I found the Altitude to be a capable performer in the more moderate (ie beginner/intermediate) local “all-mountain” trails. In that situation, the Altitude 29er was a capable descender, especially strong in tight, twisty singletrack.
I am lukewarm about the 29er Altitude’s abilities in more advanced trails. At the outset, keep in mind that all my riding/testing was in North Vancouver, Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish. Not to denigrate trails in other areas, but in an effort to be descriptive, my local trails are exceedingly technical. Not just in the sense that the trails incorporate rock rolls, ladder bridges and various technical features – but more in the sense that these trails are root-infested; requiring very deliberate moves (see the videos to get a sense of what I mean – words convey this poorly).
As context – some background on my riding experience. I started riding ‘Shore trails on hardtails with minimal suspension and poor brakes. You didn’t ride very fast because you didn’t have very good brakes and if you got going at any speed, the only way to stop was to crash. To successfully ride trails and link up a succession of stunts (eg rock roll to tight turn to teeter totter to skinny ladder bridge to tight turn — you get the idea) you had to be very controlled, very deliberate and incorporate trials moves into your repertoire. To ride technical trails in the Altitude 29er I found that I had to ride in this throw-back fashion. In itself, this is a not bad thing. However, you can ride in a very slow “downhill trials” fashion on a cheap hardtail therefore, I have to question whether you need to spend $ 3999 Can/USD to ride in this same fashion.
Let me bore you further by offering my opinion as to why the Altitude 29er doesn’t really “flow” trails. First, 120mm of travel isn’t a lot for aggressive all-mountain/light-freeride whatever-you-want-to-call-it terrain. Ride down a steep rock face into anything less than a smooth transition and you’ll run through that travel. Second, 70.5 degrees is a steep head angles. I know the theory that you don’t have to get back as far because the wheels are bigger but that theory doesn’t translate into a bike that’s comfortable running out steep drops at speed; you will be pulling those brakes hard. Third, those are light rims and components. The Fox fork isn’t poor by any means but a big hit will make it and those Stan rims flex. What this translates into is a bike that can’t charge technical downhill trails hard – but more slowly and deliberately. This means a lot of stop and start/quick acceleration which plays into the weakness of 29er wheels – extra inertia and slower acceleration in those situations.
To whet my curiosity I went on a ride with the RMB engineer who designed the bike for a ride. D’arcy ran a Marzocchi 44 (140mm) travel, shorter stem, beefier wheelset and different tires on his Altitude 29er. His bike was much more equipped than mine for burly terrain and D’arcy was able to flow terrain. What this means to you as a consumer is that it is possible to tweak the Altitude 29er so it has decent downhill/freeride ability (it also doesn’t hurt to be at least as good a rider as D’arcy) but it won’t be a cheap exercise.
It’s my opinion that one should buy a bike that will work well in one’s own stomping grounds. While I don’t think the Altitude 29er is a poor descender, I think it has a limited downhill envelope in light of the kind of technical trails you’ll find in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. I don’t think that the Altitude was limited by the big wheels. I’ve also heard that big wheels smooth out terrain and offer more suspension. I didn’t find that to be the case. In fact I didn’t think that the big wheels helped the bike (they actually hurt it a bit in stop-start situations – as described above). I found the Altitude 29er’s limitations to be a function of its components moreso than its 29″ wheels. What I’d like to see is a bike that’s a bit more optimized (in terms of geometry and components) for aggressive technical terrain. Whether the market is big enough for Rocky or other 29er bicycle manufacturers to dip their toe into that market segment remains to be seen.
When I first approached Rocky about reviewing an Altitude 29er, I said I wanted to test this bike’s technical prowess. In a way my attempt to test the technical ability of this bike is/was a failure and success. A failure in the sense that I couldn’t really explore the upper performance band of the 29″ wheels because the bike has relatively shorter travel for the trails which I ride. However, a success in that the 29″ wheels never felt like the limiting factor.
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