Love the Numbers. Or choosing a bike for a changing world.- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    Love the Numbers. Or choosing a bike for a changing world.

    I just went through the painful process of replacing my once-loved Element 30.

    The shopping process got me thinking about how people choose their bikes. It seems that many people choose a bike by numbers. People write about specs, ask about specs, and associate all the riding characteristics of a bike to a single number, like chainstay length, wheel size, or head tube angle. Other people seem to obsess over the parts list.

    Reading my way through the internet, it seems like we as a group have an obsession with numbers. Many mtbr members can even be made angry by the use of numbers: 2x vs 1x, 29 vs 27.5, the list seems endless. Which begs the question: do we actually love numbers or do we just hate talking about vague things like feelings and impressions?

    How did you choose your current bike? Numbers, specs, and reviews? Or did you buy into RMB's marketing of 'love the ride'?

    I will share my (admittedly eccentric) decision process to start the discussion/argument/flame war.

    I went to a Rocky demo day last May and discovered that bike designs had moved on without me. After a brief four month period of denial, I started dropping by bike stores, asking for suggestions. With a bit of googling, I was able add to a long list of potential bikes.

    I then tried to apply the one number that matters most to create a short list. It turns out that no two companies measure standover height the same way, so I went with plan B. Every time I was near a bike shop with time to spare, I test rode bikes. Despite the limits of testing in (mostly) paved parking lots, I was able to get from 25 bikes to 6 using two minute test rides. In order of popularity, there was standover height (I have short legs and a desire to keep my current sexual orientation), steering behaviour (like driving the Queen Mary or too twitchy to ride no hands on pavement), and pedalling behaviour.

    I then rode the six finalists (and two new bikes) in a 24 hour period, still mostly in parking lots, but as close to back to back as possible. One bike was clearly the leader, as it was actually fun to ride in the very limited test 'terrain'.

    I finally rented the top candidate for a day and did a real ride on trails I know well and more advanced trails that I hope to ride well before the summer ends.

    I ended up with a bike that I love. I also ended up with a bike that has good and bad reviews, a bike that excites love, hate, and contempt on the internet, a bike that suits me. And if I cruelly rejected some of your favourite bikes to get there, I hope you won't take it personally.

  2. #2
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    So what did you end up with?

    I've found that Rocky's geometry choices mostly seem to work for me. So I have progressed my riding skills and confidence in tandem with progression through the last 5 years of Rocky FS bike designs I have owned. The Thunderbolt is hitting all the sweet spots for me in weight, wheel size, handling, pedaling, lack of chain growth and ride quality. I've owned other FS bikes in the past 15 years, including Kona and Santa Cruz, but the Rocky FS bikes seem well suited to me and my riding style/ability.
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  3. #3
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    Holy cliffhanger, Batman


    BenTYYC
    2015 RMB Thunderbolt 790 MSL BC Edition
    2017 RMB Blizzard -50
    2017 Cervelo C3


    "Love the ride"

  4. #4
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    Well the numbers can help explain/quantify those qualitative feelings. For example, "driving like Queen Mary vs twitchy" can mostly come from handlebar length. So xxx mm vs yyy mm.

    For me though 90% of the decision is b/ I wanted to support a company born and raised in my home town. The other 10% is a yes or no to: does it work for my local trails.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    So what did you end up with?

    I've found that Rocky's geometry choices mostly seem to work for me. So I have progressed my riding skills and confidence in tandem with progression through the last 5 years of Rocky FS bike designs I have owned.
    +1. I'd be partial to a Yeti or Santa Cruz as their slightly longer reach numbers suit my monkey arms quite well, but it probably just wouldn't feel right ;-)

    I think test riding a bike is really the only way to truly judge. The numbers are a good guideline when buying blind (bought my first Element that way in 2001) but in the end the ride of two bikes with very similar geo may still be very different. Suspension design, shock tune, weigh distribution, component selection all play a role. Small changes can make a big difference in feel. That said: I think if you know what more-or-less works for you you can buy a bike blind, as you'll almost always end up making small adjustments in setup anyway.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by eric View Post
    +1. I'd be partial to a Yeti or Santa Cruz as their slightly longer reach numbers suit my monkey arms quite well, but it probably just wouldn't feel right ;-)
    I too have orangutan arms and I seem to like a stem about 20mm longer than other people of my height.

    There's been a big change in my riding skills and interests over the past 16 years. An even bigger change in bar width from 550mm wide to 740mm wide. 2000 stem length 120mm, current stem length 90mm.

    First Rocky FS bike, an Instinct from 2000

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    The current Thunderbolt

    Love the Numbers. Or choosing a bike for a changing world.-dscf7827-001.jpg
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  7. #7
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    After a while you get to correlate what numbers align with what feel for you. We'll I do anyway. A test ride is still paramount though.

  8. #8
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    I feel like a lot of the numbers correlate at least okay with a certain package. For example, 140 mm bikes mostly also have somewhat slack geometry, and a fairly AM parts list.

    I have a 100 mm 29er with the medium-steep head angle, slightly longer chainstays and lightish, pedaly suspension that one would expect for that. It climbs really well and it's been a great racing bike for me.

    My wife and I just added a baby to our family, and I'm not expecting to compete seriously this season. If I'm not worried about climbing fast, I think 140ish bikes are really fun on my trails. So I demoed "my" brand's competitors in that segment and bought the one I thought was most fun.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    I too have orangutan arms and I seem to like a stem about 20mm longer than other people of my height.

    There's been a big change in my riding skills and interests over the past 16 years. An even bigger change in bar width from 550mm wide to 740mm wide. 2000 stem length 120mm, current stem length 90mm.

    First Rocky FS bike, an Instinct from 2000
    Cool! My first 'Element' was a 2001 Instinct with the inverted color scheme compared to yours. I'm down to 70x750 mm on my Thunderbolt and 65x770 on the Altitude now. Funny thing: I think up to about 2007 RM still put a sticker of the welder on each frame. My 2007 Element Tribal had the same name on there as my 2001 Instinct.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    So what did you end up with?
    Well, as you probably guessed from the forum choice, I have another Rocky.

    The Thunderbolt, which was the bike I demo'd to start this whole process, was the winner. Second was the Altitude, which didn't have the same fun factor, even though it probably would have the clearance to let me ride over my personal nemesis: a large root at the end of an easy rock garden.

    The surprise third place was a Trek Remedy 27.5, despite having very different numbers and seeming to have a different target audience. The Trek Fuel EX, with ideal numbers, didn't like me at all.

    Every Rocky I tested had good steering behaviour, which I guess just means their designers and I share a bias.

  11. #11
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    What year was your Element 30?
    I'm a member of NSMBA and IMBA Canada

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    What year was your Element 30?
    2012, so practically brand new still.

  13. #13
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    I found the new Thunderbolt was quite a natural progression from the 2011 Element 70 MSL that I had, thankfully with much more BB height and no pedal strikes on all the roots.
    I'm a member of NSMBA and IMBA Canada

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gski View Post
    I ended up with a bike that I love. I also ended up with a bike that has good and bad reviews, a bike that excites love, hate, and contempt on the internet, a bike that suits me. And if I cruelly rejected some of your favourite bikes to get there, I hope you won't take it personally.
    So what are the bad reviews on the TB? The bad things I've heard relate to the bushings and their difficult maintenance, stiction, etc. And that some feel the suspension is too progressive and difficult to get full travel. It seems that the new 2016 DPS shock helps in making it more tunable.

    I so wish I could test one, but there isn't a Rocky dealer nearby. As soon as I see a small 2016 used, I think I'm going to take the leap of faith.

  15. #15
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    PinkBike was the only major publisher to slag the bike. They found the BC edition needed to be more specialized. Enduro-mtb.com loved the bike in general, but complained that the rubber plugs won't stay in place and the BC2 grease ports get a film of rust.

    Lots of people hate the abc and bc2 pivots, and come with a long list of (mostly imagined) issues like stiction. Blister gear's reviewer at least acknowledges the problem might be in his head. The o rings don't stay in place, but the engineer in me wonders why they are there now that the pivots are greased.

    Even more people need to bottom the suspension, presumably to get full value from the 120mm.

    The final issue is that some of the numbers just aren't big enough. Bigger is better, so if you are going to spend the big bucks, you should get at least 160mm of travel.

    I would read this review, as the tester knew what he didn't like and why: ENDURO Long-Term Test 2015 | Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC | ENDURO Mountainbike Magazine

    @rockyuphill has used both the ctd (2015) and omf (2016) factory shocks; he is the person to explain the differences there.

  16. #16
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    The new 2016 DPS shock is just better behaved right out of the box (as long as you do the pressure setup as per the instructions on the Fox website, otherwise it may confound people). It has better small bump compliance and at the same time better support for the bike so it feels more lively. So it is more immune to compression from the rider moving around on the bike. What I wanted was a shock that could have a good all around tune in the Trail mode so I didn't need to be fiddling with opening up and locking out the shock, and the DPS shock seems to have that nailed.

    I'm puzzled by the urge to use up all the suspension travel all the time. If that happened with a car or a motorcycle, people would complain that the suspension is under designed. The progressive suspension design is what makes it feel bottomless, you would have to do something fairly crazy to use it all up (and hitting the bottom out bumper in the shock would not likely be a good experience, as that's when you collapse wheels and other rigid pieces of the bike). If the suspension absorbs all the terrain you ride on a day to day basis and never hits bottom, that would actually be a good thing. If you need 120mm of travel on a regular basis for the terrain you ride, then you might actually need an Altitude so you have 30mm in the bag for those unexpected bigger hits.
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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by rockyuphill View Post
    I'm puzzled by the urge to use up all the suspension travel all the time. If that happened with a car or a motorcycle, people would complain that the suspension is under designed. The progressive suspension design is what makes it feel bottomless, you would have to do something fairly crazy to use it all up (and hitting the bottom out bumper in the shock would not likely be a good experience, as that's when you collapse wheels and other rigid pieces of the bike). If the suspension absorbs all the terrain you ride on a day to day basis and never hits bottom, that would actually be a good thing. If you need 120mm of travel on a regular basis for the terrain you ride, then you might actually need an Altitude so you have 30mm in the bag for those unexpected bigger hits.
    This is one reason I ended up buying a Thunderbolt this year. I dislike blowing through suspension, and tend to prefer something a little firmer at the end of travel - feels more supportive and agile to me, while absorbing more hits than a firm XC bike. Basically a nice compromise for long rides in almost all terrain.

    Of course, my main ride for the last 4 years was a steel hardtail, which might skew my perspective...

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikingnerd View Post
    This is one reason I ended up buying a Thunderbolt this year. I dislike blowing through suspension, and tend to prefer something a little firmer at the end of travel - feels more supportive and agile to me, while absorbing more hits than a firm XC bike. Basically a nice compromise for long rides in almost all terrain.

    Of course, my main ride for the last 4 years was a steel hardtail, which might skew my perspective...
    I am of exactly the same mindset. I want progressive feeling and want supportive suspension so that my pedaling forces feel like they move me forward rather than wallowing. So any of the negative discussion around not using full travel was not an issue for me.

    I too am currently on a hardtail with short chainstay. It is very playful and fun, however my current terrain has a lot of roots to pedal through and made a wrong decisions to go hardtail.

  19. #19
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    I don't mind having a little bit of suspension as backup, but if I had 30 mm extra, I'd wonder if I was on the wrong bike.

    I find with air suspension, it's not too hard for me to arrive at a setup that has me using most of the travel most of the time, running the little o ring all the way up, and never feeling my bottom out bumper. Volume spacers can help with this.

    Another way to look at it, and something I'm thinking about a bit more with my 140 mm bike, is to get the initial travel right and then use volume spacers to adjust what happens toward the end of the stroke.
    "Don't buy upgrades; ride up grades." -Eddy Merckx

  20. #20
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    How did you choose your current bike? Numbers, specs, and reviews? Or did you buy into RMB's marketing of 'love the ride'?
    I rode Rocky's back in the 90's. My LBS dropped them and I spent some years on other bikes. I was riding hardtails when my LBS started selling them again so I bought a Vertex. Then last year a Element and another Element this year. With XC bikes I think it is pretty much impossible to screw them up so I don't look too much at numbers except for sizing. I will continue with Rocky because I like the way they ride.
    I wanted a Enduro bike this year and ended up buying a Altitude. My LBS sells 5 different brands. 3 of them have e-bikes in their line-up, an easy way to cancel them out. Then I was concerned with head angle, weight and pedalling efficiency. I was coming off of an older Uzzi so I wanted an improvement.

  21. #21
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    I like to do big drops on my Altitude and jumps but not every ride. I find on a normal ride I can use 90% of my rear travel or more and when I hit the big stuff I can use pretty much all of it without bottoming. That's the benefit of the progressive nature, otherwise I'd be fiddling with shock pressure every other ride or have to put up with only having 60% of my travel available for an average ride.
    Last edited by GRPABT1; 04-25-2016 at 05:02 AM.

  22. #22
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    The Thunderbolt has a few quirks but I wouldn't call them negative reviews just pointing out a few issues as most frames have. As far as Pink Bikes take I didn't take it as a negative review at all just stating what they felt what riding style the bike fit and I somewhat agree.

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by bdundee View Post
    The Thunderbolt has a few quirks but I wouldn't call them negative reviews just pointing out a few issues as most frames have. As far as Pink Bikes take I didn't take it as a negative review at all just stating what they felt what riding style the bike fit and I somewhat agree.
    I didn't mean that a negative review is a bad review, just that learning what others dislike about a bike is useful information. Your quirk may be my must-have feature. The Pinkbike review was one of the two most useful (to me), although I interpreted the overall tone of the review differently.

    There are no perfect bikes and no good bikes that are good for everyone. My hope is that, in a year, my biggest complaint about my new bike is the Hansel and Gretel experience of leaving a trail of o rings so I can find my way back home. And that hope brings us back to the original post, how do you choose the right bike for you.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gski View Post
    And that hope brings us back to the original post, how do you choose the right bike for you.
    Here are my current check boxes
    -100 to 120mm in the rear
    -120mm-130mm in front
    -Head Angle 68.5-69.5
    -short chainstay
    -maintainable rear suspension (meaning that with basic tools I can take most of it apart and clean it)
    -ability to tune the suspension for someone 135lbs (Ride 9 combined with newer DPS shock meets this I hope)
    -torn between carbon or alloy still
    -Target reach of 383 and stack of 592 -Thunderbolt is longer in reach but not as tall this is compared to my hardtail
    -water bottle on the down tube
    -small bump compliance
    -can pedal through roots
    Last edited by ashwinearl; 04-25-2016 at 05:00 AM.

  25. #25
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    I love my thunderbolt. I think it's easy to get caught up in the numbers and marketing these days. I drove to my lbs fully convinced that I was buying a Pivot Mach 6 or a Mojo HD3. After riding a decked out $10k Mach 6 and the HD3 I was bummed. Neither excited me as far as feel and fit. The owner then handed me his personal thunderbolt bc edition and I was flat blown away. I went home to research and just couldn't wrap my brain around the lesser travel numbers. I played mental war games for a week thinking I had to have 150-160mm travel or I'd be wasting my time and money. Finally I went back rode them again and knew the thunderbolt was the right one. Congrats on your purchase!

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