ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELEMENT REVIEW – A PRECISELY SWEET CROSS-COUNTRY BIKE
For over 40 years, Rocky Mountain has been building mountain bikes on Vancouver’s North Shore. The company began when the founders started “growing bored of riding road bikes” and decided to build mountain bikes that could withstand the rigors of gnarly, British Columbia-North Shore riding. Since then, the core of Rocky Mountain has remained consistent with its roots. The company designs bikes worthy of riding the best trails in the world, be it in B.C. or in your backyard.
The Element is Rocky Mountain’s cross-country bike. It’s a full carbon frame with 120mm of travel. It’s built with cross-country efficiency in mind but is designed with enough technical prowess to handle the gnar. This new Element stays true to its cross-country roots but throws some seriously progressive features and geometry into the mix. On paper, the 65-degree head angle is slack enough to be comfortable on an enduro bike; however, the 76-degree seat tube angle and roomy 483mm reach put the rider in a very pedal-friendly position. This could hit the sweet spot between bike categories for many riders.
Rocky builds the Element with Boost 148 spacing, a press-fit bottom bracket, and internal cable routing that allows the brake to be routed on either side of the head tube. It also comes with Rocky Mountain’s proprietary Ride-4 flip chip in the rocker to adjust among four geometry and suspension rate settings. The frame also features three water bottle cage mounts, one of which is a three-bolt mount for larger cages or bike packing gear, making this bike even more versatile.
The EC90 sports a top-of-the-line build, including XTR and Fox Factory components throughout. There’s little if anything that needs an upgrade. While you certainly could build an Element as a do-it-all trail bike, Rocky chooses to spec this version true to its cross-country lineage. Rocky Mountain decided to spec some of the lightest components available, such as the two-piston XTR brakes, the Fox 34 with a FIT4 damper, and quick-rolling Maxxis Rekon tires front and rear. While some would prefer more rugged parts, they would add weight and take away from the Element’s spry nature. The bike is meant to blur the boundaries between XC and trail with its unique frame design but keep the componentry cross-country light.
The Element’s 120mm travel suspension is a Horst-link four-bar with kinematics designed to feel active and playful on the trail. The Ride-4 system is a pared-down version of Rocky’s previous Ride-9 design. The flip chips in the rocker have four positions that alter both the suspension curve and geometry up to 0.8 degrees.The Element also comes with a size-specific shock tune to ensure more riders will have the correct baseline tune for their weight from the factory. Each Element comes with a custom-tuned Fox DPS shock for the frame size to ease setup. The fork is the Fox 34 Float Factory, which comes with 130mm of travel and a three-position Fit 4 damper.
The Element uses the combination of a lightweight build and effective geometry to make a bike that climbs like a spider monkey. The active suspension feel also benefited from some additional support from the shock during climbing and even on smooth, flat roads. Thankfully, the Fox DPS shock lever is easy to reach. We found ourselves using the compression adjuster fully firm for most smooth climbs and enjoyed the medium mode for mixed and rolling terrain. In the firm mode, the bike sits high in an excellent-feeling position with plenty of power going straight to the pedals. The relatively steep seat angle works nicely here. In the medium compression mode, the bike activates nicely to maintain grip. The lightweight carbon wheels and good small-bump compliance in the design help the cause. With its tried-and-true suspension design and a lightweight build with top-notch XTR components, there’s no reason this bike shouldn’t float up the hills, and it does.
The Element descends with confidence thanks to stable geometry. It has a relatively plush feel over rough terrain. The active suspension gobbles up obstacles, and the relatively slack geometry will have you thinking you’re riding a bike with more travel; however, this is still a short-travel bike, and you will feel like you’re pushing the limit of the lightweight chassis. The handling is precise in technical terrain, and the bike has no problem picking its way through technical terrain rather than plowing through it.
The descents are where you may want a more powerful set of brakes or knobbier set of tires, but the lighter build is key to the uniquely fun feel of this bike, which takes advantage of exceptionally capable geometry without the extra heft of burlier trailbike parts.
The Element finds its limit on extremely rough trails. We found ourselves picking lines carefully down trails we blast through on enduro bikes with more travel, but we did so on fresh legs that we hadn’t killed on the climb to the top. The Element is supremely capable of handling most any descent it can climb to.
We spent several rides tinkering with each of the Ride-4 flip-chip settings and ultimately spent the most time in the slackest modes. This bike is too fun and capable not to use the very aggressive geometry to shred descents and shatter our misconceptions about what’s possible on what, according to Rocky’s catalog anyway, is a cross-country bike.
WHAT DID WE LOVE?
This bike is almost in a category by itself with its radical geometry and great efficiency. It’s truly genre-bending, impressing us both uphill and down. The design is relatively simple and well-executed. It offers performance from the well-thought-out geometry, top-quality materials and build quality, and proven componentry without electronic nonsense.
WHAT DID WE HATE?
The stock grips felt underwhelming for a bike this expensive and built with components this nice, so we swapped them for a favorite pair of Ergon GFR1s before we even hit the trails.
The Element is in its element on technical trails, and that’s not something we can say about any old cross-country bike. Thanks to the lightweight build and pedaling efficiency, it’s also not afraid to pedal a long way to find those trails. The bike is impressively quick on the climbs, as a cross-country bike should be. The bike pushes the boundaries on geometry and comes back with performance that could hold its own against bikes with more suspension travel. Riders looking for a good climber that won’t hold them back on descents have a serious contender here. For those looking for a top-notch ride with no batteries to charge or firmware to update, this bike also fits the bill. What you see with the Element Carbon 90 is what you get—just brass tacks and no-nonsense performance on a wide range of trails. Nuff said.
WHEEL SIZE: 29″
SUSPENSION: 130mm (front), 120mm (rear)
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELEMENT CARBON 90
Weight: 24.6 pounds (with bottle cage, no pedals)
Sizes: XS (comes with 27.5″ wheels); S, M, L and XL (come with 29″ wheels
Frame tested: SmoothWall carbon, Horst-link 4-bar, 120mm travel, size L
Shock: Fox Float DPS Factory
Fork: Fox Float Factory 34 (130mm travel, 44mm offset)
Wheelset: DT Swiss 350/Rocky Mountain 26XC carbon (26mm inner width)
Tires: Maxxis Rekon WT 3C MaxxTerra (29 x 2.4″)
Seatpost: Fox Transfer Factory (175mm travel)
Saddle: WTB Silverado Carbon 142
Handlebar: Race Face Next R (20mm rise, 780mm)
Stem: Rocky Mountain 35 CNC (50mm)
Grips: ODI Elite Pro lock-on
Headset: FSA Orbit No.57
Brakes: Shimano XTR 2-piston
Rotors: Shimano RT86 180mm
Rear derailleur: Shimano XTR
Shifters: Shimano XTR
Crankset: Race Face Next SL G5 Cinch (30mm spindle)
Bottom bracket: Race Face (BB92, 30mm)
Cassette: Shimano XTR 12-speed, 10-51T
Chain: Shimano XTR
Chainrings: Race Face Cinch (32-tooth)
Head tube angle: 65-65.8°
Reach: 483mm (19.0″)
Stack: 624–628mm ( 24.5-24.7″)
Effective seat tube angle: 76–76.8°
Bottom bracket height: 342mm (13.5″)
Chainstay length: 440mm (17.3″)
Wheelbase: 1231mm (48.5″)