By Vernon Felton
Rocky Mountain Altitude 790 MSL
In 2013, Rocky Mountain Bicycles scratched its previous Altitude line, tossing the old design onto the heap and replacing it with what you see here: A svelte, low-slung chassis that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Element series that debuted in 2011.
The five 2013 Altitude models also roll on 650b wheels. This isn't to suggest that Rocky is one of those brands that's abandoning 26- or 29-inch wheels altogether. Rather, the company's designers simply felt that, at six inches of travel, the Altitude was perfectly poised to take advantage of the 'happy medium' wheel size. Impressively, the Altitude sports some fairly stubby 16.8-inch chainstays and a 45-inch wheelbase that's on par with a fair number of 26ers with this much travel.
There is a lot of innovation at work here, but perhaps the most noteworthy is RIDE-9: a novel shock-mounting system that enables you to massively tweak the bike's ride characteristics to your liking. The RIDE-9 shock mount hosts two interlocking chips that can be set in nine different configurations that will—you guessed it—give you nine different geometry combinations. Raising and lowering the shock within the mount also changes the suspension rate, altering its progressivity. At its steepest setting, the Altitude bears a 68.3-degree headtube and 75.3-degree seat-tube. At its slackest setting, those angles are relaxed to 66.6 and 73.6 degrees, respectively, and the bottom bracket drops an inch.
In the slackest setting, the steering is supremely calm, the bike's center of gravity lowers and the suspension gains a bit of ramping that keeps the rear end from bottoming out. While it's no all-mountain brawler, the Altitude is more capable than the majority of trail bikes in its category.
The Altitude pedals so briskly I never felt compelled, even on the steepest of hills, to switch the Fox CTD rear shock into climb mode. The lack of weight, obviously, didn't hurt here, either. With its short rear end, the bike is a blast through switchbacks.
The 790 MSL is rocky mountain's top-of-the-line model. It bears a complete carbon-fiber frame that Rocky says weighs just 5.1 pounds. That frame sports ISCG tabs, a 142×12 rear axle and tidy, internal cable routing. Envy-inducing components include a SRAM X0 drivetrain, Avid X0 Trail brakes, a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and Kashima-coated Fox suspension.
There isn't a weak link in this chain, but at nearly $7,000, there shouldn't be.