By Vernon Felton
Rocky Mountain Altitude 790 MSL
Weight: 27.5 pounds
I recently received an email from someone who asked that we stop bashing the 650b movement. Funny, I didn't think we were pooping on the tweener parade. Nope, not a lot of hate here for the wheel size itself.
I've said it before—I think 650b has a ton of potential in the all-mountain (think burly, and six inches of suspension front and rear) side of the spectrum. Anytime you can add stability and increase the tire's contact patch without making the bicycle's rear-end stupid long, well, why not? There are plenty of companies out there who are struggling to make six-inch travel 29ers…if a 650b wheel is the only thing that'll fit between the dropouts, then I'm all for it.
What I find annoying, is the hype surrounding 650b—that the new wheel size immediately makes 26-inch wheels and 29er hoops alike outdated and irrelevant—particularly when 90 percent of the people prostrating themselves in worship before The Altar of 650 have never actually ridden the damn things themselves. This is where fad and fashion creep in and lead to less-than-stellar bicycle design. Every wheel size has its pros and cons—to advocate that one wheel size should be slapped on hardtails and downhill bikes alike is sorta, well, stupid. I'm just asking that we bear all that in mind before proclaiming 650b the new "one wheel to rule them all".
Here at Bike, we've ridden and tested plenty of good 650b bikes. A few great ones, even. Those bikes, however, were not outstanding because they wore 650b wheels—their fundamental designs were solid and that's what mattered. I don't care what size wheel you slap on a bike—if the basic frame design is crap, it's just so much lipstick on a pig.
And just to prove that we Bike editors aren't all crusty, trend-hating, technology-despising, innovation-loathing trolls, we've gone and dedicated the bike-test section of the upcoming May issue (which should hit newsstands by April 2nd) to 650b bikes…which, in a roundabout fashion brings me to this test bike right here: Rocky Mountain's top-o-the-line Altitude 790 MSL.
Rocky completely redesigned the Altitude line this year. There are five new models in the line up—three of them bearing carbon somewhere on the frames, wo others rocking all-aluminum chassis. The Altitude 790 MSL is, in fact, a total carbon fiber dance party (both the front and rear triangles are made of the stuff) and, no surprise, the price tag reflects that fact.
The Altitude 790 MSL is also hung with an impressive assortment of bling. Highlights include SRAM X.0. drivetrain, Avid X.0. Trail brakes, a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, and Kashima-coated Fox suspension, front and rear. Kudos to Rocky for equipping the bike with a Fox 34. The extra stiffness compliments the bike's relaxed geometry.
Speaking of geometry, the Altitude 790 MSL is equipped with Rocky's novel RIDE-9 system, which enables you to slacken the head and seat-tube angles from 68.3 to 66.6 and 75.3 to 73.6 degrees, respectively. Setting the geometry to its slackest setting also drops the bottom bracket an inch. If all this sounds like so much geometry-chart wanking (which it, admittedly, sorta is), the key takeaway here is that you can tweak this bike's ride personality massively.
RIDE 9 is not the simplest system to work with (it's not terribly intuitive and it's not the kind of thing I'd do mid-ride, on the side of the trail), but the innovative shock mount effectively eliminates any of the "This bike is too slack/too steep/too twitchy/too floppy/too insert-the-adjective-of-your-choice)" complaints that get lobbed at bikes all the time. That's pretty rad.
We tested the aluminum Altitude 750 on the trails of Grand Junction during our Bible of Bike Tests. This time around, I'm testing the Altitude 790 MSL on the wet and slimy trails of western Washington. I've also been spending a ton of time fiddling with the RIDE 9 shock mount (something we didn't have the luxury of doing before)…it's been interesting. Check out the May issue of Bike to see how the Rocky (and our other 650b/27.5) bikes fared.