2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

Test Location: Washington

Duration of Test: 2.5 months

Size Tested: Large

Geometry: See Below

Build Overview (as tested):

Wheel Size:

  • Size Small: 27.5’’
  • Size Medium: 27.5’’ or 29’’
  • Size Large and XL: 29’’

Travel: 160 mm rear / 170 mm front

Blister’s Measured Weight (as tested; w/o pedals): 31.8 lbs (14.4 kg)

MSRP:

  • Altitude Carbon Frameset (w/ Fox Float X2 Factory): $3,859
  • Altitude Alloy 30: $3,649
  • Altitude Alloy 50: $4,489
  • Altitude Alloy 70: $5,479
  • Altitude Carbon 50: $5,739
  • Altitude Carbon 70: $7,329
  • Altitude Carbon 70 Coil Edition: $7,329
  • Altitude Carbon 90 Rally Edition: $9,499 (tested)
  • Altitude Carbon 99: $10,449

Reviewer: 6′, 165 lbs (183 cm, 74.8 kg)

Blister Outdoor Gear review Crested Butte
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude Carbon 90 Rally Edition
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Review Navigation:  Specs //  Intro //  The Frame //  The Builds //  Fit & Geometry //  Climbing //  Descending //  Comparisons //  As a Mullet //  Bottom Line

Intro

The prior-generation Rocky Mountain Altitude was a 150mm-travel, 27.5’’ wheeled bike, built around a 160mm-travel fork. Sitting alongside it in the lineup was the Instinct BC, a 29er with 155 mm of rear travel, and the new Altitude effectively replaced both models in the line.

Rocky Mountain says that “the goal with the redesign was to create a bike that would be competitive on today’s racetracks while still being a ton of fun for those getting out on weekends. We might not all smash racetracks and stand on podiums like Jesse Melamed, but we can all relate to the feeling of committing to ride a little faster or hitting that feature you usually skip over.”

As we’ll get into in this review, that description makes a lot of sense. The Altitude is certainly a capable Enduro bike (and Jesse has clearly proven that he can absolutely fly on it), but it also feels a whole lot more versatile as an everyday Trail bike than many other Enduro bikes with similar travel numbers, too.

The Frame

Rocky Mountain offers the Altitude in both an aluminum and carbon frame, and in versions for both 27.5’’ and 29’’ wheels, depending on frame size. Size Small bikes are 27.5’’ only; the Medium can be had with either wheel size, and Large and Extra Large bikes are 29’’ only. This sort of strategy is increasingly common for longer-travel Enduro bikes, and as we’ve said on a number of occasions, we’re pretty on board with the concept. Big 29’’ wheels are seemingly all the rage, but especially for shorter riders on longer-travel bikes, they impose some limitations on fit, and how much room the rider has to move around on the bike. Putting 27.5” wheels on the smaller sizes goes a long way towards mitigating those limitations.

Regardless of frame material or wheel size, the Altitude gets 160 mm of rear-wheel travel from a Horst Link suspension layout, and is designed around a 170mm-travel fork. There’s room for a water bottle inside the front triangle across the size range, and the bottle mount has been shifted lower on the downtube compared to the outgoing bike, making more room for a larger bottle, without running into clearance issues with the shock.

Cable routing on the Altitude is internal across the board, with bolt-on ports to make for easier installation. A press-fit BB92 bottom bracket is used, and while I tend to favor threaded bottom brackets for reliability and ease of maintenance, I had no issues with creaking or the like during my time on the Altitude. A OneUp upper chain guide is included, and attaches to the swingarm with a custom mount; the lower two bolts for ISCG ‘05 tabs are also featured, should you wish to run a bash guard as well.

The Altitude also comes with rubber guards on the downtube, above the bottom bracket, and behind the headtube, to protect from impacts and shuttle damage, as well as chainstay and seatstay guards to quiet chain slap. Those latter two are notably high-coverage and effective — the seatstay guard has an extra “fin” that extends downward and covers the dropout pivot, overlapping nicely with the chainstay guard. The chainstay guard also features several large ribs to better quiet the chain. A bolt-on guard at the chainstay yoke keeps debris thrown off the rear tire from getting jammed into the frame, and is a nice touch. That guard also covers the port where the derailleur cable and brake hose exit the front triangle and enter the chainstays. I tend to prefer external routing for ease of maintenance, but have to admit that Rocky Mountain’s layout is particularly tidy looking. It’s also been totally quiet, with no discernable rattling, which can be an issue with internally routed frames.

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude — Chainstay Guard
David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude — Seatstay Guard Fin

Like many recent Rocky Mountain bikes, the Altitude features their Ride 9 system, which is essentially a nine-position flip chip at the rear shock mount, which adjusts both the frame geometry and rear-suspension kinematics, primarily varying the amount of progression in the leverage curve. In general, the slacker settings also substantially increase rear-suspension progression, and the progression mellows out some in the steeper settings. The Altitude also features adjustable chainstay length, with a flip chip in the rear dropout toggling between two different settings. The rear brake mount (post-mount, for a 180 mm rotor) is also reversible, to adjust the position of the brake to match. The Altitude uses what is essentially a modified version of a SRAM Universale Derailleur Hanger (“UDH”). The standard UDH can be used, but only in the longer chainstay position, and requires a small bolt-on support brace that isn’t needed with the standard Rocky Mountain supplied hanger.

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude — Chainstay Flip Chip and Brake Mount
David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude — Ride 9 Chip

Rocky Mountain also touts what they call “Size Specific Tunes” for the Altitude’s rear shock. The idea of giving smaller-sized bikes a lighter shock tune, with the assumption that they’ll tend to be ridden by lighter riders, isn’t exactly new, but Rocky Mountain goes a step further and actually uses a shorter-stroke shock on the size Small frames, to yield an overall higher leverage ratio. A few other companies, including Raaw, have done something similar, but it’s a relatively rare move that makes a lot of sense on paper.

As a final note, I just want to commend Rocky Mountain for their notably detailed and informative owner’s manual, which includes, among other things, a full exploded diagram of the frame, and part numbers for every single bit of hardware, to make it easier to get replacements, if needed.

The Builds

Rocky Mountain offers the Altitude Carbon as a frameset, and the full Altitude range in eight different complete build options, across a wide range of price points. Below is an overview of the various builds (click each build name to expand):

  • Drivetrain: Shimano Deore
  • Brakes: Shimano MT420
  • Fork: Marzocchi Bomber Z1
  • Shock: Fox Float DPX2 Performance
  • Wheels: WTB i30 rims, Shimano MT410 hubs
  • Dropper Post: Rocky Mountain Toonie
  • Drivetrain: Shimano SLX shifter / XT rear derailleur / Deore cassette. Race Face Aeffect cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano XT 4 Piston
  • Fork: Fox 36 Performance
  • Shock: Fox Float DPX2 Performance
  • Wheels: WTB i30 rims, DT Swiss 370 rear / Rocky Mountain front hubs
  • Dropper Post: Race Face Aeffect R
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT, w / SLX cassette. Race Face Aeffect R cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano XT 4 Piston
  • Fork: Fox 38 Factory
  • Shock: Fox Float X2 Factory
  • Wheels: Race Face AR30 rims, DT Swiss 370 rear / Rocky Mountain front hubs
  • Dropper Post: Race Face Aeffect R
  • Drivetrain: Shimano SLX w/ XT rear derailleur. Race Face Aeffect cranks
  • Brakes: Shimano XT 4 Piston
  • Fork: Fox 36 Performance
  • Shock: Fox Float DPX2 Performance
  • Wheels: WTB i30 rims, DT Swiss 370 rear / Rocky Mountain front hubs
  • Dropper Post: Race Face Aeffect R
  • Drivetrain: Shimano XT, w/ Race Face Turbine crank
  • Brakes: Shimano XT 4 Piston
  • Fork: Fox 36 Factory Grip2
  • Shock: Fox DHX2 Factory
  • Wheels: Race Face AR30 rims, DT Swiss 350 rear / Rocky Mountain front hubs
  • Dropper Post: Race Face Turbine R
David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
David Golay on the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

That’s a big range of builds, at a wide spectrum of price points. In particular, the Alloy 70 stands out as being a notably good value in terms of parts spec, if you’re willing to put up with the extra weight of the aluminum frame.

We’ve been testing the Carbon 90 Rally Edition, which at $9,499 is the second most expensive build on offer. Between the full Shimano XTR suite, including cranks and brakes, and Fox Factory 38 and Float X2 suspension, it’s an emphatically high-end build.

Rocky Mountain has long offered “Rally Edition” versions of many of their models, which are a bit like Yeti’s “Lunch Ride” series, or the “Enduro” spec option on the Pivot Trail 429 — essentially slightly burlier build specs, on the same frame. In the case of the Altitude, that means bumping up to a Fox 38 fork (all the other builds, apart from the Alloy 70, get either a Marzocchi Z1, Fox 36, or RockShox Lyrik); a 203 mm rear-brake rotor (from 180 mm on the other builds); and the inclusion of a OneUp bash guard. Production versions of the Carbon 90 Rally build also get Maxxis’ beefier Double Down casings for both tires (2.5” 3C MaxxGrip Assegai front, 2.4” 3C MaxxTerra DHRII rear), compared to the Exo+ versions of the same tires on the other builds, though our test bike came with the Exo+ versions.

A Race Face Turbine R (the Race-Face-branded version of the Fox Transfer) dropper post and Race Face’s Turbine R wheels round out the build on the Carbon 90 Rally Edition. My only real quibble is that I’d like to see an 800mm-wide bar spec’d on the Rally version, at least. It’s easy to trim a bar narrower, after all, and the 780 mm width of the stock Race Face Next R is a touch narrower than I prefer — especially for what is meant to be the extra-aggressive build spec. It’s also worth noting that the stock Ergon grips are especially long, and effectively narrow the bar a bit more, since they force the brake levers to be mounted farther inboard than I normally would run them. I swapped on my preferred DMR Deathgrips, which bought me about 5 mm per side (i.e., 10 mm total), but I still could have done with a slightly wider bar.

My only other complaint was with the XTR brakes — longtime readers are probably as tired of seeing this written as I am of writing it, but Shimano’s longstanding issues with wandering bite point persist. I never had a lever go fully to the bar on the Altitude, but despite bleeding the rear brake a couple of times, it displayed the familiar, terrible variation in bite point that has long plagued Shimano’s brakes. They’re great when they work right, but I can’t stand the inconsistency. Nothing against Rocky Mountain or the Altitude, just the same complaint that seems to always come up with Shimano brakes.

Fit and Geometry

Compared to both the prior-model Altitude and the Instinct BC, the new Altitude got a healthy dose of the longer / lower / slacker treatment. Reach on the Altitude ranges from 430 mm on the Small frame, through 510 mm on the XL, with the Ride 9 flip chip in the middle, “neutral” setting. Our size Large test bike’s reach sits at 480 mm, and the Medium comes in at 455 mm. The headtube angle sits at 65° for all sizes, again in the middle geometry setting, and the effective seat tube angle is 76° across the board.

The 27.5’’ frames get 427 / 437 mm chainstays, depending on flip chip setting; that grows to 437 / 447 mm for the 29ers. All of that adds up to a wheelbase of 1,217 mm for the Medium 29’’ bike (in the shorter chainstay setting). Our Large test bike measures 1,249 mm, again in the shorter chainstay position.

The slackest position of the Ride 9 system drops the headtube angle to 64.4° and reduces the seat tube angle by the same 0.6°, to 75.4°. It also drops the bottom bracket by about 7 mm, and shortens the reach by a similar amount. At the steepest end of the Ride 9 range, the headtube angle sits at 65.5°, and the bottom bracket height and reach both increase slightly.

Overall, these are solid, modern numbers for an Enduro bike, but I do wish that Rocky Mountain had made the headtube angle, in particular, a bit slacker. It’s tough to imagine most people wanting to run this sort of long-travel bike at the steeper end of the range, and while it’s certainly true that going slacker has its downsides, too, I think that it would make for a more usable range to the (very cool) Ride 9 system — at least with the stock 29’’ wheels at both ends. More on that below. Here’s the full geometry chart for the Altitude in its slackest, steepest, and neutral settings:

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude Geometry (click to expand)

Rocky Mountain recommends the Small Altitude for riders down to 5’1’’ (155 cm), and while there’s no women-specific model on offer, it’s great to see that they’ve made a properly small size for the bike. Interestingly, there’s a slight difference in their recommended sizing for the Medium bikes, depending on wheel size, with the range for the 27.5’’ bike shifted one inch shorter, from 5’5’’ (165 cm) through 5’9’’ (175 cm), compared to 5’6’’ (168 cm) through 5’10’’ (178 cm) for the same size 29er.

At 6’ (183 cm), I’m near the middle of the recommended sizing for the Large Altitude, and an inch short of the start of the band for the XL. I think that’s basically correct, but suspect that my absolute goldilocks size would likely be somewhere between the L and XL. Particularly given the comparatively steep headtube angle, I found myself preferring to run the Altitude at the slack end of the geometry settings, which shortens the cockpit to slightly more compact dimensions than tend to be my personal ideal. Of course, that’s just me — no bike is going to fit everyone perfectly, despite Noah Bodman’s highly suspect claim that everything should fit him, specifically.

Climbing

The relatively light weight of the Altitude (31.8 lbs / 14.4 kg for our test bike) is a blessing on the way up, and I’d place its suspension at around the middle of the spectrum when it comes to efficiency vs. traction and activeness under power. There are bikes, like the Privateer 161, that are notably more efficient, at the expense of compliance and grip, and others, like the prior-generation Specialized Enduro, which favor traction and compliance more strongly, at the expense of some efficiency. The Altitude hits a nice, middle-of-the-road balance that will work well for a lot of people, especially if a significant portion of their climbing is of the more technical variety.

As we’ve noted on a few different iterations of the shock now, the climb mode on the 2021 Float X2 doesn’t feel especially firm. While its climbing performance is totally adequate, especially for a relatively gravity-oriented shock (and its downhill performance is indeed excellent), I wouldn’t mind a firmer climb mode, with a bigger separation from the open mode.

As with my review of the Guerrilla Gravity Gnarvana, where I said the exact same thing about the new Float X2 on that bike, I want to be clear that I’m talking about the shock tune here, and not anything to do with the frame itself. The Altitude pedals just fine, including with the climb switch open. I just think that, given that, there’s room to make the X2’s climb mode firmer, and let riders leave the switch open if they’re doing a more technical climb, where more traction would be useful.

For a longer-travel Enduro bike, the Altitude is particularly adept at tight, technical climbing. Its geometry isn’t so extreme as to make it feel particularly awkward at lower speeds and in tighter spots, and its suspension strikes a good balance between letting you put down power when needed, while still remaining active and providing traction when the climbs get rougher. Similarly, the pedalling position is well rounded, with the seat tube angle feeling steep enough to make long fire-road climbs comfortable, without being so extreme as to feel like it’s designed with only those sorts of climbs in mind.

Descending

Once again, the Altitude stands out from the long-travel Enduro crowd due to its versatility. While it’s reasonably composed and stable at high speeds, this bike’s slightly more moderate geometry, as compared to many ~160mm-travel Enduro bikes, means that it’s a bit quicker handling than most, feels more at home on more rolling, varied terrain, and when doing things other than being pushed as hard as possible.

Especially with the chainstay flip chip in its shorter setting, the handling of the Altitude feels very sharp and agile for a bike with this much suspension travel. Compared to bikes with longer wheelbases and slacker headtube angles, it’s not as stable at high speed, and instead favors a more active, dynamic style, with the rider doing a lot to move the bike around and pop off of features to navigate rougher sections at speed. Watch Jesse Melamed ride, and it makes a lot of sense. He’s wildly fast, but rides with a ton of finesse, and isn’t someone who looks like he’s trying to bulldoze his way through everything and simply pound the trail into submission. It strikes me as a great match of bike and rider, and the success he’s had on the EWS circuit is a testament to that.

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
David Golay on the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

Especially at the slacker end of the Altitude’s Ride 9 setting range, the rear suspension of the bike is very progressive. Exact specs aren’t available for the 2021 bike, but Rocky Mountain’s guide to the prior-generation Altitude states a massive 45.7% total progression in the slackest setting, and we’re told that the updated bike is broadly similar. Overall progression for the prior generation dropped as low as 22.8% in the steepest (#9) setting — still quite progressive, overall.

Our test bike arrived with no volume spacers in the air can of the Float X2 rear shock, and at no point was I tempted to add any. In part because of how progressive it is, I wound up running substantially more rear sag on the Altitude than I typically do on other bikes. Rocky Mountain’s setup guide suggests 18 to 21 mm of sag at the shock, and says that equates to 30 to 35% sag; in the slackest and quite progressive Ride 9 setting #1 (the slackest one), I wound up preferring sag at, or even slightly past, the high end of that range. Even with that relatively soft spring rate, the Altitude feels quite poppy and lively, with fairly good support. In less progressive settings for the Ride 9 chip, I did up the air pressure to compensate.

If you’re looking for an Enduro bike to really steamroll fast, rough descents, and aren’t that worried about how it works as an everyday Trail bike on more rolling and varied terrain, there are other bikes that are better suited to that particular, specific duty. None of them will feel as lively and engaging at lower speeds, though, and if you’re in the camp that wants a fairly long-travel bike that doesn’t need to be going wildly fast to come alive, or you’re someone who just prefers a snappier, more agile-feeling Enduro bike, the Altitude is a really outstanding choice.

Comparisons

Compared to bikes like the Privateer 161 — which, as we’ve discussed at length on Blister in our full review and in our conversation with Privateer’s Sam Meegan, on Episode 51 of Bikes and Big Ideas — the Altitude feels notably less stable at very high speeds, and requires a more active touch to stay composed and tracking through very fast, very rough sections of trail. The flip side of that is that the Altitude is much more engaging at lower speeds, and on more moderate terrain, and frankly, that probably makes it a better choice for more people. As we’re fond of saying at Blister, it’s a good time to know thyself, and think about whether you want a bike that wants to be going flat out down something steep all the time, or if you’d prefer a bit more versatility, in exchange for losing a little stability at the top end. The Altitude’s suspension also feels notably more supple off the top than the Privateer’s, with better small-bump sensitivity — which also helps it feel more at home when going less than flat-out.

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
David Golay on the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

The Guerrilla Gravity Gnarvana gets a bit closer to the Altitude, but it still feels like more bike. The Gnarvana’s wheelbase is longer, its headtube slacker, its chainstays longer, and it should come as no surprise then that the Gnarvana also feels more stable and less agile than the Altitude — the difference just isn’t as stark as it is with the 161. There’s also a big difference in how the suspension of the two bikes feels. The Altitude (again, particularly in the more progressive, slacker settings of the Ride 9 chip) feels much poppier and more lively, whereas the Gnarvana is more planted and plush. The small-bump sensitivity of both is quite good, but the Altitude firms up and feels more taut as it gets deeper in the travel, whereas the Gnarvana feels a bit more plush and cushy.

And so that brings us to the bike that the Altitude actually reminds me of most — the Guerrilla Gravity Smash. It’s not the most obvious comparison on paper (the Smash has 145 mm of rear travel and a 160 mm fork), and not one that I necessarily expected to be making. But once you dig a little deeper, it starts to make more sense. Yes, the Gnarvana is the closer match to the Altitude, in terms of suspension travel, and the Altitude does feel like it’s got more suspension than the Smash. Their geometry is surprisingly similar, though — with the Altitude at the slacker end of the Ride 9 settings, and with the chainstays in the short setting, in particular, they’re nearly identical. We praised the Smash for its impressive versatility, and the same is 100% true of the Altitude. The suspension feel of the Smash is more akin to the Altitude as well — the Smash is substantially more supportive and poppy feeling than the Gnarvana, and again, that makes it a tidy match for the Altitude.

As a Mullet

Rocky Mountain doesn’t specifically market the Altitude as being mullet-able, but between the comparatively steep headtube angle and the high degree of adjustability afforded by the Ride 9 system, I had a hunch that it could actually work pretty well, so I threw a 27.5’’ rear wheel on for a few rides, first with the Ride 9 chips moved to the middle position (#5). I estimated the resulting headtube angle to be about 64°, and the bottom bracket was a few mm lower than in the slack (#1) position that I preferred with the bike set up as stock. This mostly worked, but the bottom bracket was borderline too low, so I steepened things up a notch, to the #8 position, which brought the geometry quite close to stock.

David Golay Reviews the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude for Blister
David Golay on the 2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude

I’m mostly of the opinion that mullet setups make the most sense for riders who would otherwise want to be on a full 29er, but due to leg length and overall body proportions, find themselves unable to move around on the bike, or get off the back in steeper terrain without getting buzzed by the rear tire. I’m tall enough that it mostly isn’t too much of an issue for me, and while I’m still a big fan of 27.5’’ wheels in a lot of circumstances, mullet setups are mostly a middle ground that I don’t find to be of any particularly great benefit to me, personally. I just don’t feel like a mullet claws back enough of the handling advantages that draw me to 27.5” wheels to be a substantial improvement over a full 29” setup on that front, and the mullet setup introduces its own quirks in how the rear wheel tracks behind the front. In particular, I’ve found that mullet setups with relatively short chainstays make the rear end feel really short, relative to the rest of the bike. Set up as a mullet, I clearly prefer the longer chainstay setting on the Altitude, whereas as a full 29er, the chainstay flip chip makes a tradeoff between stability and quickness, but both settings have appreciable pros and cons — there’s not one that feels definitively better.

I also think that there are relatively few bikes that aren’t expressly designed as mullets that have geometry that supports a conversion, but the 29’’ Altitude is one of them. If you like the geometry of the Altitude 29er at the slacker end of the settings range, the Ride 9 chip does let you get back to similar numbers with a 27.5’’ rear wheel, albeit with substantially less progressive suspension kinematics.

Who’s It For?

The Altitude is a very interesting, and somewhat unusual bike in 2021. It’s a long-travel Enduro bike, with geometry that certainly doesn’t feel dated, but also is a bit more moderate than many ~160mm-travel bikes these days. As such, it’s one of our favorite options for riders who want a longer-travel bike, but want it to keep a whole lot of Trail-bike versatility, or just find the longest, slackest Enduro bikes to be too sluggish and require too much speed to come alive. Just like we said of the Guerrilla Gravity Smash, the Altitude is a bike that rarely feels out of place, no matter what kind of terrain it’s in, and if a Smash with a bit more suspension travel sounds appealing, this is it.

The Bottom Line

The new Rocky Mountain Altitude is one of the most versatile, lively-feeling Enduro bikes that we’ve been on recently, and is an outstanding option for riders looking for a very capable bike on the descents that doesn’t go all-in on being a high-speed, demanding bike that takes a ton of pace and aggression to come alive. There are other, more specialized bikes that excel more strongly at the very highest speeds, but the Altitude does an unusually good job of blending most of that top-end capability with a whole lot more versatility, and that should make it a really good option for a whole lot of people.

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6 comments on “2021 Rocky Mountain Altitude”

  1. in many ways it sounds very similar to the RM Slayer, which has only slightly more ‘aggressive’ geo, right down to the ride characteristics. as a Slayer 29 owner, at least that’s my perception. depending on chip setting it is a long legged trail bike, or a sled with a seriously progressive rear end. albeit a heavy one.

    • It definitely seems like a good comparison on paper. We should be getting a Rallon in to review in a bit, and will be able to comment a lot more on the specifics then.

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