atlas sees a long front end, and short rear.

Focus Atlas frame features

The Atlas is one of only a few drop bar bikes to take advantage of Boost hub spacing. There is 110mm between the dropouts in the fork, though Focus opts for a 12mm axle — 15mm adaptors are available — while the rear is the typical 148x12mm. This means you get the Boost chain line, improved tyre clearance, and more space between the hub flanges for stiffer and stronger wheels.

Focus has chosen to use Boost hub spacing on the Atlas, however the brand has opted for a 12mm axle.

While Boost is basically the de facto standard for MTB, we’re pretty sure you can count the gravel bikes that utilise this hub spacing on one hand, meaning that your wheel options are limited. You could potentially slot in a set of MTB wheels — the Atlas will take 29in or 27.5in — but the 12mm front axle means you’ll also need to source some 15mm end caps.

With the Atlas’ adventure focus, there are more mounts on this thing that you can shake a handlebar bag at. According to Focus, the fork can handle 3kg on either side. There’s also a removable seat stay bridge for mounting up proper rear racks, and the frame features provisions for full coverage fenders at both ends.

There are multiple bottle cage mountain options inside the frame to make room for luggage, and there’s also space to carry a third bottle at the BB. Focus also includes a nifty little top tube bag. The German outfit says the bike can handle up to 120kg total (rider and equipment).

According to Focus, you can hand 3kg off each fork leg.
Focus includes a basic top tube bag that has room for snacks, or a few tools.

Given this bike is designed to go way out, off the beaten track, we’re also happy to see real frame protection. The thick, rubberised chainstay protector is often overlooked on this type of bike, as is the armour in front of the BB.

At the front, the Atlas sees all the cables routed through the upper headset bearing. Usually, this is where we would groan about it, however running the cables in this fashion means they won’t get in the way of handlebar bags. Of course, this is only a small consolation when it comes time to replace that upper bearing.

A surprising number of gravel bikes opt not to insulate the chainstay.
The underside of the downtube is also insulated with the same rubber as the chainstay, and sees provisions for a third bottle cage.
While routing the cables in this manner keeps them out of the way of handlebar bags, we’d still prefer they didn’t run through the headset bearing.

Models and pricing

We’ve received the entry-level version of this bike, the Atlas 8.7, priced at $4,499 AUD. Even still, that means a full carbon frame and fork, Shimano GRX groupset, with the 800 series derailleurs, and 600 series levers and crank. The bars, stem, and seatpost are all Focus branded alloy affairs. The spec list shows all the models should come with a Fizik saddle, however, our test bike has a Prologo Akero perched on top of the seatpost.

Rolling stock comes in the form of alloy Novatech 25 Elite hops and 45mm WTB Riddler TCS rubber.

Our test bike is the most budget-friendly Atlas 8.7.

Focus Atlas 8.9

Focus Atlas 8.8

Focus Atlas 8.8

Flow’s take

Focus moving the Atlas platform across to carbon isn’t a big surprise, but some of the subtle changes are interesting, to say the least. We have not ridden the alloy Altas 6, but by all accounts, it finds the right balance between predictable handling and trying to manoeuvre a boat around a hairpin corner.

The vast majority of the geometry has remained the same, however, a few tweaks have been made to the front end, that stretch the riding position out further, which according to Focus “results in a more sportive geometry with a lower riding position.” That length was the first thing that we noticed swinging a leg over the bike. Has Focus pushed too far? We’ll need some time to answer that questions.

It’s a bit rich for a mountain biker to be wary of Boost hub spacing, but here we are. You don’t need to sell us on the benefits of having more space between hub flanges, but the lack of wheel options is a factor here, and the same goes for not sticking with the 15mm front axle. Of course, the same argument was made when MTBs made the swap Boost.

The intended purpose of this bike is to slow down, and enjoy your big adventure. We think this bike would be well suited for something like Thunderbolts Adventre, or one of the goodnessgravel events, and a few others we’re eyeing off later in the year. We’re already doing some map sleuthing and working out some big routes and overnight adventures and will be weighing up some different component setups to get the most out of the Atlas.

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