A few years ago, when someone spoke about a cross country race bike, you’d think of a bike with 80–100 mm of travel, 2.0″-wide tires and a handlebar roughly 700-mm wide. Now, take a look at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Element 990 rSl B.C. Edition. It comes with a 120-mm RockShox Pike, 2.3″ Maxxis Minion tires and a whopping 800-mm Race Face Six carbon handlebar. The lines have definitely been blurred between race bike and what we used to call “trail.”
So how does the Element, with all of its changes, perform as a cross country race bike? When I pulled the Element from its box, I was surprised at how light the bike was considering its spec. Coming in at 13.2 kg is not easy for a bike with 120-mm travel and a burley set of Maxxis Minions. Rocky Mountain has done a great job keeping the weight down, in part helped by what the company calls its Smoothwall C13 carbon frame. The set of Stans Ztr Arch tubeless-ready wheels also keeps the grams low. Rocky Mountain updated the Element’s geometry this year: it’s slacker and adjustable. Rocky Mountain’s Ride 9 adjustable geometry and suspension rate system lets you set the head-tube angle from 69 to 70 degrees and the seat-tube angle from 74.5 to 75.5 degrees.
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Once I had everything set up to my liking (69 degree head angle), it was time to hit the trail. This was my first time on an Element. I was very impressed with the bike’s pedalling efficiency. I felt so little suspension bob that I caught myself looking down at the RockShox Monarch rt3 100-mm shock to ensure it was still actuating while I was riding. With such good power transfer, climbing is made easy. Paired with the 800-mm handlebar and 2.3″ tires, you can really get out of the saddle while climbing. The bike also lets you monster truck over rocks and roots that would normally stop you. My only complaint would be that while climbing on the rivet, the wtB Silverado Race saddle was a bit stiff and intrusive.
Rocky Mountain Element 990 RSL B.C. Edition
Components Shimano XT 180-mm brakes, Shimano XT levers, Shimano XT shifters and rear deriallers, Shimano XT 11–46 tooth cassette
Suspension RockShox Pike RCT3 120-mm fork, RockShox Monarch RT3 100-mm shock
Wheels 29: Stan’s ZTR Arch tubeless-ready
Sizes S, M, L, XL, XXL
Drop the RockShox Reverb Stealth post, point downhill and hold on because the Element can really shred. When you attach “B.C. Edition” to a bike’s name, you are setting a high standard. British Columbia is host to some of the most gnarly and technical trails in the world. It’s safe to say the Element B.C. Edition can handle its home trails. The slacker geometry gives you confidence when the trail gets steep, and the 800-mm bar makes it hard to stray from your line. Even when things get loose, the 2.3″ Minion tires are there to grip and keep you upright. I found myself letting go of the Shimano XT brakes more than usual on an XC race bike to pump and flow through downhill sections. The bike has a really solid feel that inspires confidence even on really rough trails.
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So how does the Element B.C. Edition perform as a cross country race bike? If all you care about is racing, then I would suggest going for the standard (non-B.C.) Element. Those models are thoroughbred, proven race machines that are going to meet your needs better. I think an 800-mm bar and 2.3″ Minion tires are overkill for the race course. Although, if you are the type of rider who prefers racing your friends away from official start lines and you want a bike that can blast up climbs and handle steep technical downhills quicker than your buddy’s 140-mm trail bike, the Rocky Mountain 990 rSl B.C. Edition has your name on it.