On some level, I think there are a good number of riders on bikes with more travel than they need. That's partly because all-mountain bikes have become so capable and efficient in the past few years, but it's also because many of us have an over-inflated sense of how much bike we need. That’s a bummer because shorter travel bikes are a riot to ride, and in a sense it takes a better rider to really get the most out of them. Plus, you don't need super burly terrain to have fun, and usually the bikes are much more sprightly on climbs and rolling terrain. I'm always psyched to get on a short-travel ripper, so this new ride from Focus definitely sparked my interest.
The Spine will come in four sizes (SM-XL) in both carbon and aluminum. Built around a 68° head angle and 120 millimeters of front and rear travel, the Spine could certainly be put to use as a cross-country speed machine, but is really more of a lightweight trail bike. The rear end is compact with 430-mil chainstays on the aluminum-framed Spine and 428-mil stays on the carbon version. The link that pushes the single-pivot suspension is carbon on all models, and is unique to each frame size–an added production detail that should help keep suspension performance consistent across the different frame sizes. The Spine has room for two bottle cages as well as 3x drivetrain clearance for all the three-ring nostalgics out there. I was bummed, but not surprised, to see a Press Fit 30 bottom bracket on the Spine. Cables run internally after passing through the ports on either side of the headtube.
Focus Spine Ride Impressions
We began our ride with a short fire road climb, and I immediately felt how efficient the suspension was working. With the rear shock set to 27% sag, I was able to get out of the saddle and put power into the drivetrain without feeling like I was wasting much energy. On more technical ascents, the Spine's acceleration helped make up for the reduced rollover of the 27.5" wheels, but there were a few spots that I think I would have cleaned with less body language if the Spine had the larger contact patch and improved rollover of bigger wheels. The rear suspension performed well despite the low-traction conditions.
Our group dropped in during a mild snowstorm, but the snow turned to rain as we descended and the trails were soggy, slick and strewn with loose fist-sized rocks. But I was doing my best to keep up with some pretty fast folks, and at times I was pushing the needle on slippery double track sections. During those high-speed moments, the Spine proved itself capable and calm–more so than its 68° head angle would suggest–and there seemed to be plenty of traction on tap in the rear of the bike. These characteristics proved consistent on singletrack, too. I wouldn't peg the Spine for a day out on the-steepest-shit-you-can-ride, but it wasn't out of sorts on short and steep pitches, and gave me enough confidence to carry decent speed down a wet trail I'd never ridden before.
Focus firmly believes in 27.5 for bikes with more than 100 millimeters of travel, arguing that the smaller wheel outperforms 29" hoops on both technical climbs and descents. I can't disprove that, but there are plenty of people out there who would argue that a bike with 120 millimeters of travel should have 29-inch wheels. I will say, though, that the Spine accelerates very quickly, and that get-up-and-go is complemented by a very lively and playful ride. Every time I began to argue with myself about whether or not 29" wheels would have been the way to go, I was distracted by the Spine's pleas to pump, jump, manual and flick off even the smallest undulations.
Focus will bring bring to market four carbon models ranging in price from $3300-$7700 USD and four aluminum models starting around $2200. There will also be three women’s specific bikes, which will be offered only in aluminum. The women’s bikes will have unique paint and contact point components but are built around the same geometry as the men’s versions. Spine models are forecasted to be available in August.
First Ride: Focus SAM Carbon