Mountain Bike Action Bike Test: Rocky Mountain’s Altitude Enduro Machine
Rocky Mountain is known for its capable and robust bikes. How did its bikes come to life? The company started back in 1978 when the founders, who were working at a bike shop, began to modify steel road bikes with flat bars, wider tires and even thumb shifters. To say their designs have come a long way is a major understatement. Today, the B.C.-based brand builds every one of its bikes to handle rugged terrain and conditions.
The North Shore has shaped Rocky Mountain’s bikes, and this year the company has released a redesigned enduro machine called the Altitude. Eager to jump on it to see how the updates performed, we took the 2021 Altitude Carbon 70 out on some SoCal trails. The goal was to see if the Shore-inspired enduro beast could hang on in the wrecking crew’s proving grounds.
Wheel size: 27.5″
The goal of the redesign was to create an elite racing rig for Rocky’s top-level enduro racers. The key updates of the redesign include a 29-inch wheel platform and 10mm of travel added to the front and rear suspension. The 2020 Altitude only came in a 27.5-inch version. Now there is a wheel-size split on the medium size, so the Altitude can meet the needs of short and tall riders. This is why Rocky offers four frame sizes, including small and medium with a 27.5-inch platform. Taller riders who prefer a 29-inch wheelset can choose between medium, large and XL sizes.
As with all Rocky Mountain Carbons, the frame is built with proprietary Smoothwall Carbon technology. Rocky Mountain does offer the new Altitude in an alloy version, but we will get to that later. Not obvious to the naked eye, this carbon tech uses a special process to mold the carbon without creating little voids within the material. The frame has 160mm of travel, Boost rear hub spacing, a Press-Fit BB92 bottom bracket, internal cable routing, two-bolt ISCG-05 tabs, Rocky’s Ride-9 adjustable geo chip, and a long/short two-position dropout.
The 2021 Altitude is offered in six differently priced builds. If you’re the DIY type, Rocky offers a carbon-frame-only option with a Fox Float X2 Factory shock to start your build for $3700. We tested a mid-level Altitude called the Carbon C70 that came with great components focused on performance. Rocky equipped the C70 build with a Fox 36 Float Evol GRIP2 Performance Elite Series fork, along with a Fox Float X2 Performance air shock. For the same cost, Rocky Mountain is also offering the C70 coil addition if you prefer a coil spring over an air shock. At the pedals, there is a complete Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain. Shimano provides the stopping power with XT Trail four-piston brakes.
This combination of components worked well together and kept our test build at a price of $7000. If you are more of an alloy frame rider, Rocky offers three build-outs starting at $3499 and going up to $5249. Of course, there is a version that tops them all, coming in at $10,000, called the Carbon 99. This bike is fully decked out with SRAM AXS components, top RockShox suspension, carbon crankarms and even carbon bars. Rocky Mountain really went all out with its range of options for the consumer.
At the front of this battle rig, we took advantage of the tunability on the 170mm Performance Elite Fox 36. For setup, we ran the recommended pressure for our weight, but our main test rider went a few clicks faster on the rebound knob than recommended. The four-bar suspension configuration provides distinct ride characteristics that create that Rocky Mountain feel.
As we briefly mentioned, the redesigned Altitude has Rocky Mountain’s Ride-9 adjustability but also has a two-position axle chip. The dropout chip adjusts the chainstay length between 437mm (short) and 448mm (long), depending on the position of the Flip Chip. The Ride-9 adjustment allows riders to fine-tune their geometry and suspension with a pair of Allen keys to nine different positions. Position 1 is the slackest at 64.4 degrees at the head tube and 75.4 degrees at the seat tube. Position 9 is the steepest setting, with 65.5 degrees at the head tube and 76.5 degrees at the seat tube. As Rocky Mountain suggests, it takes time to find the position that best suits your riding style.
Also offering more adjustability is the two-position axle dropout. This allows the rider to choose a shorter or longer rear-center length. Essentially, the short setting will create a bit better response, while the longer setting will add more stability.
DOWN AND DIRTY
The Altitude was designed to be the key platform for the Rocky Mountain Race Face Enduro Team. Yes, you guessed it; it’s fast! Beyond keeping racers on the top step of the podium, Rocky Mountain also wanted the bike to be suitable for a fun getaway with your riding buddies. If we are honest, most of us can admit we do not crush racetracks and stand on podiums like Rocky’s very own Jesse Melamed and Andréane Lanthier Nadeau. Nonetheless, most of us strive to be quicker and push our skill levels to new heights.
The crew experimented further with various configurations of the Ride-9 and two-position axle dropout. The bike performed well over the typical climbing obstacles in Position 5, the Neutral setting. This sets the head tube angle (HTA) at 65 degrees and the seat tube angle (STA) at 76 degrees. While Position 5 was preferred if we were only climbing, Position 2 (HTA 64.7 degrees, STA 75.7 degrees) gave us the balance necessary for climbing and descending. While we swapped back and forth on the rear dropout positions, the shorter position added a bit more snap for steering into the tighter sections. With that said, the longer rear position did provide more traction in certain situations.
Once dialed in to the conditions we were riding, it was noticeable how stable the bike was when climbing up steep terrain. In the slackest and long dropout setting on steep fire-road climbs, it was a bit tough to keep the front wheel at bay, but there was a noticeable increase in traction.
Transitioning out the gate and going down the trail was a blast! If higher-speed stability is your style, the long/slacker setting helps extend the wheelbase, increasing overall traction. The Ride-9 can even be adjusted trail side if a rider knows he would prefer a setting for a certain section of trail ahead; however, we recommend sticking with the preferred position on the rear axle chip from the beginning of your ride. The brake mount needs to be flipped to go between settings, and that is a bit easier in a bike stand.
The bike’s stellar handling was noticeable as it crushed typical enduro terrain, while the tires remained very planted to the trail ahead. We gave a big thumbs up to the bike’s performance through the washboard bumps, as the Altitude responded predictably without any unwanted jarring. It was fun to run laps on the same track while doing small geometry tweaks. Some of our test riders agreed on settings, while others preferred something a little different to add their own spice and flavor for descending.
At the price point tested, there is little to consider upgrading on the Altitude C70. We praise the reliable Shimano drivetrain, four-piston brakes and the Fox suspension components. Perhaps one small upgrade to consider would be the DT Swiss 54t star ratchet. This will triple the number of rear-hub engagement points for pedaling efficiency. Other than that, we would run this bike as is and not change a thing!
The redesign makes the 2021 Altitude a completely different trail brute. The suspension platform accomplished Rocky Mountain’s goal of making its settings usable in all positions. Some field notes: The bottom bracket sits very low in Position 1, leading to pedal strikes on roughed-out chunks; however, if you are riding fast, smooth, steep terrain, the bike proved to be very stable.
Riders’ tastes vary, and the amount of adjustability on the Altitude takes that into consideration. The Altitude strikes a balance between race-ready performance and a fun ride language for the average rider.
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.
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