It is no secret that many European companies have been slow to jump on the 29er bandwagon. With so many product lines built around World Cup cross-country machines it was hard for companies to accept the performance benefits from machines that had been developed away from the racecourse. While the flow of 29ers from Europe has increased from a trickle to a steady stream over the pass few years, 2012 seems to be the year that Europe has finally embraced the 29er. German company Focus is no exception to this trend, and for 2012 hit is the market with their new line of Raven Carbon 29er hard tails.
Focus is best known in the U.S. for road and cyclocross bikes—especially due to their sponsorship of the Jelly Belly and Rapha-Focus teams. Despite the company’s drop bar success, Focus’s roots are deeply planted in the dirt as the company was founded in 1992 by World Cup cross-country racer and three-time cyclocross world champion, Mike Kluge.
The frame on the Raven 29r 2.0 is full carbon. Starting at the head tube, the Raven 29r 2.0 uses a tapered head tube that houses an internal 1.5- to 1.125-inch headset. The top and down tubes merge a few inches behind the head tube forming a graceful and clean junction. The top tube is dramatically ovalized and tapers along its length to the point that it becomes virtually flat at the seat tube junction. The down tube is oversized with a slight ovalized shape. Adding to the clean look of the Raven 29r 2.0 is the internal routing of the derailleur and rear brake cables with integrated insertion ports along the sides of the head tube junction.
The PressFit 30 bottom bracket continues with the oversized theme and serves as a base for the conventionally round, yet oversized seat tube. For extra clearance the seat tube starts a steep angle before arching backwards to 74-degree angle. The chain stays are beautiful shaped and continue with the finely sculpted look of the Raven 29r 2.0. The chain stays start with a mono-block junction at the bottom bracket before splitting into asymmetrical, vertically oversized chain stays. The chain stays taper slightly toward the rear before arcing upwards before the rear dropouts and joining with the seat stays. The non-drive side chain stay houses the mounts for the rear disc brake. The mounts are molded into the chain stays, and, combined with the internal cable routing, add to the clean appearance of the frame. The dropouts sit neatly behind the chain stays and seat stay junction. This makes for a more laterally stiff rear triangle while isolating the seat stays for a smoother ride. The dropouts themselves are carbon with a replaceable alloy derailleur hanger.
The seat stays on the Raven 29r 2.0 are what sets it apart from any other frame on the market. They are ultra-thin and wide. Each seat stay is wider at the dropout before tapering along their length to allow for extra tire clearance before merging seamlessly with the flattened top tube, which is pierced by the extended seat tube.
The frame is then combined with a RockShox Reba RL 29er 100-mm dual-air fork with a Roc Loc remote fork lockout. The Reba features RockShox’s Motion Control damping with external rebound and low-speed compression adjustment. Air pressure can be adjusted via dual Schrader valves. The Reba RL 29er version on the Raven 29r 2.0 came equipped with a conventional 9-mm axle configuration.
Our first impression of the Raven 29r 2.0 was that of a modern carbon hard tail, yet it had a few decidedly retro mountain bike features to it—flat handlebar, bar ends and foam grips. But as we dug deeper, we started to see the bike as a decidedly European cross-country race machine. When the tires hit the dirt, this sleek German hard tail rocketed through the woods. The frame was compliant and reactive, giving a connected yet fluid feel for what the bike was doing under the rider. Out-of-the-saddle sprints were met with a forward leap as the bike accelerated with each pedal stroke. In the saddle, the rider was rewarded with an almost motorcycle-like roll by simply ticking the pedals.
Our Focus Raven 29r 2.0 arrived equipped with a unique mix of a Shimano XT drivetrain with a triple chain ring setup mated to Avid Elixir 7 Carbon hydraulic brakes. The rest of the Focus came equipped with Focus’s in-house brand Concept EX stem, handlebar, 25-mm offset seat post, Fulcrum Red Power 29 wheels wrapped in Continental Race King tires and finished off with a Prologo Nag Evo saddle. The Focus Raven 29r 2.0 tips the scale at 24.6 pounds, without pedals. This is a well-equipped machine, however, unlike many European cross-country bikes that come with ultra-narrow bars, Focus has over compensated with a 700-mm bar and then adds bar ends. Every tester felt the bars were too wide for long cross-country rides. We would ditch the bar ends and hacksawed an inch off each side.
Aside from the wide handlebar, the rider’s compartment on the Raven 29r 2.0 is pure cross-country. Our medium sized frame featured a 69.5-degree head tube angle that gave it stable, predicable handling at speed, while the 23.4-inch top tube kept the rider in a familiar position. The 74-degree seat tube is a steeper than most but the 25-mm offset seat post compensates well by allowing riders wanting a slacker angle room to adjust.
Pointed skyward, the Raven 29r 2.0 feels at home. The frame is stiff and little energy is wasted from the pedals. The steep seat tube angle puts the rider in an aggressive, forward climbing position that results in bike wanting to attack the climbs. This feeling is aided by a low racing cockpit setup, which results in the Raven 29r 2.0 making short work of most ascents. On steep singletrack climbs, the aggressive cockpit keeps the rider low and his/her weight over the front wheel. This results in good front wheel control, but makes keeping the rear weighted properly something one needs to be conscience of when tackling roots and rocks on steep ascents.
On fire road descents the Raven 29r 2.0 is quick, smooth and predicable. The front end goes where directed and holds its line well. In gravel or through stutter bumps, the rear wheel does a respectable job of holding its line. A lot of this has to do with the ultra-flat chain stays that do an admirable job of soaking up trail shock and small impacts. Into singletrack descents the Focus Raven 29r 2.0 is quick. The 29-inch wheels keep it rolling over trail imperfections and maintain speed. Rough sections are best handled by focusing on the front wheel, letting the RockShox Reba do its job and letting the rear triangle absorb what it can. The cross-country geometry provides quick and predicable cornering that is on par with other 29ers. In tight corners extra countersteer is still required, but the bike is still capable of finding apexes on a consistent basis. On long descents the Raven 29r 2.0 keeps pace and makes good time—in a calm and predicable manner.
The rider for the Focus Raven 29r 2.0 is a cross-country racer looking for an all-mountain machine with a touch of Euro styling. They want a clean and stylish bike that is designed to go fast. The Raven 29r 2.0 delivers racecourse performance with a bit more compliance than other race-specific machines.
There are three models in the Raven 29r line. All three use the same frame, with the only changes coming from the components. At the top of the line is the Raven 29r 1.0 that comes equipped with an XTR drivetrain mated to an FSA F-Force Light crank and cockpit. The Raven 29r 1.0 rolls on crankbrothers Cobalt 3 wheels wrapped in Continental Race King tires. A Fox 32 Fit 100-mm fork and Magura brakes round out Focus’s top-of-the-line Raven. Next in line is the Raven 29r 2.0, and finally the Raven 29r 3.0 that comes equipped with a Shimano XT and SLX drivetrain, Fox 32 Float fork and Concept EX cockpit.
Group: Shimano XT
Wheelset: Fulcrum Red Power 29
Other: Concept EX stem, handlebar and seatpost. Continental tires, and Prologo Nago saddle
Weight: 24.6 pounds (w/o pedals)