I tested the 2015 Element 970 RSL. The 970RSL is second from the top in the Element range and features a full carbon frame and rear triangle using Rocky Mountain’s Smoothwall carbon technology and Smoothlink suspension design.
The Element features 100mm of travel up front and 95mm on the rear. This is supplied by a Fox 32 Float fork and a Fox Float Remote CTD shock. The wheelset features Stans ZTR Crest rims, laced to Shimano XT hubs, and grip is supplied by 2.2” Maxxi’s Ikon tyres front and back. Brakes and groupset are the ever-reliable Shimano XT, while crank, bars, seatpost and stem are all Race Face Turbine parts.
In most respects this is a traditional XC bike- the head angle is an aggressive 70.6 degrees. However, the stem on my small test frame was a nice and short 70mm, and paired with 740mm bars, this gives the bike a slightly more modern look and feel. It seems, however, that the bar width is consistent across the size range, so taller riders might find the bars a little narrow for their taste.
Before I go on, I should note that the Element has had some exciting updates to the 2017 design- including a longer travel fork, lengthened reach, shortened chainstays, and a slacker head angle which you can read more about here. These should make the Element a more than competent trail-slayer, while hopefully maintaining pedalling efficiency and race pedigree, so it will be exciting to see how this turns out.
I got to know the Element by jumping in at the deep end racing the inaugural Varsity MTB Challenge. Luckily, the Element is easy to get along with, and I had a great weekend of racing.
My first impression of the Element was that it is a fun bike. When fully opened the suspension is plush, and eats up rocks and roots in the trail. When pointed downhill it feels like a bike with a lot more than 95mm travel. The wide bars and short stem mean that the steering is very direct, and gives the bike a secure, planted feel while cornering, which I found confidence inspiring. The bike also feels very nimble- certainly not the boat-like turning sensation of some 29ers. When locked out, the suspension is suitably stiff and pedals very efficiently. Using the lockout snaps the Element into race mode, and it shoots up hill like an arrow.
I found the gear range of the 2x10 drivetrain to be more than adequate for any gradient encountered, despite the fact that I have been spoiled with 2X11 on my own bike. The gears shifted reliably, during prolonged racing through alternately thick mud and very dry sand. The only thing I would have considered changing with the setup is perhaps putting a meatier tyre on the front, but that is just personal preference, and the Maxxi’s Ikon performed admirably, despite my reservations.
I found the remote lockout on the shock to be very handy. I prefer having remote lockout for the shock rather than the fork as it reduces potentially dangerous reaching and fiddling underneath the top tube, at the top of a trail, while the fork can be more easily adjusted on the go.
The only real issue I had with the bike was with water bottles. On my small test frame, it was only possible to fit a small bottle with a very specific shape into the bottle cage, due to the position of the rebound adjust knob on the shock. This meant that I had to take great care when removing and replacing the bottle, so as not to knock the rebound switch and change the settings. I found this a bit off-putting and ended up not drinking as often as I usually would, which is not an ideal scenario. This issue is only relevant to the small frame, as the medium frame and upward fit a bottle without interference.
In short, the Element is a more-than capable marathon bike, but one that will still allow you to have a party on the trails at the weekend. Looking at the 2017 range, this is likely to be even more the case. So if you want to have your cake, and eat it too, with a bike that allows you to complete gruelling all-day rides, and also properly rip it up on the trails, the Element is well worth investigating.