by Wil Barrett
April 16, 2017
Just how does the motor assisted version of the JAM compare? We rode them both head to head to find out
In the past, Focus has largely been known for its on-road product. As a brand that has previously placed a heavy emphasis on both the bitumen and on providing largely value-oriented product, it wouldn’t be out of the question to suggest that up until recently, Focus wasn’t exactly a desirable name when it came to proper off-road machines. But that ship has started to turn.
It all started with the excellent SAM enduro bike that was first introduced in 2015. The 160mm travel full suspension rig was the biggest bike to ever come from the German brand, which had previously only dabbled in XC and lightweight trail bikes up until that point. Barney reviewed the Focus SAM shortly after its release, and fell in love with the bike’s forward-thinking geometry and ragged descending abilities.
At the same time as the release of the SAM, Focus also revamped its Raven carbon hardtail, producing its lightest and most comfortable XC race hardtail in the process. Incidentally, it also turned out to be one of the lightest hardtail frames in the world. With a sub-900 gram frame and modernised geometry, the new Focus Raven Max signalled a change of pace for the brand. And that led to both consumers and other brands starting to take a lot more notice of what was coming out of Stuttgart.
The momentum hasn’t stopped there though. Last year Focus rolled out its new F.O.L.D suspension design on the brand new JAM trail bike and O1E full suspension race bike, and it also presented a rather eye-catching e-MTB concept bike based on the Raven Max frame, called “Project Y” (not to be confusingly mistaken for as Project ‘Why’?).
Then there was the ridiculously cool Vice trail bike too, complete with an 80’s style photo shoot and press release.
Then after all of that, Focus threw us a curveball.
In October of last year, Focus released the JAM² e-MTB. Based on the existing JAM trail bike, the e-MTB version added in a Shimano STEPS E8000 motor system, complete with a custom battery pack designed by Focus and integrated into the frame’s downtube. In essence, a motorised version of the JAM trail bike, complete with the same suspension platform, similar geometry, and a similar ‘can-do’ attitude.
I went to the launch of the Focus JAM² , and if you’ve already read my first ride review of the JAM², you’ll recall that I found it to be quite an impressive machine. Despite showing up to that press junket with my skeptical hat on (a metaphorical one – I can’t really fit hats underneath my helmet), I was pleasantly surprised by just how much fun the JAM² was to ride, and how much it felt just like a normal trail bike. Despite the good times though, I was keen to get another spin on the JAM² on local trails. You know, preferably far away from the south coast of France where it wasn’t warm and sunny, and the trails were wet and muddy…
And so when Focus came to visit Singletrack a couple of weeks ago, we were presented with an unparalleled opportunity to not only put the JAM² to the test on our home trails, but also to test it back-to-back against the regular JAM trail bike. With a bunch of us from the team on hand to put the Focus demo bikes through the wringer, we got the cameras out to give you our thoughts on these two full suspension trail bikes.
Focus JAM Specifications
- Carbon fibre & alloy frame options
- 27.5in wheels
- 140mm front & rear travel (150mm fork travel on the JAM Factory model)
- F.O.L.D linkage-activated single pivot rear suspension design
- 66.8° head angle
- 74.5° seat tube angle
- 425mm chainstay length
- Claimed weight: 11.9kg (JAM C SL model)
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- RRP: £3199 – £5199
Focus JAM² Specifications
- Available in 27.5+ and 29in wheel platforms
- Hydroformed alloy frame
- 140mm front & rear travel
- F.O.L.D linkage-activated single pivot rear suspension design
- 66.5° head angle
- Chainstay length: 457mm (27.5+ model), 470mm (29in model)
- Shimano STEPS E8000 system
- 250W pedal-assist motor
- Custom Focus 378Wh Li-Ion battery
- Claimed weight: 20.9kg (JAM² Pro 29 Model)
- Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- RRP: £3199 – £5199
So What’s Different?
So although these two trail bikes share basically the same name and the same suspension design, what exactly are the differences?
First and foremost; the JAM² of course has a motor. A 250W Shimano STEPS E8000 motor to be specific, which is tucked inside the bottom bracket shell of the frame. A custom rechargeable battery is then hidden inside the frame’s downtube, which powers the pedal-assist motor as you’re gassing it along the trail.
The motor is torque-sensitive, and offers four modes (Walk, Eco, Trail & Boost). The concept is simple; you press on the pedals, and the motor matches your power output all the way up to 250 Watts. That means you’ll only get out what you put in, so you still actually have to work to make it go. Contrary to what a lot of people on the internets believe, there is no throttle.
And just like all pedal-assist motors on e-bikes and e-MTBs, its speed limited to 25km/h. So when you go over that speed, the motor cuts out and you’re on your own. Not quite 64km/h like some of the rogue electric motor bikes out there…
Second; frame material. The JAM is available in both carbon and alloy frame options, whereas the JAM² is currently available in alloy. However, given the commercial popularity of the JAM², we wouldn’t be surprised to see a carbon version in the near future.
Third; wheelsize. The JAM is only made in a 27.5in wheelsize, though there are rumours that we may see some bigger-wheeled options in the future. As for the JAM², it comes in both 29in and 27.5+ options, depending on your flavour. I rode the 29er version at the Focus JAM² launch, while Focus only brought the 27.5+ versions for our demo day.
Fourth; weight. Because of the motor and battery system, the JAM² is heavier. Also, it’s made of alloy, whereas the top-end JAM models are made in carbon. Of course it’s a little unfair comparing the alloy JAM² to the top-end carbon JAM C SL, but hey, it is what it is. And that is? A hefty 9kg difference. Phew!
Fifth; geometry. Both bikes share a fairly similar set of numbers, but because of the wheelsize and motor differences, there are some changes for the JAM². The head angle is a touch slacker on the JAM² at 66.5º to add further high-speed stability, and it’s also longer in the chainstay. Instead of the tight 425mm chainstay length of the JAM, the JAM² in 27.5+ trim ups that measurement to 457mm. In the 29in option, the JAM² pushes the chainstay length to a much longer 470mm. That also adds quite a bit to the overall wheelbase.
What We Thought
During our day out with Focus Bikes, we had the opportunity to back-to-back test the Focus JAM & JAM² on the same trails. With a mix of riders from the office, we also had a variety of opinions about both the regular and motorised version of the JAM.
Here’s what the team had to say about the regular JAM;
Ross: “It felt quite light to ride, but then most things do compared to my Kona Process 153! I thought it climbed well and had good traction, and it was also really fun and playful on the descents. It didn’t have that “dead” feeling on flatter and more contouring trails that some long-travel trail bikes can get. It was quite short in the top tube (455mm Reach on Ross’ Large frame size), so I’d consider upsizing to the X-Large size. Who do I think will be into this bike? I think a lot of trail riders will be into the JAM. It ticks a lot of boxes for 99% of riding in the UK, but of course some people will still want more travel – whether they need it or not.”
Andi: “I thought it was a really good looking bike, and I like the colour Focus has gone with. It’s also really light. I didn’t like that it was quite short, even on the Large frame size (for reference, Andi stands at 178cm tall and usually straddles the difference between a Medium and a Large frame size). The suspension is really supple, but for my riding style, I’d like the suspension to ramp up a little faster for a more playful ride.”
Wil: “I reckon Focus has the rear suspension dialled on the F.O.L.D platform. It’s got a controlled two-phase stroke that allows for really impressive small-bump sensitivity and excellent traction. With the addition of some shock spacers to reduce volume, it would be quite easy to alter the feel of the suspension to get it dialled in to how you want it. So in Andi’s case, reducing the volume with spacers would help to give the bike more ‘pop’ that he’s after. The Medium frame size fit me well, and while it isn’t mega long, I actually found the handling to be quite intuitive on the tight and twisty trails we rode on. It’s a very nimble bike. Overall though, the JAM definitely feels more all mountain than XC – you can get away with a lot on this thing.”
And what about the JAM²?
Ross: “BOOOOOOOSSSTTT…!!!! Oh yes, this bad boy made the climbs way more fun, and it made me try to ride up things that you really shouldn’t. It was also really good fun on more mellow and pedally trails but still not too cumbersome the technical descents. Like the regular JAM though, it’s still a bit short for my liking – especially coming from a Kona Process, which is really long in the reach. As to who the JAM² would suit? People who want to ride their bike as much as possible and enjoy all the riding including the climbs – that’s who!”
Andi: “I liked the fact that the JAM² is almost identical to the JAM. That gave us a really good opportunity to compare the two together. The Boost mode on that motor makes climbing way more fun, and the plus tyres really suit the assisted power. Although the bike is heavy to lift around the carpark, it doesn’t seem to be an issue when riding. Although we only spent a day riding the JAM², I like that it changed the way that I looked at some of the trails we were riding. Again, I struggled with the short reach. It’s also quite easy to get the bike up to speed and hit the assist cut off. This might seem like a plus, but I wonder if this would become annoying on longer rides with faster terrain. Overall I was really quite excited to ride an e-MTB on some trails, but rather than coming back thinking “this is the future” I actually came away with more doubts. Yes, it’s fun and it makes climbing fast and fun, but perhaps it might feel like a bit of a novelty after a while? I’m still open minded about them, but I’m I’m thinking that the 2nd and 3rd generation e-MTB’s will really push things forward.”
Hannah: “I’m into the smaller battery size on the JAM². While it has a reduced range, you’ve got the piggyback option to add more juice if you really need it. The torque sensor in the trail assist mode makes it feel like you legs are ace rather than the bike is riding away from you – as some e-MTB’s can do. In terms of fit, I also found the JAM² to be quite short. I also had some issues with the Di2 shifting on my test bike, which took away from the overall experience. Because of the dual Firebolt shifter arrangement, the dropper post remote was also a bit of an issue to use. At present, I think it’s for someone who is really struggling to ride without the assist, or to whom money is no object and this is just another N+1 in the fleet. A lease arrangement would be more sensible for most riders at present though – the technology is moving forward so fast and a lease with trade up option would overcome some of the concerns I have about the durability of e-MTB’s in UK winters.”
Mark: “I really like the small battery pack. Who needs several days of charge when you are going out for a few hours of fun? Compared to other e-MTB’s I’ve ridden, the JAM² has a much smoother balancing of motor input thanks to the Shimano STEPS E8000 drive system. And the battery integrated INSIDE the downtube so it doesn’t look like a bike with a tumour. It looks like a bike. While the shorter reach wasn’t a problem for me, the standover height was high. I was on a Small frame and the top tube caressed my testicles when straddling. I’m 5’6″. Personally, I think this is the next level of evolution in e-MTBs and is aimed at the ordinary mountain biker who either needs the extra uplift to keep up with the rest of the group or who wants to ‘do that loop again’ where they would normally quit after the first. It’s not just for riders who are not as fit as they were but for ordinary riders who want to do more.”
As you’ve probably guessed, we’re not here to deliver you hard and fast numbers on this particular test. More so, we simply wanted to use the opportunity to ride two very similar bikes back-to-back and listen to a variety of different opinions from different riders. At the very least, our day out with Focus bikes aboard the JAM and JAM² proved to be an excellent opportunity to assess the real word merits of having a pedal-assist motor between your legs.
And so is it really the future as some brands say it is?
From our experience; yes and no. There are definitely limitations to current e-MTBs on the market, and there is no denying that there is plenty of hate out there for the pedal-assist genre. In general though, we’ve found most of that hate comes from riders who simply haven’t ridden one before. Because once you have, it’s pretty hard to deny that they are actually an absolute hoot to ride. And after all, most of us ride for fun right?
When it comes to current e-MTBs, the Focus JAM² is the leader of the pack. It’s light (for an e-MTB), fast, smooth and has proper trail bike geometry. It makes climbing fun, it allows you to ride more trails in the same given timeframe, and it allows you to gain more vertical metres to bomb longer and steeper descents – and those are all very good things.
However, we still have concerns when it comes to longterm real world durability – particularly Hannah, who rides through all the weathers. And that’s exactly why we’ve just received a Focus JAM² for ongoing testing. We’ll be punishing it through some wet and pasty Pennine filth over the coming months to see whether the pedal-assist novelty does indeed wear off over time, and whether all those extra wires and contacts are indeed as well sealed as they’re said to be.
We’ll keep you updated on progress there, though in the meantime roll on over to the Focus Bikes website for all the info one should require.