Focus actually gave us a sneak preview of their Project Y concept more than a year ago as a lightweight hardtail mountain bike that tipped the scales at just under 13kg/28.6lb complete. Focus’ thinking essentially boiled down to the fact that they were frustrated with the way e-bikes and eMTBs in particular had been in a race to the lowest common denominator of developing bigger motors and longer range batteries that essentially were making e-bikes heavy & lose the natural feel of riding a bike.
Focus Project Y dropbar road & cross bikes
Their latest dropbar Project Y bikes though, aim to bring back that natural ride feel with a light & relatively low power electric motor assist system fully integrated into a carbon frame that can transition from an all road bike to a cyclocross bike to a bikepacking adventure tourer depending on how it’s set up. The idea was to build a series of dropbar e-bikes that had a smooth pedal assist that only really kicked in when you really start climbing. For now the bikes are still concepts and not quite rideable yet (the three bikes we take a close look at after the break have literally only been built up less than a week), but Focus was rolling them out to a dealer preview this week and aims to have they hitting the trail in the next week or two. We can really see much future in motorized cross other than maybe as a joke (right, Femke?), but the rational idea of adding motors to bikes has always been about extending the adventure, so maybe there could be something to Project Y if it manages to balance the power, range & weight trade-offs properly. Most importantly, Focus wants feedback on the project, so read on and chime in…
The Project Y (project why?) bikes all use the same common Fazua Evation e-bike drive system developed in Munich, Germany. What it amounts to is a removable ‘Drive Pack’ system that fits inside the bike’s downtube and includes both the nominal 250W motor & 250Wh battery. Focus has incorporated it into the carbon downtubes of these bikes that is pretty much an unobtrusive as any e-bike on the market.
The Road version is intended to get a Dura-Ace Di2 group with 52/36 gearing and an 11-30 cassette, paired with a carbon Easton EC90 aero bar, Prologo Scratch carbon railed saddle, and 28mm Continental GP4000S tires.
While the Drive Pack is removable, power is transferred to the drivetrain through a gearbox mounted at (and including) the bottom bracket.
There the gearbox turns an integral 110BCD spider to put power to the rear wheel. Rider input is supplied through a pair of independent carbon FSA crank arms that attach with a splined interface. Focus has a number for spider and chainring setups for 2x or 1x road & off-road riding. The bikes themselves can go with or without a braze-on front derailleur mount.
Just above the bottom bracket on the downtube you can see the alloy cooling fins where the motor sits within the overall Drive Pack. For now the bikes are using Fazua’s standard Evation remote to control the different modes of pedal assist, but they aim to integrate a more low-profile solution before the bikes would near any level of production.
We had to laugh when we saw a ‘race-ready’? cyclocross bike with a stealthy electric motor. I mean this is why we have the UCI scanning bikes for hidden motors now, right?
The Cross version is intended to get a mixed Dura-Ace+XTR Di2 1x group with a 42T chainring & 11-40 cassette, finished off with a carbon Easton EC90 SLX3 bar, Prologo Scratch carbon railed saddle, and 32mm Conti Cyclocross King tires with XTR pedals.
But the cross bike version of the Project Y is more about playing in the mud than actually racing (we hope!)
All of the Project Y bikes interestingly use Boost spacing and Focus’ own RAT quick release thru-axles. That means we have three ‘road’ bikes here with 12x148mm rear and 12x110mm front spacing. That was actually the limiting factor why we didn’t get to test ride the bikes. Focus had just built up these first pre-production carbon frames to show us, but hadn’t yet made the proper 110mm RAT axle for the front. What that also involved were Boost spaced road wheels, but Focus worked together with DT Swiss to have some wheels mid-depth Swiss Side aero carbon tubeless wheels built up custom for the project in their BPM wheel works with wider MTB hubs.
The flat mount disc brake only bikes get modular internal cable routing, with each of these bikes setup with Di2 shifting and hydraulic Dura-Ace brakes.
Inside the open carbon downtube we can get a look at what make the Project Y bikes and their Fazua system tick. Rear shift wire & brake hose get routed through the open tube as well as the e-bike control wiring. The Drive Pack then slots into place at the bottom bracket-mounted gearbox, and the motor transfers power through the three-lobed drive spline.
Control wiring is actually routed externally from the bottom of the bolt-on gear box to the mode selector remote and the rear wheel speed sensor that is mounted on the non-driveside chainstay, just above the rear brake line. The bikes’ assist is limited at the standard 25km/hr, but Focus says that their smooth low power design makes it feel natural to transition to higher speeds on the flats and downhills – something we’d be happy to see vs. the major 25km/hr power drop off we feel on most eMTBs.
At the top of the downtube we can see the simple latch that keeps the Drive Pack in place securely over rough terrain, and then the motor+battery Drive Pack combo resting separately, leaned against the handlebar.
The bikepacking adventure bike could be the application that most makes sense for the Project Y e-bike. When you are already packing an extra 10kg of camping gear the extra 4.7kg of the Fazua system will likely have less of an impact on overall ride quality, and the extra help up the climbs will be all the more welcome.
The Adventure version is intended to get a mixed Dura-Ace+XTR Di2 2x group with a 50/34 chainset & 11-40 cassette, finished off with the EC90 SLX3 bar, a Brooks Cambium C15 saddle & matching bartape, 33mm Challenge Chicane clinchers, XTR trail pedals, and an Ortlieb Seat, Handlebar & Frame Packs.
Focus got a bit excited with this adventure build and pieced together an XTR Di2 rear derailleur and a Dura-Ace Di2 front derailleur. Unfortunately that setup won’t work, so they will stick with either XTR or Dura-Ace for both, but they hadn’t yet figured out which way they planned to go. We talked with the European Shimano team again about why there is still the issue where you can’t mix mountain & road Di2 derailleurs in a single setup, and they essentially differed to the Japanese engineers. The official line comes down to the fact that road drivetrains are “system engineered” to work perfectly with one another, and the same with mountain bike drivetrains, meaning that Shimano does not specifically engineered them to be “cross compatible”. As we know “both derailleurs need to come from the same group, although the shifters or switches are interchangeable”. We can surmise that it has a bit to do with differences in chainring steps, plus the variance in the angle of chains from exiting road vs. MTB derailleurs, but still we think that there is little practical reason why it isn’t made to work. It is good to see that the Project Y bikes look to have some provision to mount fenders, with tiny bosses on both the dropouts and fork tips to attach fender stays.
That’s a lot of kit strapped to the bar, so we’d be happy for a little e-assist. And even at 12kg before we load down the bags, good hydro disc brakes & 160mm rotors will be nice to pull the bike back to a stop.
Probably the real key difference to other e-bikes here is that Focus sees the power assist levels as being much lower than what you typically see. Even though the motors have a 250W output (with peak outputs of 400W for short bursts), they have these bikes setup so the assist levels would be 70W, 120W & 250W, respectively. They claim that is maybe less than half or less of what other companies are doing, and goes a long way to making it feel more like you are just having a good day on the bike with fresh legs rather than riding a motorcycle. Save the high power output for the steepest of climbs and enjoy pedaling like you normally would.
Focus thinks this is the balance to riding & enjoying an e-bike like you would a regular bike, and allows them to keep the bike weights low & the riding assist natural. Their goal is to build these bikes under 12kg/26.5lbs, and to do that these builds are pretty top spec, so expect really high prices to match if and when they finally come to market.
Time will tell if it will work as describe and ultimately catch on. I’ve personally thought that several e-bikes I’ve ridden would have benefitted from less boost for rideability, so maybe they are onto something. Feel free to chime in here, and Focus wants your feedback as well as Project Y goes forward…