Most of my time aboard the Rocky Mountain took place in dry conditions. I did get one week of hero dirt before the Southwestern summer kicked in, which may have been my happiest moments aboard the Altitude. Give this bike a twisty trail with unexpected drops and short punchy climbs, and it comes to life. Add tacky dirt and the Altitude 30 turns a downhill trail into a theme park ride. I thought I was over 27.5-inch wheels, but this bike reminded me of why the stopwatch is so often the enemy of enjoyment.
Rocky's Altitude is a world apart from the slack and angry race bike designed to straighten every bend and chisel rock gardens into gravel - but you'll still want to push it hard on the downs. Pretend you are going to take it easy, but after you drop in, its just-right feel in the cockpit and balance of stability and responsive steering will have you braking late, charging corners and playing off features in short order.
I'm sure that my times would have dropped if the Altitude had 29-inch wheels, but the moral of this paragraph is that if you are always concentrating on things like wheel size, KOM's, and suspension kinematics while you are descending, you're not having a great time and your bike probably sucks. I'll take seamless communication between bike and rider over top speed and technology - that's what a good trail bike is all about.
Handling can be summed up as "direct and predictable," I wouldn't pick the Altitude 30 for a part-time bike park shredder. Its rear triangle will start to flex when you bash it into rough, high-speed berms and its shock can't handle continuous high-amplitude impacts. A true trail bike, the Rocky is happiest on fast-paced natural terrain and flow trails With its hard-pack Maxxis Aggressor rear tire, the tail end will drift predictably before the front tire breaks, which is a huge confidence builder at speed. Drifting and sliding, however, is not this bike's MO, it would rather carve the short line around corners. Pick your line and the Altitude will trace it. I found that its steering is a little faster and more responsive than I am comfortable with at top speed, but I never had any dramatic moments because of it.
The up-side of that is the Altitude can change direction at fast-paced trail speeds just by thinking about it, which makes charging down unfamiliar trails an enjoyable game. The front stays planted and rarely pushes when forced into a tight corner, but it is still light enough to snatch the front wheel off the ground for an unanticipated huck.The Ride 9 Option
Up to this point, all of the riding impressions were reported with the Ride 9 chip in the number five, neutral position, which begs the question: "How much would slacking out the geometry improve the Altitude's downhill performance?" The short answer is, "a little."
Ride 9 geometry in the #1 low and slack position.
On paper, the number one position only reduces the head tube angle from 65.5 to 65 degrees, but an increase in the suspension's rising rate from 34.5 to 45.7 percent requires more sag which drops the head tube angle at ride height closer to 64.5 degrees. Positive effects are slight, but noticeable improvements in the bike's straight-line stability, less fork dive while braking and bashing down steep chutes, and a better feel when cornering at top speed.
Negatives are less available rear suspension travel because the pronounced end-stroke ramp-up requires more sag on one end and larger hits to achieve full travel on the other. The steering feels lazy at trail speeds, especially while climbing. Pedaling firmness is compromised and the bottom bracket becomes so low that I began to pick climbing trails specifically to avoid rock and root strikes.
To take full advantage of the Altitude in its low and slack mode, you'd probably need to upgrade to a coil shock. A linear spring would allow you to set the sag at 25 percent to adjust the ride height. It would reactivate the small-bump sensitivity, moderate the end-stroke ramp up to a useful value - and add another $800 to the bike's MSRP.