Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Rocky Mountain ETSX-50

When the opportunity to test Rocky Mountain’s adjustable travel (3.5", 4" or 4.5"), disc specific, full suspension ETSX-50 was presented, I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back

By Jeff Guerrero

Height: 5’3"
Weight: 135lbs.
Inseam: 28"

When the opportunity to test Rocky Mountain’s adjustable travel (3.5", 4" or 4.5"), disc specific, full suspension ETSX-50 was presented, I jumped at the chance and haven’t looked back. The ETSX was designed for pedaling efficiently over varying, challenging terrain, and built to tackle all the backcountry adventures you care to undertake.

My first priority in testing the ETSX was to determine just how well Rocky’s suspension linkage climbed. While the concept of placing the projected pivot point out in front of the head tube is not exclusive to their design, it works extremely well. While some manufacturers have gone to great lengths to isolate the pedaling forces on their suspension designs, Rocky Mountain decided it was best to make these naturally occurring forces work for the rider. As the suspension compresses, the chain is tensioned and thus you have your "energy transfer." Chances are you won’t notice the transfer until you’re in granny gear with your nose grazing the stem-then you’ll suddenly appreciate the tenacious traction. When not transferring energy, the suspension does a nice job of tracking the little bumps with plenty of travel in reserve for soaking up jumps and wheelie drops (of the backwoods, cross country variety).

Acceleration was no problem for the ETSX, and I even outran the police with it (following their intervention at the Pittsburgh Critical Mass in April). On trail, your best bet is to sit and spin, though the occasional stand up climb is possible. You always have the lock-out option at your disposal, however the placement of the lock-out lever made it dreadfully difficult to reach while riding, especially in 3.5" mode due to its close proximity to the down tube shock mount.

The ETSX’s most appealing properties were displayed when rocketing down hills—a passion of mine that has been fueled immensely since first throwing a leg over this bike. Shimano’s twin-piston, Deore 556 hydraulic disc brakes worked perfectly once TJ Platt (from Dirty Harry’s) set them up properly, and they certainly saved my rambunctious arse from crashing on several occasions.

The 100mm Fox Float R fork inspired confidence, never twisting, never knocking or chattering and never bottoming or topping out harshly. Granted, I only weigh about 135 pounds, but I have it under good authority that larger humans like this fork, too. While lock-out might have been nice from time to time (for fire road climbs and the like), there is a lot to be said for "set it and forget it" simplicity.

On a trip to Wissahickon (Valley Green, Pennsylvania), I repeatedly blasted past my hardtail-riding friends on the downhills, gapping rock sections that they were finessing. Brad noted that I looked straight out of a Rocky Mountain advertisement, which put a pretty big grin on my face.

Although a major feature of the ETSX was the adjustable travel option, I rode in 3.5" mode for most of the test—which is plenty of travel for me. The spring rate softened drastically in 4.5" mode, which was rather fun on downhills and urban assault rides, but felt slow as soon as the trail pointed skyward. The 4" mode was an amicable compromise, but I guess I just liked going fast uphill as well as down. Having the freedom of choice was very nice.

Nearly every "epic" ride I’ve ever been on has included a fair share of road riding, thus my test included riding on quite a bit of tarmac. While commuting on the road was not exactly the ETSX’s forté, it handled the chore admirably, providing a nice, Cadillac-like ride to work and back. Urban assaults, on the other hand, were right up this bike’s alley. Jumping off small walls and staircases was an absolute breeze, and I even took the opportunity to blast down the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (you may recall the scene from Rocky).

The handmade frame is comprised of a custom Easton RAD aluminum tubeset, and features nice, flowing, single pass welds and is signed by the welder. The top tube and down tube flare out at the head tube junction allowing for a massive seam and eliminating the need for gussets. The custom aspect includes a specified wall thickness and additional ovalization of the down tube at the bottom bracket. In addition, the rear shock mount forms a brace between the seat tube and the down tube near the bottom bracket shell, adding strength.

The shock mounts, swing links and swing link mounts are all machined in-house by Rocky Mountain. Sealed cartridge bearings grace all four pivot points (eight bearings in all) and the swingarm features tubular seatstays with machined, elevated aluminum chainstays. The dropouts are thick and feature an International Standard disc mount and replaceable derailleur hanger. While the ETSX suspension system may appear complicated and flexible, the rear end is actually very stiff.

Rocky Mountain is rightly proud of their finishing touches, including a hand masked paint job—but where’s the head tube badge? I would prefer flames or tribal designs on a more subdued color scheme, but I did like the "zoom yellow/metallic anthracite" paint scheme (go Pittsburgh!) and I haven’t noticed any un-earned chips or scratches.

The ETSX geometry was spot on, allowing me to easily ride no handed—even with a loaded messenger bag. The 15" model (tested) sported a 70.5° head tube angle and a 74° seat tube angle. The top tube came in at 20.75" (it’s a piece of cake to wheelie this bike) while the bottom bracket shell afforded 13" of log-hopping clearance. I made do with the slightly high 29" standover height, and had no complaints about the 40.375" wheelbase and 16.75" chainstay length.

The wheels were built by Rocky Mountain wheelbuilder Jason, who took the time to make sure the valve stem pointed right at the hub logo. Deore disc hubs aren’t the lightest, but high flange hubs are strong, and the sealed cartridge bearings are dependable. All 64 DT Swiss spokes made it through the test, and the Mavic X223 rims held their shape admirably (and allowed for tool-free tire removal).

The Race Face Turbine cranks performed flawlessly, as did the Race Face Evolve XC ISIS splined bottom bracket. The cockpit also featured a Race Face Prodigy riser bar and stem—quite nice indeed. Rounding out the component group was a Ritchey Logic headset, Selle Italia saddle, 26.8mm Kalloy seatpost, Shimano XT rear derailleur, 515 pedals and dependable LX drivetrain components. The lightweight Hutchinson Python 2.0" tires provided decent traction, however I ran a more aggressive tire through most of the test.

The Rocky Mountain ETSX-50 earned its place as the No. 1 ride in my stable, and it will be a sad day when I finally have to ship the bike back to British Columbia. As a fan of full on, technical cross country riding, the ETSX suits me to a T. Over the course of nearly five months (January through May) the ETSX has continued to perform with nearly zero maintenance, and at present, the only items showing wear are the chain and cassette. I won’t say that this 27-pound backwoods brawler is for everyone, but if you’re in the market (with $2,899 to spend) you should head down to your local bike shop and check one out for yourself.

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