From the off it’s obvious that the Focus leans towards the competitive arena. A 70.5deg head angle and 73.5deg seat angle are more common on road machines and resulted in a true flat-back race snake stretch. The medium (17.5in or 45cm) frame tested is the smallest on test and the length of the cockpit confirms this. At 22.5in long, the top tube feels quite cramped. In reality we were right on the cusp of frame sizes.
And if we had decided to go for the larger size, the steep angles would have been even more of a handful.
Shape aside, the frame is well made. Neat welding and tidy, under-the-top-tube cable routing. There is nothing particularly flashy, but most boxes are ticked. 3D gusset, check; ovalised down tube at bottom bracket, check: round to box section top tube, check. It’s a shame to see canti bosses on the seatstays at this price. Their removal would allow thinner walled tubing to be used, which would further improve the comfort of the rear end.

Buying direct does wonders for value, and the forks prove that. RockShox Reba SL is a top-notch fork. Dual Air springs allow you to totally tune the ride characteristics, and the Motion Control damping (as seen on the Giant’s Recons) to control the action. A bar-mounted Pop Loc lever also makes locking out and releasing a cinch. Once set up, we never really thought about them again, which says it all.

While consistent with the rest of the bikes on test, they did not seem to fit with the rest of the parts on the Focus. Stainless steel eyeleted Alex rims will never win prizes for bling, but they work well enough and don’t weigh too much. The tyres, on the other hand, seemed at odds with the bike: wide, large volume 2.3in Continental Speed Kings. They may be fast rolling, but light they are not, and on anything other than dry trails the wide tread pattern didn’t cope. Large gaps between the blocks made for a very grip-slip-grip-slip cornering experience. Hardly a race-ready tread!

It is here that the value becomes apparent. Almost a full XT group set is unheard of from the big names, and will give years of service. Upgraded (over others on test) Juicy Five brakes perform as well as their cheaper cousins but save a little weight. This was negated by the use of a 185mm front rotor. Braking power is improved, but the tyres can’t cope, and who needs a large rotor on an XC race bike?
A carbon face-plated stem is another nod to its competitive heritage, as is the narrow, flat bar. If companies have to spec a flat bar, can we not at least have a full width one?

Once riding we never noticed the kit’s performance. This level of componentry just works well, for a long time; it’s as simple as that. This did mean we noticed more faults with the frame, namely geometry. It was difficult to get the most from the fork as the head angle only steepens as the fork compresses. The front end had a tendency to tuck under when turning while the fork was loaded. Combine this with the narrow bar and shady tyres and most technical trails were cleared with luck rather than judgement.

Despite the high kit level, the Focus was not as light as we’d hoped. Blame cannot be laid at the feet of the parts, as they are higher quality than anything else on test. Heavy, wide tyres do not help, neither does the larger front rotor, but most of the excess weight must come from the frame. It’s a shame, as the ride comfort is good, despite the canti boss-adorned stays. Geometry is where it falls down; it is just too race specific to be ridden all day. It’s too nervous to be pleasurable after a full day in the saddle, and too heavy to be a genuine race machine.