We’ve featured two previous Rocky Mountain tests in TREAD – the Instinct 970MSL and the Element 950RSL. This 970RSL is the second Element we’ve ridden from the highly respected Canadian-based bike brand, which is gradually growing its South African market presence.
By the TREAD testers
Photos: Dino Lloyd
The Element range is Rocky Mountain’s 29er full-sus XC offering, first developed in 1996. Unlike the 950RSL, which has a carbon frame and alloy rear triangle, the 970RSL is full carbon throughout, boasting Rocky Mountain’s Smoothwall™ construction and Smoothlink™ suspension with ABC™ pivots. The bright, almost dayglow, red frame is very distinctive and, combined with the maple leaf design elements, bound to get a second glance from both new and discerning mountain bikers. Also distinctive is the gratuitous speccing of Race Face components. Nothing wrong with that of course as the Turbine cranks, bars, seatpost and stem are all high quality items. The seat clamp itself deserves a mention. The design looks like something from a Mad Max set, but it does make a lot of sense and enables easy saddle position adjustment.
While the design of the Element may appear unchanged over the years (cue the awkward looking shock angle), Rocky Mountain has actually changed it a bit in terms of the geometry (70.6-degree headtube and 74-degree seattube) and the stance, retaining the shortish chainstay length (445mm) but increasing the wheelbase to 1120mm versus the previous 1097mm. This makes for a slightly more stable feel but with a fairly aggressive geometry (very aggressive by Canadian standards).
Plus there are now five sizing options from S to XXL – quite a range for a 29er. Our test bike was a Large, which measures close to a traditional 18-inch frame and fitted our test riders well (we’re all around 1.74-77m tall with a slight variation on our respective inseam measurements).
The standard specced wheelset is Stan’s Crest rims, laced to Shimano XT hubs, shod with Maxxis Ikons. But our test bike came with Easton EA90 wheels and Schwalbe Racing Ralph rear and a Rocket Ron up front. We’ve had a fair amount of experience with the original wheel spec and find it a good balance between weight and performance. We didn’t experience any on-the-bike problems with the Easton wheelset, considering they’d made it through the 2015 Cape Epic and our regular rides, which included hammering them at Garden Route Trail Park and the rougher North West terrain at Van Gaalen. After the bike had been standing for a few days, we did however have to strip the freehub (thanks for the help Sprocket & Jack) and rebuild it after it started sticking while freewheeling. But given the above, we reckon that should be fairly normal maintenance on any wheelset.
The suspension is Fox Float front and rear with remote CTD adjustment. There’s 95mm of travel at the rear and 100mm up front, while the there’s maximum stability in the 15mm thru-axle and 12mm x 142mm rear axle. The brakes are Shimano XT with 180mm rotors front and rear, and the drivetrain is Shimano XT 2×10 with a XTR rear derailleur. In all, a pretty impressive parts spec.
Our first ride on the Element 970RSL was on the Garden Route Trail Park’s trails (we’d been invited by Volvo and POC who were introducing their collaboration to the South African cycling and motoring media). Characterised by ancient indigenous forestry, singletrack, berms, table tops and steep climbs, it was the perfect petri dish of test conditions for the Element (we’re steadfastly avoiding puns).
We were pleasantly surprised. We expected the Element to take a bit of getting used to as far as handling went, but as soon as we hit the first twisty forested singletrack, it was in its, er, element (sorry). The suspension feel is plusher than we expected and the front end is super stable. This gave us enough confidence to really stick it into the berms and tackle some of the tabletop jumps. Climbing on the steep ascents was steady and efficient, while hard, seated bursts of acceleration were possible due to well-maintained rear-wheel traction, assisted with the use of the remote CTD (something that is still an art to set up properly). In all, a very capable climber.
Fast forward to the Ashburton Investments Marathon Series (National Champs) at Van Gaalen to completely contrasting terrain. Not the longest of climbs, but steep, loose and rocky. Technical descents and long sections of unpredictable riverside singletrack. Because this was a race and we wanted as much efficiency as possible, we upped the suspension pressure a bit – 200psi rear and 140psi front (70kg rider), whilst keeping the rebound more neutral. It did actually feel faster and we didn’t feel like we were being beaten up on the rough, rocky descents. Throughout this and previous rides we’d find ourselves using the CTD a fair bit, albeit 90% in the Trail mode. We obviously set it to Descend mode on the steep, unpredictable descents and loved that it comes with 180mm rotors front and rear, which offered a little more momentum control, when required.
The 740mm wide bars certainly ensured optimal control, especially on corners where we really loved the way the Element tracked with precision and poise.
Ultimately, the Rocky Mountain Element 970RSL is pitched as a cross-country come marathon/endurance bike. While it fits this category perfectly, we’d happily take it on some all-day trail rides or even try out the odd Enduro event. There’s actually a BC Edition of the RSL, which has 120mm of fork travel and a dropper seatpost, an ideal Enduro machine, but it’s unlikely to be easily found on shop floors in SA – you’d have to order it specifically. Buying a Rocky Mountain means you buy into a brand that’s got serious mountain bike cred. And the Element 970RSL is a classy confirmation of that cred.
SIZES: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
TOP TUBE LENGTH: 605mm
SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 470mm
HEAD TUBE ANGLE: 70.6 degrees
SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 74 degrees
CHAINSTAY LENGTH: 445mm
PRICE: R68 930
COLOURS: Neon red with black/white accents.
FRAME: Smoothwall High Modular Carbon
WEIGHT: 11.62Kg (tubeless with pedals)
FORK: Fox 32 Float Remote CTD 100mm, 15mm thru-axle
SHOCK: Fox Float Remote CTD Custom race valving 95mm
SHIFTERS: Shimano XT 2×10
FRONT DERAILLER: Shimano XT (2×11)
REAR DERAILLER: Shimano XTR 10speed Shadow Plus (11-36 Cassette)
CRANKSET: RaceFace Turbine 170mm (38/24)
BRAKESET: Shimano XT, Front/Rear 180mm rotors
WHEELS: Stan’s ZTR Crest Rims, Shimano XT 32h Centerlock Hubs, DT Swiss Competition Spokes. (Tested: Easton EA90 Wheelset)
TYRES: Maxxis Ikon folding 2.2 (Tested: Schwalbe Rocket Ron front, Racing Ralph rear)
OTHERS: RaceFace Turbine 740mm handlebars, RaceFace Turbine 70/90mm Stem, RaceFace Turbine Seatpost, WTB Silverado Race Saddle
CONTACT: www.hullabaloo.co.za; 012 6600016
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 35, 2015 – All rights reserved