A 160mm travel bike with 650B wheels is nudging the upper ceiling of what we’ve come to expect from an all-mountain bike. Would the Focus SAM be too much to lump around the trails while out searching for that ultimate totally gnarly descent?
The SAM is a brand new model from the German folks at Focus in 2014, one of two suspension bikes in their fairly tight mountain bike range. Their Super Bud 29er – with it’s equally kitsch name – will cater for the rider seeking a leaner, racier and sharper ride. The SAM, however, is certainly keen and ready for more partying than racing.
Our new great mate, SAM (Super All Mountain) has impressed us with its refreshingly humble approach to hard all-mountain riding. An aluminium frame, simple suspension and a fairly classic frame finish and colour. The linkage driven shock and its single pivot design claims no crazy axle paths, or acronym riddled chain feedback reducing promises, it is about as old school as it comes.
And tipping the scales at under 13kg is a big bonus, that sub 13kg mark is hard to reach when bikes have more than 150mm travel. Sure it is specced well, but this low figure is also testament to the frame weight, long live quality aluminium!
It may be basic, but in our opinion the perfect execution of this simple design is its strength. The rear end’s lean looking pivot points are secured using a mixture of axles with pinch clamps and the more common threaded variety. And all these fixtures use torx key fittings too. The pivots may be small but the frame receives a nod of approval from us in terms of lateral rigidity and durability.
It really does tick all the construction department boxes, with really big ticks. The internal routing of all three cables; the rear derailleur, rear brake and adjustable seat post disappears into the head tube, as neatly as it gets creating a very clean, clutter-free and smart appearance. A front derailleur mount is present, as are ISCG tabs to keep front shifting options open. The 12mm x 142mm rear axle by Shimano is quick release and one of our favourite methods of keeping the rear wheel secure at all times.
It’s also the frame’s stealth finish that turns heads, matte black with subtly located graphics that don’t scream at you. And those classic big welds on the joints will satisfy the aluminium fans out there, no doubt.
Nothing says all mountain like a phat set of rubber, tall and beefy forks and a super-wide handlebar. We could have loved the bike enough without riding it at all, because it had some of our most favourite standout parts fitted to it, like the superb Rockshox Pike, Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres and Avid Trail brakes to name just a few.
Flawless SRAM XX1, Rockshox Stealth post, and carbon – yes 1620g CARBON – wheels from Reynolds with a generous 23mm internal width were an absolute delight to use. How could we argue with such great kit? But the best thing is that for the dollars, this bike is a really outstanding value. For $6k, it’s a real winner in the parts department.
The little 32 tooth XX1 front chainring was unreal, the lower the better for a bike like this. If you’re concerned about spinning out of gears, keep an eye out for cars, or weirdos on cyclocross bikes as you’re probably on a road or fast fire trail. Save the low range for the real technical climbs that such a grippy bike will allow you to tractor up. We didn’t ever drop a chain either, love this stuff.
One of our first rides on the SAM was three days on a big mountain named Thredbo, beginning with a big backcountry mission on fire roads with climbs that burned like a dragon with hiccups. We felt very comfortable climbing though, the short headtube, flat handlebar and travel adjustability on the forks enabled us to sit or stand comfortably without that awkward tall or too-slack shape that bikes with over 150mm forks can have.
With many bikes actually seeing a reduction in travel with the advent of 27.5″ wheels (for example, the Trek Remedy), it’s great to see Focus catering for the rider who needs more cushy to go harder. And it sure does go hard. The SAM can attack a turn with real confidence, and promotes you to stay off the brakes with its stable position (bolstered by the mega 777mm bars), amazing traction and aggressive geometry. It’s a real slacker, too – with a claimed 65 degree head angle (!!) the forks are raked out way in front of you. With the Pike delivering such a supple and incredibly controlled action, when we pushed the SAM into big holes and deep rocky sections we received no argument, just speed and sure-footed confidence.
The Rockshox Monarch Plus bettered our expectations – this isn’t a shock that normally get us too excited. Many say that the shock is only as good as the frame it sits in, and perhaps this case it applies, the rear end’s action was supple enough to maintain comfort and traction, but also managed the deep impacts with no worries. Switching the three simple modes of compression adjustment is a snack, and we found ourselves riding all but only the tarmac climbs and roughest descents in the middle setting. Just imagine if it was all black, like the Pike, you’d lose this bike in the dark.
Mr. SAM will appeal to more than just bargain hunting aluminium fans, it’s also a bike for the rider who simply can’t get into 29ers but want something that can run the worst terrain down. The sweet balance of low weight and high volume of travel and traction will also make the SAM a killer option for a spot of gravity enduro racing, or all day riding on sections of trail that a downhill bike would normally be required for.
It’s a real tenacious ride, finds traction where most can’t and survives the roughest of corners by holding onto the craziest lines you can throw at it. We lerrrrve this bike.