Almost 13 years ago I accompanied my new girlfriend (now my wonderful wife) to a 12hr MTB race in a 4WD proving ground south of Melbourne.
I recall the laughter and the cheers of the crowd echoing around the event as riders barrelled into a deep sand trap section during the prologue and I became hooked. While sand traps have moved to CX loops and rugged walking trail has been replaced by sweeping berms, the laughter and camaraderie are still a huge part of endurance racing right around the country. As with the courses, my own racing has evolved. Where once I was happy to battle it out for 16th or 17th place with another arbitrary battler – marvelling at how the pointy end was going way faster than me – I now enjoy racing with a little more professionalism. Or in other words, I don’t race hungover so much anymore.
With great support behind me I’ve lucked into some good outcomes, winning a few races over the years, including an age group 24 HR Solo World Title in 2016 and the odd Cycling Australia and MTBA award.
Where I ride
Like most inner city types I’m often found rolling around on Yarra Trail, the You Yangs or chasing PRs at Lysterfield. Through the Victorian Endurance Series I have been fortunate to cut laps on rad courses all over Victoria (race-tourism for the win!) and when I drive to ride my destinations are usually the sick deep-woods trails of Forrest or the altitude and high concentration radness of Mount Buller. Riding style
Interestingly, I’ve come to think that my riding style is influenced by two key things: Fitness and equipment.
When I’m in great shape I’ll call myself a climber-descender. That irritating kind of cat that will slip by to take the holeshot into the singletrack just as the fireroad ascent ends.
If I’ve had too many beers, or if my bike feels like it’s a kilo too heavy to be competitive then I’ll back off on the big climbs and rely on my ambitions as a descender.
Bike I used to ride
I spent many years on a pimped out Pivot Mach 429 Carbon. 120 mm front, 100 mm rear – stripped down to about 11kg with carbon wheels, XX1 and a blinging cockpit. In recent times I’ve been fortunate enough to ride for a Giant backed team, where I was on Anthem Advanced 0’s complete with 27.5 wheels, dropper posts and full Eagle groupsets.I’m riding Focus because…Focus popped up on my radar after the 2017 Otway Odyssey. Peta Mullins dominated the Elite Womens field and her Focus O1E Team was on display in the Focus marquee at race central. Even dirty as sin, with the effects of being ridden to a race win, the Focus looked amazing and attracted quite a crowd. In speaking with the reps, I was intrigued by the innovative suspension design, liked the idea of the incredibly light weight and found myself speaking in serious tones about getting on one.
What i changed on the bike before i rode it
Out of the box, my bike comes with XT 2X drivetrain and DT Swiss 1900 wheels. While bulletproof, I wanted to match the spinning and rolling stock with the relatively low frame weight. I switched in an XX1 11 speed group and my favourite Curve 30x30 carbon wheels.
Being a big fan of SRAM Level Ultimates I swapped in a set in place of the stock XTs.In retrospect, based purely on weight and bang for buck, I may have simply stumped up for the Focus O1E Team – but I love the stealthy black on black and the balanced SID XX fork and shock combination.
My thoughts on the frame
To look at, the frame on the Focus O1E is clearly German. It’s full high modulus carbon, carries with it no extra baggage, no clumsy carbon bolstering or struts and a subdued but classy paint scheme. Unlike some bikes, where the top tube tapers in nothingness from a massive head tube, the 01E stays measured and consistent through the entire bike. There are no impressions of weakness, no strange recesses for water to accidentally accumulate and no unfortunate gaps for leaves and twigs to get caught. Cables are routed into the frame via a channel on the left of the head tube keeping the frame clean of clutter. While most cables appear close to their termination point (rear shock lockout for instance) the rear mech and brake cables run along the chain stay. These might disappear into the chain stay in future editions, but for now I’m happy to have such a critical part of the frame without any routing holes. And as opposed to my Pivot, it has plenty of space for a full sized water bottle with a normal cage.
The geometry is matched really well with the suspension, leaving me feeling nicely balanced over the bottom bracket, with a relatively steep head angle (69.2 degrees) promoting pleasantly snappy handling and a rear end that is easy to lift and place in mid trail negotiations. Like most modern 29ers the chain stays feel both short and planted. Recent high speed runs down the Delatite trail at Mount Buller were only restricted only by a respect for bushwalkers rather than any twitchiness from the chassis.With all things considered, the O1E’s frame wants for nothing and wants nothing lost. It’s in that rare category bikes that I’ll sit and look at for 20 minutes after I’ve washed it.
Cockpit(handlebars, stem, grips, shifters) (room for garmin?) etc
The stock cockpit is an alloy gig from Focus’ house brand. Capable and dependable, but like most alloy set ups lacking in lightness. Swapping in a 3T combination certainly doesn’t change the ergonomics and allows me to easily attach a race plate over the elegantly placed brake, shifter and lockout cables. There is plenty of space for bar mounted lights, a stem mounted computer and I’ve taken advantage of the SRAM’s Matchmaker clamps to ensure XX1/Level Ultimate are all held together in a simple, svelte package.
I have placed a rubber protector on the top tube where the shifters and brakes can clip it if the bar is spun in a crash, but a slammed stem or a 24 hour situp-high-setup would also solve that. Or don’t crash….that’s another solution.
The stock brakes are the supremely strong and bitey Shimano XTs. They are great for all-day, everyday shredding – but to save weight and for that extra modulation the Level Ultimates are in.
The Ultimates stop brilliantly, feel amazing and allow me to brake later at less risk of skidding. They do like new pads however and will howl and complain should I let a set of pads stay in beyond their use-by date.
SeatLike most of us, I have a favourite perch and on this rig I have switched out Focus’s relatively good looking saddle for my Ergon SMCR 3 Marathon. There are lighter, sexier saddles out there, but after going absolutely, stone cold numb in my man-jewels for two weeks after my first 24 hour race, the weight of a good healthy saddle is something I’m willing to carry.
Wheels and tyres
The stock bike comes equipped with DT Swiss 1900 alloy wheels with DT 350s hubs, XT centrelock rotors and Continental Race King rubber. Great combination for ripping around local trails and rolling over glass or headlong into fallen logs – but for race day I bolt on 1400 gram Curve 30x30s built on DT 240s Boost hubs – shod in either Racing Ralphs or the much under estimated Bontrager XR2s. The Curves are wheels at a whole new level. Their carbon hoops already have excellent vertical compliance and now they’re laced to the new boost 240s they have incredible point-and-shoot lateral stiffness.
The natural choice would be SRAM’s Eagle XX1, and it is a truly sexy piece of kit, but I’ve moved out the stock XT group and replaced it with XX1 1x11. The 11 speed is not only marginally lighter, but it has an ever-so slightly thicker chain, a better grip shift option (which I’ll likely move to) and a better supply of parts and accessories. Over my bottom bracket I’ve got a XX1 Quarq Powermeter. It’s likely that will be swapped out before my next 24 hour race for a simpler, lighter option. (Mostly because it’s scary knowing that a course demands 500+ watts to get over its big climb).SuspensionThe O1E Pro has a 100mm SID XX is paired with its matching 100mm XX shock in what is a pretty popular configuration - but key to my decision to get on a Focus was their new suspension kinematic.
I’m all for drinking marketing Koolaid and most manufacturers will espouse that their design is the best - but what I want as a racer (who goes long) is a bike with amazing climbing, really subtle small bump compliance and the capacity to soak up a mistimed jump or big hit. The Focus system - called Focus Optimized Linkage Design or F.O.L.D (not poets, these Germans) has this interesting thing going where the shock stroke is regressive in the first part of its travel. That is, the shock compresses increasingly easier as I roll over a rock or a log – up to a certain point, then it acts like a normal, progressive shock.
What that means is that the small bump compliance and climbing grip is properly incredible. In recent races I’ve been able to hold significant speed advantages rolling straight through choppy rock gardens, losing very little in the way of either control or forward momentum. Once I’ve hit a jump and (possibly) mangled the landing, the linkage will act progressively so that I don’t bottom out. What is really interesting, and somewhat counterintuitively – is that the linkage actually has inbuilt a margin of ‘lateral travel’. While it is crazy stiff under power, the linkage can also compensate for lateral hits so that I don’t get bounced around in a rock garden or blow through the grip in a big high speed corner.
As good as the F.O.L.D linkage is, Focus have acknowledged that under sprinting power there is no dually that acts like a hardtail and have shipped the O1E with an hydraulic lockout. That gives me a button under my left thumb to immediately turn my XC dually into a road bike for short blasts on smooth sections – something I’ve found invaluable mid race to both save watts and gain meters.
And while it sounds like I’ve been bathing in Koolaid, under racing pressure and during Strava runs this suspension setup has lived up to the hype, ultimately, doing exactly what it should do, disappearing into the fun of the ride.
In current spec, the weight is 10.6kg. The frame is a paltry 1830 grams (sans shock) and there are 01E builds getting down under 9 kilos. If money was no object and if I pimped it out with a Tune finishing kit and cranks – my bike could easily be a kilo lighter. But so would my wallet.Any changes you think you will make to the bike in the future?
Experience has led me to believe that wrists seem to handle 5000+ gear changes in a 24hr race much better than thumbs do, so the only real changes will be to change out the trigger shifter for a grip shifter - and to get a nice light boost spacing crankset and retire the power meter cranks until the next training block.
Who would you like to thank?
Bike Matters Torquay and Focus Bikes Australia have been rad in letting me get on board one of these amazing rigs. Those guys rock.