2013 Rocky Mountain Altitude MSL 650b Preview

27.5 All Mountain Trail Enduro

Preliminary Impressions – Rocky Mountain Altitude

Pontificating about suspension rate curves is all very well – more about the ride! I was on a prototype build; an Altitude alloy 750 frame with 770 componentry. Accordingly I can’t speak to the ride quality of the carbon frame but if the Rocky Mountain Element 29er was any indication, expect the ride to be stiffer and the frame to be anywhere from 250-400g or so lighter.

Highlights of the 770 component build include Fox Float 150 FIT CTD front; Float Remote CTD rear; Race Face Turbine 36/24t 2×10 cockpit and cranks, Shimano shifters, Avid brakes, Reverb post, Wheeltech wheels and Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.35 tires. A smart, intelligent build that has a very British Columbia influence including many of the components that BC riders would add. Some particular callouts:

  • Race Face’s Turbine cranks shift beautifully. Including the smaller gearing is particularly thoughtful. Many BC climbing trails are incredibly steep and people will climb a long way to descend very aggresively technical trails. The Sea-to-Sky Corridor (Whistler – Pemberton – Squamish) in particular has that peculiar mix of hard to get to trails with very very long descents which require an extraordinarily versatile bike. Some might deduct man points for having such small 2×10 gears but riders who think that way probably haven’t ridden much in this kind of terrain.
  • Many have viewed the Fox 34 platform with suspicion (I am one of them). My cursory impression of them after having ridden the 650b variant is that the 340mm chassis is giving up very little in terms of stiffness and precision to the Fox 36 platform (having said that I am only 160lbs and would appreciate hearing from heavier riders). Look down further in this article and you’ll see that the Fox 34 and 36 crown shares the same dimensions while the Fox 32 chassis is noticeably smaller. I speculate that the extra heft of the Fox 34 crown may contribute to its stiffness.
  • Last but not least I was much more impressed by the Nobby Nics this time around than I was some 2 years ago when I last encountered them on a test bike. They have more braking power, their compound actually feels sticky and they have decent braking power. They’re a fairly fast rolling tire which is impressive given that they’re fairly wide. Time and conditions will tell if they are durable and if they perform well in the wet (which is where the older Nobby Nic’s lacked performance)

Impressions

Uphill and trail

I won’t sugarcoat it. This bike was an excellent climber. Not to wear my fanboy colours too proud, but I’d be surprised if Rocky didn’t put out something that climbs well. I did not feel the need to engage Propedal at any time; even on gravel road grinds. While Altitude pedalled evenly with smooth action I did find that you could play with the suspension by putting forward sudden bursts of power and using body english to surge forward while using suspension action to drive the rear tire into the ground. This came in especially useful in steep loose switchbacks, on square edged obstacles (roots, rocks etc) or whenever needed to get that last desparate dig of traction to make it around a particularly nasty section. You won’t mistake this for a hardtail or a xc-racing machine but the 2013 Altitude is an active climber that lets a strong, technically engaged climber attack and play with uphill terrain.

Not surprisingly the active aspect of the bike translated well on flat sections. One can attack small sections of uphill by pumping the bike into g-outs then accelerating so that you’re halfway up the next section before you know it then throw yourself with wild abandon into the next small downhill. On flatter sections the ability to play with the suspension (perhaps that’s the linear nature of the suspension mid-stroke working to one’s advantage) gave me the abililty to pump through terrain and keep up speed.

Downhill

I’ll keep coming back to comparisons to the Element so let me make one point. When Rocky first told me about the Altitude I wondered how it would compare to the Element (29er and 26er). The reason for such speculation was that older Altitudes were basically cross-country bikes with cross-country geometries but with slightly more travel, while I found Element to be so versatile that I was using it not only for “traditional” cross-country riding but pushing it into more and more aggressive terrain. Whither then the Altitude?.

Or indeed that was my question before putting wheels to the ground on the 2013 iteration of the Altitude platform. It’s trite to say that Rocky moved this platform to more of a downhill bias; the increase in travel, and geometry changes give that away. What they’ve done is make this bike so much more of a capable downhiller that I daresay this crosses well into the territory of the Slayer. So whither the Slayer?

Other questions remain unanswered as the Whistler trails we rode were among the more intermediate of the West Side and Whistler South trails (Pura Vida and the new marvellously routed It’s Business Time for the record) and I kept the bike in the more neutral setting. It would be very interesting for the Altitude to be pushed on more technical, more aggressive trails to see how it will fare. My opinion is that the 2013 Altitude is at least as good a climber as the older Altitudes and that it is a much more capable descender so it will do just fine. The only question is how wild and crazy one can get on it? That question can only be answered by more time on bike

27.5 (what Rocky calls it) / 650b

All you’ll want to know about the theory behind this wheel size is in this article. (which you should take the time to read and digest). I’ve had time on 26″ and 29″ wheels and can say that I notice the difference. To parrot the marketing pap 650b offers the rolling advantages of bigger wheels while avoiding the geometry compromises of squashing big wheels into medium/long-travel frames.

Do I notice the difference? After one ride (three rides counting time on other 650b bikes), I can’t say that I have an informed opinion. Simply put I don’t have enough personal experience to make any kind of informed conclusion about the ride. I can honestly say that I barely noticed the different-sized tire. I can also say that I was trying to feel if I noticed a difference (no success on that front). Ideally I’d like to get an Altitude with each different wheel size and try them out on the same trail back to back to have more of an informed opinion. That exercise will be something for a later date.

MSRP

MSRP and specifications for the Altitudes follow. The prices for the carbon bikes are definitely on the steep side but are quite a bit more reasonable for the aluminium version. The 790 kit gets a full bling spec and will no doubt win the most cluttered cockpit award with remote CTD front and rear suspension plus a remote for seatpost. All kidding aside, the component specs are remarkably good and kudos must be given to Rocky’s product manager for getting Reverb seatposts (with Stealth cable routing) all the way down to the 750 MSL level!

Expected availability for all bikes is the February timeframe. For those who are swapping parts from another bike or who want to build their own bike, Rocky offers a frame-only option. Weights are extremely approximate but I was offered a guesstimate of 2300g for the carbon frame (with shock and mounting hardware). Weights for the full build will follow in updates to this article.

Visit our 2013 Rocky Mountain Altitude Press Announcement for more information.

 

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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?
    Cheers!

    • 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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