Focus SAM 9.9 (Carbon) v Focus SAM2 (e-Bike)

Putting the Focus thoroughbreds head to head.

Righto punk rockers, you’re in for a treat so listen up! A little while ago the crew from Focus Bikes called the [R]evolution MTB Mag office and asked us if we were interested in grabbing the keys to test drive their all new, ultra-hyped, ultra-sick, all-mountain ‘Sam’ Enduro weapon for a review? Our answer was “hell yes!” Then they asked, “Okay well which version would you like?” Eh, I guess they could pick-up on our confusion the voice at the other end of the phone then went on to say, “…the Sam (regular) or the Sam2 (e-Bike)?” Sensing an opportunity and dreams coming true we cheekily replied “Both!” To be honest we never thought that Focus would actually agree to let us get our dirty little hands on such a fine pair of thoroughbreds, worth a combined total of about 20k but hey, as it turned out they were all for it!

Words // Scott Prendergast   Photos // Matt Staggs

It’s has been a few months now since that chat but let us tell you at that time the stoke level was high as we sensed a real opportunity to do what may very well be a world exclusive for [R]evo and [E]vo, a head to head, back to back, mano el mano, all-out battle between Focus Bikes flagship Sam and Sam2 all mountain weapons. It’s obvious we are not going to pick a clear winner from the 2 bikes, as comparing the characteristics of a naturally aspirated MTB sled versus an e-Bike is akin to comparing Beer and Wine (which both are different but still pretty damn good). What we did discover is that both bikes share quite a lot in common besides their namesake. In this article we’d like to introduce you to each bike, chat about some of the unique design concepts of each machine and of course we will fill you in on how each bike performed on the trails.

Marketing spiel aside, what makes the Sam and Sam2 platform stand out from the crowd in our opinion?

Quite simply put, the German based bicycle company Focus Bikes have earned themselves an awesome reputation for delivering high quality bikes with aesthetics that make them look every part as good as they ride. Here at the mag we’ve spent a ton of time riding their mid travel models which include; the ‘Spine’ and the ‘Jam,’ both of which left us signing the Focus brand praises. However quietly we were always frothing to get our hands on the supermodel of their lineup, the one and only bicycle called ‘Sam.’ This rig was designed to tackle and conquer the biggest and gnarliest trails, with is slack design and longer travel the ‘Sam’ certainly promises to pack a punch.

Focus first introduced the ‘Sam’ in 2015, and whilst it had a positive market reputation it wasn’t until Focus released the current design that the Sam exploded with popularity. The difference from the original model and the current version is the heavily revised frame design which features the brand’s impressive F.O.L.D. suspension linkage. The F.O.L.D. linkage is a super clever piece of German engineering which delivers superb rear wheel traction and suspension performance through its entire range of movement, but we’ll chat more about this design later. The next chapter in the ‘Sam’ story is that Focus released an e-Bike version of the Sam last year. By adding a battery and motor along with all the other e-Bike Mod Cons to the ever-popular ‘Sam’ platform we believe Focus bikes were onto a winner.

Their design team have managed to create and e-Bike version whilst keeping intact the unique frame design and aesthetically appealing geometry. At a glance both the Sam and Sam2 really do share a very similar silhouette. Our job prior to this article was pretty clear, we had to try and find out if the resemblance of the two bikes is matched by their handling out on the trails. Does the e-Bike version boast some of the performance and handling characteristics of its regular all-star brother? Well, Lets’ find out……

Okay, okay, so what were the first impressions as we unboxed the pair and got them built?

So, what did we first think when we put this rig together? When we pulled these suckers out of the box they didn’t disappoint. Considering the previous Focus Sam platform hadn’t really changed a great deal in the last few years we were very keen to check out this new rig to see what had changed. The new Sam has adopted what is referred to as the F.O.L.D. rear end which has been closely attributed to the Focus Jam model, of note the Sam’s new front frame triangle and top tube looks really cool, the frame design looks super cool with nice angles and lines, the red on black colours in conjunction with great components had us smiling from the onset.

The Sam2 was so similar is design it was really uncanny, obviously the Sam is running a Carbon frame and the e-Bike version is running an alloy frame, we obviously noticed a weight difference between both bikes which initially had us asking questions on how both bikes would compare in handling once we hit the trails. It’s fair to say both bikes share a lot of the same components and suspension platform, yet once we had these bikes built we put them back to back, aesthetically they looked outstanding on the eye, with their red on black and orange on grey colours and slack simple design we knew these suckers were going to turn some heads.

Tell us about the Sam’s carbon frame? And the shit hot looking headtube, what the go with that design?

We’ve heard a lot about the F.O.L.D. suspension design. This stands for ‘Focus Optimized Linkage Design’ This linkage has closely attributed to the Focus ‘JAM’ trail bike which has now been adopted into their longer travel enduro bike.  The linkage is basically a single pivot setup which is operated by a linkage, this allows the link to use a one-piece rear triangle to minimise the rear triangle twisting creating a stiffer rear end with the progressive subtle nature of a single pivot. This suspension design is regressive in the initial part of the shock stroke and is designed to start ramping up once the shock hits around 30 percent of its travel, this is designed to create a rear end which is subtle over the light trail chatter and provides traction to the real wheel, yet lots of mid to long travel support throughout the stroke of the shock, letting the bike react really well to any heaver hits.

One of the most obvious features of the frame is the over sized top tube and head tube. Sure, it looks good however there is a practical element to this design. This design opens out the head tube which helps integrate the entry point for all the frames internal cable routing, with no external cable clamps or routing we thought we would have a lot more cable rattle, this was not the case. The room within the frame also made it a breeze to fit the internal cables whilst building the bike. Focus have paid particular attention to the layers of carbon fibre whilst constructing the frame which changes depending on the size, this is referred to as ‘SSPS’ or ‘Stable Stiffness Per Size.’ So whatever size you ride you are guaranteed the same strength in the frame design. This is also a reason the head tube is oversize. With more material, its larger, stiffer and stronger under load, not to mention the fact it looks pretty damn cool.

The Sam2 is running an alloy frame, how does is compare and what’s the finish like?

Although the Sam2 runs an alloy frame, they both look really similar, the welds on the frame a really neat and clean and the tope tube, head tube area runs a similar larger design similar to the carbon Sam however has the integrated ‘On/Off’ button on the e-Bike top tube. There is obviously a larger downtube which is built to accommodate the integrated battery and motor designed for the e-Bike. The bike has a matt style pain finish in gun metal grey, which we also think looks pretty cool. All in all, apart from being the alloy e-Bike version, this frame carries the same linkage, shock and suspension design as the Sam. One thing you will notice is the larger style openings in the headtube of the frame where the cables are routed, these are air vents designed to encourage air flow through the frame to keep the battery and motor cooler and prevent any excessive heating.

What kind of specs does the Sam and Sam2 come decked out with?

Both the Sam and Sam2 come decked out with all the modern mod cons every MTB shredder expects. We’re testing the Focus Sam 9.9 in a Large, there is a cheaper version available being the Sam 8.9. The 9.9 boasts some cool features which include; Fork: RockShox Lyrik RC2 (170 mm of travel), Rear shock: RockShox Super Deluxe 170 mm of travel, Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC, Drivetrain: SRAM GX-Eagle, Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, Chain device: Ethirteen Top Guide, Tires: MAXXIS HighRoller II 2.5mm, Maxxis DHF 2.5mm, (tubeless ready) Wheels: Race Face Turbine. Sam2 is spec’d pretty much exactly the same as it’s sibling although it has a couple of differences coming with Sram Code RSC brakes (More stopping power due to the added weight) and Shimano XT cranks which complement the Shimano Steps E8000 e-Bike Motor.

The Shimano E8000 motor is regarded as one of the best e-Bike motors out there. What do we recon about the unit?

The ‘STEPS’ E8000 motor we found to be super strong and capable enough to handle some of the steepest and loosest of trails. This motor is also smooth enough to provide the correct level of support distributed to the drive chain via every pedal stroke. This too provides the rider with that e-Bike edge yet not take away the natural feeling you get when out riding your mountain bike. The motor itself weighs about 2.8kg which Shimano claim as one of the lightest e-Bike motors available. This motor provides powered support for up to 25 km/h and has a maximum power output of 70Nm (250W). This motor really provides what Shimano state as a “Stable, smooth assisted power output regulated by cadence and direct pedalling feel (with or without pedal-assist activated). We couldn’t disagree with that statement.

What are the concepts behind the custom ‘smaller, therefore lighter’ battery that comes with the Sam2?

The Sam2 comes with an integrated battery inside the downtube which has 378wh of capacity, this may seem on the smaller side of battery capacity when it’s compared with other e-Bikes. This is true; however, it creates a lighter, nimble e-Bike due to the lighter/smaller battery size. If you run the bike in the ‘economy’ setting you can get around 40km to 50km out of the tank depending on the amount of elevation. If you run it in the ‘boost’ you’ll still get a solid 2 to 3 hours of running flat out around the trails. And if you run the bike in the ‘trail’ setting you’ll get somewhere in between. Here is the trick though! The Sam2 comes with a ‘Tailored Energy Concept’ (TEC) which is a modular battery system that allows for another 378wh battery to be added to the frame allowing for a total of 746wh. So, if you’re after full day trail missions or local hot laps the Sam2 provides you with the best of both worlds, keeping in mind the added battery for those longer rides will add another 2kg of weight to the bike.

Both bikes come stock with 27.5’ inch wheels. What style of riding is this bike designed for and would you prefer bigger hoops?

With new modern geometry and suspension design the SAM and SAM2 boast 170mm of front and rear travel. These all Mountain Enduro weapons really designed for the type of rider who loves an aggressive style of riding, bike park laps, booters, berms, drops and all out rough stuff. They both come with 27.5″ inch wheels, which are designed to create a long travel whip which has really light and agile handling in all terrain.

27.5’ versus 29’ inch is fast becoming an age-old debate. Our personal opinion is this; if you’re an all-out racer it’s hard to deny the advantage of 29’ inch wheels, they do roll over the rough stuff a little nicer, they have a larger contact patch with the trail surface creating better traction and they are marginally faster. However, whenever we get off the big wheels and onto the smaller hoops, we do like how well they the smaller wheels accelerate and corner, personally we find the smaller hoops a bit more fun to ride but that’s personal thing. We think Focus have hit the mark with the Sam ‘s design. Who knows maybe 26’ inch isn’t dead yet either!

The number one question is how did they ride, how did they compare? Sam v Sam2, who had the knockout blow?

Okay let’s get down to the nitty gritty Sam versus the Sam2. Who won the war? To be 100% honest, nobody. We loved having the option to ride both bikes, it was a good problem to have, as a matter of fact we found a bit more time to ride both. Apart from bike performance a real treat to having the Sam2 was when we knocked off work for the day it is sometimes hard to find that little bit of motivation to go for a quick lap, we all know that feeling. Not with the Sam2, as a matter of fact when we had a spare hour or two, we hit the trails as is required minimal effort to get motivated. When we got out on the trail, we found you didn’t bludge the Sam2 inspired you to explore unknown trails and areas without fear of reprisal for taking the wrong decent. And whilst you were out and about you were getting more of a workout than you would’ve have got at home wasting those hours putting a dent in the couch and gorging yourself on a packets of chicken twisties. So, as a training tool you can’t ignore the benefits of owning an e-Bike.

There wasn’t a great deal we didn’t like about the Sam or the Sam2, the stock grips we found a little hard however cockpit setup is a very personal thing. We also found the bike came stock with a Maxxis Highroller on the front and a Maxxis DHF on the rear, we made a few subtle changes to the width of the bars and the grips but that is obviously a really personal thing along with running the tire combo the other way, these changes were no blight on the performance of this bike, we just found we prefer the setup that way.

We rode this Sam in a large which was around 460mm in reach and had 428mm chain stays creating a light, long whip which was really nimble through corners yet super stable over the rough stuff and at speed. We found the Sam to be super light and easy to pedal yet a beast on the decents. This bike was super impressive all round. If you’re are an all-around aggressive style of trail rider, enduro racer, free rider or downhiller who likes to explore the outer realms of MTB let me assure you the Sam is up for the task.

Well come on then, which bike likes to party the hardest?

Believe us when we tell you we gave both the Sam and Sam2 an absolute hammering through single tracks, XC loops along with heaps of downhill sessions. Both bikes did not disappoint and were up for the task. The F.O.L.D. rear end was super subtle over all the terrain, it provided heaps of traction to the rear wheel and at times the suspension felt bottomless. That design accompanied with the Rockshox shock and Rockshox fork along with the other components Focus have provided a proven performance platform which inspired all around good times.

The main differences in handling characteristics of the Sam versus Sam2 could simply be put like this; sections of trail which were traditionally heaps of fun on a non e-Bike such and descents, corners and jumps the Sam really came into its own. The Sam2 with the extra weight handled a lot differently yet surprisingly well through the more challenging terrain, however the more we got used to the heavier characteristics the more confident we became with the e-Bike however the Sam was always a little more fun to ride on those sections of trail.

However, sections of trails such as climbs, and technical flat or undulating terrain is where the Sam2 came into its own. You know what we’re talking about! Yep those sections of trail you’ve always found to be a bit more mediocre on the regular whip is where we found the Sam2 e-Bike was the champ. It provided the extra power to create fun where there is normally only pain, regret and heavy breathing. Again, the Sam2’s The F.O.L.D. rear end was super subtle over all the terrain, it provided heaps of traction to the rear wheel and at times the suspension felt bottomless. That design accompanied with the Rockshox suspension platform provided a party in the woods. One thing we found was we ran a little extra pressure in the fork and the shock due to the extra weight of the Sam2.

If we had to pick one to call our own which would we pick?

Overall Both the Sam and Sam2 put plenty of smiles on our faces and were super fun to ride. The only major problem is this? Which one to you buy? Well, people that’s just it, that is the problem because we reckon you need to get both. So good luck in your financial negotiations with spouses, partners, parents and banks. Because your all going to need a bigger shed.