2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL Quick Bike Review

2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL Quick Bike Review

As one of the most anticipated new designs going into Interbike, the all-new Rocky Mountain Altitude platform has received its share of hype (from me included). On the surface, the design sure looks like a Horst-Link, but a more detailed look at the pivot location and it clearly falls under Rocky Mountain’s ETS patent.

A few millimeters and this bike would infringe on Specialized’s patent, but as it is, it’s clearly in Rocky’s court. Now that all the hubbub over pivot location is out of the way, we can get on with how this bike rides. A long lap in the desert and I was able to get a good taste for how this bike will perform.

2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude Bike Review

About the 2009 Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL

This is the top-of-the-line full-carbon model with all the goodies. Though the 90 RSL isn’t cheap, $6499 for a full-carbon trailbike equipped like this is a great deal. Aside from the linkage location, the other major feature of the Altitude lineup is the modified geometry called “Straight Up“, which puts your body-weight more forward on the bike than the competition. The result? You can stay right in the middle of the saddle on technical climbs instead of riding the nose.

The Altitude RSL model marks a huge change for Rocky in their mountain bike lineup. It’s the first full-suspension carbon-fiber bike they’ve produced and it replaces the popular ETSX models in the lineup. With a balanced 140mm travel front and rear, the Altitude 90 RSL is built to ride all day long in any condition you can throw its way.

Here’s a few more specs:

  • 140mm rear travel via custom-tuned Fox RP23 rear shock
  • Fox 32 Float RLC 140mm fork with 15QR front axle (15mm is awesome)
  • RaceFace Deus/Next cockpit and cranks (carbon and aluminum mix)
  • Shimano XTR drivetrain (XT front derailleur and cassette)
  • Mavic Crossmax XLR wheelset – very nice!
  • FSA Orbit CS headset
  • Formula R1 discs
  • Crank Brothers Candy pedals
  • 76-degree seat tube angle
  • 69-degree head tube angle
  • 5.5 lb. carbon frame / 26 lbs as built
  • MSRP: $6499

Rocky Mountain Altitude RSL 90 Bike Review

Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL Review

A quick pass by the Rocky Mountain booth at the Interbike Outdoor Demo yielded just the bike I wanted to ride–the top-of-the-line Altitude 90 RSL. Local sales rep, Derek Newton had set it aside just for me. When I got there, the engineer behind the Altitude lineup, D’Arcy O’Connor was there to give me a personalized run-down of all the technology behind this new bike.

He walked me through the strategic use of carbon throughout the frame and the sweet-looking tube designs that make up the Altitude. Looking over the frame, with it’s internal cable routing and smooth transitions, it looks absolutely gorgeous. The carbon-fiber keeps the weight down and provides riding characteristics found only with this material.

With “Straight Up” geometry that puts your body in the perfect climbing position to maximize traction and ergonomics and a suspension design that is just millimeters away from the fabled Horst-Link (clearly within Rocky’s ETS patent), this bike was begging to be ridden hard.

Rocky Mountain Altitude RSL 90 Bike Review

After slipping out of Tent City, the destination was up and away from the crowds. This would take us on a long loop due south of Bootleg Canyon in the beat-down desert heat of the Nevada desert. We’d take Mother to IMBA, then back to Mother and out via West Leg. This loop was a great place to test the climbing prowess of the Altitude. I could instantly feel the added power provided by the “Straight Up” geometry. With my butt smack-dab in the middle of the saddle, I could climb all the technical stuff that was thrown my way. Only once did I find the need to scoot forward to keep the front-end down.

This bike will not be the one holding you back on long, technical climbs and will climb as straight as an arrow with no energy-robbing front-end wander.

On cross-country terrain, the efficient suspension kept things rolling smoothly and efficiently with just the right amount of squish to keep your body happy. Pedal strokes are efficient and the suspension feels completely solid with excellent lateral stiffness for straight tracking.

Going down, the Altitude was pretty confident overall, but not quite the descender I’ve come to expect from other bikes in Rocky’s lineup. In the 140mm travel category, there is an array of styles to suit riders of all tastes. This one happens to be the best climber of the bunch and felt like an adequate descender, but not sled-like. I think a 150mm travel fork would slacken things just enough to make this bike even better–but that might void your warranty (so, don’t say you heard it from me).

Good Altitude

  • Amazing climber… one of the best in this category
  • Active suspension in all conditions
  • Super light at 25.9 lbs.
  • Full-carbon frame (everything but the chainstays) smooths out the little stuff
  • This bike looks sexy
  • Cool, direct-mount front derailleur simplifies setup
  • Awesome build kit
  • Excellent price for a full-carbon trailbike

Bad Altitude

  • Not a downhill sled, but still capable
  • A little carbon chatter here and there (this bike was a prototype, so the chatter should be fixed for production)
  • Tires are a little narrow
  • The stock grips should be pitched

Rocky Mountain Altitude RSL 90 Bike Review

The Bottom Line on the Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL

This bike had a lot of hype surrounding it prior to Interbike and I was excited to swing a leg over it. The “Straight Up” geometry is awesome–putting you firmly in control of the climbs. As a result, this bike climbs amazingly-well. The carbon-equipped RSL 90 is a smooth performer overall, but it is just a tad more twitchy on the downhill than others in this category. For the elite marathon or all-day epic rider, the Altitude RSL 90 will take you higher.

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Written By

A Seattle native, Jason developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 --sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground. Follow Jason Mitchell on Google+.