From the December, 2009 issue of Mountain Bike Action:
Canada’s Rocky Mountain Bicycles doesn’t leave many stones unturned when it comes to cross-country bikes. They have defined four cross-country categories: cross-country race, cross-country performance, cross-country marathon and super cross-country. Bikes range in travel from 3.9 inches to 5.9 inches. Our Altitude 90 RSL falls into the marathon slot with 5.5 inches of travel.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Altitude 90 RSL is designed for riders who need a good amount of travel to navigate tough trails covered in rocks, roots, dips and steps. This high-priced trailbike is light enough and plenty quick enough to be considered for racing endurance events.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Altitude 90 RSL’s frame and seat stays are crafted from carbon fiber, while the more ding-susceptible chain-stays are tubes made from aluminum. The frame has a steep, 76-degree seat tube angle that Rocky Mountain has dubbed their Straight-Up Geometry. They feel that moving the rider slightly forward results in better power delivery (due to the rider’s position over the cranks) and more comfort. The Altitude 70 RSL has the same carbon frame as theAltitude 90 RSL (with a split downtube to cradle the shock and internal rear-derailleur routing), but dropping to the Altitude 70 gets you an aluminum frame with similar geometry and a slightly different rear-suspension design. In other words, our ride observations will apply to the Altitude 90 RSL and the Altitude 70 RSL, but the models below this point may deliver different ride characteristics.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
You are paying a big admission price for the Altitude 90 RSL, so Rocky Mountain didn’t cheap out on the components. From the fork with the 15QR axle to the Mavic wheelset, there isn’t a component that needs to be upgraded. The Formula R1 brakes are hard not to linger over. There is no wasted material in the tiny reservoir/lever assembly, and the braided steel hoses and banjo attachments to the calipers look like team-issue items. The frame is made in Taiwan, but the bike is assembled in Canada.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ergonomics: Don’t expect to be hitting your knees on the handlebar due to Rocky Mountain’s Straight-Up Geometry. It is nowhere near that exaggerated. You’ll find yourself in an upright riding position without feeling cramped. The front end sits high enough that some riders may want to invert the stem to lower the bar. The standover clearance is excellent for a bike with this much travel, and our test bike was size large to boot. Moving out: The Altitude 90 RSL feels like a race bike getting up to speed. The rear suspension pivots on oversized bearings, and the two-piece rocker seems to rival the rigidity of one-piece units. There is nothing lost in the translation. You put in the wattage and the bike responds with forward momentum. Triathletes have used the steeper seat tube geometry trick for years, and in terms of putting the power down, the Altitude 90 RSL gets it done.
Cornering: Racing DNA is still evident when you hit the twisties. The bike is light on its feet and allows the rider to make quick line
choices without paying the price in stability. The bike loves to be powered out of the corners, and the brakes’ performance makes
riding deep into corners just as much fun.
Climbing: This thing climbs like a billy goat. We found ourselves staying in the saddle longer and pushing gears that would make Geoff Kabush proud. The shock is valved exclu-sively for Rocky Mountain, and it is fitted with an extravolume air canister. The result is a rear suspension that can be ridden most of the time without the ProPedal feature engaged. We only flipped the blue lever on smooth, long climbs or on pavement.
In the Rough: There are no communication issues between Rocky Mountain and Fox Racing Shox. They did a great job of dialing the suspension components to the bike’s suspension design and frame construction. The bike soaks up the rough and allows the rider to concentrate on riding.
Descending: The Straight-Up Geometry does not equal straight-over-the-bars. Rider weight is positioned slightly forward, so sliding back on the slim Fizik Gobi XM saddle is a simple and necessary maneuver. The brakes back up the rest of the bike’s performance and never faded or made weird noises.
Tricks, Upgrades or Tips?: Our bike suffered from chain suck issues while dropping from the middle to granny gear. However, it never jammed the chain into the frame or chainstay, because the sound of the miss-directed chain alerted the rider to back off and get it back on track. In fairness, our test bike was used when delivered, so this problem may have been caused by something that happened before we got it. We have to mention this, too, although it may be a coincidence. One of the wrecking crew strained his back while seated during a hard effort on a steep climb. The Straight-Up Geometry? Maybe. The new position may require some adjustments for riders used to more relaxed geometry.
If you need more travel for the trails you ride, but don’t want to give up the performance of a shorter travel trailbike, the Altitude 90 RSL fits the bill. It gives you lots of travel while remaining a quick and fun bike to ride.