Archived General DB Blogs
We Ride - 2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude
Posted: Aug 20 2009
Here’s another installment in our we ride series – The all new 2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude
For the past several years, Rocky Mountain has increased its long focus on engineering innovation and refinement across its lineup. This has delivered plenty of exciting new platform choices each year that we have been eager to ride. On the full suspension side of the range, we have seen the new LC2R Slayer in 2006, the redesigned 3DLink Elements in 2007 along with the Slayer SXC, then in 2008 the Flatline and Slayer SS Freeride bikes. For 2009, the hotly anticipated new bike was the Altitude, with an all-new “Smoothlink” suspension design. We ordered a demo fleet of various models and also recently grabbed a top-line 90RSL version for a long term tester. Below the mid-range Altitude 50.
The Altitude is a familiar name to long-time rocky Mountain fans, last adorning their classic handmade steel hardtails in the mid 1990’s. However, the name may be the same but this Altitude is all new from the ground up. It is now what Rocky Mountain labels a “marathon XC” or all-around XC trail bike with 140mm of front and rear travel, which takes the place of the venerable ETSX in the lineup. But in replacing the ETSX, the designers aimed to keep the all-round versatility of that platform, while removing or improving some of its shortcomings. We have also ridden several of those bikes over the years – more on the changes later on.
Reviewing the Rocky Mountain literature on this new line (or looking at the frame stickers), you will read about “Smoothlink” suspension and “Straightup” geometry. These are catchy names for the heart of the design of this new bike. “Smoothlink” refers to the suspension design which is a 4-bar linkage derived from the original ETSX design and looking similar to a typical FSR linkage. We are assured it has some key but relatively minor differences from other 4-bar designs but certainly shares most of the benefits including progressive and active travel, with minimal pedal-induced bob or brake loading. The linkage is mounted low on the frame providing a stable centre of gravity but retaining mud clearance and access. “Straightup Geometry” refers to one of the more noticeable and innovative parts of the design – a steeper seat tube angle than is standard for this type of bike, that is designed to slacken with suspension sag under rider weight to provide an aggressive and climbing-friendly position, while not giving up stability on the descents.
The 2009 Altitude comes in 5 models – Aluminum frame versions the 30, 50 and 70, with higher numbers indicating (in general) higher end parts, less weight and higher price. There are also two carbon frame versions, the 70 RSL and 90RSL, that share the same frame as each other and the same geometry as the aluminum versions. These are lighter, stiffer and more expensive than their aluminum counterparts. Our demo fleet is comprised of 30, 50 and 70 AL models, and we’ve had a chance to ride these as well as a couple of pre-production versions earlier in the season. I liked what I felt in those rides, and was tempted by the incredible parts spec and stealthy good looks of the RSL 90, so I have added one to my personal fleet. (Picture below)
The Altitude 90 carbon is a top-line spec with goodies including high end NEXT carbon cranks, bar and seatpost by RaceFace, shifting by Shimano XTR, R1 brakes by Formula, Fox RP23 and 32 RLC140 shock and fork, Mavic Crossmax SLR wheelset and more. Out of the box, my medium bike was 26.5lbs complete, and once I swapped to my usual pedals, grips, saddle and non-tubeless tires, the weight is 25.7 lbs. After the first 8 hours or so of riding, I also swapped the stock Fox 32 RLC fork for a DT Swiss EXC 150 carbon fork – it delivers a bit more travel, a plusher feel, short travel lockout and more stiffness for no additional weight (but admittedly more money!). So, yes this is a dream build of a bike and one I am lucky to have the opportunity to ride. However, having ridden the 50 and 70 models, all of my review of the bike’s ride applies except for the weight savings and some stiffness. So for less than half the price of the bike I am on, you can have virtually all of the climbing and descending performance in a package that is just a couple of pounds heavier – for example, the Altitude 50 in the same size weighs in at around 28.5 lbs out of the box, and it’s retail price is some $3000 less than the Altitude 90RSL!.
At around 25lbs with 2.1 tires, my RSL 90 is light enough for racing, but with 150/140mm of travel, it is long legged enough for some technical trail riding too. My usual rides are around Vancouver’s north shore (including to the trailhead, up the mountain, down and then back home) so in some ways it is a perfect fit. While not an extreme rider, I do enjoy a range of the moderately difficult technical trails so was interested to see how the XC-ish geometry would hold up. The bike has also been to Whistler for a sampling of the local trail network and should see lots more of Squamish, Sunshine Coast, Alberta rockies and more while in my hands.
The cockpit of the Altitude felt familiar to me as a long time Rocky Mountain XC rider. Shortish top tube, sharp handling angles without any twitchiness. One area that is vastly improved over the ETSX is standover – this from a combination of more dramatically shaped top tube as well as a slightly lower BB. This translated to a more stable feel for an XC riding position with nearly 6 inches of travel. The steep seat tube angle is not that apparent once on the bike. When the rear shock is set up properly, the bike sags into the travel and feels, well, like it should. Where it is apparent is climbing. This bike can climb! With little body gymnastics, a steady application of power will see the Altitude tractor up steep and technical ascents like it was glued to the mountain. All-mountain bikes like the Slayer SXC and Norco Fluid LT can also climb like this if you are strong enough but the Altitude made most of my usual climbs easier than even on my XC race bike. The suspension does not absorb pedal inputs and thus the bike accelerates extremely well and feels nimble and lighter than it is. On rolling and technical trails, the Altitude simply devours the line. It is a trail riding ninja weapon, delivering much of the pace of a race bike without the discomfort or fear when the drops and rocks appear.
The one area where things became a handful was on very steep ramps and extended steep descents. As the fork compresses, the rear shock unloads and the angles get a bit scary – you remember this is a cross country oriented bike! However, it does have an uninterrupted seat tube so the saddle can be easily dropped helping with the north shore style descents. I knew that more than a few of the local RMB test riders were ripping their altitudes around with various longer travel forks (check with your dealer or RMB first – it could void warranty) so I decided to try one out. The lightweight DT Swiss EXC 150 is a great match, as would be something like the Fox 32 TALAS FIT 150. It added almost no weight, and the little extra travel and slightly slackened head angle transformed the bike for the steeper more technical trails.
One other comment we have heard is that the dramatically shaped downtube could potentially conflict with trail obstacles like logs or steep rock drops. Indeed it is possible to rest the bike’s downtube statically on a log. However, it has proven much harder when the bike is moving to have this conflict come into play. So far we have seen no incidences of the tube hitting, and in talking with RMB engineers and test riders, they also have seen no damage due to this design.
In summary, I am really enjoying this bike for all but the most technical trails and may even try it in a race or two just to explore the versatility. Lightweight, quick handling, plush travel and predictable – what else would you want? Watch here for updates to the experience!
Who is it for?
The new Altitude is not a full-on XC race bike, nor is it ready for big hits or freeriding duties. If your riding includes one or both of those extremes in a serious way, we’re afraid the one-bike dream has not been realized. But, if you are like many of us and do the occasional race for fun more than podium and like to ride technical but not crazy trails – the Altitude is worth a serious look. With sticky tires, a short stem and saddle down, the Altitude will happily play on most North shore style trails. Likewise, sporting some fast rolling 2.1’s, a bit more air in the fork, and a number plate could tackle your next Test of Metal. And if you are lucky enough to spend your time on trails that climb lots, throw plenty of rough, technical challenges and keep going for hours (think Squamish, Whistler, Fruita, Kananaskis, etc) – this could be your bike. It is one of the very best all-round XC trail bikes that I have ridden.
Trying or getting your own.
Different Bikes has a demo fleet of Altitudes available in our North Vancouver location, just metres from the trails.
All of our remaining 2009 Altitudes on sale now – pick up a great deal on a slightly used demo bike or save on a new one! We’ll match any price you find on these bikes.
2010 Altitudes will begin arriving in the winter. Watch www.bikes.com for news and details on the latest models.
Here are some more reviews of the Altitude lineup from all over the web:
Altitude 90 RSL – MTBR ; Feedthehabit ; Pinkbike ; Bicycling
Altitude 70 RSL – NSMB
Altitude 70 – Outside
Altitude 50 – MTBR