Review, video by Lee Lau. Pictures by Sharon Bader


In one of the more obviously logical moves for a company to make, Rocky Mountain Bicycles is introducing a line of carbon Element 29ers for the 2013 model year. It's obvious because only last year RMB unveiled aluminium Element 29ers. The company also has extensive proprietary carbon manufacturing techniques dialed already having a carbon Element (in 26" version) and the Vertex racing 29er hardtail in their lineup.

Rocky was kind enough to make a production Rocky Element RSL 29er (the 970 BC Edition to be exact) available. I've ridden it now 6 times in the last 8 days so am obviously more than a bit content with its performance. Accordingly here is an overview of Rocky's RSL carbon Element 29er lineup and some impressions after my short (but eminently satisfying) experience.

XC - North Vancouver to Pemberton

Lee Lau's biases

I am 160 lbs and 5'11" and have had over 15 years experience riding bikes in North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, the Chilcotins and many other areas in B.C. and Alberta. I've also made many bike trips to Switzerland, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and the Yukon (for example) so I've had some experience biking in a variety of terrain. My bias is towards pedalling up and unlike many people who learned to ride bikes on North Shore trails, I actually enjoy riding (and sometimes bushwhacking) uphill.

launch video

My personal bikes are a Santa Cruz Tallboy, Pivot Mach 5, and a Specialized Demo 7. In the 29er category I've tested/reviewed the Rocky Mountain Altitude, Norco Shinobi, a Transition Bandit29er and (informally) a Lenz Lunchbox

This is a test bike that will be given back to Rocky at the end of the test period. I am not sponsored by Rocky and have no commercial association with Rocky.

Lake Trails - Whistler (self-filmed)


The carbon-framed Rocky Mountain Element 29er spans a line that extends in size from Small (15) to XXL (20.5). RMB says it fits riders from 5' 4" to 6' 6". Highlights are as follows
  • Cross-country/trail oriented 95m rear travel full-suspension bicycle with 29er wheels
  • Race Tuned Compact 29er geometry (RTC-29 geometry oh how the industry loves acronyms); the 29er Element will has relatively short chain stays, short wheelbase, and a short top tube - all to maximize agility and handling in technical terrain
  • Element uses ABC (Angular Bushing Concept) pivot technology; this saves weight yet increases pivot stiffness
  • Other features adding stiffness includes a BB92 bottom bracket shell, massively oversized seat and down tubes at the BB junction, a tapered head tube, and a E-thru 142x12mm rear end.
  • Smoothwall carbon construction adds stiffness at precisely controlled places while shaving weight and maintaining high QC standards.
  • Nice touches that show RMB's attention to detail include internal cable routing, an E-type direct mount front derailleur (mitigating tire clearance issues), cable guides for dropper posts and remote lockouts, an anti chain drop plate to help prevent chain jam and a fitted rubber seat collar sleeve to keep out rain

Smoothlink suspension technology

The Element uses Smoothlink suspension. A variation of the ETS suspension results in an initial linear spring rate at the beginning of the travel stroke (in theory good for small bump compliance) and a ramped progressive spring rate at the bottom of the travel stroke 9(ie resist bottoming out harshly towards the end of travel). I won't go on about it in detail since I've already gone on at length in another article (although it was about the RMB Altitude).

The 2012 graph is included because it compares the 2013 29er iteration to the 2012 iteration

Carbon construction - Smoothwall technology

Smoothwall is a carbon construction process that involves using an inner mold to shape tubesets, as opposed to using an airbladder as in more traditional processes. According to RMB this allows them to QC the inner surface of the carbon as carefully as they sculpt the outer. The side-effect of this QC is that it allows RMB to preserve tubing strength yet control wall thickness and shave weight by, among other things, avoiding buildup of stress risers or introducing excess resin, fibers or filler into the carbon tubing.

The Smoothwall process and its ability to allow RMB to control the process at a minute detail also allows them to use a precise layup schedule, using multiple layers of carbon weave at different locations to control the carbon density, stiffness and strenght. RMB also uses full length uncut fibers - all of this culminating in tubesets with high carbon layup density ie a very strong, stiff frame.

"SmoothWall" construction involves some proprietary (and hence confidential) processes that result in an incredibly thin and light carbon frame - as this cutaway shows. Apparently this process allows Rocky to have tremendous quality control not just over the carbon's exterior but also its interior as excess creases and detritus in the frame (eg resin, excess carbon) are minimized.


At the outset let me note that geometry numbers do not tell the tale especially if you're new to 29ers. But they can be useful to help you narrow down bike choices. Here are some comments on RMB's conception of why the Element is the way it is.
  • In a paen to Rocky Mountain's home trails in tight, twisty Vancouver trails, to keep handling as good as it can be the Element has a relatively short wheelbase
  • For that same reason RMB kept top tube lengths on the short side
  • The Element's 70.6 degree head tube angle is in the middle of the pack for xc/trail 29ers. RMB tried to get the middle ground between stability and agility for a full suspension XC 29er. The slacker head angle also decreases toe overlap, which can be an issue on 29ers with short top tubes.
  • Finally, RMB raised the Element's BB (ie less BB drop) from previous 29" wheeled bikes to help control pedal strikes and get a tad more ground clearance. Also it allowed the Element's rear wheel to be tucked in which should help the front end from having the tendency to lift while allowing the rider to get weight over the rear wheel.

Preliminary impressions - BC edition Rocky Element 970 Carbon

The test bike I received was the BC Edition and is a tongue in cheek reference to the plain fact that "BC XC" (or really Vancouver XC) trails are generally pretty technical as depicted humourosly by this video

Getting back to the point of the BC Edition version of the Element Carbon, the frame has a carbon front triangle and an alloy rear end (to save a bit of cost - the bike is still a fairly staggering $ 5,199 MSRP). There are some other spec choices which bear noting and which push up the aggressiveness factor of this bike:
  • Front and rear suspension don't have the more race-course oriented remote lockouts. Only the BC ed bike gets a 120mm travel fork (the Fox 32 Talas 29 120 FIT CTD - hows that for more acronyms?)
  • There's liberal use of the elegantly beautiful Race Face Turbine group (cranks, stem, handlebar)
  • To really challenge the hard core xc race nerds a Rock Shox Reverb comes OE
  • 3x10 drivetrain! Losing man points on the shaved leg start line! But I love the ability to spin and ride many many days in a row so applaud this choice.
I did the reverse weight weenie and added a half pound to the bike replacing saddle and stem/bar combo going with a Chromag Trailmaster for the seat (to add leathery class) and swapping for a shorter stem and wider bar (RF Turbine 60mm and Chromag Fubar OSX). I also endured the heckling of RMB's product manager and lost more street cred by replacing the front Conti 2.2 XKing with a 2.2 Mountain King.


Uphill and trail

If this bike was anything but an exceptional climber I'd have been seriously disappointed and I was not disappointed. After all it does bear the name Element, which is associated with World Cup xc wins.

To expand, the bike climbs with a firm, planted manner. Traction is exemplary; probably attributable to geometry (74 deg nicely steep seat tube angles and short chain stays helps you keep in good climbing position even with my short stem); and the suspension action which seems to drive the wheel on the ground with pedal strokes. However, the suspension action is decidedly cross-country even with the RP23 fully wide-open. The Element does not pretend to soak up every hit possible but by that same token does not suffer from pedal bob. By this I mean that the bike does not have a couch feeling going uphill or ripping on the flats and you have to be active even when trucking through roots, rocks or ruts. One does not hang for the ride on the Element. Indeed the bike rewards you as you give it more.

If I could use one word to characterize its performance uphill it would be efficiency. This does not climb like a 28.5lb bike. Literally every stroke of the pedal feels like its being translated into forward and uphill motion. I've had some experience with carbon bikes (my own personal xc full-suspension and my wifes' bike) and wonder whether this was a trait of carbon construction and/or the remarkable attention to frame-building related by RMB in its marketing materials.


... and that segues nicely in to my impressions about the bike. This is quite the precision ginsu steak knife. It sure doesn't feel like the stereotypical XC bike that's suited for wandering hither and yonder on glorified gravel paths. Instead the Element is a responsive, quick, snappy and precise descender (dare I say efficient). Point it down steep lines, keep your form together, stay on top of the bike and there it goes. The Element ts not a relaxed la-z-boy type ride. As with uphill the more you put into it the more you get out.

of the NIMBY FIFTY race course (climb and the Overnight Sensation downhill)

I did have some minor quibbles but these have only showed up when I was pushing the bike pretty hard on rather unforgiving Pemberton rock-faces which had descents of steeper variety which are listed as follows:
  • The Conti XKing 2.2 is one scary front tire. It rolls fast but has limited braking and cornering power. I'll say this much; its fairly to break loose and comfortable consistently drifting sandy steep sections. If you like some semblance of control perhaps pick something with a few more knobs
  • Both the Fox front and rear end get a bit overworked on long downhills. One ride was down a portion of a BC cross-country race course with a 7min 30 second downhill (the fastest racers the day before did the section in about 6 minutes. Now one might say that long technical downhills in xc races is one of those "First-World Problems" unique to BC; but the front and rear shocks were packing out and spiking minutes into the ride.
To beat home a point, I don't think this is a bike for beginner or perhaps even intermediate riders. These riders won't get the most out of the Element and instead might want to go with something more in the "Trail" or "All-Mountain" category (that's the last of the marketing jargon I promise). At the heart of Rocky Mountain's Element carbon 29er is pretty much an uncompromising high-performance frame that demands and responds to aggressive rider input.

MSRP and weights

MSRP, weights and specifications for all the carbon Elements follow. The prices are definitely on the steep side. Having said that, Rocky sold through its entire inventory of 26" wheeled Elements without blinking an eye and I do not doubt for a second that this too will happen with the 29er offerings.
Element 999 RSL17.0 (M)10.1422.3$ 7,999
Element 970 RSL17.0 (M)11.926.2$ 4,999
Element 970 BC ed.17.0 (M)12.527.7$ 5,199
Element 950 RSL17.0 (M)12.627.8$ 4,099
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Weights above are without pedals (which aren't supplied). Element 970 BC edition tested- with modifications (Chromag Fubars OSX 760mm bar and RaceFace Turbine stem and Chromag seat) - 28.55 lbs

Frame weight for the 999 frame (including hardware and rear shock) 4.38lbs/1.993kg