Rocky Mountain's Element is built for cross-country and marathon racing with 100mm of rear travel. That's not the whole story, though. This XC beast has been given a little more breathing room, all without sacrificing any speed.
"This new Element is a full-on XC marathon weapon, but with the confidence of a trail bike." said Rocky Mountain's product director Alex Cogger. "XC racing has evolved, and bikes that can't handle the real world have no business on the course."
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Rocky Mountain offers five complete Elements and one frame, and all models feature the same full carbon frame and updated geometry — only the specs differ.
Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL T. O. highlights
- Travel: 120mm (F) / 100mm (R)
- Intended use: XC, XC-Race
- Sizing: S/M/L/XL
- Frame: Smoothwall carbon C13
- Fork: Fox 34 Float Factory
- Shock: Fox Float DPS Factory
- Rims: Stan's Valor carbon
- Drivetrain: SRAM XX1 Eagle
- Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate disc
- Dropper post: RockShox Reverb Stealth
- Tires: Maxxis Ikon 3C MaxxSpeed 29x2.2in
Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL T.O. parts
Sitting in the upper echelon of price, the Element 999 leaves little room for want. Carbon was everywhere as expected, including the bars, cranks and wheels.
SRAM's top-tier XX1 Eagle performed with perfection spinning up Stan's Valor carbon wheels. It's all brought down to earthly speeds with SRAM Level Ultimate discs. Speaking of the discs, what they lacked in all-out bite, they made up for in modulation.
The highlights of the build were the Fox 34 Float Factory fork fronting the action. With 34mm stanchions and 120mm of cush, it's a noticeable improvement over the typical spindly XC fork.
The other showstopper was the RockShox Reverb 125mm dropper post. According to Rocky Mountain's PR man Andreas Hestler, "All XC bikes should have droppers if you ride proper trails and want to shred top speed — I think that the market is slowly getting there — even the World Cup now." This reviewer couldn't agree more.
Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL T.O. riding
If you think modern cross-country bikes are wimpy, delicate and can't charge hard you’d be wrong. So very, wonderfully wrong. While certainly not as long, slack and built for straight-line smashing as an enduro rig, the new breed of XC whips are very quickly creeping into trail bike territory.
Riding the Element 999 RSL was an eye-opening experience. It had a snap, an urgency about it that made familiar trails seem new again. Accelerating out of corners felt like it was tied to God's own trebuchet. It's really that quick.
Combined with the stock low-tread Ikon tires wrapped around the seriously light carbon Stan's wheels, once on the gas or off the binders, the Element simply flew.
It's a light bike, around 24lbs / 10.9kg, and properly stiff, so each flick of the cranks brought slingshot-like thrust. Each punch of the bar snapped the rear end loose. I found myself standing and hammering nearly all the time. I wasn't racing anyone, but the attitude it conveyed made me want to get aggressive and sprint everywhere, uphill and downhill.
Twisting it through some corners I got the uncanny feeling that the Element was daring me to do more — to brake later, to pump harder, to boost higher. It begged for more speed. My confidence soared and the performance made me feel like a better, faster rider than I am.
Which all worked beautifully with the Reverb dropper post. On rolling terrain, I found I'd just slam the seat down and stand and sprint the pedally bits, and toss the bike around on the flowy spots. For a XC race/marathon bike, it was a revelation in fun.
I did experiment with the Ride-9 system. Interestingly I found the slack, most progressive setting to be a bit too much. In that setting, the rear shock ramped too quickly for my tastes compared to the fork. Dialing the 34 Float fork to the middle compression setting balanced the ride, but lost some of the sensitivity.
When asked about front and rear suspension balance, Rocky Mountain product manager Ken Perras relayed to me, "The Element rear end is progressive enough that you might want to add a token to the fork to balance out the air spring feel."
Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL T.O. nit picks
It's fast, it's light, but it's not without some quibbles. At the top of the list are the Maxxis Ikon 3C tires. The rear gave up the ghost with a rip near the bead within the first 30 minutes of trail. And this was on one of the smoothest trails I know.
The other Ikon, once swapped to the back lasted barely longer with a sidewall tear putting it out of its misery. I realize this is Rocky Mountain's highest grade XC race rig, and weight is a huge priority, but those tires with their paper-thin carcass arguably aren't suited for anything other than manicured trails.
I also found the Stan's Valor carbon wheels an interesting spec. Unlike my featherweight co-worker Joe Norledge, I found them to be a bit flexy when pushed hard, especially with bigger, heavier rubber mounted up.
When asked about the wheel spec, product manager Perras said "The weight and ride feel are perfect for an all-day XC bike. The forgiving ride of Stan’s carbon wheels are key for those longer XC races that the Element was designed for. It’s easy to have a lightweight wheelset but the true advantage is the ride feel."
Rocky Mountain Element 999 RSL T.O. vs. the competition
I've recently spent a good chunk of time on another new-school XC race bike, Cannondale's unapologetically fast Scalpel Si Carbon 2. While both the Element and the Scalpel share the same 100mm travel out back and leave little room for wanting more speed, the Element dives deeper when the terrain gets more rowdy.
The Element's longer reach and wheelbase (8mm and 13mm respectively) lends a more confident feel, less twitchy but also a tad less responsive. Couple that extra length with a greater bottom bracket drop (9mm more when the Element is in the lowest setting) and 20mm more fork travel and it's clear the Element has a bit of its BC roots distilled into the ride.
Rocky Mountain's Hestler noted: "Our staff is chock a block real riders, including the engineers behind the Element — and I think that's why we build bikes the way we do... to represent both aggressive race and playful characteristics that we endeavour to include in all our bikes."
Bottom line: an XC race bike ready for pro-level charging
I'm beyond stoked that XC bikes, even full-tilt XC race and marathon bikes, are now becoming more capable. With uber-stiff carbon frames, dialed rear suspension designs and high-end dampers that provide real levels of control, it's a natural progression to slacken the geometry and add a dropper post while retaining the ruthless efficiency XC bikes demand.
The Element 999 RSL T.O. is a brilliantly fast rocket of a bike. The performance is on the elite level and is far more capable than its XC heritage may suggest. It should be, as the price is about the only thing higher than its go-fast ability.