What is it
The Rocky Mountain Element is an iconic cross-country race bike. It’s been in production in one form or another for over two decades. The newest iteration was launched last year, and features 120mm of front travel and 100mm out back.
To match the increased travel, Rocky slackened the front end, lengthened reach, and gave it adjustable geometry. These changes drastically improved the bikes downhill capabilities, making it the perfect match for technical XC races such as the B.C. Bike Race.
In spite of the changes, the Element remains true to its racing heritage. The bike can store two water bottles inside the frame, is Di2 compatible out of the box, and has mounting options for Fox’s yet-to-be-released electronic Live Valve system. Rocky has also steepened the seat tube angle to improve the climbing position.
The Element comes in five build kits. The base level model has an alloy frame and retails for a $2599. That’s $100 less than the cost of the carbon frame ($2699). For model year 2018, carbon completes start at $4049 and top out at $5299. Mtbr tested the 2017 BC edition, which costs $5999.
- Room for two water bottles
- Adjustable geometry
- Progressive suspension
- Efficient race-tuned suspension
- Good value
- Smart component spec
- Stiff frame
- Shock can feel overwhelmed on long descents
At the World Cup level, cross country courses have become increasingly technical. Faced with more challenging terrain, racers have begun reaching for full suspension frames equipped with bigger tires and even dropper posts. To meet these demands, Rocky Mountain completely revamped the Element.
The current bike shares the same visual aesthetic as its predecessor, but travel has been bumped up 10mm in the front and 5mm out back, bringing the totals to 120mm and 100 mm, respectively. The frame also received Rocky’s well regarded Ride 9 System. Found throughout their full suspension line, this set of interlocking chips allows the end user to custom tune geometry and suspension feel.
Depending on the setting, the head angle can be adjusted a full degree (from 69-70). Even in the steepest setting, the bike is over half a degree slacker than before. That may not seem drastic, but it helps calm the front end on descents.
Adjusting the flip chip also steepens the seat angle. Where the previous model sat at 74 degrees, the seat tube on the Element is now adjustable between 74.5 and 75.5 degrees. Between the steeper seat angle and a slightly longer reach, the climbing position has improved.
Rocky offers five build kits, which are tuned towards the Element’s race bred heritage. Well, every build except one, the 990 BC Edition. This little gem is the kind of race bike a recovering downhiller might build. It ships with wide handlebars, a stubby stem, and meaty tires that would make a vegetarian blush. It’s a great build, albeit a little pricey.
For the money, you get a full carbon frame, Shimano XTR drivetrain and XT brakes, top of the line RockShox suspension, and did we mention real tires? The BC edition ships with one of our favorite combos, a Maxxis Minion up front and a SS rear.
Aside from the trail oriented spec, the BC edition shares the same frame and suspension as the regular Element models. That means there’s room inside the front triangle for two water bottles, plus internal cable routing for a dropper post, shock lockout, and Di2 routing. Whether you choose a 1x or 2x drivetrain, everything is easy to route due to an oversized access point located under the bottom bracket.
On the trail, the Element’s race heritage is immediately noticeable. Regardless of what Ride 9 setting was selected, the suspension platform was incredibly efficient. We never felt the need to lockout the rear, even during out of the saddle sprints or fire road climbs.
The compromise for this efficiency? Plushness. We experimented with running between 20 and 30% rear sag, but even at the deep end, the suspension never felt bottomless. On prolonged descents, the shock performance suffered as the air can heated up. Considering the intent of the bike, that’s not surprising. The new school geometry and extra travel allowed us to flog the Element like a trail bike, but at heart it’s a marathon race bike.
With wide bars, 2.3 tires, and adjustable geometry, it was easy to push the Rocky past its comfort zone. Even slacked out, it’s not as trail oriented as the newest Santa Cruz Tallboy or Evil Following, but that’s not a bad thing. The Element is fast, stiff, and incredibly nimble. In a market where most manufacturers are busy outdoing each other to be the longest and lowest, this Rocky is unabashedly XC.
If you’re an XC racer looking to expand your skillset, the Element is the perfect tool. It pairs the efficiency you’d expect from a cross country rig, but with trail bike oriented geometry. The BC version adds extra downhill prowess, but don’t let the wide bars and meaty tires fool you into thinking it’s a full-blown trail bike.
Rating: 4 out of 5
More info: www.bikes.com