The Rocky Mountain Element has long been a bike with a racer-like disposition, and the new 970 RSL continues that tradition. Of all the bikes in this year's Bible, the Element would be the one most comfortable at the start of a stage race.
With 29-inch wheels and a lightweight, stiff carbon frame, the Element is clearly designed to cover ground at speed. And with some of the steepest angles in this year's test, it's a cross-country beast with a bias toward climbing efficiency. When the Element's adjustable Ride-9 geometry is set in the steepest position, the head angle is 70 degrees and the seat angle a climb-crushing 75.5 degrees. Testers found this geometry to be ideal on the rolling ups-and-downs of our test circuit. Once the wheels were up to speed they felt unstoppable, making short order of the endless punchy climbs and diving into subsequent descents with nary a pause for reflection. On the Element, the game plan was simple: Keep stomping on the pedals and the speed would follow. It begs to be ridden hard, with its pedaling-friendly suspension rewarding explosive, out-of-the-saddle efforts.
Some testers noted that the bike's planted, stable feel came at the expense of playfulness, but all agreed that such a trade-off is to be expected of a race-bred steed. For such a spartan XC workhorse, however, I was impressed with the bike's handling in more technical terrain. The 120-millimeter Fox 34 Float Performance Elite fork was a godsend, helping to negotiate chunky descents while running the geometry in the steepest setting. For its part, the 100-millimeter Fox Float DPS Performance Elite shock did adequate duty through small bumps with the sag at 30 percent. I ran the shock open for the entire test and never needed the remote lockout, though this feature could come in handy for racers who can accept a cluttered cockpit for the convenience of a bar-mounted lockout lever.
Other highlights were the reliable Shimano XT brakes and XT drivetrain with an XTR rear derailleur, the combination of which delivered ultra-crisp shifting. It was also comforting to see a race bike equipped with a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post, and we felt the overall component spec represented fair value for the $5,300 price tag
Q&A with Rocky Mountain coming soon…