ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELEMENT 970 RSL TEST
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELEMENT 970 RSL
BC Takes on XC
Cross-country racing has drastically evolved over the last several years, and frame designers have been challenged to create more capable bikes in fast, efficient packages. B.C.-based Rocky Mountain is known for its more-than-capable trail-and long-travel bikes but has taken a different approach in designing the new Element.
The BC Bike Race has become one of the most popular races in North America and was one of the biggest inspirations for the Element. With epic B.C.-style riding and long days in the saddle in mind, Rocky Mountain has delivered what it believes is the next best thing in cross- country riding.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The new XC: Cross-country has had a reputation as a tamer form of mountain biking, but over the last few years, the courses have become more technical and challenging. The new Element addresses the challenges of the modern XC course with a capable geometry and beefier suspension platform.
The redesigned Element isn’t just for cross-country racing; it has a versatile geometry and suspension platform that also works for aggressive trail riding. Committed XC racers will appreciate the attention to detail, with two bottle-cage mounts and the ability to steepen the head angle for a responsive ride. Trail riders will be drawn to the 120 millimeters of front travel and smooth ride of the rear suspension.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Element is only available in a full-carbon frame and rear triangle and uses Rocky Mountain’s proprietary Smooth Wall structure. Rocky Mountain designed the suspension with its Ride 9 adjustable geometry that allows riders to dial in the fit depending on what type of terrain they’ll be riding. The frame uses full internal cable routing and will work with mechanical or Di2 drivetrains. It also has room for two bottle cages for longer days in the saddle.
A little extra travel: The Element was designed to ride with 110–120-millimeter-travel forks. Our test bike came stock with a 120mm Fox 34 and gave our test riders plenty of confidence throughout the course of their testing.
The suspension was designed with 100 millimeters of rear travel and 110–120 millimeters in the front. Across the whole line, the Element comes stock with 120-millimeter-travel forks, but riders can swap out to 110 millimeters down the road. Our test bike retails for $5300, but riders can choose a frame-only option.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Geared for speed: Our test bike came with a 1×11 drivetrain with a 32-tooth chainring up front. Most of our test riders felt like they had plenty of gearing to roll uphill, but would have liked a slightly bigger front ring for more downhill speed.
Out of all of the versions in the Element line, it’s safe to say that the 970 RSL is the workhorse of the bunch, with a full Fox suspension package and Shimano XT build kit. The Fox 34 is one that we know well, and it performed consistently during our testing. The 150-millimeter RockShox Reverb gave our test riders plenty of room to get a little rowdy on the trails. The remote lockout for the fork and shock were an added bonus on rolling terrain and made on-the-fly adjustments easy.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Most cross-country race bikes lean towards the stiffer side of things when it comes to sag. Our testers started with 20 percent in the rear and 10 percent in the fork. At 20 percent, the rear end felt plush and active, but after a few rides, some of our testers changed it to 30 percent sag for more aggressive trail riding.
Adjusting the Geometry:
Adjust it how you want it: Rocky Mountain uses their Ride9 chips on all of their full suspensions and allows riders to adjust the geometry. The Ride9 will adjust the head angle between 69–70 degrees.
This was one of the more complex adjustments on the Element. Rocky Mountain has a video on its website to guide riders through the setup. We started our testing with the head angle set at 70 degrees but quickly changed it to the slackest 69-degree setting. After quite a bit of time on the trail, our testers preferred the slacker setting.
Ride it hard: On paper the Element is an XC race bike, but once on the trail it rips. Our test riders felt com- fortable riding the Element more like an aggressive trailbike rather than a twitchy XC bike.
With cross-country courses becoming more technical, the descending and cornering ability of XC race bikes is paramount. Our testers found that the Element ripped through corners with ease. The long, more-aggressive reach allowed us to keep our weight low and planted, giving us plenty of stability. We experienced plenty of confidence and felt comfortable leaning the Element over a little more in built corners or switchbacks.
Races have often been won on the climbs, and the Element has the ability to be the first to the top. The remote lock-out allowed our testers to stiffen up the suspension quickly. The rear suspension felt practically locked out and didn’t give us any unwanted bob or feedback during hard efforts out of the saddle. With the suspension locked out, the Element rolled as fast as we could push it, showing its cross-country roots as a more-than-efficient climber.
The Element is flat-out fast; there is no doubt about it. Our testers were amazed by how well this XC bike handled technical terrain. The combination of the burly fork and active rear suspension gave our testers plenty of confidence when the trail got steep or rocky.
We were surprised at how well the Element handled with the Ride 9 in the steepest setting. The short stem and wide bars gave us plenty of leverage and allowed testers to let go of the brakes a little more and flow with the trail.
TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?
The Element has plenty of potential as an XC race bike or light-weight trailbike. If you’re leaning more towards trail, the Element has the clearance to fit up to 2.3-inch-wide tires. A more aggressive tread will suit the trail rider’s need to get rowdy. Some of our testers would have preferred a larger front chainring, but didn’t feel too hindered when riding steep singletrack.
Bikes have become very purpose-built in the last few years, and while the Element sits in the XC category, it is much more versatile than that. Whether you’re looking to dabble in racing or are on the hunt for an efficient, lightweight bike to rip your local trails, the Element has a versatile design that will give riders plenty of options.
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