BIKE TEST: ROCKY MOUNTAIN ALTITUDE POWERPLAY CARBON 70
By Alex Boyce
The Canadian Rocky Mountain Bicycles brand has been a stalwart in the off-road pedal market for years. As an early adapter of mountain biking’s freeride movement (thanks to riders like Wade Simmons), their freeride legacy and big-mountain credentials are pretty assured. So, when this Canadian company decided to make an e-bike, it was going to be done the Rocky Mountain way—they looked at the market and waited before they acted.
The Altitude Powerplay is pretty much what the name says; it is an electric version of their non-assist Altitude. From the very beginning the e-bike was planned and executed that way, with the result being one of the most distinctive e-mountain bikes (in addition to the Specialized Levo) having been launched in the last few years. Three versions are available, and our test was conducted on the midrange Carbon 70 version.
The main parts of the frame are based around a sleek, low-profile carbon frame. Depending on which version you buy, the rear triangle changes material, with the high-end version being carbon. Our test version is aluminum on the rear triangle. The main aim of carbon was to build a frame that is weight conscious and also allowed the designers to do what they liked with a completely custom motor system.
If you are from an enduro background, everything on the Altitude Powerplay will be obvious to you. From the excellent Fox 36 e-bike-specific fork to Guide RE brakes and a solid Sun Ringlé wheelset. Grab the handlebar and you will feel comfortable with the shorty 35mm stem clamp mated to a 780mm-wide Race Face handlebar, which makes for simple on-point riding. The cranks are also Race Face Turbine Cinch and have a hollowed structure to contribute to weight savings. Look just over the bar and you will see one of the most sensible tire choices we have ever used on an e-MTB—Maxxis Minion 2.5-inch EXO tires. We ask, why few else use these tires on a serial e-bike?
The overall appearance of the bike is very impressive. The PowerPlay simply makes you feel at home with an immediate level of trust in the product.
The body position brought by the long top tube and short stem starts to make sense out on the trail. The ride feels like it’s a bike that is meant for riding just like a standard mountain bike; the open head angle and well-positioned seat tube are made for enduro-style riding; and the rider will find himself centralized easily. Geometrically speaking, the Rocky likes to go downhill more than up, but the ride up will still be fun.
A lot of e-bikes concentrate on the rear end and have settled at longer rear ends for climbing, but Rocky Mountain has managed to create an e-MTB with the shortest chainstay on the market. They did this by using a custom motor placed in front of the bottom bracket. The Altitude Powerplay handles as one would expect from a bike with short chainstays, which means it’s snappy in turns. In our opinion it makes sense. It also makes the Altitude Powerplay a distinctive machine that creates its own identity compared to many other bikes on the market.
The motor is a completely custom design that is innovative and powerful with 100 n/m of torque. The powertrain was designed in order to keep the geometry the same as the non-assist Altitude, and the designers pushed the motor down low to sit just in front of the bottom bracket. They then used a chain transfer sprocket and secondary drive sprocket on the main chain to get the power to the rear wheel. Their chain line wraps around a couple of extra pulleys, one of which constantly measures the torque on the chain and applies the power accordingly to the drive pulley.
Each pedal stroke is met with a well-supported response from the motor. Compared to other motors on the market, power application and transition past 20 mph is one of the smoothest we have experienced. With three power modes, we found the middle setting to be the most interesting for us and the high-power mode to be “extreme fun.”
With a custom motor, many people could be worried about service. The designers, though, have thought of this—with only external gearing used, everything can be mounted with normal bike shop tools. The system is basically completely user-serviceable. It hides behind a very easily removed cover. During our test period we experienced a reliable system that worked when we needed it to. The only downside we could come up with was that the extra pulleys do mean the chain is slightly noisier compared to a Brose system, but it’s no noisier than enduro chainguides of years before.
The rider certainly can’t feel the extra drag, as the motor supports all our pedal strokes consistently. The battery is a custom designed 630w/h integrated design. We found the switch/display to be simple, effective and more robust than meets the eye. The extra power compared to the average 500-watt-hour systems on the market is welcomed.
We found when doing comparison rides with other riders on other bikes that we could basically be in turbo mode the whole time while they would be in trail mode, and our rides would end with similar battery levels remaining. Switch the Altitude to trail mode and you have a machine that will keep heavier riders going at least two hours or more on constant up-and-down riding. The 630-watt-hour batteries seem to be the current sweet spot with enough power to keep you going and exploring, and best of all they’re not bulky at all. The only downside is that to maintain the weight distribution and low-profile look, the battery is not easily removed and is a service item only if you want to get at it. The battery has to be charged on the bike, and compromises have to be taken to achieve this bike’s design layout.
WHO IT’S MADE FOR
The Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay is aimed at the type of rider who wants their mountain-bike-ride feeling to carry over into the e-bike world. The geometry and on-board feeling will leave a satisfying continuity between the assisted and non-assisted world. If you want to ride gentle trails, it will do it pretty smoothly; however, if you want to do long runs with technical sections and climbs interspersing your descents with snappy, fun climbs, you are going to love the Powerplay. If the trail gets super technical and requires the rider to move the bike around quickly, then the Powerplay is ideal. It is in a class of its own, and it’s going to leave whoever swings a leg over one happy that they made the choice.
The Altitude Powerplay is one of our favorite trail riding bikes, partly because there are pretty much no rattles and it sounds like a normal bike. Point it uphill and, in our opinion, the impressive motor power means in most situations the trail will be conquered. Although we can’t measure it, we would say that it felt like the most powerful, pedal-assist, regulation e-mountain bike that we have ridden uphill. The power is very smooth, and if you have grip, then the bike will drive forward very positively. Over technical sections we found ourselves comfortable and in control uphill. Cornering is a dream, and the short rear end and powerful motor give the rider exceptionally good tight-turn ability.
Switch to flowing trails and you will find yourself riding along having fun, not thinking about the bike, just making the most of the trail. The riding position gives a ready feeling—not too stretched and, in our opinion, is ideal for a reactive ride preference.
The motor supports the rider well yet is a background feature of the ride experience. We found it very hard to understand when it had actually switched off and it was just our leg power, as it has one of the smoothest transitions on the market. The EX1 gears and cassette are extremely well-matched to the motor power and give smooth, flawless shifting under power and an ideal power-to-drive ratio.
Enduro—the word can lead to cringe-worthy feelings, but in this case, it describes perfectly what can be done with the Altitude. Point it at rocky technical sections and it will sail through, while the suspension is balanced smooth and fairly progressive. We set a slower rebound behind than up front, which gave us a trail-hugging ride. The front end is very solid, and the wheel components and tire choices work well together. Pop off rocks, slam into corners, and the bike stands up and shoots you out under control. It’s reactive where it needs to be and, after a while, you forget you have a bike that weighs 49 pounds.
We absolutely loved popping wheelies with it while cornering, because for a few moments we thought we could be Wade Simmons—until we followed him down a trail one day on one and realized we are not. However, the fact that we had that impression means the Altitude has achieved on the descents what it set out to be—fun, capable and ready to be ridden quickly back to the top so you can do it all over again.
Good bikes have distinctive rides. We first tested the Altitude in the summer of 2017 in a pre-release mode, and since then we have tried a lot of other bikes. Getting back on it and getting deeper into the kinematics and ride feeling left us with the distinct feeling that the Altitude is one of our top e-mountain bikes. We have a list of preferences in our head, and each bike is on that list for a distinctive reason. The Rocky Mountain is there for being fun and is as close to an MTB ride feel as anything we have tried and original in look and specification. It is not a cheap bike, but it is comparable to other bikes with similar build characteristics. You get what you pay for—a quality machine that will ride the way you want to and have been doing it for years on your non-assist mountain bike.
SPECS ROCKY MOUNTAIN ALTITUDE POWERPLAY CARBON 70
MSRP: $7400, £6000
Motor: Rocky Mountain proprietary
Battery: 48V/1,632 Wh
Charge time: 4 hours (80% in 2 hours)
Top speed: 15.5 mph/25 km/h (with assist)
Range: 25–45 miles (40–70 km)
Drive: SRAM EX1
Brakes: SRAM Guide RE, 200mm front/rear
Controls: Rocky Mountain proprietary, plus Ebikemotion app
Fork: Fox 36 Float EVOL Grip Performance 160mm
Frame: Smoothwall carbon front triangle, Form alloy rear triangle. Fully sealed cartridge bearings. PressFit BB. Internal cable routing. RIDE-9 adjustable geometry and suspension rate
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF WT EXO tubeless-ready 27.5×2.5”
Weight: 49.2 lb (22.3 kg)
Color choices: Yellow, black
Sizes: Small, medium, large, extra large
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