Rocky's ETSX suspension bikes are now in their third year and their combination of hand-built Canadian quality and smooth rolling, widely adjustable suspension makes them a top contender. Frame quality and rarity mean you have to spend high to get good kit though.
Rocky Mountain has always followed its own frame building agenda to exploit its hand-built quality and the ETSX is no different. The mainframe uses a custom blend of Easton Ultralite tubing, with big round down tube and hexagonal-to-round top tube. Multi-footed linkage mounts spread the load along the seat tube to combat problems on first generation bikes, while the sloping top tube restores crotch clearance on the tall frame.
Twin chunky CNC linkages drive the Fox shock, while a single piece CNC yoke guides the rear end through its very shallow curve. Butch square section stays and deep bridge gussets stop sideways wheel flop and extended dropout plates give maximum weld connection. All pivots use sealed bearings and tyre clearance is good too, albeit with a crap collector shelf above the lower link that needs regular gardening.
As a long travel bike, it's unsurprising that the Rocky is also tall, but the 13 3/4in bottom bracket height takes some getting used to at first. Once aboard though, the extra ground clearance combines with the ETSX's suspension to produce a command performance. The two linkages basically make the rear wheel track around a very shallow arc centred well in front of the bike. The result is a great balance of just enough pedal feedback for traction control or kicking against up climbs with a smooth 'roll over' feel. This is particularly noticeable on rutted or rooty ground where the bike seems to really surge forwards over bumps, with that tall BB adding to pedal-through performance.
A notched 'gate' on the linkage and QR shock bolt give 4, 4.5 and 5in travel settings with a correspondingly stiffer shock feel as travel decreases. The custom tuned RP3 shock gives two ProPedal lever settings to reduce bob, too. The firm threshold level meant we never used more than the middle setting, and it pedals well enough to be left fully active in long travel on all but long road climbs. Given that the shock QR lever can also rub your leg, we'd be tempted to put it permanently in 5in with a simple bolt.
The Fox Talas fork is an obvious match to the rear shock. It's a plush and durable rock eater, with 90-130mm travel adjust and compression damping lockout for smooth climbs. IRC's Mythos tyres are rapid all-rounders too, although the confident handling of the Rocky makes it easy to overstep their grip in technical situations. Handbuilding adds strength to already tough wheels.
By making their frames in-house, Rocky Mountain can guarantee fantastic build quality, but it means complete bikes aren't cheap. Mostly LX gear and brakes spec is an obvious cost saver, but performance is fine and the 'one lever does it all' STIs add addictively ergonomic control once you've mastered them. The big dose of Race Face Evolve XC will be popular among both label watchers and solid performance fans, too. The new cantilevered clamp seat post works particularly well, although the Selle saddle is a bit of a numb lump.
The ETSX-50's smoothly confident ride and hand-built quality makes it one of our favourite XC all-rounders, but the frame price always impacts on complete bike prices and spec. As a result, the 50 is currently slightly heavy but it hides it really well in a genuine 'ready for anything ride' character that'll race or rock the hard stuff all day long.