2012 Element 950 First Ride Report & Comparo
This past weekend I took the brand new Element out for the maiden ride at Shabomeka Lake Trails. The trails, or "paths" as the builder prefers to call them, are not groomed and very rugged, really what a trail ought to be. The terrain is forest, bog, marsh between inland lakes and being fall littered with leaves. Make that wet leaves with rain from the past few days. Probably due to the combination of the highlands and glacial till there are rocks throughout the area from stone cliff faces to car size to mine size sticking out of the soil.
The element is mostly stock, except for a saddle swap from the Fizik to a WTB Silverado. I ride with Time pedals and the shop happened to have match Absalon white pedals on the shelf. Nice.
Ok so enough of the background noise. The Element....took some getting used to. The first thing I noticed was that I didn't feel stretched out, in fact I thought perhaps the reach could've been longer with the minor sweep back of the EA 70 flat bars. But it worked out well and now I would rather have the sweep back than not.
The biggest factor I noticed thoug was how snappy the whole bike felt. Pedalling efficiency was unprecedented as every crank rotation was moving the bike smartly. I did find I could feel the root chatter a lot more than I thought, even with the Monarch set on zero platform or whatever they call it (I think the shock labels it as "gate"). This may have been due to difficult shock setup. I pumped in the suggested body weight plus 10% and sag was 50%. Increasing the pressure to 250 psi still had a 50% sag. Only at 270-275 psi did I get close to the 25% sag. But maybe that was not ideal, especially for this terrain.
Speaking of the shock, I'm not sure how to cycle between the positive and negative chambers that historeeteacher reported in another thread. Does flipping the through the gate settings (gold knob) do this? There is no other knob other than rebound on the shock?
The oem aspen on the rear and ikon on the front didn't feel too bad except in the trickier situations such as wet leaves and roots. I had them at 35 psi, and maybe could've got away with less, but those dam rocks get me paranoid.
The fork felt good and only one complaint: I would rather have had a two-step than a u-turn. Generally I cranked it down to 90mm for the log roads, but in this area log roads can be rutted and littered with embed rocks on a steep down hill section, followed by a smooth sustained climb, some flat then another brief hairy downhill. Going back and forth between 90-120mm is impossible in this situation and I eventually just left it in 120mm. To its credit, I found the u-turn knob easy to turn even reaching from the saddle. Same with the platform or what RS calls motion control.
The formula brakes performed well although I thought on one downhill section I was running out of stopping power.
The derailleurs also performed well with crisp shifts even under heavy load/torque from on the fly shifts from slow uphill sections.
So why does it take getting used to? Here's the cat out of the bag: I've been riding a slayer sxc for the past 4 years and these two bikes couldn't feel any more different. I found that I sit into the slayer and have a lower centre of gravity, which is much more confidence inspiring on the more technical trails. Not that I feel really high with the element just relative to the slayer. For the first time I realized what the over-used "plush" reference in reviews felt like relatively speaking: I didn't feel sections of root chatter on the slayer where they were definately noticeable on the element.
But the slayer is definately less pedal efficient. I watched my buddy on his SuperFly 100 pull away when I was on the slayer on day two and I couldn't do anything about it. The big meaty Conti MK 2.4 up front and TK 2.2 out back faired a lot better for traction.
My body also found a big difference in geometry. After 4 hours my neck was getting sore on the element from the more stretched out position. And that Silverado saddle perhaps wasn't built for all-day rides in mind.
So this just means that the two bikes have different missions and better optimal terrain, which we all knew right? This first ride just highlights it for me which is great because I got the element for specific trails and riding in mind. I had just hoped that with all the hype and the 120mm fork the element would be the goto bike on unknown trails in rough country. As it stands the slayer still gets the nod for those types of rides, which I'm glad because I really love that bike!
Still, looking forward to riding the element on different trails and firing up a longer-term impression.
I have experienced the same issue with the shock...approx 50% SAG regardless of PSI. I cannot figure out why...
I haven't ridden a Slayer, but I did spend many years on a Santa Cruz Bullit and Heckler. Yes, those bikes handle the rough stuff better than the 950...but that's an apples and oranges comparison (like you said).
I have been to the other extreme...a 29er carbon hardtail. I can say that the 950 is the perfect balance between the bigger trail bikes and the HT. It's a little chuncky for mellow trails, but doesn't suffer too much (27-28 pounds depending on wheels and tires). On the flip side, it's tough enough to survive the toughest 100 miler in the Sierras. I call the 950 a "tweener"...it fits perfectly "between" my mostly mellow terrain and the once-in-while old school point to point XC race like the Tahoe-Sierra 100 or Downieville XC.
After a few more rides I can report that the Element is very snappy and accelerates extremely well, especially going uphill. Coming from the SXC I am continually amazed at how well and efficient it pedals uphill; its like no energy is lost in the transfer from the cranks and the acceleration happens immediately rather than having to chug a bit on the SXC. I don't have to work nearly as hard pedaling to get to speed. I've noticed that the harder you ride it the more rewarding it is. Its kinda hard to explain but its an easy bike to ride near the extremes.
Laying off the high pressure in the shock even to achieve near 25% sag is key IMO. I experimented with 210 psi and 230 psi and didn't bother measuring sag % and both felt A LOT better than the 270 psi I was initially running. The 225 psi for 200 lbs rider ratio is my preference so far.
The ability to crank the fork from 90mm to 120mm of travel for the downs is nice and a very noticeable difference on the downs. 120mm is so much more confidence inspiring that you lay off the brakes more and are thus faster. Why the travel adjust isn't standard spec across the Element line is beyond me. I guess the weight is one reason but I reckon you gain more speed by laying off the brakes on the downs than the weight penalty would give for every other situation.
My two cons so far: the Revelation is custom for Rocky but why they spec'd the u-turn instead of a 2-step for the travel adjust is beyond me. Having just rode undulating terrain that transitions from down to up to down to up, a 2-step would've given me instant access to the confidence of 120mm for the downs and the efficiency of 90mm for the ups. Because Rocky designed it for 90mm I leave it at that setting but lose out on 120mm when I need it unless I have a quick break to make the 14 turns to move the travel up.
Second con are the IKON/Aspen spec tires. They are light and hook-up very well on hardpack but get out of their league in other terrain and can hold back the capability of the bike. I can see this combo making sense on other Element models but something more all-round might've made more sense for the 950. It's an easy swap though and I at least get some experience with a set of tires I never would've bought myself.
Hopefully I can squeeze a few more rides yet and will post up if there is any update worthy of sharing.
Loving the (950) ride!
I have been loving mine. Still trying to sort out the pressure in the rear shock. 225 lbs running about 275 . . . At a good sag level but don't seem to be getting full travel. Really feels a lot like my old tallboy carbon. Feels just as light but the thru axle front and rear are marvelous. Did switch out the cockpit for shorter stem, longer bars, and thicker grips- much, much better. The one thing I worry about is that rear hub . . . I burned through 3 Hope Pro hubs before switching to King. Wheeltech? Never heard of it but two weeks in and no problems.
I switched to fatter grips too and find its much better. Handlebar width is fine for me and for the first time I don't find Rocky's oem stem too long.
Originally Posted by Phatass
I believe "WheelTech" is Rocky's in-house hub name.
I am a 950 owner and it seems as if the "correct shock PSI" is the main hassle with this bike. I thought the SAG-o-meter on link was great until I realized changing pressure did not really change the reading it was giving me. I do believe the best way is to experiment and I have gotten it pretty close. I have to run a little less PSI to get the feel I want and make sure that the bike is using full travel on my rides...these two considerations are key.
I bet RM will address this in future models (just like the dimples they put in the seatstays for rear tire clearance on their 2013 models).
Yes, a 2 step travel adjust fork would be the way to go. It may be best for you to set it somewhere in the middle and leave it there. I do believe RM's recommendation to run it at 90 most of the time, so the 120 feature is pretty much useless unless you get to the top of a really long downhill and have time to dial it out.
The 950 is still the perfect bike for me and the best bike I have owned to date. The people at RM are also great...maybe you should call them for some pointers on your issues...
Ok, I don't want to say I told you so, but . . .I told you so. The rear hub exploded (internally) on me today. After having the bike for two weeks! Yikes. And I am in Sedona, which made it even more inconvenient. Had a nice two hour walk back to my car. Luckily Bike n Bean happened to have one wheel with a dt 350 hub that fit. Would contact RM, but don't really want to rebuild or replace a crappy hub. Hey RM, maybe up the price a couple hundred, keep the factory front hub, and put something more reliable in the rear.
Anywho, if anyone has any brilliant suggestions in terms of what I should do with the old wheel, please let me know.