The Focus Thron 6.9 is an appealing all-rounder with alloy frame, 29in wheels and 130mm travel shared across three-bike range starting at £2,199.
The Focus Thron 6.9 is a short travel trail bike with the ability to double as a bike-packing mule. Does this make it the best mountain bike for the beginner biker? The Thron includes mounts for rack, mudguards and kickstand as well as a small frame bag inside the front triangle.
There’s a moment in every reality cooking show where the contestant boldly explains to the judges that they have a unique take on food that blends two completely different cuisines. Such as Thai haggis, moules korma or some other twisted invention. And it’s at this point that the judge puts on a shocked face and explains that there’s a fine line between fusion and confusion before said contestant is booted off at the next elimination ceremony.
So to the Focus Thron 6.9; a trail bike that thinks it’s an adventure bike, or an adventure bike masquerading as a trail bike? I’m not quite sure which it is since the three-model range includes one fully equipped load lugger complete with rack, mudguards, kickstand and lights, alongside two more conventional options that promise to release your ‘inner child’ and allow you to ‘surf the trails’ at will. Certainly, judging by the photos and video of Olly Wilkins and Ben Deakin out shredding several familiar local spots, it appears to be the latter.
Focus itself says that the Thron was designed first and foremost as a trail bike, and that its ability to shoulder a load was only included if it didn’t compromise its primary role. Certainly, the designers have done a pretty good job disguising its utilitarian side – the rack and mudguard mounts are on the inside of the frame tubes, hidden from sight, while the kickstand mount is inconspicuously integrated into the replaceable dropout. And while I’m totally cool with that, as giving riders options is to be applauded, sadly not every aspect of the Thron is in line with this philosophy.
At the head tube, Focus has fitted its new Cockpit Integration System (CIS). Here, the cables and hose route through the faceplate of the stem, up and over the bar, and then down through the split headset spacers and into the sumo-size head tube. Eventually the gear and brake housings emerge from the chainstays at the other end. It’s inspired by the sleek, cable-free frames popular on road bikes to help reduce drag and improve aerodynamics. But seeing as pedaling resistance off-road mostly comes from the ground, rather than the air, the advantages are slightly more tenuous. Focus cites reduced cable rub and less cable rattle as benefits, but the real reason is aesthetics – it makes for a remarkably clutter-free frame.
What’s less appealing about the system is that, if you ever want to change the length of your stem you’re going to have to remove the gear cable and the dropper cable, and detach the brake hose from the brake lever. Then you’re going to have to reattach everything – assuming the cables haven’t frayed – readjust the gears and re-bleed the brake. So a simple stem swap, that might take a couple of minutes on a regular bike, now takes, well, ages. And if you want to swap the stem for a different brand, you’re going to have to buy a new Acros headset top cap and some round spacers too. In fact, even if you just want to lower the stem, you’re going to have to source at least one round headset spacer as the ones that come on the bike won’t fit above it.
That’s not the only issue with the cockpit. There’s a narrow 760mm bar (I’d prefer a 780mm model as you can always trim a bar, but you can’t extend it) and a dropper post remote that’s virtually impossible to operate without dislocating your wrist. Focus says that was only a problem on the earliest production bikes, and that it has since been solved with a new mount, but I’d recommend checking that is actually the case if you’re considering buying one.
Ultimately none of this may matter to you, in which case happy days, but in my view the disadvantages of this design outweigh the advantages, particularly as many brands (Pon Holdings’s sister brand, Santa Cruz, being one) manage to design internal cable routing that doesn’t rub or rattle and still lets you play around with your cockpit position with minimal faff.
Focus is asking £3,099 for the Thron 6.9, which – considering it’s sold through a dealer network – is pretty decent value. There are a couple of minor cost- cutting choices, including a cheaper, and heavier, Shimano Deore chain and cassette, but seeing as these are consumable items, I don’t consider that a big issue. Everything else, including the excellent Hollowtech 2 crank, is from the highly-regarded XT stable.
There’s no upper chain guide fitted, and the only frame protection is mounted to the chainstay. This wasn’t enough to stop the chain clattering against the frame at the seatstays – likely against the rack eyelet bolt – so to reduce the volume on rough trails, I’d advise adding some rubber protection of your own. I also clipped my heels multiple times on the broad seatstays, which was annoying considering I only have size 43 feet.
With a four-piston XT caliper clamping a 203mm rotor up front there’s plenty of stopping power, but the two-piston caliper and 180mm rotor at the back can become overwhelmed on longer, steeper tracks. If you’re looking to load this bike up with luggage, it would probably be wise to upgrade to a larger rear rotor.
Shod with dual-compound Maxxis Dissector/Rekon tyres, the emphasis here is very much on low rolling resistance and high-speed efficiency. It certainly helps offset some of the Thron’s weight when accelerating, but neither tyre really cuts into soft dirt or sticks to hardpack on fast corners.
How the Focus Thron 6.9 rides
While Focus’s marketing talks about finding your inner child, riding the Thron reminded me of being dragged to the dentist. Harsh? Maybe, but at nearly 16kg it’s overweight for a 130mm trail bike. We’ve had 170mm travel enduro bikes with alloy frames and alloy wheels on test that have weighed less than the Thron, and yet pedalled equally well. All that bulk dulls the bike’s response and quickly drains both energy and enthusiasm. Short travel trail bikes should make you want to sprint out of every corner, flick through every turn, make shapes on every jump and get out of shape on every descent. But the Thron just made me feel out of shape in the fitness sense, rather than wired from flirting with the edge of control.
It doesn’t help that the Thron bobs a bit when you get out of the saddle, also absorbing some of that precious energy. Fortunately the compression lever on the Fox DPS Performance shock is within easy reach under the top tube as you’ll be needing it.
There’s also a relatively compact, upright riding position that is at odds with the reasonably generous on-paper- reach of 471mm. I put that down to the tall head tube and stack of spacers under the CIS stem. Dropping it down 10mm helped lengthen the effective reach and allowed me to put more weight over the front wheel for better cornering grip. But to do that you’ll need to source your own circular spacer.
With more weight over the front contact patch, the Fox 34 Rhythm fork began to reveal its limitations. I ended up running nearly 30 per cent more air pressure than recommended to prevent the fork from diving through its travel, and maintain a better dynamic geometry, yet it would still bottom out with a metallic ping on bigger drops. I’d definitely recommend fitting an extra volume spacer and adding a little compression damping if you’re experiencing similar issues.
Focus’s FOLD suspension system is a single-pivot design with a linkage driven shock. Tweaked on the new Thron and Jam, it gets increased progression, which should make the handling more dynamic, and better suited to aggressive riding. Our test shock came up a bit short on stroke (43mm actual versus 45mm claimed) which impacted the total travel – I only measured 121mm against the 130mm claimed. Being progressive, I set it up with 25 per cent sag (12mm shock stroke) which equated to 240psi for my 75kg. Quite high, but the DPS Performance shock is rated to 350psi, so should cope with the Thron’s 110kg max system weight (rider plus bike).
With 25 per cent sag there was good grip and sensitivity, with the suspension feeling quite active around the sag position, but I didn’t get anywhere near full travel. The most I saw was 34mm stroke, which equates to around 100mm of travel, and this meant the Thron felt a little wild on rougher tracks. Taken in combination with the hard, low-profile tyres, lack of support from the fork, and excess weight meant the Thron left me feeling disappointingly underwhelmed most of the time.
The Thron is designed as a short travel trail bike that promises to blend fun and frivolity with utilitarian function. But in doing so, Focus has missed the mark, both in execution and message. Everything about the Thron points to it being most suitable for new riders and mellow tracks, but the marketing gives the impression that it will make every trail come alive. So while it’s good value with additional versatility, thrills and spills are not really its bread and butter.