The best component list here combined with a full-featured frameset for the lowest price on test means it’s hard to fault the Focus on paper
FRAME AND FORKS
The Focus is certainly bang up to date in feature terms. Very neat internal control routing disappears into a plastic junction box at the head tube and the frame tubes are triple butted to minimise weight and vibration fatigue. An easily adjustable post mount holds the rear brake and a 142x12mm screw-in rear axle with closed dropouts (rather than open quick release slots) creates a more secure, stiffer rear wheel connection. If you don’t like black there’s a blue/green version too, but it’s only available in small, medium and large size options.
Limiting sizes does reduce costs though which means you get the most expensive (Rock Shox Recon) fork on test complete with a 15mm screw through axle to match the frame. Shimano Deore stop and go kit is a byword for dependable durability and own brand Concept wheels and finishing kit perform perfectly adequately.
The big volume Continental Race King 2.2-inch tyres are definitely a good match for the rest of the bike too.
While it’s the parts and frame that might be the outstanding aspects in the showroom, it’s definitely the geometry not the kit that’s the most immediately obvious aspect of the Black Forest’s ride. Specifically, the steep 700-degree head angle makes it very quick steering despite the naturally stable, harder to turn inertia of the bigger wheels. In fact, jumping off the more relaxed steering bikes on test and onto the Focus can trip you up with the way it turns immediately if you’re not careful.
It also makes it feel more nervous on fast and/or slippery descents as the front wheel doesn’t naturally self correct and straighten up as obviously as a slacker angled bike. This does make the Focus feel very responsive and agile when you’re climbing or threading through tight tree lines on the trail at slower speeds however. This will particularly appeal to riders who want to retain the responsiveness of a traditional 26-inch wheeled bike but want the extra rolling smoothness of a 29er. The 15mm front and 142x12mm rear through axles make for a significantly stiffer wheel-to-bike connection and more precise positioning too, so once you’ve adapted to the handling, the Focus is very much on point however tricky things get. The frame itself is also a good overall balance between performance and punishment avoidance.
There’s an encouragingly direct connection to the rear wheel through the cranks and while it’s slightly heavier than the Scott and not quite as stiff as the BMC it’s still competitive with both on the trail. Continental’s chubby Race King tyres add their signature float and easy speed between bike and trail too.
If you’ve suffered at the hands of older versions of these tyres in the wet, this latest version has a noticeably softer, more trustworthy tackiness when the dirt gets damp. The skinny rear stays help you to sustain pedalling rhythm and speed across rougher terrain and there’s less general shake and rattle grief on longer, rougher rides.
VERDICT : If you want a really well specced, smooth, speed retaining and efficient big wheeler that handles as instantly as your old 26-inch race bike, the Black Forest Lite is a great package for the price.
Reviewed in February 2016 issue