by Jaclyn Delacroix
First Impression & Specs
After riding a Rocky Mountain Element MSL for nearly two seasons I had the opportunity in September 2012 to convert to the new 29er variation of the Element.
I transferred across all of my components (sans wheels and fork) from my 26” Element. The first thing I noticed once the new Element was built up was how slick it looked with all the internal cable routing. One point of complaint I had regarding the MSL was the dropper post cable, no matter how I routed it, always seemed to be getting in the way either if the rear wheel or the linkage. On my RSL there is now internal cable routing for the dropper post and this solved that problem nicely.
After a quick parking lot pedal (where everything felt pretty good) I promptly packed the bike onto my truck to take it to Whistler for it’s inaugural ride.
Ride One: Hey Bud
Pedaling up to the Hey Bud trail head gave me an opportunity to fiddle with my cockpit and generally get a feel for the bike, first thing I noticed was I felt like I was sitting so much higher. Now I am not a particularly tall persona, I come in at 5’4” on a good day, so the additional “height” I was feeling on the bike 2 was concerning for me. (for the record the BB height on the 26 and the 29 is the same so the issue was not the bigger wheels)
Downhill, The bike originally had a Fox 34 Talas on the front with 140mm – 110mm travel, I played with it a few times on the descent, The geometry felt overall better in the lower position (but for anyone who has ever run a talas in the lower position knows) the fork itself felt a lot better in it’s extended position.
Overall the bike felt good and responsive, however I was finding when I came to the steep sections of the descent I found my body position to far back on the bike. As for the wheels, this was going to take a little getting used to!
Frame: Element 999 RSL
Fork: Fox 34 float 110mm
Shock: Fox Float CTD
Wheelset: Chris King rear & Stans front hubs laced to Stans ZTR Arch rims
Tyres: Schwalbe Nobby Nic (front) Maxxis Icon (rear)
Drive train: XTR Cranks, pedals, chain cassette with XT derailer
Brakes: XT M785 with Magura rotors
After my initial couple of rides and consultation with a knowledgeable friend I made a few adjustments to the bike. I swapped out the riser bar and Thompson stem for a road bike stem in a dropped position and a flat bar. I also had the Talas converted to a Float and had it dropped to 110mm.
The drop over the front end gave me the control I was missing on my initial ride and turned the bike from being alright (but almost wish I’d kept my MSL) to down right sweet. To test my new found confidence I took the bike on a Pemberton epic which involved climbing Happy Nimby middle Earth and the Owl connector so I could then head down Jack the Ripper and Cream Puff. Having done the same climb the previous year on my Element, this is where the 29er shines, or at least feels a little bit like cheating. For each pedal stroke you put in you go just that little bit further and on a long climb like i was putting it through it makes all the difference in how you feel at the top.
Come descending It is not as Nimble as it’s 26” counterpart, but that shouldn’t take away from it’s being a very capable downhill bike, the larger wheels and setup of the bike mean it feels a little more like you are positioned between the wheels (well maybe only if you are short) rather than above them, and I found it rolled effortlessly over the aggressive terrain on the JTR and Cream Puff descents.
I have had a solid 30+ rides on this bike now, and so far find that it is a very capable “Do Most Things” (aka All Mountain) bike, light enough to race in Marathon XC but it also capable and fun to ride on Shore and Whistler Style XC/AM loops.
Big wheels are not for everyone and definitely not for every style of riding. But for climbing it wins hands down for me every time, for some of the more twisting and technical descents I think I still prefer the nimbleness of the 26” wheel but at the same time, it’s not like I find the 29” wheel to be a huge disadvantage.
The Muddbunnies encourage and welcome female riders of all experience and skill levels to join them in getting down and dirty. Come on, ride like a girl!