Nothing improves your riding like a strict diet, disciplined training and a dedicated schedule of work, rest and recovery. As true as that may be, it is well documented that nothing is nearly as fun as improving your riding by buying a brand spanking new bike. The fresh paint and tires, the smooth shifting and high-tech gadgetry is enough to take ten minutes off your Iceman Out-and-Back, or at least that is what you tell your significant other.
I recently went bike shopping, much to my lovely girlfriend’s chagrin, and after some careful research, I settled on the Focus Black Forest 2.0. While this is mainly a review of that bike,
it’s important to point out why I went with it in the first place. At its price point ($1,200-1,500) it delivers higher quality components as the Specialized, Trek and Giant competitors. You start out with Shimano SLX shifters and XT drive train, Rodi rims and Concept seatpost, handlebar and hubs. At this point, it’s pretty even; until you look at the fork. A Rock Shox Recon, in beautiful, seductive black, beckons from the front end. It’s even complete with a lock-out on your handlebar, just like the real pros. Right there, you’re hooked.
With my pockets lighter and my old bike, Rosemary (a Specialized Rockhopper), traded-in to the wonderful people of Einstein Cycles, I hit the trails. The first thing you noticed is that this bike just goes. While some of that is probably attributable to the 29er wheels and Continental Race King tires, there is definitely something else to it. I measured the bike’s geometry compared to my road bikes, and found that they were actually pretty similar. The top tube is 622mm, about 15mm longer than my road bike. In any case, at least for my size, it fits like something I’m very used to riding and is immediately comfortable.
It doesn’t take long to see how my expensive new bike improves my riding. I was consistently faster on two training climbs,
and that was with a strong headwind each trip up the slope. The larger tires also seem to help traction when standing up and digging deep over the steeper sections. The 29er wheels absorb the little bumps and vibrations as much as they claim, and I noticed the Rock Shox was balanced well with the geometry of the bike. Sitting down or standing up, it didn’t rob very much power by bobbing and sagging with each heavy pedal stroke. Obviously leaning too far forward made it sink, but the frame design minimized the fork’s pressure under normal circumstances much better than my old Specialized. Even with the lock-out, it is nice knowing you needn’t fiddle with it all the time in order to conserve energy.
One area where that old 26er of mine had an edge was weight. The
2009 Specialized Rockhopper weighed in at 26.2 pounds. I threw the Black Forest 2.0 on my trusty bathroom scale (the way the real pros do it) and it pushed the needle just over 31 pounds. The 26 vs 29 argument is a separate piece altogether, and I cannot say with mathematical certainty that the rolling advantage of the 29er makes up for its weight disadvantage. However, I’ll enter in the famous Sovis Theory of Cycling Weight Anxiety. The Theory states that unless you haven’t got a single ounce of fat on you, and cannot, therefore, reduce your weight on the bicycle in any other way except by purchasing light parts, you should not worry about a few grams (or even pounds) on the bike. I cannot help but shake my head when nice gentlemen spend extra money on certain parts to save 100 grams when they have about thirty times that stored in their ample bellies.
Conscious of my own modest paunch, worrying about the weight of the Black Forest only detracts from all it has going for it. It is a racy but tasteful black-and-white, and the ‘Made in Germany’ graphic makes it feel like I am on a Mercedes Benz. The components are the same or better than similarly priced bikes, and the next-level fork and lock-out seal the deal. I admit the weight is a bit of a turn off, and so is its price tag, which at $1490 is at the top end of mid-level mountain bikes, but for the money you get one heck of a race rig. If you’re looking to switch to a 29er, this is definitely worth taking for a test ride.
Pros: Components and value, stylish colors, Rock Shox Recon fork
Cons: Weighs as much as a Huffy, upper-end of price point