A Tale of Two Elements
Posted: Mar 03 2012 in Gear
It's coming up on a year since the Element sisters moved in to my life so I thought it would be a good time to gossip about the experience of living with the fraternal Element twins. Two bikes with common DNA but very different personalities, and after all this time on both bikes, I can't make up my mind, I want to keep them both.
I had ordered a Team RSL frame in the fall of 2010 to form the basis for a super light XC full suspension bike. I gathered the tweaky build kit through the fall and winter while waiting for the RSL frame to arrive. In March 2011 it looked like there might be another month or two delivery delay on the RSL frame. This shiny red Element 70 MSL was sitting on the floor at DB West Vancouver. An impulsive VISA card purchase later, the Element MSL was in my car and headed for home.
I had about a month to ride the daylights out of the Element MSL before the Team RSL frame arrived. The MSL had already bumped the Vertex RSL off the top step of my favourite bikes to ride in that brief month. I initially thought that the long awaited Element Team RSL would instantly take over as my favourite bike once it was assembled, after all I had been planning this build for months. The MSL was great fun to ride, climbed great and was a lot easier on the body than the Vertex hardtail.
I already had the Element MSL 70 down to a light 22.6 pounds with the pedals. The target weight for the Team RSL build was 21.5 pounds. Both of these were lighter than the Altitude 90 I have and were only a wee bit heftier than the 19.8 pound Vertex RSL. The Element RSL came in very close to the target weight, it was stupendously light for a comfy full suspension bike, it handled and climbs like the Vertex, but dished out less abuse on the body on longer rides. I figured this must be "the one".
After a few weeks of riding the Element RSL as a primary ride, my Vertex was already feeling neglected. I began mixing the MSL in amongst RSL rides, especially on trails that had more technical surfaces, where it seemed more at home. My Altitude 90 was feeling even more neglected than the Vertex, the Element MSL was a more friendly feeling bike on trails with roots and wood bridges.
By the time I was having to make a decision on which bike to take with me on my summer vacation to Mont Sainte Anne during the Velirium bike festival and World Cup, the MSL was surprising me by being the "go to" bike for the widest range of trails. The Element MSL was a terrific choice for a wet and muddy week in Quebec, it was competent on a wide variety of the XC trails and proved to be the perfect bike equivalent of the Swiss Army knife.
I was headed to Canmore for another week of vacation to conicide with spectating at the National Championships. I used to ride the east slopes of the Rockies a lot when I began riding MTB's in Calgary back in the 80's so I was pretty sure that the Element RSL was the right bike for the Canmore vacation. And it was, the trails were nicely suited to the RSL, and at that elevation of 1400m, the lighter weight bike was definitely welcome on the climbs to reduce the number of spots I saw while climbing.
By the time September rolled around, time spent on the Element MSL was about three or four to one over the RSL, I began thinking that perhaps they were too similar and that the RSL was really redundant. By November almost all my riding was on the MSL and it felt great on the XC trails here in North Vancouver and in Squamish. There's been some build kit swapping between the two, but they're still back in the same weight range of 21.5 pounds (9.78kg) for the RSL and 22.6 pounds (10.3kg) for the MSL.
And then in December I rode the RSL again and the super quick handling and lighter weight again made themselves known, and it managed quite well in the wet and mud. But then again, the MSL felt so good on the more technical trail surfaces.
After a year, I have to say that any time I've thought I had a firm decision as to which Element twin is my favourite, a ride on the other one causes my certitude to waiver. The Element MSL is a very competent, easy going trail bike that takes what comes at it and is quite willing to tackle most any sort of XC environment. The Element RSL is the slightly higher strung thoroughbred sibling that demands more attention and enjoys the thrill of speed, but is a bit more nervous on technical trail surfaces. They are both super fun in their own way, and they both shine when the trails lean to their core competency. I find that I love them both and I would have a hard time giving either of them up. But if I had to pick just one carbon XC suspension bike, I think the MSL might have to win it, but I would still remember the other sibling Element fondly.Read more Blogs »