Full race-bred XC bikes are the perfect example of uncompromizing effciency and performance. Look at a hard tail and it gets even more pure, no extras. The Vertex line from Rocky is the modern take on the XC hard tail. Modern updates are sometimes subtle, but are plenty. Full Smooth wall carbon frame layup, that, according to the team at Rocky uses a rigid internal mold (likely a type of sacrificial foam) to provide smooth internal surfaces and no extra voids or resin. Few if any manufacturers divulge the exact process they use in Carbon layup, but the result here is very aesthetically pleasing. The Vertex 970 as tested was modified from its stock form to include a 1×10 conversion (narrow-wide 32 t front ring, XT shadow plus derailleur, One-up 42 Tooth cog, 16 Tooth cog and RADr cage). Wheels were stocked with XT hubs and Sun-Ringlè Helix TR rims. I swapped the wheels for a set of Stan’s Arch EX rims laced with Sapim Laser Spokes to Hope Pro 2 EVO Gold hubs. A 760 mm wide Kore Durox handlebar was installed with a 70mm Chromag stem I had lying around. The seat post was swapped for a Thomson Elite Offset on I also had in the shop. ODI Rogue grips were used since the stock ones were too small of a diameter for my liking. Total weight was 23 lbs with pedals after modifications including tubeless tires. It is important to note that the stock iteration of the 970 comes with an XTR derailleur but this was a non-clutch style that was not suitable for 1×10 non-chain guide setups. I did not even think you could get non-clutched XTR derailleurs anymore, someone must have had a closet full of them left over.
Short(ist) 115 mm headtube Slack(ish) 70.25 degree head angle 12×142 mm Through Axle Rear, Thin, profiled rear triangle providing the right amount of vertical compliance and lateral stiffness for pedalling feel and efficiency.
Maintaining a slender 27.2 internal seat tube diameter allows a thinner profile seat post which provides ride vibration damping and shock compliance taking the edge off when seated.
Internal routing for the shifter cables with one access port near the head tube plugged off with black sealant during my 1×10 One-Up mod.
Moulded in stainless steel carbon protection near the BB/Crank:
The fork is a standard Rock Shox SID, but a nice touch is that this is a Type B SID with 3 travel options, 80, 100 and 120 mm. In stock form, this was set to 100mm and you can go to 80 mm without buying any extra parts (you still have to disassemble and install a small spacer). I cannot really imagine who would go down to 80 mm on this but the option is there. I changed this fork to 120 mm, which was a little more involved and required the purchase of a longer air shaft and the removal of two air chamber spacers to increase the air volume in the air spring. (around $80 CAD). A fairly simple mod at home and I am set to 120 mm. A quick way to check if your fork is compatible is to check the scale on the side to see if the 120 mm scale is present, If so then you are good to go.
This bike is much more compliant than my steel All Mountain hard tail over small sharp trail bumps. This was very surprising but a testament to Rocky’s carbon engineering program. Its a little slacker than typical XC hard tails with the slightly longer fork and a 70.25 degree head tube angle to begin with, I put the head tube around 69.5 with the 120 mm fork. This allows a little more prowess on the descents and is a little more forgiving in the snappy trails. I never once wished for a faster handling set-up. Tire pressure must be monitored very closely since the XC trend is for smaller, pinned tires. On our PNW terrain, I like a higher volume, low resistance tire like the Maxxis Ardent for XC. Higher volume is a welcome addition for hard tails to help take the edge off, but the use here is limited.
- Light weight, decent price point
- Excellent compliant ride
- Very clean aesthetic
- Retro paint scheme, modern design.
- 180 mm front brake rotor.
- Mediocre part spec, Non-clutch XTR derailleur.
- Crys out for upgrades, the top end 990 RSL would be a better buy if you are looking at major upgrades such as wheels/drivetrain changes.
- Tight rear tire clearance, larger volume tires will not fit much past 2.3″
All in all this is an excellent, affordable hard tail that is great for all day epics on less demanding terrain, I even sized it up to fit my bike packing bags, as I think the light weight and efficiency would be great for off-load tours. It is respectable for even experienced XC racers to pull up to the start line and at this price point, upgrades are easier to afford with a lower overall purchase price. A great buy.