Strangely, we always thought Canadian brand, Rocky Mountain, only made mid-to-high-end priced bikes. Turns out we were wrong. Their entry-point hardtail is the Trailhead, which comes in two price point options: The 940 at R13 999 and the upspecced 950 at R16 700. We spent some time on the 950.
By the TREAD testers
Photos: Dino Lloyd
Made from hydroformed 6061 aluminium, the Trailhead features a tapered headtube and threaded bottom bracket. The geometry is on the slightly easy side of neutral, with a 70.25-degree headtube and 73-degree seattube.
The colour is a gunmetal charcoal which seems to change hue slightly in different light. The Rocky Mountain branding is prominent, but it doesn’t seem to overwhelm it due to careful choice of colour accents, which are blue and yellow. The colour matching is actually rather impressive with seatpost, handlebar, fork and rims all in tune with the frame.
The gear cables (not fully cased) and rear brake hose run under the belly of the top tube, keeping them protected and a good distance from trail debris and giving the bike a tidy appearance in general. The Trailhead 950 is a really good-looking bike.
The suspension fork is a Manitou Marvel Comp TS Air with 100mm of travel, rebound adjust and lockout. It’s not a widely known fork, but seems to be a favoured option for a few bike brands on their lower-end models. An air-fork on a bike this price isn’t always a given.
The wheelset comprises WTB’s Wheeltech rims mated to Shimano hubs. Our test model came with Vittoria tubeless tyres Barzo front and Peyote rear, but the standard spec is Schwalbe Rapid Rob 2.1, which are tubeless convertible.
The groupset is impressive at this price point. Shimano 2×10 drivetrain with XT shifters, XT Shadow rear derailleur and Deore front derailleur and crankset. The brakes are Shimano M506 hydraulic disc with a 180mm front/160mm rear rotor combo.
The cockpit is all Rocky Mountain branded alloy parts and we liked that there is a fairly wide 720mm handlebar.
This kind of speccing shows the brand’s confidence in the Trailhead 950’s riding ability. Most bikes in this price range have a more cumbersome 3x drivetrain and lower-model brakes, but the 950 is clearly specced for high performance riding and, even for a rider that’s not into speed, that’s comforting.
Our very first ride was straight up Table Mountain’s Deer Park climb to the King’s Blockhouse. Those unfamiliar with this climb should know that it is long and steep in places with a number of loose surfaces ranging from gravel to pebbles to stones to rocks – good test for any bike’s climbing prowess. We found the Trailhead 950 to have impressive composure, no matter how loose and rough the surface became. We were also never short of gearing, so even a less-conditioned, weaker rider, will feel fairly comfortable. Once we got the Trailhead 950 to Gauteng, we tackled the more formidable steep, rocky ascents at Thaba Trails. No hardtail really finds these climbs a cinch and rider ability and power is a big factor here. But we never once felt defeated by the bike’s ability. It’s actually a very responsive climber. The low, straight toptube makes for a compact main frame and this kind of design always seems to feel snappy under acceleration.
Descending is where we usually find limits on most lower-end hardtails. With a wide-ish handlebar, slightly ‘easier’ headtube angle, quality brakes with a larger front rotor and a tyre we have a lot of confidence in, we were ambitious when it came to descents. Be it down the slopes of Table Mountain, or Thaba Trails, or even Giba Gorge’s legendary’s steep, shaded rock-and-root-strewn downs, we never felt that the Trailhead was out of its depth on descents.
One thing we didn’t like are the grips. There was too much movement in general, even though we’ve started to accept that grips on low-end models of most brands aren’t great. It would be the first thing we’d upgrade as a buyer.
We did indeed make the Manitou fork work harder than it’s designers possibly intended. It worked through it’s full travel regularly on a number of rides, but we never actually felt it bottom out. It’s not buttery smooth, but then few forks on bikes this level are. It does make a soft, but noticeable pressured-air sound when working through its travel (only really noticeable when you concentrate on it and it’s quiet around you).
Cornering is always a key factor for our test team. We love a good limit push through turns. At 447mm, the Trailhead’s chainstays aren’t that short, but the 1093mm wheelbase on the Medium we tested isn’t that long either. The geometry combination seems to offer good stability through turns, but we still feel that most cornering prowess comes from a bike’s front-end spec, which is pretty good on the 950. On really rough-surface tight turns the fork seemed under real pressure, but it never let us down. And most riders on this model bike will never corner that aggressively.
The current state of the economy in South Africa makes buying, or justifying buying, a new bike difficult for many. Rocky Mountain has been aggressive with it’s speccing of the Trailhead 950 as well as generous with its pricing, making it a great option for those that want full-thrill mountain biking, but are limited in terms of budget. We tested it on a variety of trails in three provinces and it really impressed us with its ambition and composure. The parts spec is reliable and durable making it an exceptionally good value for money bike. It’s certainly a great option for XC racing and will get you through most 2-3-hour South African trail rides with a big grin.
SIZES: XS, S, MD, L, XL
TOP TUBE LENGTH: 592mm
SEAT TUBE LENGTH: 432mm
HEAD TUBE ANGLE: 70.25 degrees
SEAT TUBE ANGLE: 73 degrees
CHAINSTAY LENGTH: 447mm
PRICE: R16 700
COLOURS: Gun-metal Charcoal with yellow/blue detail
FRAME: Hydroformed 6061 Alloy
WEIGHT: 13.8Kg (incl pedals)
FORK: Manitou Marvel Comp air with 100mm travel, rebound and lockout
SHIFTERS: Shimano XT 10-speed
FRONT DERAILLER: Shimano Deore 2×10
REAR DERAILLER: Shimano XT Shadow
CRANKSET: Shimano Deore 38/24T
BRAKESET: Shimano M506 hydraulic disc with 180mm rotor front, 160mm rear
WHEELS: WTB Wheeltech rims, Shimano M3050 hubs
TYRES: Schwalbe Rapid Rob 29×2.1 (tested with Vittoria Barzo)
OTHERS: Rocky Mountain Alloy Seatpost, Rocky Mountain Alloy Handlebars (720mm), RM Alloy Stem, WTB Volt Saddle
CONTACT: www.hullabaloo.co.za; 012 660 0016
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 40, 2016 – All rights reserved