Carbon and Aluminum Options
The 2018 Altitude is completely new from its head tube to the rear axle, and Rocky Mountain says that the 150mm-travel bike—with a 160mm fork—is designed for "aggressive trail" riding, a catch-all phrase that will mean different things to different people. It will be an overly capable trail bike for some riders, but we've also seen it under Rocky's own team racers at Enduro World Series events, all of which makes the fresh Altitude's intentions a bit ambiguous. Is it an enduro bike, a long-legged trail bike, or an all-mountain monster? Or maybe all of the above?
In order to clear things up, I got my dirty hands on an Altitude Carbon 70 (in the intimidatingly named 'Raining Blood' color option), the $5,299 USD model that sits one step below the Gucci-spec Carbon 90 that comes with, well, more carbon bits and bobs.
2018 Altitude Details• Intended use: trail / all-mountain / enduro
• Wheel size: 27.5''
• Rear wheel travel: 150mm
• Fork travel: 160mm
• All-new carbon or alloy frames
• Ride-9 suspension/geo adjustment
• Revised Smoothlink suspesion
• Clearance for wide 26+ tires
• 1X drivetrain only
• Weight: 27lbs 14oz (Carbon 70, size large)
• Frame weight: 2,730-grams (claimed, incl. axle, guide, protection)
• Availability: mid-May (select models)
• MSRP: $2,899 - $6,999 USD
Rocky is going to offer six complete Altitude builds, with the $6,999 USD Carbon 90 that has all the fancy things bolted to it (SRAM Eagle, high-end Fox suspension, etc...) sitting at the top of the food chain. At the other, more realistic end of the catalog sits the Alloy 30 for us plebs, a $2,899 USD bike with a RockShox Yari, a mixed SRAM NX/Race Face drivetrain and, notably, proper rubber in the form of Maxxis' DHF and DHR WT EXO tires. The frame ain't carbon, and it's obviously going to be heavier than the more expensive bikes, but the geometry is the same. All of the new Altitude models come with a 160mm-travel fork as well.
Those of you who want to build up your own custom Altitude can do so by picking up the Carbon frameset for $2,749 USD. That's not far off what you'd pay for a complete Altitude Alloy 30 bike... New Altitude vs Old Altitude
Rocky Mountain has been working their way through a re-design of their high-end models over the past few years, with the Maiden downhill bike being a new addition, and both the Slayer and the Element receiving a complete overhaul. We've already reviewed both the Maiden
and the Slayer
, and I'm in the middle of putting about six zillion miles on the fresh Element, but it's the older Altitude that I've always seen as most needing some attention.
I've always thought that the old Altitude (pictured above) was a bit ho-hum in how it rode; there wasn't much sense of personality, and it didn't really stand out to me in the way that made me excited, at least compared to the newer, fresher competition. The 2018 Altitude, however, seems to be an entirely different animal, even if its basic appearance is similar. Let's go over how the new and old bikes differ.Completely New Frame -
The original Altitude debuted in 2013, and it's seen some minor updates along the way—a stiffer link, pivot changes, and a longer travel fork—but it was time for Rocky to start from scratch. So that's what they did, and while the basic lines certainly look similar from twenty feet back, the 2018 Altitude frame is all-new.
The new frame is made using Rocky's Smoothwall construction that sees rigid molds employed, presumably made out of foam rather air-filled bladders, a technique that they say makes for a lighter, stronger finished product. Then again, I feel like everyone says that, don't they? Of course, but I will admit that the Altitude frame is nicely finished in every possible way. It also takes a lot of cues from its big bro, the Slayer.
The BC2 bushing pivots and grease ports of the old Altitude have been replaced with sealed bearings all around, including at the lower shock mount, and blind pivots at the rear axle both look sharp and help with heel clearance. Cable routing is also very Slayer-esque, with large ports just aft of the head tube and an even larger exit port beneath the bottom bracket, the same place that you'll find just two ISCG 05 chain guide tabs rather than three, and a pint-sized proprietary guide that's bolted to the top of the bike's chainstay (again, just as on the Slayer). And speaking of drivetrains, the frame can readily accept Di2 if you're looking for a heavier and more expensive drivetrain for your bike. You can even run Di2 and Fox's Live suspension all at the same time if you prefer batteries and microchips over steel cables and shift housing.
Rocky's new bikes are also all about maximizing tire clearance, and the Altitude is no different. There's room to run massive meat—my Altitude Carbon 70 comes stock with Maxxis DHR 2.4'' WT tire out back and there's loads of clearance at both the chain and seat stays—and you can even fit a 26+ tire if you're stilling hoarding a pile of old Nokian Gazzaloddis along with every newspaper from the last fifteen years and a dozen feral cats.
Other notable points include a low seat mast that plays nice with long-travel dropper posts, Boost axle spacing and a Metric shock, and my personal favorite: the ability to fit a gigantic water bottle inside the front triangle, even when running a piggyback-style shock.
Rocky also says that the new frame is a whopping 25-percent stiffer laterally, which is a lot of percents, compared to the old bike, although the 2018 frame weighs about 100-grams more if you go by the claimed numbers. I doubt most Altitude owners will care about that, however.
Longer, lower, and slacker is the recipe of choice these days, especially for bikes intended for some saucy terrain as the new Altitude is. Looking at the large-sized model of old Rally Edition Altitude (w/ a 160mm-travel fork) and the new Altitude (also w/ a 160mm-travel fork), you'll find that the reach has grown from 427 - 444mm to 452 - 464mm and is now paired with a short, 35mm long stem. If that approach sounds familiar, it's because it's the same one that Rocky has applied to the 165mm-travel Slayer.
The bike's adjustable head angle has also been drastically relaxed, going from 66.6 - 68.3 to 65 - 66.1 degrees. Yeah, you read that right, the new Altitude's steepest steering angle is nearly two full degrees slacker than its predecessor, and the slack mode is even slacker. It's also worth noting that the longer-travel and supposedly more capable Slayer is rocking a 64.75 - 65.85 degree head angle, which is just a smidge more relaxed than the fresh Altitude.
All of that adds up to a much longer wheelbase, of course, with the 2018 version sitting at 1,205mm, a 42mm increase compared to last year's model. More length, more slack, more lower... more better? Suspension -
Both the new and old Altitude sport 150mm of rear wheel travel, but Rocky Mountain says that the new bike features increased anti-squat to improve pedaling performance. Basically, that means that load on the chain firms the suspension up slightly so the bike is more efficient. This was used to great effect of the Slayer, which is the best pedaling 165mm-travel bike that I've ever ridden, almost to a fault as it's not as forgiving as I expected.
Unlike the new Slayer, however, the Altitude's axle pivot is very close to being in-line with the bike's axle; the Slayer, on the other hand, sees the pivot sit well below the bike's axle. The Smoothlink name remains, though.
3 Altitude Questions With Rocky's Brian ParkMike Levy - The new Altitude's geo and travel certainly make it look like it's more than just an "aggressive trail" rig, don't you think? What would you say to a guy who thinks this new bike is a mini-Slayer?Brian Park - The reality of what’s possible with an aggressive trail bike has evolved over the years. It rides as much like a mini-Slayer as it does like a maxi-Thunderbolt. It’s super capable, but it’s still a 150mm, 5.45lb frame that pedals super well, so we feel that aggressive trail is a good way to describe what it does.Levy - Why were you able to come out of the gate with an alloy Altitude but not an alloy Slayer?Park - The new Altitude being an evolutionary project with an existing alloy model to iterate from made it possible to develop the alloy version at the same time as the carbon version, while the Slayer was a standalone, ground-up design. We’d have loved to come to market with an alloy Slayer at the same time, but we always need to prioritize our projects based on the market.Levy - Will there be an over-forked Rally Edition w/ a 170mm fork?Park - We did away with the Rally Edition this year, because a) all of the Altitude models use 160mm forks already, and b) the Slayer pedals so damn well. Anyone needing more than an Altitude is well served with the Slayer, even as an efficient EWS race bike. While it’s too early for us to speculate about future models, we are always working on new things.Altitude vs Slayer on the Trail
The other big change is the relocation of the Ride-9 adjustment system from the forward shock mount to the rocker link. Rocky Mountain says that this allows for "lighter, narrower packaging,'' and I'd have to say that it looks much cleaner as well, with the interlocking chips now nestled nearly invisibly into the link.
As you probably guessed, the system allows for nine different settings and the ability to largely tune the bike's geometry and suspension action separately. It's a neat design that packs a lot of range into a tidy package but, at least from what I've seen, a lot of riders tend to either leave it alone or set-and-forget.
In a perfect world, I'd have been on the new Altitude for the last month or two, but the world isn't perfect and I haven't been riding it for anywhere near that amount of time... yet. Instead, I picked up the new bike only last week, meaning that I've squeezed in just a handful of laps on Rocky's new mid-travel machine. That's not enough time for me to review it, but it's certainly enough for some early impressions and to compare it to a rig that I did spend months and months aboard: the longer-travel, more relaxed handling Slayer.
The Slayer and Altitude may ''only'' differ by 15mm of rear suspension travel and by a bit in the geometry department, but the two bikes are drastically unalike on the trail. First, it feels as if the Altitude doesn't quite have the insanely impressive efficiency under power that the Slayer can brag about, an odd thing to say given that the Altitude is supposedly more trail-oriented. The Altitude doesn't pedal poorly, mind you, it's just that it moves forward a lot like you'd expect a 150mm-travel bike to do when the pedal-assist isn't used, which is just fine, and I'd happily earn my turns and spend five or six hours on it.
The Altitude is also more willing to please when you're not throwing yourself into a do-or-die situation; it's happy to tootle along and do as you ask of it. Those with courage not on an EWS level will probably enjoy life more on the Altitude than the Slayer, so be honest with yourself and choose with your brain rather than your heart. The Altitude isn't a small bike, however, but it still can dip and dive through corners easily compared to the Slayer, and this is highlighted more and more as the ground levels out from rubbing your ass on the rear tire to having to consciously think about carrying momentum.
That's all fine and dandy, but what happens when your ride does go from fun to fear? Those of us who don't possess EWS levels of courage still want to be on a bike that's more capable than we require, and I'd wager that while the new Altitude isn't a Slayer when shit gets real—although its rear suspension does feel more forgiving on small chatter—it's still going to be like rolling courage to nearly every rider out there.
That begs the question: would I buy a Slayer or an Altitude? Strangely, the Slayer seems to perform better under power, a trait that's usually high on my list of needs and wants, but I'd still choose the Altitude simply because it's easier to live with the majority of the time. The handling is slightly quicker, which equals more fun to me, but it isn't ever going to hold me back on any descent.
The two component standouts have to be the Maxxis WT rubber and the new Fox suspension. I've been using big rubber on wide rims for years now, but the DHF and DHR WT continue to blow my mind and, to be honest, I'm not even that much of a fan of these same tires in more conservative widths. But add some volume, subtract some air pressure, do it all on a wide-ish rim, and you'll be impressed by how forgiving these tires are in every possible way. They feel like they add suspension (they do, in a way), and while they roll about as quick as molasses flowing uphill, they're ideal for a bike like the new Altitude.
The new Fox 36 Float EVOL FIT4 Performance Elite fork (and breath), with its three-position compression damper, makes a lot of sense for a bike that's meant to cover some ground but also leave the ground for long periods of time. The same goes for the Fox Float DPS EVOL Performance Elite shock that feels like a Float X2 to me, with its tune that seems to be spot-on for the bike—it doesn't gobble its stroke too quickly, and the three-position compression lever makes it easy to understand. I did notice an odd clunk from the shock when it was locked out during gravel road climbs, but everything seemed normal when it was in the other two compression settings.
So, what the hell is the Altitude for? A lot of stuff, I'd have to say, depending on what you're looking for in a bike. I had more fun on it than I did on the Slayer, simply because its handling better suits anyone who isn't a pro-level descender, but it pedals acceptably well rather than exceptionally well like the Slayer, which is odd. It's also more forgiving than the Slayer in the early stages of its travel because it has less anti-squat, and all of the above makes for a somewhat surprising combo of traits. One thing's for sure: the new Altitude has some personality to it. I'm also sure that the Altitude would make an ideal enduro race bike for a lot of people, more so than the Slayer, while also doing double-duty as a long-legged trail bike. Sorry, ''aggressive trail'' bike.