Rocky Mountain Altitude 29er- 2010 - Review

Review, photos and videos by Lee Lau


Rocky's Altitude 29er builds on its Altitude platform, incorporating many innovations such as the ET-S suspension and the Smoothlink geometry (more about that in tedious detail in this article). RMB refined the Altitude from the 26" wheel size keeping the same all-mountain pedigree with the bias towards cross-country. I've already reviewed the Altitude 29er's specifications and geometry in a MTBR "First Looks" article. Rather than repeat what I've previously canvassed I'd like to move on to ride and other impressions.


This is a bike that's very biased to the more cross-country side of "all-mountain". It has minimal free-ride or downhill pretensions without some serious tweaks to components. For use in Sea-to-Sky country (ie North Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler) it is more of a niche offering. For the vast majority of other places in the world where terrain is not quite as hyper-technical, the Altitude would be a wonderful all-mountain offering and would be able to better show its uphill/downhill class.

Pipeline - North Vancouver

D'arcy on Ladies Only - North Vancouver


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 Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and Ontario (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.

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

Ladies Only - North Vancouver



I gushed and babbled about the Altitude's climbing ability when I first reviewed the frameset. I might have used words such as "terrific climber" and described it as having best-in-class rear-wheel traction. There's really not a lot to add to those thoughts except to say that the big-wheels add to the Altitude's already exceptional climbing ability. This is my first big-wheeled bike; rumour had it that wagon wheels roll through obstacles easier and help one maintain momentum. Well, rumour is true. The Altitude 29er chews up rooty, rocky singletrack. In particular, once you get up to speed, it isn't that difficult to maintain speed (trail conditions permitting).

I would note that my observations above were true of 90% of uphills and flat trails. The only caveat is that I found that climbing a 29er in exceptionally tight singletrack requires different techniques and perhaps slightly more effort than with 26" wheels. By this, I mean that when turning very tightly uphill, I'll micro-wheelie a front wheel around a corner to maintain power and speed (this allows you to not have to deliberately turn the bars and slow down in corners (of course this little trick requires decent traction). This is not easy to do with a big-wheeled bike; and the only time when I could actually feel the extra size/heft of the 29" wheel working against you. Eventually I got used to the slight extra size of the wheel and would start my turn a little quicker and initiate the turn a little less deliberately than when on a 26" wheeled bike.

To summarize, on balance, the 29er Altitude climbed at least as well, if not better than the 26" Altitude.

Kill Me Thrill Me - Whistler

Ladies Only - North Vancouver


I found the Altitude to be a capable performer in the more moderate (ie beginner/intermediate) local "all-mountain" trails. In that situation, the Altitude 29er was a capable descender, especially strong in tight, twisty singletrack.

I am lukewarm about the 29er Altitude's abilities in more advanced trails. At the outset, keep in mind that all my riding/testing was in North Vancouver, Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish. Not to denigrate trails in other areas, but in an effort to be descriptive, my local trails are exceedingly technical. Not just in the sense that the trails incorporate rock rolls, ladder bridges and various technical features - but more in the sense that these trails are root-infested; requiring very deliberate moves (see the videos to get a sense of what I mean - words convey this poorly).

As context - some background on my riding experience. I started riding 'Shore trails on hardtails with minimal suspension and poor brakes. You didn't ride very fast because you didn't have very good brakes and if you got going at any speed, the only way to stop was to crash. To successfully ride trails and link up a succession of stunts (eg rock roll to tight turn to teeter totter to skinny ladder bridge to tight turn --- you get the idea) you had to be very controlled, very deliberate and incorporate trials moves into your repertoire. To ride technical trails in the Altitude 29er I found that I had to ride in this throw-back fashion. In itself, this is a not bad thing. However, you can ride in a very slow "downhill trials" fashion on a cheap hardtail therefore, I have to question whether you need to spend $ 3999 Can/USD to ride in this same fashion.

Let me bore you further by offering my opinion as to why the Altitude 29er doesn't really "flow" trails. First, 120mm of travel isn't a lot for aggressive all-mountain/light-freeride whatever-you-want-to-call-it terrain. Ride down a steep rock face into anything less than a smooth transition and you'll run through that travel. Second, 70.5 degrees is a steep head angles. I know the theory that you don't have to get back as far because the wheels are bigger but that theory doesn't translate into a bike that's comfortable running out steep drops at speed; you will be pulling those brakes hard. Third, those are light rims and components. The Fox fork isn't poor by any means but a big hit will make it and those Stan rims flex. What this translates into is a bike that can't charge technical downhill trails hard - but more slowly and deliberately. This means a lot of stop and start/quick acceleration which plays into the weakness of 29er wheels - extra inertia and slower acceleration in those situations.

To whet my curiosity I went on a ride with the RMB engineer who designed the bike for a ride. D'arcy ran a Marzocchi 44 (140mm) travel, shorter stem, beefier wheelset and different tires on his Altitude 29er. His bike was much more equipped than mine for burly terrain and D'arcy was able to flow terrain. What this means to you as a consumer is that it is possible to tweak the Altitude 29er so it has decent downhill/freeride ability (it also doesn't hurt to be at least as good a rider as D'arcy) but it won't be a cheap exercise.

It's my opinion that one should buy a bike that will work well in one's own stomping grounds. While I don't think the Altitude 29er is a poor descender, I think it has a limited downhill envelope in light of the kind of technical trails you'll find in the Sea-to-Sky corridor. I don't think that the Altitude was limited by the big wheels. I've also heard that big wheels smooth out terrain and offer more suspension. I didn't find that to be the case. In fact I didn't think that the big wheels helped the bike (they actually hurt it a bit in stop-start situations - as described above). I found the Altitude 29er's limitations to be a function of its components moreso than its 29" wheels. What I'd like to see is a bike that's a bit more optimized (in terms of geometry and components) for aggressive technical terrain. Whether the market is big enough for Rocky or other 29er bicycle manufacturers to dip their toe into that market segment remains to be seen.

When I first approached Rocky about reviewing an Altitude 29er, I said I wanted to test this bike's technical prowess. In a way my attempt to test the technical ability of this bike is/was a failure and success. A failure in the sense that I couldn't really explore the upper performance band of the 29" wheels because the bike has relatively shorter travel for the trails which I ride. However, a success in that the 29" wheels never felt like the limiting factor.

Kill Me Thrill Me - Whistler

Ladies Only - North Vancouver


Specs: 4.0
Price: 3.5
Ride: 4.0 (saved by the uphill)

Overall: 4.0

Rating guide

5.0 Outstanding
4.0 Very Good
3.0 Above Average
2.0 Fair
1.0 Poor


- Exceptional uphill and on flat rolling terrain - perhaps one of the best bikes I've ridden for this
- Big wheels work


- Limited downhill ability.
- Steep geometry; would love to see how this does with slacker head angles


The list price for the Altitude 29er is $ 3999 Can ($ 3999US). More details on the Altitude 29er, including detailed specifications and geometry can be found on the Rocky site or here

Some of D'arcy's changes to the stock RMB spec - longer travel front fork (Marzocchi 140mm travel), beefier rims and Maxxis Ardent tread.

Ladies Only - North Vancouver


(all from North Vancouver)


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11251744[/MEDIA]]Pemberton - April 24, 2010 from Lee Lau on Vimeo.

11541000[/MEDIA]]For Ladies Only - May 3, 2010 from Lee Lau on Vimeo.

11183150[/MEDIA]]Kill Me Thrill Me - Whistler April 23, 2010 from Lee Lau on Vimeo.