Is the Focus Raven² An Evolutionary Leap in eBike Technology?

by
September 29, 2017

Last year Focus launched the Jam², an eMTB version of their Jam bike. Bucking the trend of powering their eBike using the massive and ubiquitous 500wh battery packs of pretty much every other manufacturer, they actually used a smaller capacity battery arguing that the reduction in weight would increase handling (it still comes in around 46lbs but that’s 8lbs less than similar eMTBS from the likes of Scott) but also in so doing it would lead to a more pedalable bike that would offset the reduction in overall power capacity.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
The Raven2 is a lower power ebike than some, with a 250wh battery, rather than the 500wh you find on most.

In my view they were right. The Jam² is one of the best eMTBs currently available and Focus have proved that the future of eMTBs is not all about how much power you can push through a Bosch or Shimano motor.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
The smaller battery reduces weight compared to most ebikes.

What they have done with the Raven2 is take that concept to the next stage by reducing the battery capacity still further to a mere 250wh and then combine that with a very unique motor system. Finally, they mounted the whole thing in the chassis of their flagship, carbon fibre hardtail, XC race bikes. The former developments I think represent the next evolutionary step in eMTB development. The fact they’ve mounted it in a carbon fibre hardtail I’m less convinced about – but we’ll come to that.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
There’s a gearbox in place of the BB. Battery and motor are a single unit that plugs into it.

Motor Battery Combo

Focus have partnered (but not exclusively) with a small startup German engineering company called Fazua to be the first bike company to use their Evation motor system.

Fazua have managed to combine the battery and the motor into a single, removable unit that plugs into a small BB mounted gear box. The result is an eBike motor that can be removed entirely from the bike along with the battery, leaving only the gearbox attached to the bike.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
Here’s Fazua’s remote. The LEDs change colour to indicate which mode your in. Purple is “Rocket”, the most powerful.

The gearbox has a ‘freewheel’, is pretty frictionless and because the motor and battery unit are not a structural part of the bike the bike can be ridden perfectly normally as a conventional bike.

Since Fazua are essentially sticking a battery AND a motor where usually only the battery fits, the system is naturally less powerful in terms of both battery and motor. The motor is rated at a nominal 250watts but it doesn’t have the power delivery ‘oomph’ of the Shimano or Bosch motors, but this, in my view, is all for the better. The maximum output of those systems can be enough to literally throw you off the bike if you get things wrong. With this Fazua system the boost is much more subtle and even in full power mode the assist is measured and feels more natural.

I understand that using the word ‘natural’ in the context of an eMTB is likely to make that vein on the head of some readers pulsate – I’m not sorry. It is a fact that in the lower power settings I became so used to the subtlety of the power delivery that I thought it wasn’t actually working. Then I turned it off and realised instantly that it bloody well was!

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
That sensor on the chainstay seems to work with a magnet on the back wheel.

Who Is It For?

And by this I mean a motor assisted, super lightweight, carbon fibre race hardtail. It comes in at 14.2 kg (31.3lbs) which is terrible for for a carbon hardtail but amazing for an eBike – any eBike. But still, with 100mm stem, no dropper post, narrow bars and skinny race tyres this is a race bike that you can’t actually race. I was left wondering if it was a bike that was too early for it’s own good – that it is waiting for someone to come up with a serious eMTB XC race series, or marathon. I love the technology, the implementation less so. As much fun as riding a super stiff, carbon race bike up and down loose, rocky trails around Lake Garda was, I really wished this system had been put in a trail bike – even a slack, long forked hardtail with wide bars would have been amazing and the point of the thing would have been obvious then. But a race bike you can’t actually race?

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
The motor system works, but Mark found a carbon race hardtail to be an odd candidate for it.

The Logic

Focus acknowledged to us at the the launch that this iteration of the Fazua system may seem a little strange, but then you can remove the battery and motor. When you do you reduce the weight down to a smidge over 10kg (22lbs). Focus supply the bike with a 45g carbon fibre blanking plate to hide the gaping hole left by the removal of the battery and motor. What you are left with really is a race bike you can actually race but don’t be surprised if the UCI guy comes over and starts waving his daft iPad around your bike before you race. At least you can take off the lid and show the empty space inside your down tube, which is more than any other riders can do.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
The lower level power assist felt surprisingly natural.

Range Anxiety

We rode undulating and often technical trails around Lake Garda on our test day. we started with full batteries and by our lunch stop mine was reporting 50% capacity. After lunch the battery fairy had visited all our bikes and replaced the batteries with full ones. This was a shame as I wanted to see if a single battery would get us back to base. As it turned out by the time we got back I’d used just 25% of the new battery, and knowing I was running on a new battery I pretty much ran it on full power setting most of the way back. So I can estimate I used 3/4 of the battery capacity. We rode a total of 55km! So not quite a bullet proof fair test, but probably enough for a fair indication of what this system is capable of.

Marco Giacomello, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
They rode 55Km with power assist on, and still have 25% battery left.

There are four power modes, if you count the off mode. With the motor set to off it’s just you and the gearbox (for clarity: the gearbox simply interfaces the motor with the rest of the drivetrain. Gear changing is still done though a traditional derailleur and cassette, in this case Shimano XT). It felt like any other bike with a standard BB – no extra unwanted friction – just pedal and go. In eco mode you get up to 80watts of assist. Up to means that it’s not a fixed power output – it puts in more the more you do. Trail mode gives you up to 150 watts, and full power gives you all the power, but still in proportion to what you put in, so there’s no sudden, uncontrollable boost.

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch
With the battery in, the Raven2 weighs 31lbs, but…
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch
Pop the motor and battery out and bosh! (I mean, Fazua!). The weight suddenly drops all the way down to 22lbs and it’s rideable as a non-ebike.
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch
Here’s Fazua’s drivepack. Charging port and indicator at this end…
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch
… drive interface at the other.

Apparently, charging the battery takes 3 – 4 hours from empty. The drivepack consists of a motor and battery together in a housing, which you can remove as one unit from the downtube of the bike. The battery can also be removed from the drivepack and replaced too.

Marco Giacomello, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
Riding a carbon fibre hardtail above Lake Garda was a bit of a novelty.
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
There are two models, respectively €5999 and €4999. Mark was riding the higher end one.

 

Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
It was still a fun bike, but Mark thought the motor system would be better suited to a trail bike or even a slack, long travel hardtail.
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch
Here’s a closeup of the gearbox.
Mark Alker, Focus Raven² Launch, Photo by Christoph Laue
The Raven2 is certainly pushing ebikes in an interesting new direction.

Disclosure: All travel and expenses for this trip were paid for by Focus.

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