2013 Rocky Mountain Element RSL Carbon 29er Preview

29er Pro Reviews


The carbon-framed Rocky Mountain Element 29er spans a line that extends in size from Small (15) to XXL (20.5). RMB says it fits riders from 5′ 4″ to 6′ 6″. Highlights are as follows

  • Cross-country/trail oriented 95m rear travel full-suspension bicycle with 29er wheels
  • Race Tuned Compact 29er geometry (RTC-29 geometry oh how the industry loves acronyms); the 29er Element will has relatively short chain stays, short wheelbase, and a short top tube – all to maximize agility and handling in technical terrain
  • Element uses ABC (Angular Bushing Concept) pivot technology; this saves weight yet increases pivot stiffness
  • Other features adding stiffness includes a BB92 bottom bracket shell, massively oversized seat and down tubes at the BB junction, a tapered head tube, and a E-thru 142x12mm rear end.
  • Smoothwall carbon construction adds stiffness at precisely controlled places while shaving weight and maintaining high QC standards.
  • Nice touches that show RMB’s attention to detail include internal cable routing, 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 technology

The Element uses Smoothlink suspension. A variation of the ETS suspension results in an initial linear spring rate at the beginning of the travel stroke (in theory good for small bump compliance) and a ramped progressive spring rate at the bottom of the travel stroke 9(ie resist bottoming out harshly towards the end of travel). I won’t go on about it in detail since I’ve already gone on at length in another article (although it was about the RMB Altitude).

The 2012 graph is included because it compares the 2013 29er iteration to the 2012 iteration

Carbon construction Smoothwall technology

Smoothwall is a carbon construction process that involves using an inner mold to shape tubesets, as opposed to using an airbladder as in more traditional processes. According to RMB this allows them to QC the inner surface of the carbon as carefully as they sculpt the outer. The side-effect of this QC is that it allows RMB to preserve tubing strength yet control wall thickness and shave weight by, among other things, avoiding buildup of stress risers or introducing excess resin, fibers or filler into the carbon tubing.

The Smoothwall process and its ability to allow RMB to control the process at a minute detail also allows them to use a precise layup schedule, using multiple layers of carbon weave at different locations to control the carbon density, stiffness and strenght. RMB also uses full length uncut fibers – all of this culminating in tubesets with high carbon layup density ie a very strong, stiff frame.

“SmoothWall” construction involves some proprietary (and hence confidential) processes that result in an incredibly thin and light carbon frame – as this cutaway shows. Apparently this process allows Rocky to have tremendous quality control not just over the carbon’s exterior but also its interior as excess creases and detritus in the frame (eg resin, excess carbon) are minimized.


At the outset let me note that geometry numbers do not tell the tale especially if you’re new to 29ers. But they can be useful to help you narrow down bike choices. Here are some comments on RMB’s conception of why the Element is the way it is.

  • In a paen to Rocky Mountain’s home trails in tight, twisty Vancouver trails, to keep handling as good as it can be the Element has a relatively short wheelbase
  • For that same reason RMB kept top tube lengths on the short side
  • The Element’s 70.6 degree head tube angle is in the middle of the pack for xc/trail 29ers. RMB tried to get the middle ground between stability and agility for a full suspension XC 29er. The slacker head angle also decreases toe overlap, which can be an issue on 29ers with short top tubes.
  • Finally, RMB raised the Element’s BB (ie less BB drop) from previous 29″ wheeled bikes to help control pedal strikes and get a tad more ground clearance. Also it allowed the Element’s rear wheel to be tucked in which should help the front end from having the tendency to lift while allowing the rider to get weight over the rear wheel.

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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  • Ben says:

    What size was your test bike?

  • Larry says:

    Did you like it more than your Tallboy?

    • leel says:

      Larry – ugh. In a way I’m so glad it came out after I bought my Tallboy as I’d have killed myself with indecision trying to decide between the bikes.

  • nlm says:

    Nice dodge leel but I’m going to hold you to Larry’s original question. Knowing what you know now, Tallboy or 970-BC?

    I take it the TALAS is a 2-step affair, 90mm or 120mm with no dialing in between?

  • Jeremie says:


    I just read your review of the Altitude 29er and am wondering how you would compare/rank the two bikes?

    The altitude seems to have more travel but the Element is slacker with the 120mm fork.

    I also see so many rave reviews on the Element 29ers but almost nothing on the Altitude 29ers, so am wondering if the Element is the way to go even if I don’t race?

    I live in Rossland BC and am looking to move to a 29er trail bike so would love to know your thoughts on the two.


    • leel says:

      OK nlm.

      The Talas is two step – either 90 or 120 with one twist of the lever.

      Enough people have asked that I should give my honest opinion. Plus I might be the only person on earth right now who’s had reasonable time on both bikes.

      Both are stiff. Both are so quiet. Both have incredible range of use. My Tallboy is a ridiculous bling spec so its hard to compare one against the other – apples and oranges if you know what I mean (full XTR, carbon this and that blah blah blah.).

      But if I was to compare frames the Element is lighter. So there’s one in favour of the Element.

      I love the cleanliness of the cable routing. That’s another in favour of Element.

      I’m not in favour of the press-in BB92 system so that’s one in favour of SC

      Now I have no experience with Santa Cruz’s CS because the bike has been flawless. I have used RMB’s CS one when I rode a Rocky Mountain Slayer into the ground. The BB pivot was loose. I never checked. The pivot ovalized. I asked if I could do anything . They sent me a new frame. Understand that this was not because I complained or whined or threw a name around. This was back in 2006 or so. The frame was 6 years old and out of warranty and they still sent me a new frame. Based on that I’m very very favourably disposed to RMB. Note the I – this is a subjective comment based on my personal experience.

      To conclude if I had a choice between the two I’d pick the Element.

    • leel says:

      I’d like to sugarcoat it but won’t. I wasn’t terribly impressed with the Altitude 29er. The Element 29er BC ed is a better downhiller and a better climber imo.

  • Rob says:

    leel, How did you choose the size of the bike you tested? By the seat tube size with the shorter top tube or the longer top tube that you are used to? In addtion to that question, how tall are you and what’s your inseam? The reason I ask is because according to RMB they shortened the TT intentionally and to get the TT I’m used to(5’10″ tall/I ride with TT about 23.75″) I would have to get a Large. Would going with the large be bad?

  • Izzy says:

    Those geo numbers are the same as the previous Element 29ers. Where’s the “shorter wheelbase/top tube, higher BB?”
    And what’s the BC’s head angle with the 120mm of travel up front?

    • LeeL says:

      Izzy – Head Angle was 70 degrees but measured with phone inclinometer and not a precision laser leveler. I didn’t understand that statement by RMB too about the ““shorter wheelbase/top tube, higher BB?”. At first I thought it was in comparison to the other 29ers but even then there’s not much difference

  • Izzy says:

    Thanks Lee. Great review BTW. This bike just rocketed to the top of my lust list.
    One more question, why no mention of the 3-position option for the Trail mode for the fork and shock? Another review said they have it.

  • nlm says:

    LeeL: have you had saddle time in the 2012 Element 950? If so was there a noticable difference with the 970 BC Ed? These two are at the top of my list for next bike.

    • LeeL says:

      nlm – I’ve only ridden the RSL Element 70 in 26 and the 970 BC ed. No time of significance on the Element 950 – the alloy version

  • Brian says:


    How about the Element 970 BC vs Norco Shinobi? Preference between those bikes? Utah riding, 85% Wasatch Mountain Single Track 15% Moab Shuttle runs. Can’t make up my mind! The Specialized EVO 29 is also in the mix because of those Moab trips.

  • LeeL says:

    Brian – sorry I missed this. They’re totally different bikes. The Shinobi is long. It is long and feels long. It’s for wide open fast trails and is heavy but you can get it a lot cheaper than the Element 29er. The Element is more for tight-twisty Park City trails

  • adam says:

    Leel – Have you ridden the RM altitude 27.5? I’m curious which bike you like better – the 29er element bc with shorter travel or the 27.5 altitude with longer travel? Both look sick and was hoping you could provide some insight into the strengths/weaknesses of those 2 models?

  • LeeL says:

    Adam I didn’t have enough time on the Altitude to compare.

  • jason says:

    Q. I just borrowed my friends 970 element and was super impressed today…I couldn’t believe how good it climbed and defended. Question, I was going to buy the transition 29er bandit…but after today i’m not so sure. I don’t have any time on the bandit…but since you’ve ridden both want are your thoughts? I’m more of a XC person who wants to do long rides. I was looking at the bandit because I had heard it climbs great plus has more travel. I think I know the answer but want to hear your thoughts.

  • LeeL says:

    jason get the Element. The Bandits more biased towards the downhill end of the spectrum. Although with light stiff wheels (ie carbon ie $$$$) you could liven it up for climbing.

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