The fact that Rocky Mountain were the ones to scoop www. bikes.com as their company URL shows how quick they are to push new technology. It’s the same with their attitude to bikes and new riding styles too, with the ETS (Energy Transfer System) still at the cutting edge four years after its launch.
Since they imported the first Ritchey frames into Vancouver, the guys behind Rocky Mountain have always been at the forefront of pushing the technical performance expectations. The outstandingly sweet singletrack handling of the first Blizzard and Hammer steel hardtails with their super sloped top tubes; their team of Canadian ‘Froriders’ taking the whole North Shore extreme freeride scene and the slopestyle phenomenon to world exposure; the original Slayer defining All Mountain bikes years before they became the next big thing.
All the while they’ve been keeping a close eye on their roots, too. Bikes and wheels were made in-house, while even their standard paint jobs looked better than most custom coats.
Today’s ETS-X 50 still comes in a simplified version of the classic red and white team livery. It even gets matching saddle and grips for full collar and cuffs co-ordination. It’s totally modern underneath the paintwork, though. Easton’s Ultralite FS tubeset introducing subtle squared-off profiling to the top tube, with the ETS-X suspension all centred around the seat tube to keep the main tubes as unburdened and superlight as possible.
The top three ETS bikes get the massive curved carbon fibre FORM stays of the distinctive diagonal back end, while the wishbones are machined in-house. The top link is slotted and QR skewered to give three different travel settings (4, 4.5 and 5in) for instant character and versatility.
For a manufacturer of complete bikes, Rocky Mountain also produce a very close spaced and comprehensive range of sizes. So while there’s no option of custom frames – beyond the special edition ‘Roulette’ paint job and the option of the Scandium framed team version – it’s easy to get a perfectly tailored fit.
The sample ETS-X 50 we tested is one of five complete bike options, from the Scandium-framed Team at £4695 to the entry-level 10 at £1895. Like the other bikes here, you’re paying for the frame quality and the superb level of finishing, but take that into consideration and the packages look great value. The 50 certainly has some of our fave kit, including the twin Fox suspension, Formula Oro brakes and Mavic’s CrossRide wheelset. There are also frame-only options.
The neat QR linkage gate means instant travel and character change on the trail, too
It’s another aspect of perfect fit that’s always put Rocky Mountain in the running for any ultimate UK trailbike shortlist. With a ride character evolved from nearly 30 years of riding the Canadian west coast trails around Vancouver, they’re perfect for our slippery, trail-filled island.
Even this proven multiple Trans Alp stage race winner combines purposeful acceleration and smooth speed with an infectiously playful charisma. It’ll pop and hop from fast fading line to fresh escape route or manual through ditches or off drops with all the insolent ease of a freeride bike, but – thanks to its weight – with far less effort. Steering is perfectly balanced as well. The 120mm rear travel setting is great for speeder bike swift singletrack handling and grabbing sketchy traction by the scruff of its neck. Extend to 140mm for high speed stability on fast descents, drop to 100mm for ultra steep technical climbs and you’ve got the whole mountain covered.
The 120mm rear travel setting is great for speeder bike swift singletrack handling
While it’s always overshadowed by other systems, such as VPP, DW Link or 4 bar, we’ve always been big fans of the ETS system. It effectively moves the back wheel in a very shallow arc around a point in front of the rider. This strikes an excellent balance between a positive feel at the pedal for traction and a distinctive roll-over reaction to bumps, rocks and roots that you’d swear seems to actually accelerate the bike forward. While other bikes suffer or at best survive when knotted roots strangle the singletrack and trick up wheels, the ETS thrives. The increase in travel and a longer stroke shock that was introduced last year gives it a real edge over the big stuff. Basically, whether it’s down the local woods or on an epic enduro descent, you’ll still be floated, stable and in control when the competition are shaken into a blur and grabbing nervously at their brakes.
The devilishly likeable combination of instantly changeable suspension travel (and therefore relative shock firmness) as well as a toggle switch on the RP3 shock for compression damping means that racers won’t be worried about any hint of wallowing, either.
There are few bikes that can properly propel you through technical trails in showboat style, yet still go elbow to elbow from gun to tape over an hour or several days, but the ETS-X is one of them. Handling, suspension and pedigree are among the best you can buy and finishing quality is still up there among the most exonerated exotica. The ultimate ride may well be the one with the maple leaves on.