by Wil Barrett
October 13, 2016
With 160mm of travel, the SAM is Focus Bikes biggest and baddest full suspension mountain bike. But is it only for big mountain riding?
Rewind to Issue #107 of Singletrack Magazine for our grouptest with the Focus SAM C Team.
I first rode the SAM last year at a FOCUS launch in Germany, and I came away rather impressed; I navigated some frankly ridiculously technical terrain with considerably more aplomb, I suspect, than I would have managed on a lesser machine. It’s not an overstatement, then, to say I was looking forward to prolonged exposure to the SAM. Would initial impressions of an extremely capable mountain bike be borne out? So many long travel bikes can give an impression of over-earnest competence which belies their capabilities, and I was keen to see if this was also a bike which had remembered to bring the fun to the party.
The SAM is nominally a 160mm do-anything mountain/enduro bike, and this one is the flagship model for FOCUS, sporting carbon front and rear end. It’s lavishly festooned with top-quality kit too. Like many of its siblings, it shares the distinctive, coffin-shaped top-tube, which is purported to add stiffness, as well as providing somewhere nifty for the cables to go – they disappear into the front, which looks much more elegant than the cabling afterthoughts seen on some other frames.
This XL model sports a 24.8in top tube, which isn’t enormously long for an XL, but this is in part thanks to a steep 75° seat tube – there’s a 65.8° head tube at the other end, while we’re at it. Reach is a not-massively-long-but-not-short-either 468mm (this is an XL remember – if you’re curious, the reach numbers of the Medium and Large models are 435mm and 452mm respectively). And to fully satisfy the numbers-curious, the chainstays are 430mm on this 27.5in-wheeled bike.
Kit-wise, we get a RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 Debonair with a custom tune at the back, a Pike RCT3 Solo Air up front, a full SRAM XX1 drivetrain – there’s no provision for a front mech on the SAM – and SRAM Guide RSC brakes with big 200mm front and 180mm rear rotors (which I was gratified to see). SRAM/RockShox also provides the Reverb 150mm dropper post.
The 60mm stem and 760mm wide bars are both Concept brand from FOCUS. I must confess I’d have liked to see 20mm wider bars and a 10mm shorter stem, but that’s something that’s easily swapped out at the point of sale. It’s also hardly a deal-breaker. And while I’m whinging, the saddle is my proofreader’s nightmare: fi’zi:k. The Tundra M5 is light, narrow and long and, therefore, completely incompatible with my arse, which is none of those things.
The bike feels like it sits pretty low in its travel thanks to that Monarch shock, but even so there’s a commendable lack of bob when climbing as long as you flip the switch on the shock; the three compression damping settings – ‘open’, ‘pedal’ and ‘lock’ – work wonders when it comes to attenuating any pogoing when climbing hard out of the saddle, although I’d have liked a little more control over the compression damping. There’s plenty of fiddling with rebound available though.
Granted, the SAM isn’t the very best climber; you’re not going to be beating the cross-country squad up anything any time soon, but it’s far from a slouch. You’ll just be winching and quietly getting on with things rather than springing up the trail like a bright red gazelle, which is pretty much how I climb anyway. Admirable stiffness from the frame and the wheelset works with the steep seat angle to transfer your pedalling upwards with impressive efficiency, though, despite what some might see as a fairly short front end.
But it’s on the descents that the SAM comes alive, really. Open up the shock, drop the post and let it rip – the slack head angle, front centre and weight distribution make for a bike which is balanced, with just enough room to respond to the slightest weight shift, even as you’re hurtling at a hundred miles per hour down the other side of whichever mountain you’ve just winched up. This is one of those bikes that doesn’t seem to reward any particular riding style over another; it’s just as happy bludgeoning through anything in its path as it is finessing around and over things, and as such is pleasingly versatile.
There are plenty of bikes out there that are achingly capable and extremely quick, but just aren’t that much fun to ride. The SAM isn’t one of them. It’s acceptably competent up, hilariously fast coming down and is an utter hoot in whatever direction you point it. Added up, it’s a hugely capable bike which will get you up the mountains of your choice perfectly happily – although honestly it really lives for hurtling down the other side again. But then, don’t we all?
The Focus Sam is in some ways more of a traditional machine. It’s pretty obviously designed to excel at descending over anything else, and it’s a fearsome machine when pointed downwards. What’s perhaps more surprising is its manners when gravity isn’t working in your favour.
No, it’s not going to win any climbing awards, but it’ll quite happily spin away, and you’ll be none the worse for wear when you reach the top of whichever pass you’re winching up, at which point you can flip the shock open and let the fearsome fun begin.
The Focus SAM C Team Features:
- Frame // SAM160 full carbon
- Shock // RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 HV DebonAir 160mm
- Fork // RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air, 160mm
- Hubs // DT Swiss EX1501 Spline One
- Rims // DT Swiss EX1501 Spline One
- Tyres // Continental Mountain King 2.4/Trail King 2.4
- Chainset // SRAM XX1
- Rear Mech // SRAM XX1
- Shifters // SRAM XX1 11sp.
- Brakes // SRAM Guide RSC
- Stem // Concept EX
- Bars // Concept EX low riser
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth 120mm
- Saddle // fi’zi:k Tundra M5
- Size Tested // XL
- Sizes Available // S, M, L, XL
- Weight: 29.3lbs