The Focus Jarifa is a new breed of European invasion, where Germany sends to us their best electric bikes, and shows us how well an E-bike can be made if you are willing to spend the cash. Forget the hub motor which we see on countless cheap Chinese frames and components that have taken the USA by stormy flood and pawned off on flee bay, the Focus Jarifa features a high-class mid-drive, making this one of the most efficient and clean bikes on the market. Like other German companies Kalkhoff and Rohloff this bike has damned itself with a funny sounding hard-to-remember name “The Jarifa”.
Despite not being able to correctly pronounce it, I was excited to test ride a Panasonic drive bike like the Jarifa and last week I finally got the chance. How did I know about this weird name German bike? I never heard of it and if I did I quickly forgot it. But the Panasonic drive system that powers it is the same unit that was on the Kalkhoff bike that climbed to the top of the Pikes Peak bicycle race, one of only 3 types of bikes to survive this 8000 foot 20-mile climb. I have never been too interested in the Kalkhoff because of its awful styling. But when I heard the sharp styled Focus had incorporated the Panasonic drive system I was intrigued.
I started off the morning in San Francisco on a rare clear day on my hub powered 2000-watt conversion bike and I blasted across the city to New Wheel electric bike shop at top speed knowing what was waiting for me there. Was it a German piece of E-bike porn, that I was depleting my battery so recklessly for? No something way more green and wholesome, a public solar powered E-bike charge station that New Wheel had installed just last week. I arrived with my battery nearly depleted…my motor, battery, and controller still warm, and my eyes watering…I plugged in, locked up, and grabbed a latte and a danish. Knowing my bike would be completely charged again in 2 hours I smiled to myself…nothing like free amp hours. I love electric biking in San Francisco in the summer…and now that I know where there is a welcoming charge station so close to downtown, I like it even more so:
With my E-bike battery getting recharged, I got a 2 minutes briefing on how to operate this new bike by the E-bike shop keeper, and was mounted on top of a brand new Focus Jarfia riding through the hilly region of SF on this pristine day and wondering “where should I go next?” Over the Golden Gate Bridge? Through the flats which are the Golden Gate Park? Along the Ocean to the Cliff House? To downtown and through the Broadway tunnel into Chinatown for some dim sum for brunch?
I headed up Market street and decided last minute to climb to the top of Twin Peaks (the highest point in the city) to experience first hand the climbing spirit of the Panasonic drive. During my 2 hour ride I would climb 1000 feet in 9 miles, and 18 miles total during which I used a little more than half the battery pack. It was a brand new idea for me to have 2 hours of time to try to deplete an electric bike battery (I just depleted one in 20 minutes on my ride here using a simple but less efficient hub-motor). So my plan was to acid test this bike on some mini mountain climbs and try to run that battery down quick. This review consists of my findings and observations during that “acid test” ride.
Panasonic Drive System
The Panasonic drive system is a well built piece of E-bike engineering which drives the bottom bracket and powers the rear wheel through the same drive chain as the rider. It is only available on OEM bikes which have been purpose built around this drive (read our article on mid drives here). It stands as one of the most refined mid-drive systems ever built and because it is mostly marketed to the European market, where electric bikes are more prevalent, it is sold only in 250W and 300W configurations. Too bad..because if they had this in a 750-watt version, me and many other crazy Americans would be drooling all over this electric bike and calling it “e-bike porn“.
The Panasonic Drive and the Law
Because this bike was made for the European market, it has a 300-watt motor that puts it slightly over the Euoropean electric bike standard (they also offer the bike in a 250-watt model). Here in the United States 750-watts is the maximum you can run and still be considered a bicycle. So to put it honestly you are very far from being a law breaker when you ride this 300-watt electic bike. You would really have to try to be a danger to society on this bike….probably have to ride around waving a pistol. I have never felt so legal as I did while riding the Jarifa around. I felt like a Nun in church. It occurred to me that this bike is not only legal now, but will be legal forever since I cannot imagine any snub nosed bureaucrat (not even a congressman from Colorado) coming down hard on E-bikes as good natured and well behaved as this one. When you ride this bike you feel legitimate…you’re not getting away with anything and don’t need to. You are totally legal. You are an E-biker and no one is going to take that right away from you ever…not on this bike.
Panasonic Battery outstanding range:
This bike is not about speed, its about incredible range.
The 2011 Panasonic Drive system on this bike is completed with a sweet as snot 26V / 18-Ah 468-Wh Lithium-Polymer battery system.
This is a large capacity battery (468 watt hour) in as small and lightweight package as possible….meaning when you own this battery you have one of the best chemistries available to any electric biker. What you end up getting when combined with the highly efficient Panasonic mid drive and a pedalec system which forces rider input is outstanding range. I can verify based on my test ride that even when riding in high power mode in hilly terrain you should be able to get 40-miles range, and if you are frugal and pedal hard, you can even accomplish the 80-mile claimed range. The 80-mile range number might be an exaggeration, but it is only a slight exaggeration when compared to how other electric bike companies blatantly overstate their range.
The Panasonic Akku cells used in this pack are among the best lithium polymer cells Panasonic makes, which is one of the finest names in the industry for lithium battery technology. What this means is this pack will give you years of long life, no worries about a battery fire or breaking down. And just so you rest easy, the battery, along with the rest of the components of this electric bike, come with a 2-year warranty.
The bike comes stock with a relatively fast 200-watt charger that will refill this pack in only 2.5 hours. Another nicety is the battery locks into the bike with a key lock, good for preventing theft, and also the battery has a built in battery meter that can be used to test whats left in the battery whether it’s on or off the bike.
Unlike other mid-drives I have ridden such as the Optibike, the Panasonic system is whisper quiet. When riding on a quiet street the low pitched whir of the motor is barely distinguishable. It is even quieter than most hub motors I have ridden (although most hub motors are much more powerful). This bike felt so much more refined and civilized than the Optibike that if you asked me I would guess they cost the same price. (this bike is $3,300 the Optibike is $13,000)
Lightweight and balanced
The Focus Jarifa is the lightest long range electric bike I have ever lifted. When you pick it up it is so well balanced with the weight of the battery and the motor in the middle of the frame, it feels only slightly heavier than a regular mountain bike. This bike does a nice job of feeling like a regular bike both when riding it and when lifting it. You could feasibly carry this bike up a flight of stairs if you have to. For some reason the weight of this bike is not publicized which is surprising given it is probably the lightest electric bike with any descent range I have ever lifted. I think Focus decided not to publish the number because it would sound high in a market place where E-bike companies tend to over state range and under state weight. The Focus Jarifa weighs 45 pounds and is perfectly balanced…which is light for an e-bike.
The Focus Jarifa is whisper quiet, and the mid-drive is hidden fairly well, however the battery behind the seat stay is a dead visual give away that you are riding an electric bike. Also the battery box looks cheap, and really takes away from the style of this bike. Its really too bad Panasonic did not come up with a slick looking package to really finish their system so that people say “wow.” Because that’s what this drive system deserves…and a couple hundred more watts.
Not a thrill Ride
Riding the Focus Jarifa is not like riding one of my electric bikes. The Focus feels more like a bicycle, where my bikes feel more like motor bikes. It lacks power and at some points you can even forget you are on an electric bike and just feel like you are a bicycle rider in great shape. Speaking of forgetting, you can forget about the famous “E-bike grin” when you pin the throttle wide open. Oh wait there is no throttle…when you peddle hard you can at times forget an electric motor is even present, and forget to get thrilled with any type of power or acceleration.
The Focus Jarifa easily stays under the limit of 20-MPH, and this was with me riding the “speed” 300-watt version of this bike with an extra large sprocket for top speed. To get beyond 20-MPH takes either a downhill grade or a lot of peddling input. I was not able to get past 25-MPH on level ground even with peddling. But 20-MPH is fast, and feels pretty fast. Most electric bikes hover around the 20-MPH number but claim in their sales literature that they are much faster…kind of like Focus claiming this bike can go 28. It can go 28 with a great in shape rider…but a great in shape rider can take a carbon road bike to 28 no problem as well.
Personally I would like to take advantage of the US 750 watt limit and up the watts of this bike to 500 watts or even more. The bike feels very under powered for my taste and I would at least like to have the option of getting more juice when I really need it. For example there were times on my ride that I was riding on San Francisco roads with lots of traffic with no bike lane, and the speed of traffic was 30-MPH, and I was wishing P could juice the bike and be able to keep up with traffic, instead of riding slowly on the side and being passed by motorists way more than I am accustomed to when riding an electric bike. Ironically, I felt more in danger riding slower.
The fact that this bike is so slow and gutless is of course my biggest (maybe only) grievance with this bike….but this is not a bike about speed and its among a new breed of bikes coming out in this power range including the Specialized Turbo (Specialized stupidly referred it to the fastest electric bike ever) and the Smart E-bike.
Speed of bike when compared to pedal riders
Obviously speed is an important attribute for me on an electric bike. So to harp just a little more on speed, let me compare myself on the Focus Jarifa to the pedal riders which the San Francisco streets were peppered with the day I test rode the Focus…before you lose patience with me, I will say outright, my conclusion is that the Focus is fast enough:
While on my ride it was interesting for me to see how I would fare against traditional pedal cyclists, who I am accustomed to blowing past on my hub-powered bikes. For regular casual cyclists I passed them easily…in fact I kindly blew past them. For harder core cyclists such as bicycle messengers and amateur road bikers in lycra, I was able to pass but with a lot of pedal input from myself. Some riders I would think twice about passing knowing that I may not be able to stay pass them and they might catch up with me and call me a “cheater.” (commonly shouted at E-bikers)
For the serious road bike cyclists forget about it. I was not able to pass or even catch up to…in fact I was blown past on my ride by several of those spandex guys on racing bikes.
It felt fair riding the Focus Jarifa. It keeps you honest. You are able to pass most cyclists, but the ones who are most likely to get pissed off…the hard core guys….you are forced to respect and not whip past. In fairness they have paid their dues and deserve to be the fastest guys in the bike lane. The Focus Jarifa forced me to do the right thing, and not even attempt to pass one of these dudes. At least I wasn’t called cheater on the entire 2-hour ride. A small success these days when pedaling around my city on an electric bike.
This bike is a pure pedal-assist bike. The harder you pedal on the pedals the harder the motor cranks. This means that your hands are left free to talk on the cell phone, take a picture, drink a Slurpy, smoke a cigarette or eat a hamburger. Lets face it all electric bikers are hedonists to some extent and hands free gives you more opportunity to indulge yourself. You have 3 different levels of pedal assist which you set on the dashboard. Most people opt for high mode since battery life should not be an issue. The pedal assist feature feels super clean the way the power comes on. In fact you barely notice it and just feels like you are riding with magically strong legs.
This bike has no throttle option. You are stuck with Pedal Assist mode. This makes the bike a snap for anyone to get on and start riding but has its drawbacks. There is no way to “cheat” on this bike and travel on pure electric mode. You have to pedal the bike to get electric assist and there is no exceptions. This bike is designed as a hybrid bike only. But there are times I think the owner will want pure electric power. For example when hiking up a steep incline the bike is not capable of climbing its nice to be able to gently throttle the bike as you walk it so you don’t have to carry its weight. Or if you cant pedal because you are carrying a load, an extra passenger, or you just twisted your ankle.
Torque sensing feature
This bike has a sophisticated torque sensing feature which actually senses how much pressure you are putting on the pedals and applies power accordingly. This is different than “cadence” sensors which merely detect the RPMs in which you are pedaling. The torque sensor makes the bike feel more refined when riding. And motivates you not to be lazy and always provide human power to the pedals when you want electric juice. This bike discourages cheating.
Rugged and reliable
According to Brett the manager at New Wheel , he has not experienced a Panasonic drive system failure in all the bikes he has sold. From talking to other dealers and distributors, he thinks that the failure rate of the Panasonic system is as low as 1-2 percent. All the components on the Focus Jarifa are covered by a 2 year warranty in case the motor does fail, and the price of a replacement motor if yours fails after warranty is only $500 plus labor to install. Brett claims that the bike does not use a complicated gear reduction system (and thus the quietness) and the purpose built electric motor is wound so low that it transmits power directly to the drive line. This equates to less moving parts and a more reliable system. The Panasonic drive system is sold in large numbers through out Euorope, and in fact in countries such as Switzerland, it has been said that low power mid drive systems such as the Panasonic,out number hub bikes 2 to 1. This is indeed a proven system, and one thing that is undeniable it is reliable. This system was designed to last thousands of miles and many years. It is completely waterproof as well.
Custom Built Dash
The Focus Jarifa features a LED read out that gives you a good idea of your remaining battery life and a graph which show you how much power the motor is putting out. You have 3 modes of operation…low, medium, and high. The higher the setting. the higher degree of pedal assist the motor offers you.
Every detail seems to have been well thought out on the focus. It has a high quality kickstand that auto disengages when you upright the bike. It comes with a nifty bell (seen in picture under dash). It has front and rear LED lights that are wired into the main battery so that you dont have to fret with extra batteries. When you flick on the light switch on the dashboard, not only does the headlight illuminate, but so does the dash display. Super slick!
Attention to Detail
An example of how every detail of this bike has been thought out, much of the wiring is ran through the frame. Many people associate messy wiring with an electric bike. Not this time…not this electric bike.
High Quality Bicycle Components
This bike is not like riding a cheap Chinese “thrown together” E-bike. Every component has been well thought out, resulting in a very elegant ride. Here are some examples, the bike comes stock with Schwalbe Big Apple tires, Concept SL super light rims, and Shimano hubs and I notice this electric bike coasts like butter. The brakes on this thing are well regarded Avid Elixir hydraulic disc brakes which I notice will lock either tire with a 2-finger pull at any speed. You look at the components list and its obvious that this bike was not made in China, and no short cuts were taken to save a dollar. Of course this expense is passed on to the consumer, but if you ride this bike for thousands of miles every dollar you spent on these quality components will be well worth it. This bike is designed to last for many years.
The Focus Jarifa really had me missing quality front suspension forks. Because of the aggressive riding geometry it is not as convenient to stand up when going over bumpy pavement so most of the time I ended up gritting my teeth and enduring it. Riding through the Mission District in San Francisco where the roads are especially in disrepair, I noticed my arms did get tingly and riding became downright uncomfortable, a sensation I do not get while riding my suspension bikes or fat bikes with cushy tires and a more upright riding geometry. The Focus would really benefit from front suspension forks. I suspect Focus decided to cut them because of the cost it would add to the bike. Given the quality of the rest of the components this bike would need a quality 4″ cross country front suspension fork to remain well balanced, and those can retail for well over $1000. That being said, since this is a commuter road bike, I know if I was purchasing the bike, I would not throw down an extra $1k for front suspension until I had proven to myself I really was going to ride the bike every day.
Shifting on a mid-drive bike, especially a low powered one like the Focus Jarifa, is more integral to the riding of the bike than on a hub motor bike, since you and the motor share the same drive-line. I am not a big fan of derailleurs, and through my 2 hour test ride I struggled with shifting, not being able to shift while torquing the pedals while climbing etc. It seems important to me to have the capacity to change gears while climbing because the grades change etc, but as with any derailleur bike, it is hard to shift while putting a lot of torque on the pedals. If this were my bike I would definitely change out the derailleurs for one of the in the internally geared hub (IGH) shifting systems like the Alfine 11, NuVinci, or even the Rohloff (read review) …and for me the riding experience would have been a lot more pleasant.
This bike comes stock with the Sram double tap trigger shifter. This is a system where depending on the pressure you use when you click, you will shift up or down. It seemed intuitive enough that it could quickly become second nature. Not near as convenient as a throttle shifter on an IGH. After 2 hours of riding I still found myself having to look at which gear I was in as I shifted.
The Focus Jarifa is surprisingly uncomfortable on long rides because you are bent over in an aggressive riding stance. I am not sure why they chose this frame, perhaps for aerodynamics. Speaking of aerodynamics, I thought aero bars would be a nice addition to this frame so you can lay your body down further and therfore change your riding position to ease your back from time to time.
General Ride Impressions
You barely notice the motor when riding because it comes on so smoothly and intuitively. It’s refreshing to not have to worry or think about a throttle. You cannot climb overly steep hill unless you are in really good shape because the motor is not strong enough. It feels like…when you ride this bike it is 50 percent motor, 50 percent you….a true hybrid. If you are not in great shape you are not going to make it to the top of Pikes Peak on this bike, where as the other more powerful mid-drives (like the Optibike) you easily could. Most people I know who ride electric bikes end up using way more electric power than they need or should. This bike makes you work for any juice it gives you, so you end up getting a work out, but not as severe as riding a pedal-bike and you get to your destination much faster. This electric bike would make an excellent commuter especially for someone who is out of shape and wouldn’t ride a regular bike regularly. However, It is not as much fun to ride as even a cheap electric bike with a lot of power and a throttle.
The owner of the Focus that I borrowed opted for a Brooks saddle. After riding on this saddle for 2 hours and reading Kingfish’s saddle review, I have decided that I too think the Brookes is the bee’s knees of electric bike seats. It felt so good riding this bike, I felt guilty in my loins knowing it was some other mans saddle:
IGH- As mentioned before I would really recommend an in the hub gear shifter for this bike…specifically the Alfine 11. Its a $500 option, but if you will ride the bike often it is worth it. If you really feel like spending you can’t go wrong with the German made Rohloff, which is one of the greatest pieces of e-bike porn on our list, and a luxury that will be guaranteed to last the lifetime of this bike and the bike after.
Other extra options I would recommend is a set of saddle bags which look really nice on this bike, and perhaps a set of front suspension forks….but nice ones with 4 inches of travel.
As mentioned earlier, aero bars would be nice on this bike for long commutes. Also consider changing out the handlebars to something more upright if the riding position bothers you like it did me.
Difference between 2011 and 2012
The bike I rode was the 2011 which is a 24V system, where as the 2012 system is 36-volts. Both drive systems put out about the same wattage (300), but the 36 volt system is supposedly a bit peppier off the line. The 2012 bike has a speed limiter which cuts the power to the motor once the bike exceeds 20-MPH. This is a pretty lame “feature” and I would go with the 2011 bike just to lose it.
Also if you take a look at the 2012 specs on the Focus website, the 2012 bike has different components and a much smaller battery. I will ride the 2012 Focus and post my findings here…
I would buy a 2011 (while you still can) over a 2012 for the $1,000 in savings and spare yourself the grief of a 20-MPH governor.
Price and Conclusion
The New Wheel sales this 2011 version of this bike for $3,300. I recommend New Wheel in SF as a reputable and knowledgeable dealer who specializes in this specific bike. Many people would consider this expensive for an electric bike, but if you look at the quality of the components especially the Panasonic battery and mid-drive system, and that the bicycle is assembled and imported from Germany, I would say that this is more than a good deal…this is a bargain. And I am really surprised to see myself write that about a bike that I would consider “slow”. Remember this is a mid-drive, and until recently it was hard to find a mid-drive electric bike in this country for less than $6,000.
Although there is no single E-bike that is the perfect answer for everyone, for many people the Focus is a suitable solution. A durable, sharp looking, high quality electric bike that is for the most part still a bicycle, offering a reasonable amount of assist. and an amazing amount of range. When you ride the Focus you feel like a legitimate cyclist who can ride anywhere no matter how far.
Also with its high quality battery and other electric components, this is an electric bike that you can ride, plug it in and charge, and ride it again…and forget about it. The battery on this bike is light weight for its capacity and is robust, and warrantied to last for 2 years.
I know from experience that if you try to save money on a lithium battery from a less than reputable manufacture, more than likely the battery will fail in the first year of ownership. You can literally go through thousands of dollars worth of battery if you ride every day and do not shop wisely. In this way the Focus can save you money if you are planning to ride it every day. Read our article here on other ways an electric bike can save you money.
If you are not looking for a bike to go 30-MPH and beyond, riding on the street only, and you’re not looking for an exhilarating thrill ride, I would say the Focus Jarifa is an excellent high-quality option at a bargain price.
|Frame||Focus 26” E-Bike Alloy Frame|
|Fork||Focus Alloy disc|
|Tires||Schwalbe Big Apple lite 50-559|
|Gear ratio||front: 41, rear: 11-25|
|Number of Gears||10|
|Shifter||SRAM DoubleTap Trigger|
|Crankset||Concept SL Beta|
|Brakes||Avid Elixir 3, hydraulic disc brake|
|Handlebar||Concept EX, Riser, OS|
|Saddle||Selle Royal Respiro|
|Hubs||Shimano XT disc|
|Rims||Concept SL, Aero superlight|
|Headlight||B&M Lumotec CYO RT, LED, Sensor|
|Backlight||Basta Riff Steady, with standlight|
|Accumulator||New Li-Ion Akku with 18 Ah and 468 Wh|
Written by Eric, June 2012