Interbike 2011: Rocky Mountain's aluminum Element

Sleek dual-suspension rigs plus carbon 29er hardtails

Rocky Mountain has taken the key features of its excellent carbon fiber Element RSL and MSL cross-country dual-suspension platforms and rolled them into new, lower-priced aluminum versions in both 26" and 29" wheel formats for 2012.  Entry price points now start at just US$1,899.99 for the 26" Element 10 while the top-end 29" Element 970 is US$4,299.99.

Common features include the same SmoothLink four-bar rear suspension concept as the carbon bikes  - 120mm for 26" bikes and 100mm for 29ers in this case – plus tapered head tubes, BB92 press-fit bottom brackets, internal cable routing, chain stay-mounted front derailleurs for better shifting throughout the range of travel, and Rocky Mountain's clever ABC dropout and shock link pivots with lighter angular contact bushings instead of cartridge bearings. 

Rocky Mountain has done a superb job of recreating the look of its carbon bikes in aluminum for the revamped Element series

Even more impressive is how Rocky Mountain managed to nearly perfectly mimic the aesthetics of the carbon bikes on the new alloy frames with beautifully sculpted tubes and gussets plus cleverly applied paint – it's so convincing that it's tough to tell the two apart at first glance.

Two-niners also get 142x12mm thru-axle rear ends for more precise tracking plus a revised geometry as compared to earlier Rocky Mountain full-suspension 29ers.  Among the changes are shorter top tubes and wheelbases for better maneuverability, more compact 445mm-long chain stays, reduced bottom bracket drop for fewer pedal strikes, and slacker 70.6° head tube angles.

The Vertex 990RSL 29er carbon hardtail will be Rocky Mountain's flagship cross-country race bike for 2012

Speaking of 29ers, Rocky Mountain has virtually completely eliminated 26" cross-country hardtails from its 2012 range with the only remaining US model being the lowly entry-level Vapor and just four left overall worldwide – meaning yes, sadly, the death of the iconic Blizzard steel hardtail from the collection.

Taking their place at the table, however, are Rocky Mountain's promising new Vertex RSL 29" carbon hardtails, which promise to not only be lighter but faster and more comfortable.  Joining the tapered head tube and BB92 press-fit bottom bracket shell is an enormous down tube for drivetrain stiffness and handling precision, matched to a curved, tapered, and extended seat tube and a big and broad top tube.  

Taking a cue from road frame design, the chain stays are rather stocky units, too, while the slender seat stays and 27.2mm-diameter seatpost promise a relatively smooth ride.  

As with the new Element 29ers, Rocky Mountain has tweaked the geometry of the Vertex RSL chassis for better agility, including a 70.25° head tube angle, a slightly shorter top tube, subtly taller bottom bracket heights, and tidy 437mm chain stays.

Claimed frame weight is just 997g and a quick 'squeeze test' is testimony to the Vertex RSL's ultra-thin tube walls but according to Rocky Mountain PR man Andreas Hestler, internal testing has shown the down tube to hold up fine to rock strikes without the aid of an add-on guard.  Stainless steel plates are applied to around the bottom bracket area, though, to ward off damage from a dropped chain.

Rocky Mountain will offer two Vertex RSL models: the Vertex 990RSL with SRAM X0 for US$5,549.99 and the X9-equipped Vertex 970RSL for US$3,849.99.

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