By Josh Patterson, photos by Justin Steiner and Adam Newman
Rocky Mountain introduced the Flatline series in 2008. It was a step in a new direction for the company that helped pioneer the freeride movement. The Flatline replaced both the burly RMX and more nimble Switch in the company’s gravity line. This was a move away from Rocky’s freeride heritage and towards a full-on downhill race bike. The Flatline, now in its second iteration, was developed with input from the Maxxis-Rocky Mountain team. The current version of the frame has six World Cup wins under its belt, so don’t go blaming the bike when your race runs don’t stack up.
There are two bikes in the Flatline family: the no-holds-barred World Cup model, spec’d with top-of-the-line goods from Fox and Shimano, and the significantly more wallet-friendly Pro model. Both bikes share the same 7005 aluminum frame. Bike companies love buzzwords for suspension designs. Rocky Mountain calls their linkage-driven single pivot suspension Low Center Counter Rotating, or LC2R.
Keeping the frame weight low and centered was one of the primary design goals. The suspension and linkage are tucked neatly below the rider, with the main pivot located above and behind the bottom bracket. Dual row, angular contact bearings are used in the linkage to bolster stiffness.
LC2R uses two counter-rotating links that provide a gradually rising spring rate with a linear feel through the beginning and very active mid stroke that ramps up nicely as your max out the 213mm of travel. The company calls this system Tuglink and claims this system also increases small bump sensitivity.
The Flatline Pro comes with a mix of mid-level components from SRAM, RockShox and Raceface. The Avid Elixir 5 brakes did a better than expected job of providing consistent, fade-free braking, while remaining quiet. Rockshox handles suspension duties. The BoXXer RC fork lacks the myriad of tuning options found on the high-end BoXXer World Cup model (reviewed in issue #159). Low-speed compression and rebound are the only external adjustments offered. The same is true of the RockShox Vivid R2 rear shock, the only adjustments being, preload, external beginning and end of stroke rebound, and low speed compression damping.
For many riders less can be more. More fun and less headaches. For beginners there are fewer adjustments to screw up. For riders like myself, who are less interested in shaving milliseconds off their runs than they are with having a low-maintenance, set-and- forget suspension. Fewer adjustments mean less time fiddling around and more time riding.
The geometry is on the steep end of the DH race bike spectrum: the head angle is 65 degrees and the wheelbase on my size small tester bike is 1,150mm. This goes against the prevailing triumvirate of longer, lower, slacker.
On the trail the Flatline Pro is a nimble bike. On tight and twisty trails it requires very little body English to initiate steep turns and navigate tight chutes. I didn’t mind the relatively quick-handling nature of this bike. It suited my XC race-weenie background just fine. Riders looking to slow things down can take advantage of the Flatline’s full 1.5-inch head- tube to run Cane Creek’s Angleset, which has the potential to bring the Flatline’s head angle down to a relaxed 63.5 degrees.
Once I had the suspension tuned for my weight and riding style— which, with the front and rear suspension’s minimal adjustments, didn’t take more than about three runs—the LC2R suspension design works as advertised, being very predictable in all situations. Lateral stiffness was good; the Flatline Pro tracked well through chunky rock gardens and highspeed brake bumps. The bike is very playful, particularly when hitting kickers, doubles and other park features. The combination of a well-designed suspension, low center of gravity, and a stiff chassis results in a bike with good trail manners.
While it is lower and longer than its predecessors, it still has a short wheelbase and steeper head angle than most other DH race bikes coming out these days. The handling is certainly quicker than many other DH rigs on the market, though the difference is subtle. This didn’t bother me, as I never needed to exaggerate my riding position in order to keep the bike in check. Handling is neutral and intuitive. I also didn’t have to get my weight as far forward to keep the wheel from pushing through corners.
I can understand how some World Cup-level riders would want their bikes as slack as possible. But the average Joe is not moving at those breakneck speeds and could benefit from a bike that trades a modicum of stability for agility, particularly if, like me, most of your gravity-assisted riding is just for fun or if you spend most of your time navigating tight and twisty terrain. If this does not sound like you, then consider looking elsewhere.
The Flatline’s ability to deftly maneuver though tight terrain should come as no surprise. This bike was born and bread on Canada’s North Shore, where tight, twisty and technical trails abound. The Flatline series remains the same for 2012, with the addition of a frame-only option.
This is a good bike for the weekend warrior who spends most of their time playing in the park and scratches the occasional itch to race. The components and suspension are basic, but all perform well. In addition to being an outstanding value, the Flatline Pro is built on an upgrade-worthy chassis, so as you hone your skills, or find you have podium ambitions, the bike won’t be what’s holding you back.
- Price: $3,100
- Weight: 40.5lbs
- Sizes available: S (tested), M, L
- Country of origin: Taiwan.
- Age: 30
- Height: 5’7”
- Weight: 145lbs.
- Inseam: 30”