Bike weight, stiffness, travel, and parts specs do tell you something about a bike’s ride, but parts and pieces have to sync up smoothly and imperceptibly in order for a bike to feel like an extension of your body, for it to float you through roots and rocks, and let you swoop through turns like Laird Hamilton on a wave. That’s how Rocky Mountain’s 29” wheel Element RSL feels—playful and agile.
If you never looked at the wheels of this bike, you’d swear it had 26” wheels, the handling is so responsive. The Vancouver-based bike manufacturer tweaked and tested and tweaked this bike again until it nailed how to get all the handling benefits of a 26” wheel with the roll-over-everything-ability of a 29er. It’s a bike that debunks the myth that 29ers are only good for fast flowy trail but don’t handle well in tight, technical terrain.
Rocky Mountain built the 29 RSL with a super short wheelbase and chain stays. Its designers shortened the top tube and came up with what they call the holy grail of head tube angle for best stability and agility in a full-suspension 29er. The 70.6 head tube, a slacker angle than many 29ers, also decreases toe overlap-- an issue on 29ers with short top tubes. Rocky Mountain also raised the bottom bracket to tuck in the rear wheel, helping the rider get his weight over the rear rubber for spot on handling in tight terrain. The modifications also make more riders comfortable on a 29er, from 5’4” to 6’6”.
Once they nailed the geometry, Rocky Mountain built in its SmoothLink, a suspension system that places a line drawn through the main pivot and the rear pivot above the rear axle at all points of travel. That puts the lower linkage parallel to the Average Chain Torque Line, at all points of travel. Sounds techy, and it is. What it means—the suspension wont bob and bounce you as you pedal. Since the chain torque line and lower linkage are parallel, chain tension can’t act on the suspension.
Rocky also changed the position of its brake calipers. By moving the brakes to the seat stays, Rocky took the braking forces from the lower linkage, they are isolated and don’t act on the suspension system reducing ‘‘brake jack’’, or the stiffening of the suspension when you squeeze the brakes. Together these design features make the bike feel like is has more suspension than it does, and creates a ride that makes you feel like a hero.
And there are 100 other things Rocky Mountain has done in this bike to make it light, fast, and fun from the pre-preg carbon layup, which lets them minimize materials and achieve greatest strength to weight, and innovative pivots that are lighter and stiffer for the most responsive ride.
If this all sounds like a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo—here’s what you need to know: I pedaled this bike for a month last summer on my home trails in Vermont. My training and riding partners wondered if I had been sneaking out without them—I rode more confidently and faster on technical singletrack than I ever have. The bike could handle anything I threw at it, from steep and dicey loose slippery descents to miles and hours of switchbacking climbs, to smooth, flowy fun. It’s a bike that takes the power of 29-inch wheels to a new standard-setting high. In fact, Rocky Mountain halted production on any 100mm travel bike in its line with 26 inch wheels—all of its cross-country race bikes will now be 29ers. For cross-country riding, the Element RSL guarantees maximum speed and fun.
Available now, $4,000-$8,000. element.bikes.com