By Adam Newman. Photos by Justin Steiner.
It’s hard to believe that not very long ago the idea of a carbon fiber mountain bike seemed like an extravagant folly, but these days it seems like carbon hardtail 29ers are about as common as belly buttons. German powerhouse brand Focus is no exception, bringing its Raven platform to the US to join its expansive lineup.
Out of the box the Raven seems to contradict itself. The carbon fiber frame, equipped with bar ends and a long stem, might have you thinking: “racer.” Then you notice the internal dropper seatpost cable routing; the moderate, 70-degree headtube angle; the quick-release seatpost clamp; and the triple crankset and you could be thinking “trail bike.”
Focus tells me this is exactly what they had in mind for this platform: a bike that is comfortable going beyond just race day. Since most riders are using one bike for varied terrain, they wanted to build something more versatile that strictly a race bike.
The 3.0 build kit includes a mix of some high-quality parts with some price-point, house-branded items. The Fox Float 32 with 100mm of travel and the Magura MT2 brakes performed flawlessly throughout the test, as did the Shimano SLX and XT drivetrain. One hiccup was the FSA Comet crankset that occasionally suffered dropped chains. Luckily there is a metal skid plate on the outside of the Press Fit 30 bottom bracket to protect the frame.
The frame is the real star of the show here, since all Raven models share the same mold, layup, and aggressive shaping. The seatstays flatten out significantly, the bottom bracket shell is massive, and the top tube squeezes itself into an almost shockingly thin waist. All cables are routed internally, including the rear brake line, which joins the caliper on the chainstay. It’s a shame such a looker of a frame is covered up with a seemingly endless expanse of logos and a cheesy 26/29-inch measuring graphic on the seatstays—just in case you weren’t sure which size wheels you had.
With chainstays that measure in at a middle-ground 17.5 inches, the bike handles predictably and without drama. Lifting the front end is not difficult, nor is getting into a comfortable, upright position thanks to the tallish head tube and long, uncut steerer. One of the best things I can say about the Raven’s geometry is that it rides like a bike. The handling is neutral and predictable, and it’s good to see 29ers being designed as 29ers, not wanna-be 26es.
Climbing on the Raven is a no-nonsense affair, and I might be one of the last holdouts who still appreciates having a granny gear. When pointed down hill it feels solid and tracks true, even with a quick release front wheel. There is almost no discernable flex in this frame, for better or worse. Despite the flared and flattened seatstays, the Raven is stiff—as stiff as any hardtail I’ve ridden. It’s a double-edged sword, really. Every bit of power is carried straight through to the ground, while the feedback from the trail comes straight back up into your spine. One likely cause is the 31.6mm aluminum seatpost. While the fit and positioning is fine, that stiffness left me suffering on all but the shortest of rides. On really rocky, rooty, or bumpy terrain I had a hard time keeping my keister in the saddle.
By its nature a 29er isn’t the most nimble platform, and in the Raven’s case, the rotating mass didn’t help matters much. The house-branded hubs laced to DT Swiss M520 rims are stout, and since they’re not tubeless compatible out of the box, there is no easy way to shed some weight. With lighter wheels installed, the bike felt more capable of overcoming inertia, both in cornering and accelerating.
Some of the “extras” included also weren’t necessary. The quick-release on the seatpost clamp frequently caught on my shorts and the bar ends frequently caught on every tree or vine along the trail. Removing the former would be an option, but the latter was an outright necessity. I guess you can’t really fault Focus for including extras though.
So is it a racer? Or a trail bike? Or all-arounder? I’m not sure. Focus said they wanted a bike that appeals to a wide audience, not just racers, but the odd mix of features on the Raven left me feeling like it was lacking—dare I say it?—focus. The ability to run a dropper post is awesome, but the the overall weight is a bit of a bummer.
There’s no denying the sexy, gotta-have-it nature of carbon fiber, but to me there are many more factors in a buying decision than just frame material. Compared to the competition with similar spec levels the Raven is priced competitively, so if you want to leave a carbon footprint, this could be your ticket.
- MSRP: $3,400
- Made in Asia, assembled in Germany
- Weight: 27.0lbs.
- Sizes available: S, M, L (tested)
- Warranty: 5 years on manufacturers defects, from date activated.
- Online: www.focus-bikes.com
- Age: 32
- Height: 6’ 2”
- Inseam: 33”
- Weight: 170lbs.