By Shannon Mominee, photos by Justin Steiner and Adam Newman.
The Element debuted in 1996 as a 26” full suspension bike and continued as such until this year, when a 29” version was added to the Element family. There are three 29” models, each with the same hydroformed aluminum frame. The 950 is the middle bike in the Element 29er line and the one with the most interesting, and versatile, component package.
The Element 950 is designed to meet the needs of cross-country and endurance racers. It features a tapered head tube, oversized tubing, a Press-Fit BB-92 bottom bracket, 142mm rear spacing with a 12mm thru-axle, and internal routing for the front and rear derailleurs.
In 2011, Rocky Mountain replaced their long-running, linkage-driven, single-pivot suspension design with a 4-bar suspension linkage. The rear pivot is located in front and slightly above the rear axle to minimize pedal-induced feedback. The main pivot rotates on sealed cartridge bearings, while the remaining three pivots use Rocky Mountain’s ABC (Angular Bushing Concept). The ABC consists of two polymer bushings at each pivot that press in from both sides of the linkage. The bushings fit over a pair of tapered alloy cups, which the bushings rotate on. As the bolt is tightened, the cups meet and bottom out against each other, preventing overtightening. Rocky Mountain claims that this bushing system is much stiffer and 20g lighter than sealed bearings.
The Element 950 sports a custom RockShox Revelation RL 29 fork. It has a lockout and 90-120mm of on-the-fly adjustable suspension, which turned out to be pretty useful. The rear shock is RockShox’s Monarch RT. It has a short stroke with 95mm of travel, complementing the compact geometry and racy feel. Its rebound and floodgate adjustment knobs are easy to reach, making mid-ride tweaking a breeze. There’s no lockout on the Monarch RT. I thought this was strange at first, but after a few rides I realized the bike really doesn’t need it.
Using the carbon rocker link’s handy sag indicator and keeping an eye on the O-ring, I needed 255-260psi for proper sag and to keep from bottoming out the shock. Set as such, the O-ring teetered at the edge of the shaft, assuring me full travel was being used. Not a big deal, but heavier riders should definitely test-ride to ensure proper sag can be achieved without exceeding the shock’s max pressure. I’ve been pedal- ing the Element 950 since November and have ridden it through the damp Pennsylvania autumn, a sloppy winter, and the absolute dryness of the high Arizona desert.
On steep western rock formations, sandy terrain, and good old dirt, SRAM’s 2×10 drivetrain provided enough gear options for the ups and downs. Because oversized tubing was used to create a stiff bottom bracket area, the direct mount front derailleur had to be attached to the swingarm.
The Element 950’s 95mm of travel is on the short side these days, but I liked it. The Monarch’s short stroke has a rising suspension rate that rides high in the beginning of its travel for pedaling efficiency. Combined with Rocky Mountain’s placement of the rear pivot, 10mm above the rear hub’s axle, unwanted pedal-bob is nearly nonexistent. When climbing, the suspension rolled with the terrain and moved just enough to maintain traction.
During slow-speed ups or downs, small square-edged bumps were softened, and I could feel the suspension compress slightly as the rear wheel crept over rocks and roots. At speed, I really couldn’t feel the linkage moving, and trail hits disappeared under the big wheels. But when I dismounted and looked at both shock’s O-rings they were al- ways near the end of the travel. The few times that the O-ring slipped off the shaft, I didn’t hear or feel the rear shock bottom out.
I didn’t think I would use the fork’s travel adjustment knob much, but it was fun to experiment with the front end’s handling characteris- tics. The Revelation’s travel adjustment knob is large and easy to reach. The 30mm of adjustment slackens the head tube angle by just over 1-degree from the 70.6-degree head angle with the fork set to 100mm.
If sustained climbs were ahead, I dialed the fork down to 95mm of travel. This steepened the head angle, lowered the bottom bracket, and dropped the front end to keep the wheel planted on the ground. The steeper angle also made the front wheel feel less floppy during slow-speed maneuvers and sped up the steering in tight and twisty sections. It’s a no-brainer that more travel and slacker angles equal more fun when gravity is on your side. As the terrain began to trend downhill, I dialed in more travel. This slackened the head angle, raised the bottom bracket, and shifted my weight rearward. The difference in bottom brack- et height was as noticeable as the change in the Element’s head angle.
I like the Element set at 120mm of travel best. It feels race-worthy at speed, handles quickly, and is a capable climber. Even in tight, twisty sections or during extended climbing, I can manage and never feel hindered or slow. The Element holds a line well and likes to be leaned into corners where the suspension can compress into the turn. The short suspension and big wheels gobble up terrain, take the edge off of the trail, and make the bike feel fast. I wouldn’t say the 950 handles as quick as a 26”-wheeled bike, but it’s no slouch either.
I felt comfortable, fast and in control riding this bike. The Element 950 is a capable racer or all-day trail machine that climbs as well as it descends. I like the neutral handling and the way the suspension dis- appeared beneath me. The adjustable travel fork is an awesome touch that increases the Element’s ability to adapt to a variety of terrain. If you’re looking for a capable XC bike with a smart component package that won’t break the bank, the Element 950 could be for you.
- Wheelbase: 45.1 inches/1146mm
- Head Angle: 70.6-degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 74-degrees
- Bottom Bracket: 13.1 inches/332mm
- Chainstay Length: 17.5-inches/445mm
- Weight: 28.31 lbs./12.84kg
- Sizes: 15.5", 17", 18.5", 20" (tested), 21.5"
- Specs based on size tested
- Age: 39
- HeigHt: 6′
- Weight: 183lbs.
- Inseam: 33”