In 2016, the Rocky Mountain Altitude was sending us mixed signals. Its words said "all-mountain," but its body said "trail." This year, that body got a little more aggressive with wider tires, a slacker head angle and a longer wheelbase. But so did every other bike. The Altitude still had nearly the shortest wheelbase in the category, and our Carbon 90 model had nearly the lightest build.
And it handles accordingly. Compared to stompers like the Kona Process 153 CR/DL 27.5 and Pivot 5.5, the Altitude is much more nimble. Although Rocky's Ride 9 system will allow you to tune in as low as a 65-degree head angle, we'd recommend sizing up if that's how you want to take your Altitude. We rode it in the neutral setting, and we felt it played to the bike's strengths. It was perfect for trails that benefit from a little creativity, but also need a bike with some extra capability. Few bikes are as good at getting you into mischief while still having the travel to get you out of trouble. Its rear suspension feels linear through most of the stroke, and could swallow whole most mid-sized trail debris. At between 30- and 33-percent sag, it's a light-touch ground-hugging magic carpet ride. At 30 percent, it becomes a lively, responsive plaything, though it never becomes the bruiser that the Kona, Pivot or even the Mondraker Foxy are.
We all noticed, however, that the new Altitude is significantly stouter than its predecessor. Instead of being a long-legged trail bike, it's finally more of a lightweight all-mountain bike. Apart from its updated geometry, the frame rides stiffer than the Altitude we're used to. This is partly because Rocky ditched its beloved bushings in favor of bearings and larger pivot assemblies. And still, those pivots are some of the cleanest-looking, most subtle we've ever seen.
Also subtle is the dash of extra anti-squat that Rocky built into much of its new lineup. But it must have been the perfect amount. Our all-mountain loop opened with a fire road that many of us sprinted, even if only to shake off the brisk Michigan mornings. When you put the power down the Altitude may as well be an XC bike. And it brings that same efficiency to the no-flow technical climbs. Especially during seated pedaling, it would smooth out momentum-robbing sections like a 29er, but with the acceleration of 27.5-inch wheels.
The Altitude fits perfectly into its niche. You won't have to guess what it wants to be or wants to do, you just have to go do it.—T.E.
Q&A with Ken Perras, product manager for Rocky Mountain
We didn't draw lines between bike categories for this year's Bible, and bikes like the Altitude are a big reason. Given that it doesn't sit squarely in either the 'trail' or 'all-mountain' box, what kind of rider was the Altitude designed for?
We label the Altitude as an 'Aggressive Trail' bike. For us, this is the best designation for a bike that climbs as well as it descends and meets the demands of today's trail rider. The trail category is continuously evolving as technology allows us to push the boundaries of riding in both directions. The Altitude is our first choice when faced with rides that require long approaches, steep climbs, and technical descents. It's a bike that doesn't require excessive body language to make it perform but rather compliments the ride no matter the type of terrain involved. There will always be compromises when you dissect the different types of terrain, trail features and rider preferences that are out there but we feel that the Altitude covers these spectrums and leaves little to be desired.
For riders who may not be huge geometry/linkage nerds, how would you recommend they approach choosing a Ride-9 setting?
The Altitude ships in the neutral (position 5) setting, which is the starting point for the design aspects involving kinematics and geometry; this will always be the best position to start with to get acquainted with the ride qualities we built into the bike. What Ride-9 does allow for is individual tailoring of the ride experience based on the needs of the rider. Given the wide spectrum of riding that the Altitude is designed for, it made sense for us to make sure that we can accommodate the same spectrum of riders that will consider purchasing an Altitude.
We couldn't help but notice geometry numbers for 26+ on the geo chart. You don't see that too often. Is there a 26+ fan at Rocky's headquarters?
This flexibility in wheel and tire size initially started with the Maiden, which is compatible with both 27.5-inch and 26-inch wheel sizes. At that point, we (the Product and R&D team) established a design direction for new platforms to accommodate a wider range of tires and/or wheel sizes in order to provide an additional level of customization to the consumer. As such, our new 27.5-inch platforms—the Slayer and Altitude—fit 27.5-inch and 26+ wheels. While we don't currently sell any of the above bikes in the 26+ format, we've received several emails from customers that have happily equipped their bikes with 26+ tires. I should note that Maxxis was kind enough to support us throughout the development phase of the Slayer and Altitude by providing 26 x 2.8-inch Minion DHF and DHR tires in order to validate fitment and ride testing.