By Brice Minnigh
Photos by Van Swae
Rocky Mountain Bicycles is rolling out its 2013 line of carbon 29ers—the Element 29 RSL—and Bike magazine somehow managed to shanghai one for some early-summer shredding. The bike we have is the 970 BC Edition—the only one of the company's four new Element 970 RSL models that comes with 120 millimeters of travel and a dropper post—so naturally I had to drop everything and take it for a rip around some of my dusty San Diego County trails.
And the bike does rip. Let's be honest: It's a lot to expect so-called 'mountain-bike journalists' to stay safely tucked inside our pseudo-objective shells when we're talking about a bike we really like. So forgive me, dear reader, while I indulge myself in describing how much fun I had in my first tango with the Element 970 RSL BC Edition.
Given that the Element 29 RSLs are pedigreed race bikes, I wanted to see how well the bike climbs and descends, so I took it to some nearby trails that feature steep, technical climbs and descents punctuated by rock-filled switchbacks. For the past few months, I've been riding Rocky Mountain's Element 950 (the aluminum precursor to the RSL) on these same trails, and I needed to see how they stack up against each other.
I was blown away on the first climb, both by the lightness of the carbon frame and the stellar performance of the suspension. Right out of the gate, Fox's 2013 CTD suspension—which will come stock on three of Rocky Mountain's four new RSL models—felt sublime. And the user-friendliness of the fork and shock settings, which essentially revolve around three modes—Climb, Trail and Descend, hence the CTD acronym—was unparalleled. I tried climbing up the babyhead-littered trail in 'Climb' mode for several minutes, but eventually toggled the fork and shock over to 'Trail' mode and found it much easier to plow straight up through the rock gardens.
And when the time came to milk the descents for all they were worth, I simply turned the dials one notch to 'Descend' and let the suspension do all the dirty work. No need to overthink it. Just ride.
As with the Element 950 29er I've been riding lately, the geometry on the Element 970 RSL BC Edition felt remarkably comfortable. With the same ample standover, the bike was eminently maneuverable. To this end, the company has shortened the RSLs' toptube lengths a tad from its previous 29ers to give them a more '26-inch' feel. This, together with the 445-millimeter chainstay length, helped give our test bike a nimble feel, even in my local trail's tightest, most technical switchbacks.
The bike's headtube angle—at a sensible, all-round 70.6 degrees with the fork set at 100 millimeters—felt like a happy medium between climbing and descending. Furthermore, with the travel-adjust feature on the Fox 32 Talas 29 120 FIT CTD fork, it was easy for me to dial it down to 90 millimeters of travel for the climbs—perhaps steepening the effective head angle a bit and helping prevent the front end from wandering. Likewise, restoring the fork back to its full 120-millimeter splendor allowed me to make the most of the descents and probably slackened the effective head angle by as much as a degree.
Another awesome touch to the Rocky Mountain Element 970 RSL BC Edition is that it comes stock with a RockShox Reverb dropper post—an encouraging sign of the times, and a strong indication that Rocky Mountain wants to sell bikes that can be ridden as is, without having to spend precious time and money incrementally upgrading parts. It also makes it that much easier for the bike to do double-duty as a race whip and all-around trail ripper.
Long before the final descent of my first ride, I was giddy with infatuation for this beautiful and capable beast. I have a funny feeling this infatuation could soon turn to true love.
If this happens, I might start keeping a sort of online diary on my trysts with the BC Edition, so keep an eye out on bikemag.com for the decadent details.