Without a doubt, the biggest Achilles heel for the current generation of electric mountain bikes is the fact that on average they weigh about six or seven kilograms more than their pedalpowered equivalent, and this weight manifests itself in ways that can affect the riding experience. For example, storing a larger, more awkward bike can be a problem in tighter apartments and garages, while slinging more than 22 kilos of awkwardly shaped object onto the roof of a taller car is made infinitely more difficult with that extra mass. So what's the answer? Less weight, obviously. German company Focus, the brainchild of multiple cyclocross world champion Mike Kluge, reckons it might have come across the solution. To quickly summarise the build of an e-MTB, the electric motor nestles around the bottom bracket and is powered by a battery which is almost universally stowed in the down tube of the bike. How can you reduce the mass on an e-MTB? Simple, make the battery - which is the largest and heaviest part of the frame construction - smaller and thus lighter. The downside is of course you have less capacity. Focus, though, reckons it's nailed the balance.
In the Stand
The Jam² 6.7 Plus is the entry level to a five-model range, and it uses a Shimano Steps E8000 motor with 70Mn of torque and the regulation 250 watts of output. The battery pack, which is semipermanently installed in the down tube, is rated at 378 watt-hours. This is approximately one half to two thirds the capacity of Focus's commercially successful e-MTB rivals on the market today. The frame itself is made from hydro-formed alloy and offers 150mm of rear travel and features a 148x12mm through axle and internal cable routing The specs of this $5,799 bike are down the lower end of the scale, with the cost and the cost factor of the battery and the electric motor accounting for keeping the price figure in check. The fork is a RockShox Recon RL offering 140mm of travel, while its drivetrain harks back to earlier this decade with a Shimano Deore 10 speed set-up running off a single 34t front chainring. Brakes are also an interesting spec.
German company Magura has provided its MT5 disc brakes set with 203mm rotors front and rear. The rear cassette is a 10-speed 11-42t item, while the wheelset is a Race Face AR40 with 40mm internal diameter 27.5-inch rims on Novatec-sealed bearing Boost-width hubs. The rest of the spec is made up of in-house items like Focus’s own excellent Trail saddle, while the entry point dropper post is made by JD. The tyres are provided by Maxxis, with a pair of massive 2.8- inch wide Rekons provided in 3C EXO tubeless-ready form. The spec is certainly not showpony in any way, shape or form, but conversely, the 10-speed set-up isn't actually a silly idea for an e-MTB, which can get away with less range on the rear cassette.
A wider 10-speed chain is arguably as strong as an 11-speed unit and is definitely a cheaper option to buy when they wear out, which they will more quickly on an e-MTB. Aesthetics on the Jam are quite sharp, and it disguises its e-MTB reality quite well. At first glance, it could even be mistaken for an oversized regular style bike… until you get a little closer. This has been Focus’s intention all along we reckon. It hasn't built a bike and then simply added an electric motor; this is a bike that's built from the ground up to be more suited to the everyday punter who doesn't want to advertise the fact that he has an e-MTB.
On the trail
That philosophy of keeping things lighter really works well for the Jam. Right out of the gate, it’s immediately obvious that the Focus carries its mass better than other e-MTBs. It feels natural and conventional to a rider swapping off a non-assisted bike thanks to the E8000’s narrow build which brings the crank’s q-factor down to an almost normal value.The 445mm reach on our large tester is a little shorter than average, but it doesn’t feel unnaturally underdone to this 185cm rider. What does feel a bit unusual in this day and age of raked-out sleds is the relatively sharp 66.5-degree head angle, which feels perfectly natural in an old-school kind of way. The broad footprint of the 27.5 Plus tyres also gives the Jam² a planted, stable base from which to play. The 760mm wide bars could do with a little more sweep, while the single-lock grips are the first thing I’d change, thanks to their propensity to spin under even medium use.
The electronics are activated via a long push on the top tubemounted button, and controlled by an unfeasibly large and klunky two-paddle controller. Such is the shape and size of the controller, it renders the use of a paddle switch for the dropper post impossible. What’s even odder about the arrangement is that Shimano actually makes a much smaller and much more elegant twobutton controller for its cheaper E7000 motor system, and an underbar lever could be fitted to the dropper post by using this switch.
The paddles access three modes - Eco, Trail and Boost, while a small dash gives you vital details like an odometer, a range reading for each mode as well as speed. In Evo mode, the transition between human and electric power is seamless and natural, and for flat transitions to the next climb, more than enough to get a bit of a move on and raise a sweat. When it’s time to go up, Trail mode is strong but just as integrated into your pedalling style. While its thrust is noticeable, it never feels as if it’s overtaking you or adding excessive torque at the rear. Boost, meanwhile, actually feels a bit overdone for most situations, aside from screamingly steep climbs that verge on vertical. Overall, I spent minimal time in Boost as it detracted from the natural feel of the system. It also has an effect on battery life too, and with the Jam’s lighter, smaller stock battery, that’s a real consideration. It’s hard to put precise and repeatable figures around battery life. There are so many variables, like motor load, temperature, charge levels and so on that your results will most certainly vary from ours. In Eco mode it’s possible to achieve around 60km on a full charge, 40km or close to in Trail and about 25km at full Boost mode.
This range can be almost doubled with the addition of a $899 bolt-on accessory battery with the same 378Wh rating as the main battery. It does, however, add another 4kg to the total, and cruels the use of a bottle cage. Dynamically speaking, Focus has long used the FOLD (Focus Optimised Linkage Design) rear suspension system, which favours initial firmness and a softer rampup. The RockShox Deluxe R shock has been valved specifically for the heavier bike, as has the fork. The rear end consists of a one-piece triangle, with its single pivot positioned near the top of the chainring. The linkage is designed to give what’s known as a digressive rate until the shock’s sag point (30% is recommended), where the stroke converts to a progressive rate until the end of the travel. This is designed to provide sensitivity at the beginning of the stroke for better grip, before ramping up to add support during mid-stroke as well as dealing with bigger impacts. The linkage also allows some flex in the rear triangle to help the bike track straight, while the second part of the linkage is designed to drive the shock in a straight line without it side-binding.
In practice it works well too, with a lovely, supple compliance off the top of the stroke giving the rear end an almost bottomless feel. The rear tyre tracks over small debris and manages solid, sharpedged hits well. It does unweight easily under braking, which can lead to a locked rear end at inopportune moments. The fork, though, is the biggest giveaway to the bike’s relatively low price (at least in the e-MTB world). The Recon gives away 10mm of travel to the rear end, while its slender 32mm chassis is simply no match for the decently stiff frame. It ploughs deep into its travel too quickly, and while the big, fat front tyre can disguise a few ills, it’s quickly apparent that the fork is the weakest link.
That’s not to say that it entirely ruins the party - far from it, in fact. The lower centre of mass, the quick-steering front end and the burly Magura brakes combine to produce a trail rig with predictable manners and balanced performance that manages to feel more like a weighty trail rig than a fullon e-MTB. The inherently low pressures that come with Plus tyres are a boon, though I’d love to try the 29-inch-wheeled version of the Jam² as well. It would be a bit sharper, but it would roll even more quickly over lumpy terrain. The component set does its job commendably well, though it’s worth noting that the other entry-level e-MTB on test this issue, the Norco Sight VLT 2, offers a 12-speed drivetrain for around the same price. The Magura lever blades are long and well-shaped, but feel a bit flexy under my fingers. The big four-piston front brake and 203mm rotor are also a bit of overkill for the 32mm fork stanchions.
Overall, the Focus Jam² feels like a great e-MTB for those riders graduating to battery power after a long career in the pedal bike arena. It works with you to tackle terrain rather than just being a big, passive lunk of a bike with power to get you out of trouble. On the downside, it’s pretty expensive for an entry level bike, and the battery extender idea, while clever, adds even more cost, not to mention weight. Our test rig also developed some difficult-to-eradicate creaks from the front end, which we suspect only a full headset replacement or even a fork inspection would have corrected. Still, the Focus Jam² puts the rider back in the frame of the e-MTB experience, and that’s a big tick in our books.