Beyond Mountain Bikes with the Rocky Mountain Solo 70 – Morgan Taylor

Beyond Mountain Bikes with the Rocky Mountain Solo 70 – Morgan Taylor
Photos and words by Morgan Taylor

When you think Rocky Mountain, you think mountain bikes. That’s where their focus lies and for that reason you may not even be aware that they’ve made a handful of drop bar bikes over their nearly 40 years in business.

The Solo has been in the BC-based brand’s lineup a long time – as both a cyclocross and a road race platform – but this most recent iteration skews more toward fat tires, cargo carrying, and, well, slotting a bike into the current hot niche in the drop bar world. It’s a step that, in my opinion, aligns this bike more with the others in the current Rocky Mountain lineup.

This review will primarily focus on the Solo platform and less on specific spec choices, though I do have some comments on the 2018 Solo 70 down below. The spec changes for 2019 are definitely worth having a look at, with the new Solo 70 in particular being a bit more of a risky build that better shows the potential of the platform.

Make it Adventure

There’s been a huge influx of 650-or-700 compatible drop bar bikes in the past couple years. Everything from steel bikes that lean more toward touring than racing, to full carbon platforms that are lighter and speedier, but, in my opinion, less versatile. The Solo is on the latter end of this spectrum – more race-ready than multi-day – with an aluminum frame and carbon fork.

There’s a reason people are amped up on these bikes: you can approach the genre from any starting point and still find the bike that suits your needs. I’m happy to have so many options in bikes that are simply useful everyday-type bikes, as well as being suitable for the dirt-focused events that are rising in popularity or for general getting-out-there type riding.

Rocky Mountain Details

So I’ve established that the Solo sits on the zippier end of the fat tire drop bar spectrum, but what makes it a Rocky Mountain? To start with, the Solo’s aluminum frame and carbon fork share design language found on its wider-tired siblings. The drastically sloped top tube combined with a relatively tall tapered head tube give the bike a particularly modern look. I think the bike’s angular silhouette and fat aluminum tubes look better with bags on ‘em, but that’s up to you.

Today’s drop bar bikes are happily making use of yesterday’s mountain bike wheels, and to that end Rocky Mountain went with a 12×142 rear axle and 15×100 up front. The brakes are flat mount, and both the frame and fork have internal cable routing, including a dropper post hole which I’m happy to see getting put to use with the 2019 Solo 70.

A forged yoke drops the drive side chainstay from the bottom bracket to afford more tire clearance while keeping rear end length at a relatively short 425mm. Rocky Mountain claims it fits up to a 700×40 or a 27.5×2.2 tire, but those are very conservative numbers. The 700×42 WTB Resolutes fit with tons of room; I’d be surprised if a 29×2.1 didn’t fit.

Geometry and Fit

The Solo comes in five sizes, from XS through XL. They all share a 70mm bottom bracket drop and that 425mm chainstay. Head tube angles are on the slacker side, and reach numbers on the longer side. Like most drop bar bikes, the head angle is steeper on the larger frames, and slacker on the smaller frames.

One mark that could be a result of Rocky’s mountain bike focus is steep seat tubes across the board. On this Large frame it’s 73.5º, which in my experience is about a half-degree steeper than a usual Large. To many this means nothing, but it’s significant for me.

For an all-day position, I usually need my saddle slammed back on a 25-26mm offset post on a 73º seat angle. At my saddle height of 76.5cm, a half-degree change in seat angle means 6.7mm fore-aft at the saddle, and that means the Solo requires me to run even more post offset. And there just aren’t many options for higher offset posts.

Because the seat tube angles are steeper than average, this also means reach numbers end up longer than effective top tube lengths alone would indicate. It’s not just the seat angle at play here: tall head tubes also equate to more reach, and the Solo’s got those too.

When you put big reach numbers, long head tubes, and slack head tube angles together, the result is a long front-center and a bike that goes fast and descends confidently despite its short rear end. My general commentary on the numbers of this bike would be that it fits on the big side (except the seat angle) and rides stable.

Forks with More Holes

Forks, I’m tellin’ ya, we can be really picky about forks! This one’s got a tapered steerer, through axle, fender eyelets, flat mount brakes, and anything cage mounts. And it’s got an aluminum crown and steerer with carbon blades.

The fork is relatively chunky in its proportions, which match those of the aluminum frame. The choice to go with a 15×100 through axle is a positive for anyone hoping to make use of a not-so-old, but oh-so-obsolete mountain bike wheelset. The fork blades are nearly parallel right up to the crown, making for tons of space for tire and fender.

I have a slight beef with the orientation of the anything cage mounts. You’ll see in the photos that they point slightly toward the front of the bike. This means they can’t really be used for a lowrider or a rando/basket rack.

See what I said about being picky? Because this bike sits at the pointier end of the fat tire drop bar spectrum, people buying it might not care too much – but I’m of the mind that if you’re going to go to the effort to develop a new fork, it could be more versatile with the exact same number of holes in it.

Spec Hits and 2018 vs. 2019

The 2018 Solo 70 sports a high performance 1x build. Force 1 hydraulic and a SRAM 900 rear hub are upspec pieces that send the price of this model up quite a bit. Those who are picky about their bikes might be happy about that, but I also feel like those people might not be looking at aluminum bikes.

Force 1 is definitely just that little bit nicer than Rival: the shifting clicks are a bit more precise, and the carbon brake levers have a nice feel. I personally find Rival to be completely acceptable, so Force is a bit of a treat when I get to ride it, yet I never come off a bike with Force thinking “I need this instead”.

So, I’m happy to see the 2019 Solo 70 trading some of the upspec parts for ones that bring this bike further toward its possibilities as a fun all-around bike.

Aluminum responds well to higher tire volume, and that’s where Rocky’s gone for 2019, with WTB’s 650×47 Byways. A dropper post is a fun addition, and one that’ll be sure to get the mountain bike crowd thinking. These changes happen primarily at the cost of Rival instead of Force, with a Rival crank rather than an FSA unit.

I do think it’s worth noting that the SRAM 900hub has been downspec’d as well, to a less expensive SRAM option. I’m always happy to see a truly reliable hub spec’d out of the box, and the 900 falls into this category. People who ride their bike a lot might be looking toward a wheel upgrade in the long run anyway, but having an inexpensive rear hub spec pushes you there more quickly. Alas, it’s difficult to have your cake and eat it too with bike spec.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

None of my reviews are complete without a bit of “what would I change” commentary. Some of these are easy changes, while others won’t happen until this bike gets an update.

I’m happy that fenders were considered on this bike. Those of us in the PNW can’t really live without them. But the implementation here is not great. The seatstay and chainstay bridges are essentially round tubes with plain holes drilled in them. This means bolting through on both, potentially using curved washers.

At the back end, the industry’s recent move to flat mount brakes has made mounting accessories to rear dropouts much simpler than when most brakes were outside the triangle. But Rocky Mountain has chosen not to put the fender eyelet on the back of the dropout, and instead it’s further up the seat stay, where not all fender stays will reach. So yes, it’ll fit fenders, but no, the installation won’t be as clean as you might like.

You’ll notice in the photos that I’ve got a screw clamp on the seat tube, holding the bottom of the bottle cage on. This is a solution I devised for factory bottle bosses that don’t sit low enough. On my Kona Sutra it was the third cage on the bottom of the down tube, and here it’s the seat tube. One more hole, please.

The bars. They’re similar to the OEM Kona bars that I just couldn’t get down with on the Sutra LTD, in that they have a reasonable shape up top but too large a radius on the drop and less flare than I’d like. Once again, bars are a personal preference, and despite my misgivings about this bar’s shape, they’re one of the first things people consider changing after the saddle.

Lastly, I discussed the seat tube angle in detail above, and it’s the biggest issue for me with this bike. I’m very fit-focused, not only for myself, but for others as well. While steeper seat angles have found purpose in mountain bikes – where climbs are steeper and the saddle can drop out of the way with the push of a button – I don’t think road bikes (and all day mountain bikes, for that matter) need to get steeper seat angles.

Conclusion

In my personal collection, aluminum is reserved for short duration race applications. Yet, at the same time, I understand how it’s an appealing material. It’s the least expensive of the three common materials, allows for modern aesthetics, and works just fine for most peoples’ needs. It’s a high value material that lets you get a lot more out of your spec list, which also helps prevent upgrade-itis from taking over.

While I would have loved to see what Rocky Mountain could have done with a carbon bike in this category, the new Solo presents an option far more versatile than their previous drop bar bikes, while keeping the price point low enough that they can do fun stuff with the spec.

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  • Sean Coffey

    While I’m certain Rocky could do something interesting the carbon, there’s already the 3T and the Open and the Ibis MX in carbon, so I think it’s great to see this kind of bike now appearing in aluminum.

    • Brian Richard Walbergh

      And the new Warbird and the Bombtrack Hook and the Norco Search and ….

    • Yep! Like I said, it’s a material that lets product managers do more with spec while keeping cost down. I just know that Rocky makes really good carbon bikes and a Solo C70 would be sweet!

      • DarkLordDale

        How does carbon allow PM’s to keep the cost down?

        • Yep, aluminum. I may not have mentioned it explicitly that it’s the cheapest to produce, and I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear enough.

  • Gus

    As always Morgan, appreciate your well considered reviews. I was looking at the Solo for a light dirt tourer / pacific spirit shredder / commuter / winter road machine. But I really want to run a lowrider front rack! So difficult to find a carbon front fork with rack mounts (holes in carbon etc. etc.) I think Niner RLT 9 steel is leading candidate.

    • Jim Skinner

      If you wanted to run a lowrider rack and bags, a bit more fork offset might make it handle a bit better. I know it’s a lot to have two forks for one bike, but it would optimize (I hate that word, but…) the set-ups. Lowrider racks might also put too much a load on the carbon fork leg/aluminum crown interface, which already are known to be a bit dodgy.

      • Gus

        If I’m getting two forks you better believe I’m getting two bikes! Otherwise I’m in an N+1.5 situation.

      • Carbon high offset fork?

        • Jim Skinner

          I didn’t say that. If I wanted a “true” touring bike, or reliable commuter with racks and bags, there wouldn’t be much carbon at all.

          • Thing is, people these days want a zippy everyday bike that can load up on the weekends. They’re not afraid of carbon, because they’re not preparing for the apocalypse – they’re eating burritos and waking up outside and going to work in the morning.

          • Jim Skinner

            In the review you say you’d like low riders, but now you say that’s too much for what people want?

            All said, I think we’re both on the same page here.

            The desire for one bike that does **everything** well runs up against reality pretty quick, and ends up with a bike that doesn’t do **anything** well. The bike that is zippy on your after-work rides can be pretty scary coming down a mountain road with packed low riders. A speed wobble on a loaded bike is not something I’d wish on people. My suggestion for two forks would get you closer to that one bike that can do a fast after-work ride, Grinduro, a quickie overnight, or an extended tour. For those times a touring set-up is needed, a fork swap (where your “touring fork” is equipped with a fender and rack/basket/preferred set-up) is quicker than installing low riders on a bike. I have that set-up hanging on a hook in my garage and it takes about 5 minutes to change, is well within the abilities of home mechanics, and more secure and reliable than racks that come on and off before and after each use. Would you get a “true” touring bike? No, but it would be a lot closer.

    • Forks are always so tough. Lots of ways to carry stuff and it’s actually pretty tough to get that versatility without putting holes everywhere. Hole spacing for lowriders is not the same as anything cages. Making threads stay in carbon when there’s a bunch of weight on them isn’t so easy without making things heavy. I still feel better with a steel fork if I’m going to be carrying a whole lot of stuff…

      • Pete Hall

        The new Salsa Waxwing fork on the new Warbird is carbon, fits all the things and uses the lowest anything cage mount as the upper mount for a lowrider rack. It’ll be available on it’s own soon.

        https://salsacycles.com/bikes/warbird/2019_warbird_carbon_force_1_650

        • That is a great example of about the simplest carbon fork that’ll do lowriders, anything cages, or a rando rack. I like it!

      • Harley Raylor

        Your comment about “making threads stay in carbon” got me thinking about the perceived benefits of carbon forks with cage mounts. A Whisky #9 fork with no cage mounts weighs 450g. According to Rodeo site a Spork with cage mounts weighs 2lbs. I can’t find weights on an Igleheart fork but I did see Tony at BreadWinner say in the comments on a youtube review of the G-road say it weighs “about 2 pounds” which seems a little low to me. No weights that I can find on Niner RDO. So all the reinforcement required in a carbon fork to support cage mounts just makes it as heavy or almost as heavy as a quality steel fork. Logically I can’t see a benefit to a carbon fork used for touring given that it’s not that much lighter and perhaps more prone to failure.

        • This is definitely something I consider. You’re certainly right that the weight gap closes when you reinforce carbon. I just weighed a spare Soma Wolverine fork and it was 1100 grams with a 240mm steerer tube and star nut installed. That’s about 2.42 pounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if a carbon fork with all the rack mounts came in closer to 1.5 pounds, but I don’t have one on hand to weigh.

    • Rider_X

      A someone who used racks for some 20+ years and obsessed over over available frame mounting points, I feel racks and pannier are done. There are so many good frame bags now, and panniers are honestly like dragging tiny parachutes with you where ever you go. Racks and panniers honestly kill the ride feel. Unless you are doing world expeditions or touring with kids frame bags can cover almost all use cases.

      Guess an old dog can learn new tricks after all…

      • Erik Thompson

        As someone who carries papers, computers, Books….frame bags don’t fit shit in comparison to even small panniers.

        • Rider_X

          I get where you are coming from, that was exactly what I used to carry every day for years on end. Thing is, I rarely used everything I was carrying in both locations. Took a hard look at how I actually work (rather than how I envisioned I would work). Now I carry one or two papers in a protective sleeve and a single hard drive. Slashed 10 minutes off my commute each way, and commutes feel like a leisure ride rather than a slog.

          Your mileage may vary, but can be a worthwhile experiment.

      • There is no chance that a frame bag on a sloping top tube frame (or on a smaller frame period) is going to replace panniers or a basket bag. And then it’s not as reliably waterproof as panniers, and doesn’t come off the bike easily when you get where you’re going. Year-round commuting cyclists are still doing rear racks and panniers because they’re cheap, reliable, and fit almost any bike. Front loaders are still the minority by far.

        For occasional overnights on a bike that usually commutes, or the average commuting cyclist that doesn’t want to get into a bikepacking setup, panniers still work just fine. If someone chooses this type of bike which can’t do a rack or basket to commute in all weather, they will might end up wearing a backpack. Yet another thing that works just fine, if you aren’t fussed by it.

  • My favorite thing about your reviews is all the green! Lush forests and bikes!

    • I love it too! I’m a fish out of water without my soggy security blanket.

  • m burdge

    It seems like you are working harder than you should have to to avoid making negative comments about this bike.

    • Feel free to ask questions.

      • m burdge

        While we all know that price point bikes inevitably are compromises between value and performance (however that is defined); but would you say this bike is a ‘swing-and-a-miss’ on the part of RMB, or is it a solid effort? A unique frame geometry that tests the limits of your charitable language, odd boss placements, a fork you don’t love, components to switch right off the bat… at what point do you say ‘meh’? I am a fan of RMB, but it seems like maybe they rushed a fat tire drop bar bike to market without their usual dialing?

        • It’s hard to call a $2600 USD bike price point, but I think what you’re getting at is that the relatively inexpensive aluminum frame and not-full-carbon fork are kind of at their limit with this higher end parts kit. And to that I would agree. The frame and fork seem better aligned with the lower priced spec options.

          Geometry-wise, it’s not particularly unique other than the seat tube angle. There are lots of other bikes out there that fit big, and I was far from charitable with my language about the seat tube angles. Short rear end is nice, IMO. You’re right that I think the fork could do more for the same money, and that the fender mounts aren’t perfect.

          Like you say, I’ve come to expect RMB to deliver thoughtfully-developed bikes the first go around, and I guess I was expecting this top end Solo with Force 1 hydro to hit a few more marks. For the price, the 2018 Solo 70 is still a good value, but at the same price, the 2019 Solo 70 is truly interesting.

          • m burdge

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Also: congratulations on the baby—you are entering a time of tiredness, the magnitude of which you had no idea existed. It is also a time of indescribable goodness.

          • Thanks so much!