ROCKY MOUNTAIN BIKES Announces 2013 Altitude 27.5″ers : by c_g

Last year Rocky we were invited to the presentation of their new line of 29″er bikes, the Vertex Carbon hard tail (here) and the Element full suspension bike (here – then only in Alloy). Then this spring they have added the long awaited carbon frames to the Element 29″er lineup (here and here a ride report on the Element 970 BC Edition) and now there is already the next debut by them – the ROCKY MOUNTAIN Altitude. This bike, that had been in the line for ages has received a full redesign and in the course … received new shoes, too. No, not 29″er wheels but 650bs or better yet 27.5“.

Usually we like to focus on 29″er products, but in the course of our format testing series we have come to certain conclusions and such new bike introductions give us the opportunity to verify our thoughts. Anyhow the bike presented is designed to be a true All-Mountain bike (we like the term „quiver killer“) – a bike that climbs effectively and willingly, descend confidently and ride everywhere with great fun … before we get into further details, here is the new 2013 ROCKY MOUNTAIN Altitude.

The reasons seem obvious – that the desired 150 mm of travel just wouldn´t fit in 29″er size and still create that „Rocky-Feel“ that some love so much. During the presentation the folks from RMB and their German distibutor (BIKE ACTION) went to great lengths in explaining, that wheels size had only been another variable in designing the bike – all formats had been considered, but with the targets set, the „new middle size“ did the job best.

The new Altitude features several technologies we have come to know from other RM Bikes – the Smooth Link Suspension, that pedals effectively throughout the range of gears, the lighter yet stiffer and lower maintenance ABC pivots („Angular Bushing Concept) on all main linkage points, a updated Straight UP geometry, that compensates for the sagged change in geometry and a linkage derived from the successful Element models.

One thing that is new though to ROCKY MOUNTAIN and now first done on the Altitude line is the adjustable shock mount– called RIDE-9. The ingeniously simple system by two interlocking square plates allows the rider to tune the shock rate and the bike´s geometry simultaneously by 9 different positions. The consequent changes in geometry are +/-0,6° angle and +/- 7 mm bottom bracket height adjustment from the neutral position. The adjustment sounds more complicated than it is (we tried it) and the adjustment is paired in triples, depending on the rider weight – so you basically end up with three recommended settings per rider, that are said to alter the shock rate and geometry from XC-like agile to almost Enduro-like plush and stable.

All the Altitude models will feature 142/12 rear axles, internal cable routing (the optional shock remote is external on the alloy bikes), ISCG5 mounts for an optional chain guide, S3 direct mount front derailleur, tapered head tubes (of course), BB92 bottom brackets. All MSL models will come with the new (and supposedly stiffer) DRD „Direct Mount Derailleur“ …
and not to forget in that field of bikes: All Altitudes will be prepared for Stealth dropper posts – with the exit port being on the lower seat tube, just above the bottom bracket.

When it comes to models (and frame materials) – there will be 5 versions available from the start:

One model with a full carbon frame the top version Altitude 790 MSL (all produced in the specific Smooth Wall technology).

Two with the same carbon main frame but an alloy rear triangle (Altitude 770 MSL and 750 MSL),

… and two models with a full FORM 7005 hydroformed alloy frame (Altitude 750 and 730). The full carbon frame has a feathery claimed weight of only 2322 g while an exact weight of the alloy versions not given.

In terms of component choice: All forks come with different versions of FOX F34 Float forks up front (150 mm) and the corresponding rear shock – all of course with FOX´s 2013 trademark CTD („Climb – Traction – Descend“). The MSL models will come with remote levers, while the lower end models need to be adjusted manually. Dropper posts also are exclusive tot the MSL models – with the others having provisions for but coming with standard seat posts. The drive trains come from SRAM (X.0, X.7/.9, X.5/.7) or SHIMANO (XT or SLX), while all brakes are different levels of AVID´s Elixir. Tires are SCHWALBE Nobby Nic 27.5 x 2.35 throughout. As a tribute to the B.C roots there will be lots of Race face components both in cranks and cockpit.

The bikes are said to become available late in 2012, so the wait is moderate.

INITIAL RIDE IMPRESSIONS: (While production frames were not yet available for the press launch– ROCKY MOUNTAIN´s prototyping facility in Vancouver has hand welded a few ridable samples with production specifications last minute which we were able to ride.)

With my experiences from the prior testing series, I am about as much a 27.5″er expert as all other journalists present …for several it was the first time riding a 27.5“ bike … but what has been very interesting for us is the possibility to translate our hard tail based experiences into the longer travel segment.

The immediate response on the new ROCKY MOUNTAIN Altitude has been simply positive – no hint of sluggishness or nervousness, but just the right balance to ensure optimum enjoyment. The seating position has been plain good with no peculiarities – - well the folks at RMB know how to position a rider well in a bike . When comparing the ride to a standard 26“, once more the superior traction and high speed stability shone out. On the other side there was not even a hint of a dominating bike like we have come to see in long travel 29″er bikes this season. For confirmation I rode the bike parallel to a Element RSL BC Edition on the same trails and found the same nimbleness yet easy going feel that I love so much – a thing in RMB jargon is mystically called „THE RIDE“. The weather had been (as seems usual for RMB press camps ;) ) really sloppy on the first day and so the choices for testing had been either good ol’ forestry roads or break neck slippery north shore trails that were trail „challenging“ (positively put ;) ). The latter ones were great fun but observing minor traits of the bike there had been overshadowed by the mere task of „staying on the bike“ in these conditions.

What this type of riding clearly shows though is how much control and All-mountain capacity is built into the Altitude – despite riding on „the edge“ I never felt overwhelmed, or seriously challenged. Under such conditions, where traction was key, the 27.5″er also demonstrated their superiority over standard 26“ wheels – even the „Allgrounder“ Nobby Nic did a really good job there. The suspension feel was of course a bit more active than I had come to know from my 100 mm Element but always right there with no unwanted action – only 150 mm of fully usable and well controlled suspension. Great fun in the rough and surprisingly stable and neutral on the smoother forestry roads. Be it up- or downhill or o the flats, the Smooth Link suspension felt effective and noticeably unnoticeable. With the simple CTD adjustment I always had the right setting at hand and all were well usable – unlike other bikes with CTD I had ridden, even the climb mode was well usable (while on several other bikes it felt mostly „dead“, if you know what I mean).

I rode the bike most of the time in the neutral (central) shock mount position, so my experiences with the Ride 9 are limited, but I did two short circles with the shock in its most forward position (slacker angels and lower BB) and the rearward position (steeper angles and high bottom bracket) and what I felt was impressive: When switched to the forward position, the angles become slacker by 0.6° and the BB drops by 7 mm. Overall the weight gets slightly shifted to the rear and you end up almost with enduro-like and considerably more planted ride feel. On the rear position the bike transform into a more nimble steed achieving an almost XC-like ride that to me felt particularly effective in climbs. RIDE-9 – small change with huge effect it seems.

(Without giving away too much, we will see the debut of yet another ROCKY MOUNTAIN BIKES platform – this time a 29″er – that includes the RIDE9 technology and we strongly count on a more extended ride time)

SUMMARY: Well mannered, willing and capable – that would be my short description of the ROCKY MOUNTAIN Altitude (27.5″er) prototype – by handling, kinematics and especially by the versatile geometry – this is a very potent and fun riding bike that by the RIDE9 tunability seems to have a wider range of usage yet.

About 650b/27.5“: The ride time definitely has been too limited to call this a review, but we see our hypothesis on 27.5″ with long travel bikes confirmed. Where 29″er wheels would compromise the ride and handling of the bike – that is where 27.5″er wheels show a very favorable compromise. I had great fun on the bike and am looking forward to our final phase of the format comparison to follow later this fall.

RIDE ON,
c_g

ps: Thank you to ROCKY MOUNTAIN and BIKE ACTION (www.bikeaction.de) for inviting us to the launch and giving us the chance to broaden our horizon, despite our obvious preference and prime expertise in the real „Big Wheels“.