A 29er Smooth as Maple Syrup
Rocky Mountain Element 950
The Element line has long been a staple in Rocky Mountain’s
cross-country offerings. For 2012, 29er fans can finally rejoice, thanks to the
addition of three new 29-inch wheel models. The Element 950 is the middle child
of the series and does a great job vying for attention.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Element 950 is designed for the cross-country rider who wants a bike
that can handle cross-country racing and marathon-style endurance events all
while being comfortable and nimble enough for all-day-trail riding.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Element’s frame is constructed from FORM 7005 hydroformed aluminum.
Hydroforming refers to the process of shaping the raw aluminum tubes. Through
this process, aluminum frames can be manipulated to increase stiffness without
increasing weight. The head tube is tapered from 1-1/8 to 1-1/2 inches, and the
RockShox fork features a 15-millimeter thru-axle for front end stiffness. The
bike features 3.7 inches of Rocky Mountain’s SmoothLink suspension, which is
designed to minimize pedal bob. New for the 2012 Element line, the design uses
Angular Bushing Concept (ABC) pivots—an angular contact bushing made of polymer
that rests against a tapered alloy pivot. The company claims this increases
stiffness in the rear end and decreases weight by almost 3 ounces on the
29-inch models. Along with the new ABC pivots, the rear wheel is built around a
142x12 millimeter axle for even greater stiffness.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
One thing that sets the Element 950 apart from other Element 29er models
is the RockShox Revelation RL29 fork, which features their “U-turn” adjustable
3.5 inches to 4.7 inches. Rocky Mountain spec’s the bike with a
SRAM X9 2x10 drivetrain that cooperates well with the race-inspired feel of the
bike. The front uses an E-type front derailleur, and the bottom bracket is a SRAM
GXP PressFit-30 style. The Formula RX brakes feature 7-inch rotors for tons of stopping
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving out: Due to the variety of suspension designs to choose from, the old rules
of suspension setup are all but extinct. For this reason, we appreciate when
bike makers incorporate setup guides into their bikes. Rocky Mountain includes
an integrated sag indicator on the upper rocker pivot, visible from the rider’s
position, to speed up the process of getting set up. Setting up the RockShox
fork is quick and easy as well, with an air pressure guide sticker right on the
fork leg. The cockpit is a mixture of Easton’s EA90 and EA70 lines with the
EA70 XC Wide handlebar measuring 26.9 inches wide. The saddle is a Fizik Gobi
XM. It’s a fairly flat saddle with a slightly ramped tail for pushing against
when climbing. We found it comfortable and never felt the need to stand up just
to give ourselves a break from the saddle. When you sit on the bike, its
cross-country roots are obvious; but at the same time, the position isn’t
overly aggressive and leaned forward—thanks to the shortened the top tube. The
bike’s short chainstays are quickly noticeable as the rear wheel feels tucked
up underneath you.
Cornering: The cornering characteristics are determined by the length you have the
fork set to. With the shorter setting, the head tube is at a steeper angle and
the bike handles very quickly. With the longer setting, the steering is slowed
down and you get more stability. We found ourselves dialing the fork to
somewhere in between the two settings to get a compromise between the two
extremes. While quite nimble through the tight stuff, the Element really shines
through fast sweeping corners. The bike tracks really well when traction hard
to come by. The Maxxis Ikon/Aspen tires were impressive on our local trails,
which feature a mix of hard pack and loose soil on top of hard pack.
Climbing: The bike comes to life on rough climbs where you can stay seated and put
the power to the pedals. It’s downright tough to get the back wheel to break
loose. Staying seated is the best way to use the Element’s strengths to your
advantage. The rear suspension feels very efficient climbing in the saddle, but
at the same time didn’t really encourage us to jump up out of the saddle and
stomp on the pedals. Unless you activate the motion control lever on the fork,
attacking out of the saddle wastes energy. The Element was surprisingly good on
steep climbs, thanks to the short chainstays and wide bars. Grinding up the
steep stuff was great for a 29er and not far off the mark of a 26er. The bike
felt snappy and the bars gave us plenty of leverage.
Descending: The Element 950 does just what it aims to do in the descending
department. It doesn’t offer long-travel, big-hit plushness, but for the
cross-country racer tired of carefully picking his way down descents, the bike
is welcome improvement. Choppy stuff that would rattle a hardtail rider, is
smoothed out without losing the feel of the trail. When we adjusted the fork to
the longer-travel setting, the bike had plenty of travel to suit the rougher
trails we encountered. As with cornering, setting up the fork some- where
between the two extremes gave us the best results by putting enough weight
forward to keep the steering planted without making us feel like we were too
far over the front wheel.
Braking: The Formula RX brakes are very powerful. It takes some time to learn how
to avoid locking up the wheels, but once we got a feel for the amount of power,
we were happy to have it when we found ourselves coming into a corner too
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The fork on the 950 required the most time to set up to our liking,
mainly because of the adjustability that the fork offers. The U-turn feature
gives you full adjustment between 3.5 and 4.7 inches of travel, and on the
trail, this level of adjustability can be cumbersome to deal with. It takes
about 6 or 7 full turns on the dial to go from one end of the adjustment to the
other, which makes switching quickly between a climbing and descending setting
impossible. It is easier to find a setting that feels comfortable and leave it
alone. Rear tire clearance is minimal. The bike comes spec’d with a Maxxis
Aspen 2.1 tire in the rear, and even at this average size, the tire sits close
to the front derailleur. Those looking to outfit their bikes with larger volume
tires will need to make sure they fit first. One thing that holds the bike back
as pure racing machine is its weight. Upgrading the 950 with some lighter components,
such as a new wheelset, would be a quick way to make the bike more competitive.
The Element definitely falls on the cross-country end of the trail
riding spectrum and won’t offer enough big-hit compliance for riders looking to
tackle really aggressive trails with big drop offs and rock gardens.
Those interested in cross-country or flowy trail riding with some racing
mixed in will love what the Element 950 offers at its very attractive price.
The bike’s ability to keep the power to the ground on climbs and take the edge
off rough descents makes spending a long day in the saddle much more pleasant.
Crewers commented that the Element simply made riding easier. This bike likes
to go fast and really shines when you are attacking the trail.
Reprinted from our March 2012 issue. Like us on Facebook