Focus launched its new SAM enduro bike in late 2018, so we got one in and put it in the hands of our local Calderdale tester, Rik Legge. Over to Rik for the full review.
Focus bikes are a familiar sight to anyone who follows Le Tour, but the range is more diverse than simply road bikes, with the German brand offering an impressive range of mountain bikes including the latest SAM 9.9 model we have here.
This big and burly 27.5in wheeled 170mm enduro bike is an update on the older 160mm SAM model, with changes to the linkage design and frame geometry. The 9.9 sits at the top of the tree, and sports a full carbon frame and mix of high end SRAM parts including Rockshox Lyrik RC2 forks and Rockshox Super Deluxe RCT shock. For those with shallower pockets, the SAM is also available with an alloy mainframe / carbon swingarm and Fox suspension for £3,599.
While labelled as “Enduro” on the Focus website, the designers were keen to point out that the SAM was conceived as a fun, all-mountain style bike rather than a dedicated race bike. This struck a chord with me, as although I will race on occasion, most of my riding time is spent having fun in the woods.
I first swung a leg over the SAM at the launch event last year on the dry and dusty trails of Mehring bikepark, so was excited to see how much fun it would be on my local (and distinctly less dusty) trails of West Yorkshire.
The bike features a full carbon frame with a highly distinctive HUGE coffin shaped top-tube / head tube junction. This is not only reassuringly beefy, but also provides a neat entry point for the internal hose and cable routing. The low slung top tube gives plenty of stand-over clearance, but leaves enough room for a bottle cage. The bottom bracket is a press-fit affair, but suffered no creaks during the test period.
The key design difference from the outgoing SAM comes from the FOLD linkage (that’s “Focus Optimized Linkage Design” acronym fans) with two small linkages tucked inside the main frame, helping to keep weight low down and central.
Focus claims that the two links are engineered with different levels of stiffness; the link to the shock being very stiff (reducing side-loading on the shock) and the link to the rear end being more compliant, helping the rear wheel track on uneven ground.
The shock is mounted vertically, attached to the mainframe just above the bottom bracket, where the shape of the frame creates a bit of a water and mud collection point. Nevertheless, the very neat linkages of the FOLD system free up a great deal of space in the frame, allowing a bottle to be fitted easily if desired.
The FOLD kinematics aim to provide a highly sensitive, digressive, initial phase up to the sag point, after which it progressively ramps up for mid-stroke support and to resist bottoming. Focus also then tunes the rear shocks to complement this leverage curve, and I found the RockShox Super Deluxe RCT shock on the SAM 9.9 complemented the 170mm Lyrik RC2 well, offering a balanced and supportive ride.
Geometry is modern without going to extremes; a fairly slack 64.8° head angle, a fairly steep 75° seat angle, and a fairly low (unsagged) 13mm BB drop.
I am 5’6” with comparatively long body and short legs, and have sometimes had to size up in order to get the reach measurement that feels comfortable. On paper, the small sized SAM looked about right though, with a reach of 420mm. On a medium, this stretches to 440mm, and 460mm on a large.
Disappointingly though, the SAM is only available in these three sizes so taller riders will need to look elsewhere.
The seat tubes are short to allow for longer dropper posts, and the bike is supplied with 150mm drop Reverb posts on the Medium and Large sizes. On the small however, this is reduced to a 125mm drop and being used to a longer travel seatpost, I found this a touch restrictive.
Another minor gripe was the seat collar, which needed to be really cranked up very tightly to prevent the seatpost twisting, and requiring a torx rather than more common allen key. At least it only needed doing once.
The groupset was a dependable mix from SRAM. Drivetrain duties were handled by the ubiquitous 12-speed GX Eagle with an upgraded Truvativ Descendent Carbon crank, while Guide RSC brakes did the stopping.
The brakes were reliable and powerful throughout the test, and I found Eagle to be fantastic when perfectly adjusted, but prone to skipping if cable tension was not spot on.
Wheels are nice and wide (30mm internal width) Race Face Turbines in boost flavour, shod with 2.5in Maxxis tyres. I was a somewhat confused about the tyre choice, as Focus had chosen to run a Minion DHF at the rear and High Roller up front. Personally I would have switched these around, although in any case I found I wanted something with more bite in greasy winter conditions, so swapped to a Magic Mary at the front for the duration of the test.
Although the frame is not designed to run plus sized tyres, there was plenty of mud clearance and I would anticipate a 2.6in tyre would have been fine too.
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2019 Focus SAM 9.9
- Frame // Carbon fibre, 170mm travel
- Fork // RockShox Lyrik RC2, 170mm travel
- Shock // RockShox Super Deluxe RCT, 230x65mm
- Wheels // Race Face Turbine 584-30, 148x12mm / 110x15mm
- Tyres // Maxxis 3C EXO HighRoller II 2.5in Front & Minion DHF 2.5in Rear
- Cranks // Truvativ Descendant Carbon DUB, 32t
- Rear mech // SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed
- Shifter // SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed
- Cassette // SRAM PG1275 10-50t
- Brakes // SRAM Guide RSC
- Stem // BBB Aluminium 55mm
- Bar // BBB Aluminium, 20mm rise, 780mm width
- Grips // Race Face Grippler
- Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6mm, 125mm travel
- Saddle // Prologo Dimension NDR
- Size Tested // Small
- Sizes Available // Small, Medium, Large
- Weight // 13.5kg (29.7lb)
- RRP // £5,499
|Tested:||by Rik Legge for 2 months|