I don’t want to use the dreaded E-word, but in the spirit of the largest growing bike segment, Enduro, Rocky Mountain has nailed it. When people finally realized that it is much more fun to slay the downs and maintain a reasonably pedal able (is that a word?) bike to explore and keep more trail riding options open, the market exploded. The Altitude Rally is a purpose built modified Altitude with some burly attributes: New 160 mm fox 36, Fox Float X CTD piggy back shock, 800 mm wide, 35 series handle bars and 50 mm stem. Attach some solid Stans Flow EX wheels and 3.30 HD hubs and this thing should come with a pilot’s license. Rocky Mountain chooses to use plain bearing (bushing style) pivots. In my professional opinion, done right, and these are, this is the best way to design pivots on a mountain bike. People have typically felt that plain bearings are inferior but allow me to explain…In a typical bike pivot, the range of travel is in a small arc segment where the parts do not make a full rotation and in some cases, such as the “horst” link, the motion is almost imperceptible when you are looking at them. Rolling element bearings are designed for rotational motion at high speeds. Because of this they are only partially filled with grease to avoid heat build up at speed. Some max capacity type bearings are used with no cages, but these are still engineered for continuous rotational motion. Very tiny points of contact share the load in the load zone on the rolling elements and races. Light lubrication combined with marginal sealing, ingress of dirt and especially water and high stresses leads to material fatigue, corrosion and generally horrible pivot and degraded suspension performance.
Plain bearings are designed for simplicity, stiffness, load capacity and durability. The bushings are tapered to provide both vertical and horizontal motion control. Sealed with o-rings and lubricated with a high tenacity grease, the pivots are easy to service, repair and are very quiet. Ball bearing pivots are pressed into place, susceptible to damage, failure and are much harder to service. With the rear pivot easily accessible, I was able to stretch on a length of 35mm inner tube to protect the chain stay. Chain slap on these carbon stays is VERY loud without it. So that is a nice unintemded benefit of this suspension design.
It is not uncommon for bikes to have some sort of geometry adjustment feature. Many have two positions for locating the shock upper or lower mount or two adjust the rear dropout. These all have the affect of small chnages in head tube angle and bottom bracket height. Rocky takes that a step further with Ride 9. RIDE 9 is a system of two four sided chips nested together with an eccentrically located mounting hole in each. There are a total of, you guessed it, 9 optional locations to located the upper shock mounting point. In the above picture, with the eccentrics both far forward, this is the slackest setting. The location opposite, or closest to the rear would be the steepest setting. Head tube angles adjust from 66.2 degrees to 67.8 degrees. A little steep for this segment but it contributes to a snappier trail ride. Further fine tuning of the suspension can be made by moving the mount to the other upper or lower locations. Moving the pivot up allows lighter rider to use higher shock pressures (effectively increasing leverage on the shock and allowing proper shock air pressure ranges). Moving the location down lowers the leverage on the shock and allows heavier riders to run lower pressures which results in longer shock seal life and larger range for damping adjustments. I really like these options since it can be steepened up for longer less aggressive rides or slackened off for full party mode. Riding Impressions:
This bike rips. Pretty general i know. Let me clarify, it rips the descents. With this type of weaponry, 160mm travel, slack(ish) headtube, super wide handlebar and stubby stem, climbing can only be so good…But with the handlebar mounted CTD adjustment lever, climbing can be made reasonably efficient with a very stable pedalling platform. This brings me to an interesting point, Rocky has spec’d this bike with SRAM drive, Shimano Brakes and FOX Shock and Fork. In the picture below you can see that none of these systems play nicely together and forces three clamps to be located on the right side handlebar (you could flip the lockout the the left side too in all honesty). This forced me to locate the shifter a bit too close to the grip for my hands and at times my thumb rubs on the shifter paddle. I’ll try running the CTD lever on the left side and crowd out the Reverb remote and brake lever on that side.
This is the most aggressive and capable bike that I have owned and I am having a blast with it. Previously on a long travel 29er, I received this bike with some trepidation since I had always been an advocate of large wheels on rough terrain. What was I thinking! In the realm of long travel, this set-up is spot on, I feel more planted on the fast corners, sitting in the bike instead of perched on top of stilts. With a comparatively short rear end, manuals and tight corners are a touch more manageable and enjoyable. I do not miss the benefits of the large wheels since any perceived lost traction and roll over is longer, supple, better controlled travel—I may be a bit behind the times on this one, but what can I say? People change! (I had a similar but less definite realization on the Transition Patrol Review I did late last fall). The sturdy Stan’s Flow EX wheels are stiff and provide a very predicable and steady path through the extreme rough stuff on some of the Squamish and Britannia lesser know steep trails. Compared to flexy 29er wheels, these are bombproof. I have found myself using much higher air pressure than I normally do because of the more supple suspension and the fact that I am carrying A LOT more speed on the trails. Minion DHR II Tires front and rear are spot on and predica and I set them up tubeless as per usual.
I found the initial fork set-up a little cumbersome and it took a few rides to nail down the air pressure and settings that I like, probably 5 psi higher than recommended on the fox chart for my weight. These are always a guideline as they take no consideration for terrain or rider skill. HIgh and low Speed compression are still being settled. I find the outer dial, Low speed compression a bit finicky with 4 complete turns of adjustment, but I settled on the first 30 % of fast, same for the low speed setting. Rebound is adjusted a bit deeding on terrain, but I also run this a bit on the faster side of the half way mark.
I like running a water bottle and that is the one thing that I miss a lot on this bike, although it has bottle mounts inside the main triangle, the combination of the Float X CTD and tight dimensions means that not even a youth sized bottle in a side load cage with fit without touching that damn remote reservoir. I guess the trade off is a more trick looking and consistent operating shock for having to carry water on your back or go thirsty. Speaking of the shock, rebound adjustments are almost inaccessible with the top mount configuration and the dial is hidden away only reachable with a very slender screwdriver or other pocking device. A minor oversight and this is typically a set a forget setting for the vast majority of riders.
- Excellent parts spec, very few deficiencies for the advertised price.
- Adjustable geometry suits a wide variety of terrain and riders.
- Plain bearing rear pivots—Add the grease fittings (rumoured to be in 2016) like the new Thunderbolt and this is the definition of reliable, smooth and engineered suspension.
- Stable, predictable handling and downhill prowess.
- Excellent climbing traction, if not uphill speed.
- Light weight at 27.8 lbs with pedals.
- Fox 36 Factory, 160 mm, oh my my.
- Can’t fit a water bottle/cage
- Inaccessible rear rebound adjustment
- Could use a 150 mm long dropper post, this may not work for all heights, but for me it would be nice to be able to get the saddle a tad lower on the steeps.
- Factory down tube protection would be a nice touch near the BB as this area is very susceptible to damage from flying rocks.