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Long-term review: Rocky Mountain Element

Canadian brand continues pushing the limits of what you can do with an XC bike

Rocky Mountain Element C70 review bike

When Rocky Mountain released the new-look Element, the revised cross country bike firmly straddled the line between XC and trail bikes. The Canadian brand has, for a long time, positioned the Element as a more aggressive and more capable vision of what a cross country bike can be. It frequently nudges up against the line between XC and trail. But, with 120-mm rear travel and a 130-mm fork, the new Element clearly thumbs its nose at convention, even compared to modern race bikes.

Challenging convention is great. It’s often disruptive designs that end up pushing the industry forward as a whole. If the design works, that is. So, how does the XC-plus Element handle out in the real world? Well, after nearly a year of riding on the new Rocky Mountain Element all across B.C. for this review, we’re really enjoying this new idea of what XC can mean.

2022/2023 Rocky Mountain Element

Rocky Mountain is up front that it aims to get the best of both worlds with the Element. The bike is intended to climb like a cross country bike and descend like a trail bike. That is an ambitious goal but Rocky uses smart design to get there.

A simplified Ride-4 system, based off Rocky Mountain’s existing Ride-9 chip system, allows riders to adjust geometry and suspension progression to push the Element more toward its XC lineage or trail ambitions. Crucially, Ride-4 doesn’t just change geometry angels. It tunes the 120 mm of rear wheel travel to be more supportive and efficient in the “steep” setting or calmer and more forgiving when set to “slack,” along with matching changes to the bike’s geometry. Set up with a 130-mm fork, Rocky gives the Element more freedom to take on technical challenges than the already-capable previous generations of its XC bike.

Rocky Mountain Element C70 review bike
Rocky Mountain Element sports a very Canadiana paint scheme under that (removable) label sticker

The Element’s carbon fibre frame uses thin tubing, designed to keep weight down and add some compliance for a comfortable ride (alloy frames are available, as well). There is room for two full water bottles on the downtube, and substantial rubber frame protection deflects rocks and trail debris. 29″ wheels keep the Element rolling efficiently, with the XS size moving to 27.5″ for improved fit.

Parts and spec: 2023 Rocky Mountain Element C70

Our Element C70 test bike arrived outfitted with Fox’s mid-tier but reliable Performance Elite suspension. Up front, a Fox 34 fork with Fit-4 three-position damper and out back, there’s a Float DPS shock. Shimano adds an XT 12-speed drivetrain and XT two-piston brakes. Combined with 180mm rotors front and rear, the two-piston brakes suit the Element’s purpose, in our view, better than the more powerful four-piston option. A Race Face Turbine dropper (built by Fox) had 200mm travel on our XL bike, but the drop length varies by size all the way down to 125mm for the XS and Small sizes. Rocky Mountain adds its own alloy bar and stem to finish off the build. All of this is very well suited to the Element’s cross country-plus design and worked flawlessly throughout the test.

Then there are the wheels. WTB ST Light i27 alloy rims are built around a Race Face Trace rear hub and Rocky’s own front hub. The Element ships with Maxxis’ fast-rolling Rekon WT 2.4″ tires. These wheels definitely are the main contributors to the Element C70’s 12.5kg weight and, while they worked just fine, are, in our opinion, a bit out of place on a bike Rocky Mountain is asking $7,880 for. Mountain biking is expensive these days, it seems. And I think Rocky made the correct call to invest in better suspension and XT-level parts than to slap on a splashy set of carbon fibre wheels, if doing so would have meant cutting costs elsewhere on the bike.

Rocky Mountain Element C70 review bike

On the trail: Element C70

There are two sides to the Element. On the one hand, it’s more capable in extremes than I’d expected, living up to its intention to push XC’s limits. On the other hand, it’s also better than I’d expected at more traditional XC riding, mostly. The race heritage isn’t lost, but it does lean more towards stage races and marathons than the hyper-specific realm of World Cup XCO.

A cross country bike remains

Rocky really focused on the Element’s ability to ride beyond the traditional limits of its “cross country” tag. It is still a cross bike, though, and still has to be good at that. And it is, especially when the trail is pointed even slightly up or down (or rolling). I’m not going to pretend to tell you it’s a great, or good World Cup cross country bike. It doesn’t have the instant jump and all-out efficiency of a pure XC race bike. But there’s so much more to cross country than what happens on a World Cup course. The Element’s strengths and efficiencies come into play in the vast world of trails (and races) beyond lapping short loops on a closed course for 90 minutes.

Where the Element does feel out of its, uh, element is on pancake flat trails. It isn’t uncomfortable, I happily did a very long winter solstice ride on the Element. But the slack head angle does give up some agility compared to more traditional XC bikes. It requires a bit more body language to get your weight forward for flat corners. This may be a sticking point for some riders in some locations but, for everyone else, I think the benefits on every other trail surface outweigh the costs.

More nimble than it looks

Any slight incline or decline in the trail and the Element is impressive, no matter whether it’s fast and smooth or slow and tight tech. I thought the length of the bike might be a disadvantage in tighter trails but in back-to-back testing, it actually got through some slower tech faster than more traditional XC bikes. Really tight uphill switchbacks aren’t perfect in the slacker Ride-4 setting, but they are much more manageable in the steep setting. In general, the Element rewards a more trail-focused approach to cornering. Lean the bike, put your weight forward and trust the Element and it will carve through corners. Lean back behind the seat and the front end can feel far away.

Fox 34 Performance Elite shock and Maxxis Forekaster tire
Fox’s venerable 34 is versatile enough to make use of a wide range of tires

A trail bike emerges

The harder the trail gets, the more the Element comes alive. I was honestly impressed with how comfortable this bike felt on trails that I’d usually avoid, or approach with caution on a cross country bike. Riding the Element on harder trails doesn’t feel the same as a mid-travel trail bike, of course, but it’s not a bad different. It keeps the speed of an XC bike but adds confidence and security, without the brawn of a bigger bike.

Every now and then I’d convince myself that there must be more limitations on the Element’s slender carbon fibre tubes. Maybe it’s the fact that I could see the rear shock body on both sides of the top tube as it tapers perilously towards the seat tube, but some part of me kept thinking that a frame with tubes this skinny shouldn’t be hitting jumps.

But then I’d get lost or get talked into following a friend down harder trails and completely forget I’m on a 120/130mm travel bike and, halfway down, I’d be hitting gaps and steep rock rolls again. Despite its sleek appearance, the Element is impressively capable on demanding trails. There are limits, sure, but I repeatedly found myself riding features that I would have otherwise avoided on an XC bike. Really, anything that Fox’s 34 Performance fork can handle, the Element will happily take on. Often, it was the tire choice that was the biggest limiting factor when riding the Element.

Horses for courses and tires for trails

This leads to a question about tire choice. Rocky’s Ride-4 system lets you tune the Element towards an XC race feel or fun focus. But what tires you put on arguably have just as big an effect on what this bike is capable of. And the Element realistically opens up a wider range of tire options than most bikes. You can no more throw Minions on a carbon XC hardtail and call it a downhill bike than you can throw Ikons on a DH rig and line up for a marathon. But the Element is really well suited to a wide range of tires. The Maxxis Rekon Race 2.4″ tires it ships with are great for the XC end of things. They do become the weak point as you start pushing harder. Moving to something like Maxxis Forekaster, Dissector, or some Specialized Ground Control tires really opens up the Element’s potential as a lightweight trail bike. You could run something heavier, and the Element has clearance to do so. But that takes away from the quick acceleration and light feel that makes this bike so fun, at least in my opinion.

Rocky Mountain Element C70 review bike

Review: Rocky Mountain Element C70

The bottom line is that, even in the context of more and more capable XC race bikes, the Element is impressive. Not just because it can comfortably do more than you’d expect from a cross country bike. But because it can do more while still being good at more traditional cross country. That sets this bike apart from other short-travel trail bikes, like Norco’s Optic or Canyon’s Spectral 125. Some of those pedal well enough and have similar travel numbers, but have a totally different feel. They’re comfortable climbing, but the Element is fast. They’re fine for long days, but the Element ecourages you to attack trails for hours. The trade-off is that short-travel trail bikes are better at all-out descending but, with the new Element, the gap isn’t as wide as you might think.

With a steadily rotating roster of test bikes, it is easy to slip into defining the perfect niche for each bike. And brands are quite happy to play that game. Rocky Mountain’s new Element is an exciting take on cross country because it blurs lines so effectively. It certainly won’t please everyone equally, but that’s fine. For those that are looking to blur the line between XC speed and trail fun, the Element delivers in spades. With Ride-4, it is adaptable enough to be a great bike for cross country stage races and long rides. Or, on the other end, its happy to lean into the lightweight trail bike side of its persona.

Race, or don’t

The Element is a bike I wish I’d had back when events like Pemberton’s NIMBY 50 or Squamish’s Test of Metal series existed. It’s fast uphill and still comfortable where traditional XC bikes are on, or a bit past their limits. That makes it a great bike for events like Whistler’s Back 40, BC Bike Race or Singletrack 6. Very trail-focused events that don’t shy away from black diamond-rated trails. It’s not just a race bike, though. The Element is equally well-suited to anyone who enjoys riding fast, efficient climbing, and the ability to hit whatever trail you want on the way down, but has no interest in lining up to race.

Pricing and availability

Rocky Mountain Element C70 retails for $7,880, though the same model has now dropped to $7,650 in this year’s colours. There are seven models available. That starts from the $2,880 Element 10 Alloy and goes to the blinged-out Element Carbon 90 at $11,070.