You'd expect the company from Vancouver, Canada, that helped pioneer free-riding, to build their bikes tough - and you'd be right. The Flow 3.0 is unapologetically over-engineered. Thanks to some considered component choices, it's also tailored towards woodsy, technical trails with an airborne twist.
If you're going to build a bike in Vancouver aimed at ballsy riders, there are no second chances. It's the area full of hardcore terrain where free-riding was born, where the limits of bikes and riders continue to be pushed. A badly designed or built bike won't last a day, and the companies that have made it their home rely on sound design and constant rider feedback to keep their reputations intact. For hardtails, that means strong and simple designs that always work in the face of constant hard landings and crashes.
In keeping with this 'less is more' philosophy, the 3.0's frame lacks fashionable tube shapes, extra gussets or fancy acronyms. Square to round section main tubes provide the backbone and give the head tube area massive support and stiffness. It's a formula that's been around for years and works as well now as it ever has. Massive rectangular section stays snake from the seat tube and bottom bracket to meet elegantly chunky dropouts and continue the ultra-rigid theme at the rear. And it's all put together and finished in Vancouver, which sets the 3.0 apart from many North American-designed, Far Eastern-built lookalikes.
By speccing Marzocchi's 100mm (4in) travel Dirt Jam Pro fork, Rocky Mountain's designers are encouraging riders to keep going beyond the 'Caution - big drop' sign. It's a fork that's built to take abuse in its stride, and everything, from the huge sculpted crown to the bolt-through axle, screams strength and stiffness.
The 'never mind the weight, feel good about the strength theme continues with the tough RaceFace cranks. The big ring has been ditched and replaced with a bashguard to increase ground clearance at the expense of just a couple of high gear ratios, and the Hayes brakes offer plenty of stopping power. The downgrade to eight speed at the rear - a cost-saving measure to help pay for the Canadian-built frame - isn't an issue aside from a slightly bigger gap between a couple of gear ratios, although a slightly outboard chainline on our test bike meant the chain didn't sit well in the middle ring/large sprocket combination.
Let's be clear about this: Rocky Mountain don't regard the Flow 3.0 as a cross-country bike. In the catalogue it's a free-ride/bike park/dirt jump machine, and that's a pretty fair tag. We've included it because the boundaries of labels like free-ride, 'extreme' XC and even dirt jumping are constantly shifting. The short cockpit, hefty weight, double-chainring transmission and bolt-through front axle all contribute to the bike's burly ride character, but it's a more versatile beast than you might expect.
Unsurprisingly, given its heft and compact geometry, the 3.0 isn't the best at hill-climbing, but it will plod up willingly in its own time, with the only gradient-limiting factors being the stubby stem and shallow tread of the Nokian tyres. Once you're at the top with a bunch of gravity credits to cash in, the bike comes into its own. Put the power down, give it some welly and everything begins to make sense. The compact frame design and flex-free cranks deliver instantaneous-feeling power to the rear wheel, and the flickable front end, with its smooth, confidence-inspiring fork, soaks up everything from small boulder fields to square-edged hits. Perfect front-to rear weight distribution also makes it easy to slide, hop, throw or jump the bike wherever you want with uncanny precision. Put simply, this is a bike that wants to be ridden 110 per cent, 100 per cent of the time. Chuck it down a long, flowing section of technical single-track and you'll end up with a grin wide enough to span the English Channel...
If you're looking for a mile-muncher with big-hit potential that you can ride all day, you've come to the wrong place. But if you like your riding in a mostly downhill direction, you appreciate a bike that likes to be told exactly where to go and you enjoy pushing your limits, then the Rocky Mountain Flow 3.0 simply proves the point that one man's free-ride is another man's cross-country with knobs on.
MBUK'S MECHANIC SAYS...
Built in Canada eh?
Rocky Mountain's claim to fame rests on a commitment to building their bikes in Vancouver, rather than in the Far East. You're unlikely to notice the difference in practice, but it earns Rocky extra bragging rights out on the trails - and the hand-built wheels add extra confidence on a bike like the Flow 3.0