2013 Rocky Mountain Element RSL Carbon 29er Preview

29er Pro Reviews

Preliminary impressions – BC edition Rocky Element 970 Carbon

The test bike I received was the BC Edition and is a tongue in cheek reference to the plain fact that “BC XC” (or really Vancouver XC) trails are generally pretty technical as depicted humourosly by this video

Getting back to the point of the BC Edition version of the Element Carbon, the frame has a carbon front triangle and an alloy rear end (to save a bit of cost – the bike is still a fairly staggering $ 5,199 MSRP). There are some other spec choices which bear noting and which push up the aggressiveness factor of this bike:

  • Front and rear suspension don’t have the more race-course oriented remote lockouts. Only the BC ed bike gets a 120mm travel fork (the Fox 32 Talas 29 120 FIT CTD – hows that for more acronyms?)
  • There’s liberal use of the elegantly beautiful Race Face Turbine group (cranks, stem, handlebar)
  • To really challenge the hard core xc race nerds a Rock Shox Reverb comes OE
  • 3×10 drivetrain! Losing man points on the shaved leg start line! But I love the ability to spin and ride many many days in a row so applaud this choice.

I did the reverse weight weenie and added a half pound to the bike replacing saddle and stem/bar combo going with a Chromag Trailmaster for the seat (to add leathery class) and swapping for a shorter stem and wider bar (RF Turbine 60mm and Chromag Fubar OSX). I also endured the heckling of RMB’s product manager and lost more street cred by replacing the front Conti 2.2 XKing with a 2.2 Mountain King.

Impressions

Uphill and trail

If this bike was anything but an exceptional climber I’d have been seriously disappointed and I was not disappointed. After all it does bear the name Element, which is associated with World Cup xc wins.

To expand, the bike climbs with a firm, planted manner. Traction is exemplary; probably attributable to geometry (74 deg nicely steep seat tube angles and short chain stays helps you keep in good climbing position even with my short stem); and the suspension action which seems to drive the wheel on the ground with pedal strokes. However, the suspension action is decidedly cross-country even with the RP23 fully wide-open. The Element does not pretend to soak up every hit possible but by that same token does not suffer from pedal bob. By this I mean that the bike does not have a couch feeling going uphill or ripping on the flats and you have to be active even when trucking through roots, rocks or ruts. One does not hang for the ride on the Element. Indeed the bike rewards you as you give it more.

If I could use one word to characterize its performance uphill it would be efficiency. This does not climb like a 28.5lb bike. Literally every stroke of the pedal feels like its being translated into forward and uphill motion. I’ve had some experience with carbon bikes (my own personal xc full-suspension and my wifes’ bike) and wonder whether this was a trait of carbon construction and/or the remarkable attention to frame-building related by RMB in its marketing materials.

Downhill

… and that segues nicely in to my impressions about the bike. This is quite the precision ginsu steak knife. It sure doesn’t feel like the stereotypical XC bike that’s suited for wandering hither and yonder on glorified gravel paths. Instead the Element is a responsive, quick, snappy and precise descender (dare I say efficient). Point it down steep lines, keep your form together, stay on top of the bike and there it goes. The Element ts not a relaxed la-z-boy type ride. As with uphill the more you put into it the more you get out.

Portion of the NIMBY FIFTY race course (climb and the Overnight Sensation downhill)

I did have some minor quibbles but these have only showed up when I was pushing the bike pretty hard on rather unforgiving Pemberton rock-faces which had descents of steeper variety which are listed as follows:

  • The Conti XKing 2.2 is one scary front tire. It rolls fast but has limited braking and cornering power. I’ll say this much; its fairly to break loose and comfortable consistently drifting sandy steep sections. If you like some semblance of control perhaps pick something with a few more knobs
  • Both the Fox front and rear end get a bit overworked on long downhills. One ride was down a portion of a BC cross-country race course with a 7min 30 second downhill (the fastest racers the day before did the section in about 6 minutes. Now one might say that long technical downhills in xc races is one of those “First-World Problems” unique to BC; but the front and rear shocks were packing out and spiking minutes into the ride.

To beat home a point, I don’t think this is a bike for beginner or perhaps even intermediate riders. These riders won’t get the most out of the Element and instead might want to go with something more in the “Trail” or “All-Mountain” category (that’s the last of the marketing jargon I promise). At the heart of Rocky Mountain’s Element carbon 29er is pretty much an uncompromising high-performance frame that demands and responds to aggressive rider input.

MSRP and weights

MSRP, weights and specifications for all the carbon Elements follow. The prices are definitely on the steep side. Having said that, Rocky sold through its entire inventory of 26″ wheeled Elements without blinking an eye and I do not doubt for a second that this too will happen with the 29er offerings.

Model Size kg lb USD/CAD
Element 999 RSL 17.0 (M) 10.14 22.3 $     7,999
Element 970 RSL 17.0 (M) 11.9 26.2 $     4,999
Element 970 BC ed. 17.0 (M) 12.5 27.7 $     5,199
Element 950 RSL 17.0 (M) 12.6 27.8 $     4,099

Weights above are without pedals (which aren’t supplied). Element 970 BC edition tested- with modifications (Chromag Fubars OSX 760mm bar and RaceFace Turbine stem and Chromag seat) – 28.55 lbs

Frame weight for the 999 frame (including hardware and rear shock) 4.38lbs/1.993kg

 

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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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  • 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:

    LeeL

    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.

    Thanks!

    • 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:

    LeeL

    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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