Review: Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er

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Rocky Mountain’s Altitude 29er was introduced last year, first shown at Sea Otter as a prototype and then at Interbike as a production model. It borrows heavily from its 26″ namesake, sharing the Straight Up Geometry, SmoothLink travel and enduro desires.

The Straight Up Geometry is at the heart of this bike’s handling. In essence, it starts with a very upright 76 degree seat angle so that when your account for sag, your sitting in the optimal position for efficient pedaling, and in particular, climbing. In fact, despite 115mm of travel and North Shore worthy frame, the Altitude 29er can claim climbing as a surprising strong points.

Remarkably, it does so without giving up anything in the way of big hit performance. We rode this bike on some of the best trails in Florida and Virginia as well as our local trails in North Carolina, whipping it through the limestone funnels and drops of Santos in Ocala to the long singletrack climbs and rocky descents of Carven’s Cove near Roanoke.

How’d it do? Read more for the full review…

FRAME DETAILS AND WEIGHT

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An XL Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er without pedals weighs in at 28lbs 11oz. Not too shabby for their largest size, all-mountain 29er with a parts mix that leans toward durability over weight savings, but there are a few exceptions to this that we’ll cover in a second.

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The Altitude 29er’s frame is hydroformed 7005 aluminum with 76º seat angle and 70.5º head angle across the size range (S, M, L and XL). Chainstays are 17.8″ long (452.1mm). The sloping top tube makes it easy to flick the bike around under you and mirrors the frame shape of the 26″ Altitude.

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The relatively steep 76º seat angle is what makes the Straight Up Geometry. It’s designed such that as you sit on the bike, it sags into the correct position for climbing and XC performance riding.

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Up front, all sizes have short, tapered headtubes. Small and Medium frames have 100mm tall tubes, Large and XL have 110mm. The cockpit is made up of Easton EA70 bar, stem and post with a WTB saddle. It comes with super thin Rocky Mountain lock-on grips and sweet maple leaf logo’d end caps. We swapped the grips out for some thicker Ergons, though.

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It comes with fellow Canadian brand RaceFace Deus XC X-Type cranks and bottom bracket. Suspension is a Fox Float RP23 with custom valving and Fox 32 F29 RL Fit fork w/ 15mm thru axle. Rear travel is set at 115mm, and the fork is set at 120mm.

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The Altitude 29 uses Rocky Mountain’s SmoothLink suspension design. The idea is to keep the chain’s tension line parallel to a line drawn from the rear pivot to the main pivot. This is achieved by placing the rear pivot above the rear axle, and the goal is to eliminate pedal influence on the suspension (ie. bob) as well as suspension influence on pedal stroke. In other words, it makes things Smooooooth.  And yes, it seemed to work as advertised.

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As with the rocker linkage, the rear pivot and, actually, the rest of the frame are almost over built for being a bike intended for XC marathon type racing…but keep in mind, they’re also talking about “marathon” racing in Canada, which has “cross country” trails that would bring many of us to our knees.

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The replaceable dropout is larger than most. Note how the rear pivot is just slightly above the rear axle.

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Drivetrain is a mix of Shimano XT (shifters, rear der.) and SLX (direct mount front der.). Current spec as of this post is 3×9, but our hunch is they’ll get upgraded to 3×10 as next year’s models roll out.

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The downtube bends at the top and bottom, creating a steeper looking tube and providing clearance for the larger wheels.

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Perhaps the only niggle we have with the bike was way the rear brake hose ran on the stays. It was a bit loose and runs the risk of getting snagged in a wreck. It didn’t happen to us, but just wanted to point that out. One additional zip tie along the chainstay would probably help out.

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The cable’s looseness is better illustrated from the side. On the plus side, you can see the full housing run straight into the front derailleur, which helps keep crud out and makes set up a little easier.

Now, it’s time to mention the concessions to weight. The wheels are built up with Wheeltech (front) and non-series Shimano hubs (Correction, provided by Peter at RM: it’s a specific hub made by Shimano, with a more robust freehub body, to accommodate the higher torque created by the 36t 29’er cassette. If we had spec’d an XT hub, and someone had busted the freehub body, they would not honor the warranty) laced to Stan’s ZTR Arch 29er rims with DT Swiss Competition spokes. The rims and spokes are light, but we did notice some wheel flex in fast or hard cornering. The brakes are Formula R1, which are some of the lightest brakes around, but they may have been a bit underpowered for more aggressive or heavier riders.  That, and by the end of our snow ride (explained below), we had no rear brake left.

The tires on our test bike were Maxxis Ignitor (F) and Cross Mark (R), which did exceptionally well in everything except our snow ride. However, the bike is spec’d as you’d buy it with Continental Mountain King 2.4 tires.

RIDE REVIEW

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As I mentioned in the intro, the Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er climbs exceptionally well, particularly when seated and fairly well when standing up to hammer, too. Roanoke’s trails have mile after mile of fire road and singletrack climbs, and while you may not be able to keep up with friends on lighter XC rigs, the Altitude 29 will roll happily and efficiently up the hills all day long. Pure racers will want to lighten the bike up for real marathon and enduro racing, which shouldn’t be too hard to do with a few choice upgrades. A 27lb bike is not pie in the sky dreaming with this frame.

We rode this Carven’s Cove and Warrior’s Creek in the winter, so there was also the added weight of warm clothing and the handling effects of cold fingers, but the bike held up well.  There were a few issues with chain suck when things got a little wet and muddy, which meant several stops to relube with some Squirt.

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On a very snowy ride at Warriors Creek in Wilkesboro, NC, the big wheels helped plow through some of the deeper snow (8″ in sections with about half the trail under 3″ of white powder)’ but the Maxxis tires weren’t able to provide enough traction. This was the only instance where the tires didn’t perform well.  Hidden under the snow were tree branches that had fallen under the weight of the winter mix, along with rocks of all sizes.  The Altitude 29er’s frame and ample travel handled these surprises well, leading to an incident-free ride despite lousy and potentially dangerous riding conditions. Oh, and it was after this ride that the rear brakes were gone…which probably had everything to do with the conditions wearing through the pads more than their performance, but visually the pads looked to have plenty of material left, so we weren’t sure what the problem was, but they simply wouldn’t stop the bike.

Rocky singletrack descents like this are barely even felt aboard the Altitude 29.

Rocky singletrack descents like this are quickly tamed aboard the Altitude 29.

What came as the biggest surprise was that my best ride on the bike was in Florida.  You wouldn’t suspect a big bike designed to tackle the technical features and trails of epic Canadian mountain biking would excel in the typically flat riding of the Sunshine State. Ocala’s IMBA Epic Santos Trails offer a lot of fast, flat singletrack, and on the Altitude 29er, I could really lay down the power and blaze through it. It helped to put the Fox shock on its firmest ProPedal setting for such riding. The nice thing about Santos is it takes full advantage of the former limestone mining pits and holes as well as large rock structures to create some fantastic technical riding.

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Yes, this rock pile was part of Santos' Red trails in Ocala, FL.

Since it had been years since my last ride there, there were plenty of surprises around every corner, usually in the form of rock gardens, rock piles or sudden rock climbs.  In such cases, momentum is usually lost and you have to muscle your way over them (as on the rock pile above). The Altitude 29er’s frame was sturdy enough to let me manhandle the bike, crawl over and pick my way through the trail rather ungracefully. It never flinched.  I could stand up and finesse a small gear over a technical climb or wobble my way across raised, narrow log bridges.

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The handling is predictable and stable…you can wail down fire road without your hands on the bars and it’ll stay straight.  On the occasions when a jump or drop presented itself, including a few 4′ to 6′ ramps with sloped landings (as shown above), the suspension held up well without bottoming out. It’s worth mentioning that I’m not hucking this thing as fearlessly as I suspect many North Shore riders will, and that I’ve seen one of Rocky Mountain’s employee’s bikes with modified spec to tackle the more aggressive local trails.

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Rocky, bumpy climbs (not to mention fire roads) are no problem for the Altitude 29. There's no sense of energy loss when hammering up a hill, regardless of the terrain.

During my riding, the wheels would exhibit a bit of flex when really diving hard and fast into a corner. It wasn’t a major issue, but if you’re going to be using this bike for aggressive freeride or park riding, or you’re a heavier XC / Trail rider, you may want to plan on upgrading to a stronger set of wheels.

OTHER IMPRESSIONS:

Dave (6’6″ XC Endurance type rider): I rode the Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er on a cold, soggy December evening.  Jumping on my first full suspension 29er in the dark, cold, windy night and diving into particularly muddy, sloppy trails may not be the best test riding conditions, but I’ll offer some initial thoughts below:

My background first, I’m 6’4” and about 200lbs. I currently ride a 2005 XL S-Works Specialized Epic 26er, as well as a 2008 20” Vassago Bandersnatch 29er hard tail.  In my opinion, both bikes have their merits and I enjoy choosing from either bike depending on the trail or race I’m riding that particular day.  I race both traditional cross country races (typically sport class), but I also enjoy the longer marathon and 100 mile type mountain bike races.

First impressions of the Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er was that the top tube felt long and the handlebar height was lower than what I was accustomed to, but that could be easily remedied by a riser bar or a different stem height.  The first trail we dove into was pretty sloppy with several steep whoop-de-doos.  The Altitude’s suspension soaked up the whoops without any effort and it felt surprising smooth compared to my other bikes.  There are quite a few sharp turns and twisty sections on the first few miles of trail, as well as a couple of short climbs and a couple of log skinny’s.  The Altitude was fun to ride and surprisingly efficient for a longer travel bike, especially one with bigger wheels.  I felt no limitation in the twisty sections, it climbed well, and was stiff enough through the whoops and around corners.  I was far more limited by the trail conditions and the shadows from lights behind me, and the bike gave me extra confidence while riding at night on poor trail conditions.

The next section of trail we rode was more straight forward, but had far more roots and short, steep climbs.  Again, the Altitude suspension handled the rooty sections with ease, yet was stiff enough to hammer up the short, steep climbs without losing momentum.  On some of the faster, flowing downhill sections, the Altitude’s suspension and big wheels allowed the bike to gain speed and momentum rapidly, but the bike was so stable that I had visions of long days in Pisgah on this bike with a grin wrapped around my face!  All in all, this bike was nimble and responsive and it rode surprisingly efficient and comfortable for a 29lb XL big wheeler.  While it may be considered by some (racer types) as too much bike for the twisty Piedmont trails, it sure didn’t feel like too much bike.  If I were a weekend warrior who wanted an efficient, one bike does it all, this would be an excellent bike to own!  With all that being said, I’d sure like to ride it in the daylight and on some dry trails to get a comparable ride on it.

ANYTHING WE DIDN’T LIKE?

When I first saw this bike and its specs at Sea Otter in 2009, I was very excited and told Peter (RM’s marketing manager) that I really wanted to review one. Then more details were leaked out and finally, after almost six months of waiting, we got our test bike in.  Like when you’re infatuated with someone from afar, your imagination starts running until the day you finally work up the courage to talk to them. By that time, your vision of this person is likely a skewed vision of perfection that no one can possibly live up to. Well, in my anticipation of getting this bike in, I must have dreamt it would be God’s gift to the trails, floating to the top of climbs while descending as though riding on the ass of an angel. No bike can possible live up to this, and while I thoroughly enjoyed my time on it, I don’t think I ever got emotionally excited about it on the trail.

Don’t get me wrong, there were times when it duly impressed me, and every ride was fun, but I think I sabotaged myself in the months leading up to getting the bike.  Should this matter to you? Probably not, but I felt I had to mention it to be totally fair in my review. If you have the chance to demo one of these, please take it, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

BIKERUMOR RATING:

All in all, the Altitude 29er is a fun, capable bike that handled the variety of trails we put it on well. It can descend and hammer just fine, and it really shines when you start pedaling against gravity. If you’re looking for a solid all ’rounder, the Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er could be just the ticket, and it’s easy enough to convert it into a more aggressive descender with a few parts swaps…or a lighter XC marathon racer, for that matter.

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Oh, and lest I forget, it’s a pretty fair deal. With an MSRP of just $3,999, you’re getting a great bike for the money with a frame that feels like it’ll last for many years.

Comments

Mongoose - 08/17/10 - 3:13pm

I just put a 3×10 – Shimano XT 36 on the back – on my Tallboy and IMHO the 3×10 works MUCH better with the bigger wheels than the old 3×9 setup. The 36 cassette combined with the closer ratio gearing REALLY makes it easy to keep momentum going with the bigger wheels. :-)

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