Teutonic gods of cycling, Focus have made a huge name for themselves in the Australian road bike scene in recent times, but the Aussie mountain bike market has proven a tougher nut to crack. You see, the brand had a hole in its line up that frustratingly correlated with the market segment which is most popular for Australian conditions.
The not-so-minor details
Focus Spine C 0.0
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Like a cross-country race bike, but fun!
Very light but sturdy build.
Great geometry for ripping singletrack.
More cable than the NBN.
Suspension is choppy at slow speeds.
They’ve long had a great all-mountain bike with the SAM, and the Raven is a killer race hardtail, but the ‘trail’ segment was pretty much neglected. But that will all change with the arrival of the Spine, a 120mm-travel 27.5″-wheeled shred machine, which on paper certainly ticks all the boxes which should make it a serious contender in this arena.
What is it and who is it for?
The Spine ain’t spineless. With 120mm of firmly damped suspension, relaxed frame geometry and an overall weight lower than an outback pub parmigiana, the top-of-the-line Spine C0.0 is like a crossbreed of a greyhound and a staffy. A greystaff? Or Staffhound? This bike embodies the notion that it’s not the quantity of travel, but how you use it, which matters.
While this particular model sits at the more ‘aspirational’ end of the price spectrum, the Spine range is broad, with models spanning from under $3000 up to $9999. If you’re considering this one, the C0.0, then you clearly put a premium on having a light, quick bike.
With dual remote lockouts and some of the lightest equipment on the market, this bike is more than capable of serving as a cross-country race bike as well as a weekend trail slayer.
Angular Merkel: The Spine is an angular, jagged machine, and with the cool ‘rib cage’ style paintwork it looks fantastic. The flared top tube and unique cable ports have a real stealth bomber aesthetic, tapering off to a lean and lightweight rear end. The beautiful shape of the inverted RS-1 fork blends well with this bike too.
The front end is carbon throughout, while the chain stays are aluminium.
New-school geometry: the progression towards longer and slacker geometries on trail bikes is a great thing, and the Spine follows suit with a 68-degree head angle and a 444mm reach. A 70mm stem and 428mm stays ensure it doesn’t get ungainly.
Internally routed: Considering how many different cables/lines there are to manage on this bike, Focus have done well to accommodate them all internally! The shock’s lockout line emerges just in front of the forward shock mount, which is unobtrusive. We’d hate to be the person re-routing all these lines should a frame swap be required though.
Squeeze it in: On a size medium frame, fitting a bottle was a minor struggle, possible but tight. A side-loading bottle cage is definitely the go. At least the bike has bottle mounts, a must in this category in our opinion.
Tight out back: Maybe it’s just the fact that the RS-1 fork is so roomy, but the clearance around the rear tyre seems a bit tight on the Spine. If you wanted to run the same Continental Mountain King 2.4″ tyre as found up front on the rear, it’d be a pretty close fit.
There’s nothing complicated about the Spine’s rear suspension – this single-pivot with a linkage-driven shock setup is meat and potatoes in the suspension buffet, and it works really well.
Focus point out that they go the extra mile and tweak the linkage to suit each of the different frame sizes; with this suspension layout, the angle at which the seat stays drive the link changes between frame sizes, so Focus engineer different links for each size to ensure that the spring curve is kept consistent.
This isn’t a feather bed kind of ride, and the suspension is more oriented to laying down the power and keeping enough in the bag for taking a walloping – direct and speedy acceleration are the hallmarks of the Spine. It can get a bit loose under braking, but good tyres help disguise this to a degree.
Getting the most out of the Spine C0.0 took a bit of work. Firstly, our test bike, which had done a few miles already, needed a new rear tyre. When possible, we set all of our test bikes up tubeless, so we can ride them harder without fear of endless flats. In this instance, the Continental RaceSport was looking a bit worse for wear, so we popped on a reliable Bontrager XR3 in its stead.
Quickly, pass the cable cutters before we accidentally entangle an albatross! The web hanging off the bars of the Spine is a real spaghettifest and will require some patience and planning to get it all neat and rattle free. The only actual cable in the bike is for the rear derailleur – the dropper post and the fork and shock lockouts are all hydraulic, so make sure you know what you’re doing before you embark on trimming it all down! We simply didn’t have enough time to do so during this test, and we cursed the rattling sound every ride!
The Spine also proved to be one of those bikes for which a carpark bounce around doesn’t translate to how the suspension behaves on the trail. Following the pressure guide on the RockShox RS-1 fork and running around 25% sag out back on the Monarch XX shock initially felt too firm, especially at slower speeds.
In our experience, we’ve found the best performance from the RS-1 involves dropping the pressure lower than is recommended and then adding a Bottomless Token or two internally to increase the progression of the spring curve.
Good value, relatively speaking: Ok, a $9999 bike isn’t within the grasp of many, but when you compare the Focus to its competitors at the top end, then it actually represents pretty decent value. As the falling Aussie dollar pushes retail prices higher, the Focus goes against the trend with thing like the inclusion of an RS-1 fork, which is worth the better part of $3000 aftermarket, and little additions such as a carbon-railled Fizik Tundra saddle.
Premium drivetrain: The full SRAM XX1 drivetrain is sweetened even further with the inclusion of a direct-mount Blackbox chain ring. The clean, kink-free nature of the cable routing ensures that the shifting action is incredibly light too, and the shifts hammer home perfectly every time.
Dual lockouts: The right side of the bar is where you’ll find a combined lockout for the fork and shock. Having the ability to stiffens both ends with the press of a button has a plenty go appeal if racing is your caper, but there are some drawbacks in terms of cable congestion.
You also can’t independently lock out the rear shock, but leave the fork open, which is a setting we like to use a lot as it helps keep the rear high in travel and still allows the front tyre to track well.
High-volume rubber: Big volume, low weight tyres are just the ticket for a bike like this. Up front, the enormous Continental Mountain King can be run at low pressures to provide a huge contact patch for grip over roots and other slippery surfaces.
Strong cockpit position: Focus’s in-house Concept brand produce the wide low-rise carbon bar. At 760mm wide, we’re sure some people will lop a little off, but make sure you ride it wide before you decide to trim, as the position it puts you in is very confident.
This is a bike which makes sense at speed. Toodle about on the Spine C0.0 at lower speeds and you’ll find it feels very firm, like a shorter-travel cross country machine. This has its advantages on smoother trails or when climbing, as the bike never feels like it’s loafing in its travel, but if the terrain is choppy it can all feel a bit harsh, like you’ve got too much pressure in the suspension.
It’s once you begin to get those wheels turning a bit faster that the bike starts to float and fly properly.
With a bit more momentum behind it, the Spine settles further into its travel, feel smoother and more planted, and you can really get the tyres hooking into the dirt like a champion. It’s still certainly not the style of bike that makes the bumps disappear, but if you do begin to push harder, you’ve got the strong riding position and travel there in reserve to handle a good walloping.
The RS-1 is far more resistant to flex than the inverted design would suggest, and with the huge front tyre clawing at the earth, it will happily hold a line up front. The short rear end with its smaller tyre is a bit more loose, but that’s a feeling we quite like – better that the rear end runs wide than the front!
It’s a great climber overall, even if the short stem does make the position a bit upright on really steep climbs. With such a low weight, it’s an easy machine to hop up tricky ledges, and on smoother climbs having lockouts under your thumb will keep you in touch with all the 29er hardtails in the bunch.
What we’d change:
If this were our personal bike, we’d probably swap the saddle for something a little less racy – the Tundra is firm, flat perch, which will suit many arses, but not ours. A side-loading bottle cage is another certain addition, and we’d replace the crappy, lightweight aluminium seat post clamp bolt too, as it rounded out in no time.
Finally, we’d set aside a few hours in the workshop and neaten up all those cables!
If you’ve got aspirations to roll your cross-country race bike and your trail bike into one, then the Spine C0.0 could be the answer. It is about as light as trail bikes come, and its efficient, taut ride will see it hang out happily with the lycra set on the climbs and drop them on the descents. As much as we love this bike, we’re very inclined to ask for a test ride on the model below, the Spine C Factory, which loses the remote lockouts and gets the buttery RockShox Pike fork in place of the RS-1.
Given how much we like this bike’s geometry and attitude, we can’t help but think we’ll like it even more with a cleaner cockpit too.