2013 Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL 650b Preview

27.5 All Mountain Trail Enduro


Altitude spans a line that extends in size from Small (15) to XXL (20.5). I can be fairly accused of being a Rocky fanboy having reviewed many Rocky offerings for MTBR in the recent past so won’t recycle expositions about their technology which I’ve recounted in previous articles. Highlights are as follows

  • general purpose riding 150mm rear travel full-suspension bicycle with 650b wheels
  • geometry is slack and low reflecting current rider preferences with neutral position being 67.5 HA/74.5 STA and BB drop being neutral but adjustable …..
  • ….. through the very slick looking patent pending Ride-9 system which offers adjustments of approximately +/- 2 deg in HTA; +/- 2 deg in STA and +/- 10mm in BB drop. That’s pretty substantial and anyone interested should do themselves a favour and read more in this article or click on the Altitude micro-site to see more
  • Altitude uses ABC (Angular Bushing Concept) pivot technology; this saves weight yet increases pivot stiffness (see page 3 of this article re the Element 29er alloy)
  • Other features which now seem commonplace that serve to add stiffness while shaving weight includes a BB92 bottom bracket shell, tapered headtube, massively oversized seat and down tubes at the BB junction, and a E-thru 142x12mm rear end.
  • Smoothwall carbon construction adds stiffness at precisely controlled places while shaving weight and maintaining high QC standards (more about that here on page 2 of this article in re the Element 29er carbon).
  • Other attention to detail items include internal cable routing (with small cassette to make threading those wee cables through downtubes easier), an E-type direct mount front derailleur (mitigating tire clearance issues), cable guides for dropper posts and remote lockouts, an anti chain drop plate to help prevent chain jam and a fitted rubber seat collar sleeve to keep out rain
  • Smoothlink suspension which has been well received in the older Altitude and Element platforms
  • All 2013 Altitudes will be 27.5/650b thus simplifying the lineup and casting dies in favour of this wheelsize; a decision that may well invite much keyboard ranting …. err discussion.

I rode an alloy-framed prototype with the 770 component spec which included a healthy assortment of Race Face Turbine. Why Turbine? According to Rocky’s product manager, the group is relatively light, cost-effective and shifts as well if not better then the competition. Besides they’re Canadian and the stuff looks cool.

Rocky’s been incorporating oversided BB’s into frame design which makes for stiff pedalling platforms. Note the use of BB92, 12×142 rear ends and E-type direct mount front derailleurs – strength + stiffness+ weight commonalities through Rocky’s Vertex, Element and Altitude lineups. Race Face Turbine cranks complete the aesthetics.

The Ride9 chip allows tweakers to tweak geo and performance to their heart’s content. Shock position allows on-the-fly adjustment while the rear suspension linkage keeps everything compact for extra clearance and adds a tad more stiffness. Note that there’s plenty of room for a full water bottle in the rear triangle.


I’m typically a set-and-forget guy but was impressed by how well-thought out this is and in particular, how the feature set is so well explained. Changing the settings involves moving the Ride-9 chip around in the rear shock mount which is a 2 – 3 minute operation. Perhaps even something you’d do in the field. As previously said, the RMB materials and micro-site explains Ride-9 in more detail.

Ride-9 inspired lots of note-taking until I realized that the bewildering number of permutations it afforded was all explained on Rocky’s site.

Straight Up Geometry

It’s noteworthy that geo numbers for 650b wheeled bikes don’t appear to be too dramatic a departure from 26″ wheeled bikes. Altitude retains RMB’s Straight Up geometry although the very steep seat tube angles found in earlier versions (76 in the 26″ versions) is now slackened to the more neutral 74.5″ angle. Head tube angles can be adjusted from 66.6 – 68.3 although I rode mine in the neutral 67.5 degree setting and found that fine. I will note that wheelbases are increased a tad from the older version (1123mm/44.2″ in 26″ version). One might be tempted to attribute that to the larger wheel size except I’d also note that the Element 29ers kept relatively (for 29ers) short wheelbases (1120mm). 22mm is not a lot of delta and the Whistler trails we test rode were relatively fast and wide-open so, for me at least, its impossible to tell if the longer wheelbase made a difference. That would take more ride-time to distill.

Smoothlink suspension technology

Altitude uses a variation of their patented ETS suspension which they refer to as Smoothlink suspension (for more on the ETS patent and thoughts behind this suspension see this article in re the 2009 Altitude. There have been some adjustments in the suspension rate curve as compared to Element which employed standard progressive suspension curves ie where initial travel was initiated with minimal force (in theory good for small bump compliance) then ramped progressively at the bottom of the stroke (resists bottoming out harshly towards the end of travel). Altitude’s suspension’s curve employs a bit more platform in the initial stroke thus lending more support then resumes a standard textbook progressive curve. The suspension curve then becomes linear (ie more coil-like) in mid-stroke then resumes a classic progressive shape at the end of the stroke. This seems like a curious development as I didn’t find the Element to be overly active when pedalling and never felt the need to engage propedal on uphills or flats. Something to explore for a more indepth article would be to engage Rocky on their thoughts as to Altitude’s suspension-tuning.

2013 Altitude MSL force curve.

Element suspension curve presented for comparison

About the author: Lee Lau

Lee Lau calls North Vancouver and Whistler BC home. He's had over 15 years experience riding bikes mainly in western North America and in Europe. Unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, he actually enjoys riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.

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  • Izzy says:

    dayum… First Norco, now RM. If I had the money, I’d be going crazy trying to figure out which to pick… A Sight or an Altitude?

  • MJ says:

    More great 650b choices. Thanks for making my day Rocky Mountain. This will give more riders the choices they’re looking for. The altitude looks amazing.

  • Izzy says:

    The suspension rate curve graph doesn’t account for sag. Wouldn’t a 150-mm travel bike need 30-40mm sag? In which case, the “platform in the initial stroke” would be moot.

  • LeeL says:

    izzy I’ll bounce that one off RMB. I had questions too about the linear nature of mid-stroke Note that its a force curve which is meant to explain the force required to load the shock at a specific travel rate. Bear with me as everyone’s at Eurobike.

  • Ben says:

    what size frame did you test?

  • LeeL says:

    Ben size 18

  • groovastic says:

    So what’s the difference in climbing and descending on Sight and Altitude?

    • leel says:

      groovastic – honestly I’d have to say that they’re both equally balanced climbers and descenders. The difference would be in component builds and there’s not much choice in 650b specific parts so you’d have to look at the other things (brakes, tires etc)

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