When it comes to long rides, at least half the fun is going up. So when Rocky Mountain sought to replace its ETSX series, it set out to design a bike that would climb faster than the rider's heart rate, but still be able to descend in style.
Meet the 5.5-inch-travel Altitude, Rocky's new XC marathon bike, with an uncommonly steep 76-degree seat-tube angle. This frame feature—Rocky calls it "Straight-Up" geometry—puts the rider in an aggressive climbing position, with weight biased more forward than on just about every other bike in the category.
Initially, I got some front-end lift on extra-steep climbs, but swapping some spacers neutralized the height of the extra-tall headtube and external-bearing headset. And then the bike came into its own—on even the steepest climbs I was able to stay comfortably seated for longer, and with more power, than on other long-legged trail bikes.
When the trail pointed straight down, the bike felt a bit twitchy with the saddle all the way up, despite its relatively short toptube (23.4 inches) for a 19.5-inch frame. But that's the result of a seat-tube angle that puts the rider so far forward on the bike.
The skittish position was fixed with an adjustable-height seatpost, a shorter stem and some wider bars.
The Altitude 70 sits in the middle of a five-bike lineup, and while two higher-end siblings sport carbon frames, the other three models are made from aluminum. All the bikes come with the same generous 29.1-inch standover height, and while I never detected any frame flex—the biggest gripe of ETSX owners—the wheels did whimper a bit when really pushed.
The Altitude's rear pivot sits in line with the rear axle, splitting the difference between a Horst-link design and other four-bar linkages. On the trail, even with the rear shock's sag set at 20 percent of total travel, the bike bobbed unless the Fox RP23's ProPedal lever was engaged. With the ProPedal in its highest setting, bobbing was reduced, but lost in the deal was some of the small-bump absorption that can make suspension advantageous while climbing. Descending, however, was smooth and supple, even under braking.
All told, after three months of testing, long, steep climbs became strangely fun. The Altitude's unique geometry was bred for the topography of the Canadian Rockies, and for the epic all-day rides it takes to fully enjoy them. This rig won't disappoint riders who love spending hours in the saddle.
This content was originally published in Bike’s November 2009 issue.