When we tested the 2009 Rocky Mountain 5.5-inch-travel Altitude we said, “If you need lots of travel but don’t want to give up the performance of a shorter-travel trailbike, the Altitude fits the bill.” The bike we have here is another Altitude, but this one rolls on 29-inch wheels and has slightly less travel.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Altitude line is made up of purebred trailbikes for riders who navigate tough trails covered in rocks, roots, dips and steps. While the 29ers get a little less travel, Rocky Mountain is confident that the larger wheels will make up in rolling performance what an inch less travel takes away from the bike’s abilities.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Altitude 29 SE uses an aluminum frame. The frame has a steep, 76-degree seat tube angle that Rocky Mountain has dubbed their Straight-Up Geometry. They feel that moving the rider slightly forward contributes to better power delivery (due to the rider’s position over the cranks) and more comfort.
In the rear is Rocky Mountain’s SmoothLink suspension, which addresses pedal bob by locating the rear pivot above the rear hub axle. This more or less keeps the chain, while under pedaling torque, parallel to the lower link (the line between main pivot and rear pivot).
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
There is not one item that jumps out at you, because Rocky Mountain delivers a well-tuned ensemble of components. It is the total package of DT Swiss wheels, Maxxis tires, Easton goodies and the Fizik saddle that works together to say, “You don’t need to upgrade
Move back: Straight-Up Geometry offers a power advantage while climbing, and requires the rider to move rearward during descents.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ergonomics: Don’t expect to be hitting your knees on the handlebar due to Rocky Mountain’s Straight-Up Geometry. It is nowhere near that exaggerated. Still, the Straight-Up Geometry gives the 29er a more cramped-feeling cockpit than the 26er (tested December 2009). You find yourself in an upright riding position with the handlebar in a perfectly neutral position. The standover clearance is amazing thanks to a dogleg-bent top tube.
Moving out: By no means a rocket, the Altitude 29er SE works its way up to speed with its large tires contributing to the resistance. Getting out of the saddle and putting down an effort is worth it, though, because the rear suspension pivots on oversized bearings, and the two-piece rocker seems to rival the rigidity of one-piece units. You will need to use a ProPedal setting in these situations to minimize the impact on the rear suspension.
Cornering: While the bike feels lethargic when
accelerating, it feels light on its feet while cornering. You almost forget you are on a 29er until you are sure you have reached the limits of traction only to be surprised by how the bike sticks. Nasty, rutted and rocky switchbacks are no match for the Altitude 29er SE. Just spin through them.
Climbing: Again, the fat tires seem to be holding the bike back as they leave a very heavy footprint. Engaging the ProPedal, staying seated and finding a gear that you can spin works best. Triathletes have used the steeper seat tube geometry trick for years, and, in terms of putting the power down, it pays off on the climbs. Still, this little trick didn’t deliver the same punch on the big-wheeled version as it did on the 26er.
In the rough: It doesn’t feel like the rear wheel has 4.5 inches of travel. That’s not to say you won’t descend like you have that much travel, it is just that the big wheels and rear wheel travel contact the trail in their own unique way. Whereas you can feel a 26-inch wheel fall into, pop out of and dance around the trail, the 29er mutes it all. It muffles the trail, and once you get used to it, you may set your personal best descending time—although it won’t feel like it. The Straight-Up Geometry does require that you move your weight back on steep descents.
Braking: The Altitude 29er SE gives you 7-inch rotors front and rear, and matched with aggressive trailbike tires, they are perfect. We never experienced skidding, and the front brake offered plenty of power. The Formula brakes worked flawlessly.
Bump in the road: The Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er SE makes quick work out of sections that would make other bikes pucker. The big hoops and fat tires stood up to our thrashing and bashing.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Rocky Mountain is a Vancouver-based bike company, so we understand their aggressive tire choice. Still, if you live where hardpack is the order of the day, swap the tires for something less aggressive. And, if you do, you may want to reduce the rear wheel’s brake rotor diameter.
Mountain topping: Hardware and bearings designed for tough conditions. A
stout head tube delivers spot-on steering. Pivot location to manage
Compared with other 29ers, the Altitude 29er SE is not going to give an inch. It is a competent trailbike that will plow through the longest rides in the toughest conditions. What keeps haunting us is the memory of the carbon-framed, 26-inch-wheeled Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL. It had more travel, weighed 3 fewer pounds and was so much more fun to ride. If you are sold on the larger wheels, the Altitude 29 SE delivers. If you are looking for a great trailbike with racy DNA, Rocky’s Altitude 26ers are a tough act to follow.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN ALTITUDE 29er SE SPECS:
Country of origin
Bottom bracket height
Top tube length
Head tube angle
Seat tube angle
Fox 32 F29 RL FIT
Fox Float RP23
DT Swiss X 470 (29”)
Maxxis Ardent (2.4"/r: 2.25")
Wheeltech XC/r: Shimano M529
Easton EA70 (27")
Shimano XT Rapidfire
Shimano 9-cog (12-36)
26.6 feet (per crank revolution)
4.6 feet (per crank revolution)
None (weighed with Shimano PD-M520)