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“Oh yeah… what’s Rocky going to come up with?” I had all but forgotten about the void left when the light and nimble Thunderbolt disappeared from Rocky Mountain’s lineup. When whispers of the new Rocky Mountain Element reached my inbox, there was little question that void was about to be filled.
It’s been a few years since the steady evolution of suspension and geometry reached the short-travel 29-inch trail bike. And lately, Rocky Mountain has technically had nothing in the category. The 27.5-inch, 130-millimeter Thunderbolt was the closest thing. Although it was a ton of fun, and appealed to a criminally underserved cult of precision-focused pedal-mashers, the Thunderbolt was just too niche, especially given how fun we learned a 120mm 29er could be.
So, instead of introducing a Thunderbolt 29, which may have felt a little too similar to the recently updated Instinct, Rocky shored up the offensive capability of its XC bike, the Element. No longer a 100mm rear-travel race bike with a BC-Bike-Race-approved 120mm fork, the new Element joins the crowded 120mm rear, 130mm front 29er club.
The new Element does about what you might expect with its geometry. It’s complicated, though, thanks to the Ride 4 flip-chip system that Rocky employs on some of its bikes, which is a little simpler to grasp than the Ride 9. Ride 4 allows for a high and a low setting, as well as a neutral setting that offers the freedom to choose a more or less progressive suspension feel.
Like other Rocky models, the Element uses a slightly regressive leverage curve, which is intended to keep the suspension supple throughout all of its limited travel. That said, it has been modified to add a bit more support than its 100mm predecessor.
Flip chips and suspension tweaks aside, the new Element fits right in with other modern trail bikes. A 455mm reach at neutral setting in the medium and 480 in the large is just a hair on the envelope-pushing end of things, while the 65.5-degree head angle and 76.5-degree seat angle (also in neutral) are about what we’d expect from bikes in this travel range. Sizes go from XL down to XS, where the wheels and frame both shrink to keep things proportionate, though travel stays the same.
Speaking of proportionate, Rocky is one of a few brands that offers size-specific shock tunes, speccing lighter riders a lighter damping tune. The variety doesn’t stop there, though. The Element is actually available in both carbon and aluminum. An impressive move for a category that is all too often aimed only at wealthy weight weenies. Rocky even went all the way down to a rarely seen, very entry-level Alloy 10 model, with a mix of Tektro brakes and an 11-speed wide-range Shimano drivetrain, for $2,560. That, opposite a $9,590 XTR-equipped Carbon 90. The new Rocky Mountain Element clearly will be meant to serve a broad audience.