It’s clear at this point that in general, 29ers are here to stay, and even with incredible developments in full suspension technology, 29″ wheels are allowing hardtails to see a resurgence in popularity due to the way those big wheels help smooth out the bumps.
The 2011 Black Forest 29er from Focus is yet another entry into this market segment. Focus Bikes are designed and fabricated in Germany, and they are quite popular in Europe. They are just now starting to gain traction in the States via retailers Jenson USA and Performance Bike. The 1.0 model carries an MSRP of $2,100 and sells for $1,725 at JensonUSA.com; there’s also a 2.0 for $1,250 and a 3.0 for $875.
Please Note: This is a review of the 2011 model. While I was writing this article, Focus released the preliminary specs for the 2012 model, which I will also discuss below.
After logging hundreds of trail miles on my full suspension Giant Trance, I was nervously excited to try out a hardtail 29er, and the Focus did not disappoint. It has all of the characteristics that I liked about my old 26″ hardtail like fast acceleration and tight handling, but it rolls over trail obstacles much better. I have taken the Black Forest on a number of ‘epic’ rides and it is a comfortable way to spend the day in the saddle.
The bike carries great speed on the flats, and it climbs like a mountain goat on steroids. When pointed uphill, this thing is unstoppable. I have to ding a few points for descending, however, due to the steep 72° head angle (**see 2012 specs below). I was able to descend everything I normally would, but I had to really pay attention to my weight transfer and overall body position. The big wheels definitely help, but overall I feel like the head angle is just too steep for routine duty on technical trails. On the flipside, steering is snappy, uphill switchbacks are a breeze, and I have cleaned large obstacles on the Focus that I was never able to conquer on my full suspension 26er. The relatively short chainstays make it easy to loft the front end, and it even likes to catch some air when the mood strikes.
I covered the SRAM 2×10 setup and other components in detail in my preview post and since then everything has held up very well (other than one brake lever that was sacrificed in a crash). Otherwise, nothing has broken or required anything more than minor adjustment. The Rockshox Recon Silver fork has performed as expected. The X7 crankset is stiff and tight, the X9 shifters work well with the X9/X0 derailleurs, and shifts are always smooth and crisp. The Avid Elixir 3 brakes, which are pretty common in bikes at this price point, have given me no issues. The DT Swiss hubs and wheels have remained tight and true, and the Continental Race King tires have had no flats. Overall the Black Forest is a well thought out and solidly built bike.
Minor Complaints (**see 2012 specs below)
I’ve already mentioned the steep head angle, and I also noticed some flex in the front wheel when pedaling hard and really reefing on the handlebars. I think the big wagon wheels are just too much for the traditional 9mm axle.
The Rockshox fork with remote lockout didn’t give me any problems, and it soaked up the big bumps without complaint, but it was a little harsh at high speed over choppy terrain.
Earlier this season I tested some Geax AKA tires and they completely spoiled me. The Conti’s on the Focus were ok and didn’t let me down. They roll really fast and have nice volume for a 2.2″ tire, but they don’t have anywhere near the traction or cornering prowess of the AKA’s.
At first I was pleasantly surprised by the included ergonomic grips, but they are not lock-on and they almost immediately spun around such that they were no longer ergonomic, becoming instead rather painful. I cut them off and replaced them with some Crank Brothers lock-on foam grips. German bike company Focus, meet German grip manufacturer Ergon. Problem solved…
**The Rest of the Story…
This is where I was going to say what a good first effort this was for Focus as they broke into the 29er hardtail market, but that in comparison to similarly priced models from Giant and Kona… yada, yada – but then I went over to the Focus website and checked out the 2012 Black Forest 29er 1.0. It’s like they read my mind! They addressed every gripe that I had! Here are the highlights:
- Fox 32 Float 100mm fork with what appears to be a through-axle.
- Shimano XT drivetrain.
- Magura MT2 brakes
- A 70° head angle!!!
- Lock-on grips
Clearly Focus has listened to us riders and in one model year they have taken their flagship 29er from a fast, fun bike that was sketchy on technical downhill and transformed it into a bike worthy of all-day epics that can also be a contender on race day. The graphics are more refined, the geometry is dialed in, the components are stepped up a notch, and I’m guessing that they made it lighter too. Make no mistake, Focus intends to have a piece of the 29er hardtail pie, and with their demonstrated attentiveness to riders’ wants and needs, they deserve it! If you’re considering a 29er hardtail for your 2012 stable, then dieses Fahrrad should be on your short list.
A big thank you to Focus for letting me
shamelessly abuse spend time with the Black Forest 29er. (And also for the replacement brake lever)