There are some bikes that you sit on and think, ‘hmm I could get used to this if I changed a few things’, there are some bikes that you think, ‘this is just not right’, but most rare of all, are the bikes that you pull straight out of a box, stick on some pedals and instantly ride faster than ever before. The Focus SAM 1.0 is an unashamedly aggressive bike, developed by racers, for racers, and you will want to ride it fast, really fast!
I was first introduced to the Focus SAM last year when I watched team rider and designer Fabian Scholz riding an early prototype at the opening EWS round in Punta Ala. That prototype formed the basis of the Focus SAM and its design evolved over the 2013 EWS series. This year I have been focusing on enjoying more races, so I was delighted to be picked to ride the SAM 1.0 for a season. But the SAM had to be more than just a race bike, I was looking for a bike for long tours, XC rides and big adventures too, and the SAM has not disappointed. It is a bike that you can happily take out for a mellow spin with mates or a big mountain adventure, but I promise you, as soon as you come to a downhill, you will not be able to stop yourself from slamming the reverb, dropping it into the 10t cog and giving it full gas, this bike is amazing fun! But let’s come back to that, first let us look at the build!
If I was building a bike myself, my perfect bike would be low, slack, long and fitted with Pike Forks, XX1 and carbon wheels, so I was pleased to see that this is exactly how the SAM 1.0 is supplied. The build on the SAM screams high end, a mixture of XX1 and XO1 handles the shifting, while the Rockshox Pike and Monarch + suspension offers very high performance. There are no real gaps in the build, even down to the 780mm carbon bars and thin grips! The 27.5″ Reynolds carbon wheels retail at £1600 on their own and are a great benefit to a bike at this price point. The Hans Dampf tyres are one of the best all-rounders out there, but do wear fast and have since been replaced. However, many bikes now offer similar spec lists, how does the SAM perform on the trail?
If I had to describe the SAM in 3 words it would be ‘fast, stable and intuitive’, it is really easy to jump on the SAM and go full gas. I lent the bike to a mate, and he went out on the first ride and blew away all his (very fast) Strava KOM’s, that serves to show just how naturally fast the SAM is, and also how easy it is to unlock the bikes potential. For a long travel bike the SAM is a good climber. A 160mm bike with a 65 degree head angle is never going to be as fast as an XC bike up the hills, but it sure shows some mountain goat tendencies.
The light frame and efficient suspension platform finds plenty of grip, even without relying on the ‘climb’ mode on the shock. Pedal feedback is minimal and the very steep seat angle of 75 degrees puts you in the optimum position. The slack head angle is of course noticeable on steep technical climbs but certainly not a big problem, and the low front end helps lock things down.
Where the SAM really excels is in the corners, showing excellent poise and control, the suspension is very balanced front to rear, and the geometry is spot on. With a bike this slack you need to be up front over the bars, but if you ride aggressively the rear end tracks beautifully, you can really play with the grip through the turns and either rail, or blow off some energy by letting it slide. With the low standover and long wheelbase (1184mm in a medium) the centre of gravity feels very low (7mm drop at the BB), allowing you to really pump the bike through almost any turn. Agile, aggressive and precise, the SAM is a formidable machine.
With a 65 degree head angle and a long top tube (595mm in a medium) and wheelbase this bike was always going to be a beast on the downhills and it does not disappoint. Every terrain that I have exposed this bike too has been attacked and dispatched with confidence and vigour; it is a very capable bike! The suspension kinematics feel quite progressive, and with minimal rebound damping selected encourages an arial style which feels blisteringly fast. The bike offers a lot of grip, and the slack head angle allows you to load up the front wheel on really steep terrain. The 438mm chainstays keep the back end very stable through the turns and it is rare for the rear to skip out without warning (unless encouraged with some back brake).
You really can ‘point and shoot’ on this bike, choose a line, hold on, and smash through it with a smile on your face. The carbon wheelset is stiff and accurate, and the combination of a Pike and Monarch Plus balances really well. Finished with a 780mm bar and 35mm stem the whole package is race ready. With 155 Psi in the Monarch Plus (I am 78kg) the shock runs at 25% sag, and is very responsive to small hits. I have however bottomed it out a couple of times on really fast impacts, and I am going to fit some more volume reducers to the shock. I know the Focus Trail Team riders are all running 4 spacers in their shocks so I will be trying that.
living with the SAM 1.0
The purpose of the long-term test is to bring you all the ups and downs of daily life with the bikes, and after over 1000km and 40,000m of climbing and descending, there have been some small issues with the SAM.
- When I first checked out the bike, and coming from Scotland, some of the pivot hardware looked a little small and fragile for UK riding. I suspected that I would soon start to experience play in the bearings. This however has proven not to be the case! After 5 tough races and lots of abuse riding on really tough rocky trails, the rear end is still tracking as good as new, with no vibration.
- I have replaced one lower shock bushing but that is all so far with respect to the suspension.
- I have experienced the usual barb snapping in the Rockshox Reverb post, and the lower pivot screw dropped out of the Avid brake lever almost straight away, leaving me with a slightly wobbly lever.
- When talking about the brakes, I personally find the Avid X0 Trail brakes are a little severe in their action, making them hard to modulate in deep mud, but they have always offered great power.
- I did experience a slight issue with the cable routing under the bottom bracket causing a bit of frame rub to the BB shell, as soon as I noticed this I added some protection to the area (Sugru) which has solved the problem.
- I had to replace the rear wheel bearings earlier than expected, but it proved an easy job to knock them out and replace them.
The Focus SAM 1.0 is a formidable bike, a wolf in wolfs clothing, and perhaps one of the most capable race bikes you can buy ‘off the shelf’. If you like riding fast, and seek out rough and challenging trails, then the SAM will be an ideal bike for you. With the aggressive geometry and 65 degree head angle, this bike can handle almost any trail, and the only thing holding it back will be the rider. This will be a very popular bike and I am looking forward to riding it more through the season to see how it performs, there is no way Focus are getting it back!
Words and Photos: Trev Worsey