Many months ago we ran a quick preview of Rocky Mountain's 2009 Flatline Pro DH bike, which may be hard to remember as Pinkbike seems to get updated more often than Ashton Kutcher's Twitter account. The Preview of a Review generated quite the discussion, which is no surprise as there is loads of ammo for you forum rats to talk about. From the funky frame tubes to the font of the decals, the big white bike turned out to be great forum fodder. Get ready for round 2 as below is the full review, a bit later than promised but here it is nonetheless.
As one clever reader mentioned while reading the preview, there doesn't actually seem to be too many "flatlines" on Rocky Mountain's latest DH bike. Ironic name aside though, a lot of work has gone in to making the Flatine what it is. Some bikes seem to lack a bit in the character department, the Flatline is not one of them! When put beside other bikes, your eye is sure to be drawn to the big white machine. Starting at the front, a closer look reveals a short 1.5" head tube and a burly junction between the top an down tubes. The formed top tube drops away from under you leaving lots of room for mistakes. By now you are sure to have seen the Flatline's down tube and asked yourself just what the hell is going on down there. The official word from Rocky is that is it a fender, which it clearly looks like. My opinion, which is what this review is after all, would be to ask why I need a permanent fender built into my bike? Besides keeping the crud off my goggles it also gives the bike quite a distinct look, and it's always nice to stand out from the crowd just a bit... if you are into that kinda thing.
2009 Rocky Mountain Flatline Pro
Cable routing is something that is often overlooked on many bikes, which is a bit funny as these are some expensive toys that we play on. Unfortunately the tube shaping on the Flatline does not leave a lot of options for any nice tucked away routing. The rear shift cable itself may see a touch more drag than usual due to the path it takes between the front triangle and the swingarm. The forward housing attachment (just behind the headtube) is the first spot to make contact with the stanction when at full lock in either direction. Not ideal.
The shaped tubing gives the Flatline a unique look
The heart of it all is Rocky Mountain's LC2R suspension system. That funny acronym is short for "Low Center Counter Rotating" which pretty much sums it up. Two small arms actually pull on the bikes shock link, as opposed to pushing it as is more commonly found. Rocky says that this results in more sensitive suspension. Even the lightest push on the bike's seat results in some shock action, no exaggerations there, although this is no doubt helped along by the non-platform Roco shock.
All this is based on a nicely done single pivot design. Sitting roughly inline with the supplied 36 tooth chainring, the main pivot sits within the frame, captured by either side of the bike's shock 'basket' that the Roco sits in. There are three forward mounting holes for the shock that let you run shorter eye-to-eye length shocks without being stuck with wonky geometry. The stays are square from start to finish, ending at a set of massive dropouts that hold onto a 12 x 150 mm hub. I've read some forum spewing about not being able to remove the axle without having to take the rear derailleur off, which is complete nonsense! There are two M5 pinch bolts on each side, and you only have to loosen one per side in order to remove the axle. What is true though is that it is damn tricky to reach them on the drive side, especially with an awkward multi-tool. The stock axle is a dead heavy steel rod, remove it and throw it at the first person you see that is wearing aviator sunglasses! There are some relatively cheap after market aluminum axles that make a lot of sense, a shame that the top end Flatline comes stock with a big steel one.
Big square stays and massive dropouts look up to the task
There is no doubt that the Flatline frame on it's own is solid and ready for any serious sending you have planned. Although I don't believe there are any true "one season only" bikes out there, the Flatline is about as far from that sort of thinking as possible. The frame, including axle and post QR, comes in at 13 lbs 10 oz. There are other DH frames out there that are in the same category, just not many. You'll have piece of mind knowing that your Flatline frame should be good for many seasons of ripping, just don't ever expect to have one of those anorexic sub 36 lb feather weights! Sub 40 lb would be impressive.
Very solid but the driveside dropouts pinch bolt is tricky to reach
Watch D'Arcy O'Conner, an engineer at Rocky Mountain, talk about their Flatline DH bike
These measurements are for a medium Flatline. There are actually four sizes of Flatlines, from XS to L, so most every size of person is covered. Head on over HERE if you'd like to see how the other sizes measure up!
EFF Top Tube
Actual Frame Size (effective seat tube length)
Armed with a measuring tape I found some other numbers that will be of use to you if you are eyeing up a Flatline. With the fork at full travel, I was able to lower the bars to a height of 40.5" (ground to center) with the stock parts. Using only spacers and moving the fork within the crowns it should be easy to raise them at least 2.5". The relatively low bar height is helped along by the 4.25" head tube and integrated headset. The standover height I measured at the center of the toptube is slightly higher than Rocky's given number at 30.25", with a BB height of 14.25". As for the proposed "Reach and Stack" measurements (a sort of modified front to center and height number) I found a reach of 17.25" and a stack of 22.25". Want to know what Reach and Stack are?
Suspension is all Marzocchi on the Pro model. Hidden nearly out of sight within the frame is a 9.5" x 3" stroke Roco TST R. Rocky's choice to spec the TST version Roco does seem a bit odd, as the TST switch lets you go from full open to nearly full closed on the compression circuit with only a 1/2 turn. That feature makes sense on many all-mountain type bikes, but maybe not on this sort of bike. A bit strange...
Marzocchi Roco TST R
The 888 WC ATA on front looks ready for action. With big silver stanctions and massive white lowers it suits the Flatline perfectly. There are a load of adjustments including rebound, compression, and a volume adjustment. The ATA knob may actually make sense on this bike as it is a quick and dirty way to manage your bar height and head angle.
The WC ATA fork was impressive
Saint is the story here, at least for me. Shimano has everything covered with their updated big hitting group from top to bottom, including brakes, hubs, cranks and bb, rear derailleur, and shifter. While Tyler was on Saint a while back and came home with good impressions, I was seriously stoked to get on this kit as it is entirely new to me. The big question marks for me were the brakes, regarding power and usability, and the hubs, as in will the cup and cone system play out o.k. on a sure to be neglected DH bike? Lots more on how the Saint bits faired later on...
2009 Saint: designed by a Batman fan no doubt
An e.13 LG1 is there to keep the chain on, although there is no Taco bash guard which would have been nice to see. One nice touch are the hand built wheels, done by "Nic" and put together with Mavic's 729 32 hole rims. Thanks Nic! I've yet to sit on a WTB seat that hasn't been comfortable so it's a good thing there is a Pure V on the Flatline. Holding it in place is a nice two bolt Easton Havoc post, which matches the nice 28" Havoc bar just right. My feet found themselves on a set of Rocky's in-house branded pedals, nothing wrong with that, but why do they use flat top pins instead of nice open set screws?
Frame and Size
Rocky Mountain Flatline, RMB FORM 7005 Alu •medium Frame
Marzocchi ROCO TST-R
Marzocchi 888 ATA World Cup •160-200 mm travel
FSA Orbit Z1.5-1 1/8
Shimano Saint, 36t
RMB Team Flat, black
Shimano SLX-9 11-28T
Easton Havoc DH 31.8, 20 mm rise, 711 mm width
Marzocchi Integrated 31.8 mm •24/53 mm reach
RMB Lock On
Shimano Saint, 8" rotors
Saint 20 mm hub •Mavic EX729 rim
Saint 12/150 mm hub •Mavic EX729 rim
Front,WTB Prowler MX 2.5 Comp FT •Rear,WTB Dissent 2.5 Team RR A.V.
WTB Pure V Race
Easton Havoc 30.9 mm
All those parts add up to a no nonsense mountain bike. Built around a sturdy frame and hung with solid parts, at first glance the Flatline could be a great rig for those who are hard on their machines. Maybe not for those who are concerned about the amount of hefty metal they have underneath them though. Exactly 46 lbs 3 oz of heft. I don't want to harp on about weight too much, but that is a hell of a lot of it. I've been on heavy bikes that are not hindered one bit by their heft and I've ridden a few that were obviously held back some by the extra fat. Some of you out there won't care, some of you will care, but the question really is 'how does the bike ride?'. Just like a woman, there is a lot more to a bike than it's weight, but those are lessons you don't learn until later in life.
Listen and learn as Wade Simmons talks about the differences between the RMX and the Flatline
Once I adjusted the controls and seat to my preferences, the Rocky instantly felt like home. When standing on the pedals I felt centered over the bike's long wheelbase without the need to make any drastic adjustments. It doesn't get any better than WTB seats for my behind, and the low-rise Easton bar felt to have the right amount of sweep as to feel just right. First impressions were of a bike that I instantly would get along with and that would stoke my early season confidence. I don't think I've ever had the chance to ride a test bike on as much different and varying terrain as I did with the Flatline. My usual home court stomping grounds were complimented by time spent at the notorious Bootleg Canyon hills, down South a bit further we rode some even more demanding trails in Utah, and even spent time chucking and hucking at the Rampage site. This bike has a load of miles under it, all on nearly every kind of terrain one could imagine.
Every now and then you get surprised by a bike's character, sometimes the numbers do lie and a bike performs nothing like you would expect, there are both major let downs and pleasant surprises. For better or worse the Flatline Pro isn't one of those bikes. Keep in mind that the "for better or worse" part really depends on where you ride and what you are looking for in a bike.
There is no hiding the fact that the Flatline Pro is a big bike, in more than one respect. This becomes apparent when you accelerate on the white Rocky. The bike pedals well, very well actually, but the 46+ lb bike weight may hold you back from out running that pesky bear! From a standstill it takes a slightly more horsepower to get moving than some other DH bikes. As the terrain gets steeper this trait is obviously lessened to a great degree. A bike like the Flatline is not meant to be ridden at a standstill, but it will punish you if you come in to a corner hot and need to put the hammer down on the way out. A bit of a double personality then I suppose. On one hand she has far less pedal and body induced suspension movement than some DH bikes that even use platform based dampers, but even the efficient design can't hide some of it's less redeeming qualities.
Thankfully I rode the piss out of the Flatline in some places where that pedaling nonsense doesn't come into play so much. I love my home mountain like a hot cousin, but it's tame terrain just didn't do the Flatline justice. Enter Bootleg Canyon. Picture a mountain of giant coral and then dump a large quantity of exposed rock and loose gravel on it, leave out any foliage, and you have Bootleg. The fast and rocky terrain was a much better test of the Flatline's capabilities. Up at a pace far above my comfort level is where the long and slack design consistently made my life easier. The 18" chainstays and low slung center of gravity inspired confidence on even the gnarlyist of off camber lines, I felt a bit like a gecko climbing up a vertical wall. I can't really think of a rougher place than some of Bootlegs upper trails, but they seemed tempered a bit by the big Rocky, it's long wheelbase helping to keep things straight and stable as possible. I've ridden those same trails on many a bike and the nasty terrain felt less choppy than ever before.
The tamer the terrain, the more work the Flatline took to keep at speed
Cornering the Flatline was just about as I would have guessed. It's slack and long so the slower you are going the more work you'll have to do. The bike really rewards speed (who would have thought?) and there was a night and day difference in the bike's handling if you were not pushing it. The steeper or faster the corner, the more confidence I had on the bike. This was no doubt helped by Marzocchi's 888 WC ATA that seemed far more controlled than any other Marzocchi fork I've ever ridden. Instead of flopping about like I've experienced in the past, the white 888 stayed high in it's travel while still responding to the terrain. The bike also felt laterally stiffer than stiff, which I'm sure didn't hurt it's turning abilities. Slower speed sections required quite a lot of body English, but with some momentum they were manageable.
All that talk above really means one thing, that the Flatline Pro is far more manageable on steeper and harder terrain. The flatter and less demanding the trail, the more work and less fun I had on the bike. None of that is really a surprise, but it would be nice to have a more versatile DH bike for those that don't spend all day every day on the gnar.
Rocky Mountain enlisted Marzocchi to take care of the Flatline Pro's suspension, with an 888 WC ATA on the front, teamed with a ROCO TST-R out back. This model of 888 is Marz's lightest DH model, as well as featuring the ATA travel adjustment on the top of the right leg. Out of the box the fork was smooth and impressive, with next to no break-in time. My experience with 888 forks from all model years has shown that while they are all smooth and reliable, they tend to be well under damped in the compression department and far too prone to respond to rider input instead of the terrain. It's possible to make them great, but it usually took some tweaking. And don't even get me started on the hard bottom out that seems to plague them. After all that shit talking I'll have to eat my underwear as the '09 WC ATA far surpassed every expectation that I had of it... at least for awhile anyways.
Luke making some adjustments to the ROCO TST-R
It's obvious that the 888 chassis is stiff, and it was nice to see a traditional 20 mm axle interface. On the trail the WC ATA fork was marvelous, doing everything a top end DH fork should. The adjustment range was not only wide, which makes set up easier, but also very effective. Most notably the low-speed compression seemed to be greatly increased over past years, even at a full open setting. I know I speak for some other riders when I say I am sick of forks that I can bottom with some moderate front brake applied while heading down my driveway! The WC ATA was a welcome change. Rebound damping felt consistent, despite the air springs rate change as it returns to full extension. Some short travel air forks tend to suffer from awkward rebound strokes, but the larger air chamber in DH forks tend to limit this issue. The ATA feature is pretty nifty and easy to use with gloves on.
Unfortunately things took a turn for the worse when I woke one morning to find the fork stuck down about 4" into it's travel. The diagnosis was simply one single O-ring that was a bit undersized for the job and let air pass from the positive to the negative sides of the air chamber. Didn't a faulty O-ring bring down a space shuttle? It's always the small things that get you! Thankfully it was an easy fix (and under warranty) by the guys at Marzocchi Canada. Top notch customer service.
Shock mounting hardware on the LC2R linkage
The ROCO TST-R on the back of the bike seemed an odd choice, given it's handy TST switch which makes sense on a mid-travel pedal bike, more on that later though. Something wasn't quite right from the start with the damper though, which was a bad factory bleed and some tolerance issues with the piston's glide ring. The first issue caused some top out and inconsistent damping, but was fixable with a quick rebuild by my oily hands. The second issue was more annoying than anything, although not so easy to fix. The ill fitting glide ring caused a knocking as the damper shaft changed direction from compressing to rebounding. While I was assured by Marzocchi that this had no ill effect on performance, it was bothersome and never felt quite right.
TST switch on the ROCO
I never really got on with the Flatline's rear suspension, which is a shame because so much depends on it. At about 180 lbs, the stock 450 lb spring sagged into roughly 35% of it's travel. On the trail it didn't add up to a forgiving ride. Small and mid sized bumps and holes felt as if they were catching the rear wheel more than they should, as well as translating too much to the rider. I made a big jump in dropping to a 350 lb spring and things improved dramatically. The rear wheel followed the terrain much better and traction was improved greatly, therefore speeds went up and like I said above, the faster the Flatline went, the better it felt. The downside was that about 45% of the travel was used for sag, making slow speed maneuvers even more ponderous. The big Rocky's LC2R suspension linkage stepped up to the plate and kept the bike from blowing through it's travel, even with so much sag. A full week of camping and sending at the Rampae zone in Utah and not a single hard bottom to speak of speaks greatly of the LC2R's progressive nature. Even so, the more common ROCO WC's incremental compression adjustments would have been nice given the soft spring rate
LC2R link does as claimed
I clearly had some issues with the reliability of the bike's suspension, which is a shame because the potential for greatness is there. The great performing 888 WC ATA was taken down by a single O-ring, once remedied it was back to performing like that champ it is. I would have liked to give the Flatline Pro a serious go with a better performing damper, or even a well tuned ROCO, to ring the most from the Flatline's rear end.
Impressions of '09 Saint
My personal bikes have always been stocked heavily with SRAM running gear for the last few years, since Shimano made the jump to 9 gears coincidentally, so I was looking forward to having a go on the much anticipated new Saint bits. It seems that in the meantime Shimano has made some strides in the shifting department while I was away because much has changed. Gone is vaguely soft shifting action that left me wondering if it was out of adjustment or if I simply needed to push the paddle further. In it's place is a very solid 'ka-chung' sound and feel that leaves no doubts as to that fact that you just shifted. A welcome change indeed. A downside to the decisive shifting is that the force required at the thumb paddle has been increased greatly, taking far more force than anything else from Shimano or the competition. This fact combined with the Flatline's questionable cable routing, as well as a wet and muddy winter, made for far too stiff shifting action.
One thing that the shifting did well though was stay in adjustment. In fact, I would say this is Shimano's most reliable shifting system to date. Even when the shifting took some extra effort, it still managed to hit the intended gear right on the button, requiring only minimal adjustment during the four months I rode the bike.
Brakes are such a preferential thing, nearly everything out there works well but we all seem to want a different feel from our stoppers. While the Rocky's Saint brakes were not universally loved, I was a fan. Lever feel was spot on for my paws, not too thick and not too thin, but just right. The immense power meant that I only ever used one finger to brake so I ran them quite far towards the center of the bar, leaving just enough for a comfy grip at the lever end. Speaking of power, "immense" seems like a fitting word to describe what they deliver, which is unbelievable power. Incredible power. Colossal power. I think you get the idea, not at any point did I ever wish for more power from the Saint brakes. All that stopping force was a great help in slowing down from speed, but it took some getting used to at slower paces. Then again, the Flatline isn't really about "slow paces" now is it? The Servo Wave system within the lever means that the initial lever pull is actually firmer at the beginning of it's travel than in the middle, a weird feeling while stationary in the parking lot but not noticeable while riding.
One question for Shimano though: Why have that massive gold aluminum reach dial, and then force us to use a Phillips screwdriver to adjust the bite point? I'm sure there is an economical reason, but it does seem a touch silly. How about making the reach dial half the size and using some of that material for a nice clean bite point adjuster.
My worries about Shimano's cup and cone hub system turned out to be baseless, they spun free and didn't develop play at any point during the test without me having to do any work on them. That makes sense as the design has been around since the caveman. From a mechanics point of view I am a fan of being able to run the grease I prefer and adjust them just right, but I am o.k. with being a nerd.
The Saint outboard B.B. felt just as good at the end of the test as when I first received the bike. I am never going to be a fan of any outboard system, but I seem to have better luck with Shimano cup's than others (a bit contrary to the common belief).
I didn't have a lot of luck with the Flatline's WTB tire combo of a Prowler up front and a Dissent in the back. Sure, they rolled faster than the Kenda Excavators I replaced them with, but grip seemed inconsistent and I had no confidence in them. They never went flat on me though, despite my usual bad line choices.
Is this the Flatline of the future?
Some of you have no doubt come across pictures of Rocky's latest incarnation of the Flatline, like the one pictured here. The bike looks to use far more conventional tubing, as well as an adjusted shock rate, and is an entirely new beast altogether. The usual internet banter is claiming a far lighter weight and slightly revised geometry, it looks interesting for sure. For now us regular peons only have access to the current models but it is interesting to see what may be down the line.
My time on the Flatline Pro made it clear to me that this bike is not a bike for every DH rider or every mountain, but what bike is? Smaller or simply less aggressive riders will not benefit from riding the big white Rocky, while bigger and bolder riders on even bigger terrain may fall in love with the Flatline. Those of you with tracks that challenge the best riders, or if you spend your summer months riding the chairs at your local resort, you may be the best candidate for this bike. A proper test ride before buying is in order with the Flatline as while some may flounder on the big bike, others will flourish. Jump on one and find out which category you belong in!
To see the entire line of Rocky Mountain bikes, visit their web page.