This review is tough to write as I don't know where to begin with the paradigm shift we are seeing with this bike. Five years ago the idea of riding a carbon fiber frame offroad seemed insane. Okay for road but not tough enough for the trail. Now that idea has been dumped on its head. For 2012, many companies are offering carbon fiber mountain bikes in hardtail and full suspension with both 26" and 29" wheels. The first of these new wonder bikes I've been able to test is the Rocky Mountain 29" Vertex 970 RSL. Full carbon 29"er with new geometry and sexy style.
The engineering that went into this frame is quite impressive. They combine a tapered steerer tube with a front 15 mm through axle to stiffen up the front end. The bottom bracket is a BB86 pressfit to improve power transfer at the crank and the rear end it tied together with a 142 mm rear hub with a 12 mm through axle. Set up the tires tubeless and the lack of quick releases won't be an issue as flats will be almost non-existent.
Aside from the technology in the frame, the other big story is the new 29"er geometry Rocky Mountain has come out with. The complaint about 29"ers is that they are slow steering in tight, twisty trails. With the changes done to the Vertex this is a thing of the past. To mimic the handling of a 26" wheel they raised the bottom bracket, shortened the chainstays and used a fork with more offset to get a balanced package that is quick on tight trails but still has the stability we come to expect from 29" wheels. I've been on 29"ers since 2001 and this is the best handling big wheel bike I've ridden.
The test track was at Albion Hills Conservation Area which is home to the 24 hour races here in Ontario. If you've ridden there you will be familiar with the rolling hills and twisting single track. The Vertex 970 was like a road bike on the double track. Drop the hammer and go. All that power goes to the rear wheel. Once you hit the single track it just dances. I've been on 29" wheels for so long that I don't notice the little extra body english needed to dice through the single track until it was gone. The first few corners I over steered but once I got used to the timing it felt like I was slicing and dicing through the woods. One of my first good bikes was a Rocky Mountain Blizzard 20 years ago. This reminds me of the feeling I had riding it. Definitely a step above the current lot of 29"er hard tails on the market. For 2012 Rocky has dropped the glove and come out to fight.
The 970 comes with SRAM X9 and Formula brakes. The drive train is a 2X10 system which you'll be seeing a lot more for 2012. Lighter weight, better shifting and a cleaner chain line are all benefits to this system. The drive train worked flawlessly but I'm not entirely sure how the well the front shifts as I did my whole ride in the big ring. As I ride a single speed a lot of the time when I ran out of gears on the back I just stood up rather than thinking to shift down.
As anyone who reads my reviews know I'm honest in my reviews and try to present the good with the bad so you get a true picture of a bike so you can make an informed decision when choosing your new ride. With the Vertex it's hard not to sound like a fan boy but trust me if it steered like a bus I would tell you that. My only complaints I had are the ones I have with almost every bike because nothing comes with my favorite saddle and grips out of the box. As far as handling, ride quality, weight and stiffness this is as close to magic as I've ever ridden. Light and stiff. Smooth and great handling. The only mark against it is the price but then there is no such thing as a free lunch.