Review Rocky Mountain Slayer

 
FIRST RIDE
Rocky Mountain
SLAYER

WORDS: Mike Levy
PHOTOS: Margus Riga

 

 

 

After a two-year hiatus, Rocky Mountain’s Slayer returns as a slack, 165mm-travel machine that the Canadian company says is designed for everything from enduro racing to ”bike park laps and big mountain lines,” a claim that’s reinforced by all four models being spec’d with 170mm-travel forks. The 1x-specific frame is carbon fiber from front to back, including the rocker-link, its chainstays and seatstays, and it also employs a new version of Rocky’s Smoothlink suspension layout.

The 2017 Slayer will be available in four flavours, kicking off with the 730 MSL that goes for $4,199 USD, and topping out at $6,999 USD for the 790 MSL. All of those models are assembled around the same carbon fiber frame that’s also available on its own for $3,199 USD with a Fox Float X2 EVOL shock. Two frame color schemes are available, a yellow / dark blue color combo or a matte red / dark gray.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Slayer Details

• Intended use: enduro / all-mountain
• Wheel size: 27.5”
• Rear wheel travel: 165mm
• Fork travel: 170mm
• Full carbon fiber frame
• Ride-4 adjustable geometry
• Clearance for 27.5 x 2.5” or 26 x 3.0” tires
• Di2 + internally routed dropper compatible
• 1x-specific
• Sizes: S / M / L / XL
• Weight: 29.7lbs (770 MSL, size large, w/ pedals)
• MSRP: $4,199 – $6,999 USD, frame only – $3,199 USD

Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer

The Slayer lineup starts with the 730 MSL at $4,199 USD (above left), with the $4,999 USD 750 MSL (above right) being the next step up in price and spec.

Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer
Rocky Mountain Slayer

The Slayer 770 MSL (above left) retails for $5,799 USD, while the top of the line 790 MSL (above right) commands $6,999 USD.

Rocky Mountain Slayer

Want to build your own Slayer? The frame, which is available in either color and includes a Fox Float X2 EVOL shock, sells for $3,199 USD.

The Return of the Slayer

The Slayer name is especially revered by those who know what a double-double is and pay for one with a toonie, but it’s also a name that’s been strangely absent from Rocky’s catalog for the past two years. Before that, there was the old platform that saw a horizontal shock attached to the downtube and driven by a swing-link, which came prior to the last iteration of the Slayer that employed a rocker-link and a vertically positioned shock. There was even a slope and jump-specific model, the Slayer SS, that had a lower stance, steeper angles, and less travel.

The Slayer’s evolution over the years to match changing riding styles and attitudes is worth its own article, one that you’ll be able to read soon, but it’s the brand new version that we’re dissecting below.

A Slayer from 2008 on the left, and a 2011 model shown to the right. The name may be the same, but the product has transformed over the years.

2014 and 2015 saw Rocky focus on their Altitude platform instead, a 150mm-travel bike that was up-forked with 160mm or 170mm and raced on the Enduro World Series by the likes of Florian Nicolaï and Jesse Melamed. Despite good showings by Florian and Jesse, it could be argued that the Altitude was a bit under-gunned at some of the rowdier EWS events. Then again, I’d say that the Altitude’s middle-of-the-road package is what has allowed Rocky Mountain to go so aggressive with the new Slayer; the 2017 bike can focus on full throttle enduro racing instead of having to do double duty as a burly trail bike.

”The Altitude is a ridiculously versatile bike. For lots of enduro tracks, especially some of the non-EWS regional events, we see it as still being a great option for many riders. But yeah, the Slayer’s identity was always pretty clear as a proper smash-through-all-the-things enduro / all-mountain/ big-mountain bike,” said Brian Park, Marketing Manager at Rocky Mountain, of the Slayer’s intentions relative to the quicker handling, 15mm shorter-travel Altitude.

Case in point: the Altitude’s head angle at its slackest sits at 66.2-degrees, whereas the Slayer can be raked out to a downhill bike-ish 64.75-degrees. Smash-through-all-the-things indeed.

Jesse Melamed bike check

Rocky Mountain’s Jesse Melamed and his 150mm-travel Altitude (with a 170mm fork) at last year’s EWS round in Scotland. Matt Wragg photo.

A bike like the Slayer is also important for a company to have in its catalog, even if the number of trail and cross-country machines they sell likely dwarfs the sales numbers of a pure enduro race bike; the pig in the window and all that. ”The market itself may not be huge, but there has never been a more asked-for model in our range than a new carbon Slayer,” explained Park of the demand for the Slayer’s return. ”And we think people are going to be fired up on this bike.”

So, are you fired up?

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Slayer SpecificsMaximum Carbon – Absolutely everything is new about the 165mm-travel Slayer, despite it sporting the same name as its predecessors. The carbon fiber frame, which is made in the same factory as Rocky’s other carbon bikes, features similar design language to their Maiden DH rig. A traditional looking twin-triangle layout and vertically mounted shock makes it stand out from the company’s less well-endowed bikes that employ a toptube-mounted rocker-link and horizontal shock.

Much like its bigger brother, the Slayer also sees carbon fiber used for its rocker-link and both chain- and seatstays, and it also receives the pared-down Ride-4 geometry adjusting chip at the lower shock mount. More on the bike’s geometry farther down.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga
Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Just like the Maiden, the Slayer’s rocker-link, chainstays, and seatstays are all made out of carbon fiber.

Bearings Over Bushings – With one-sided hardware at the chainstay and seatstay pivots, the frame is impressively sleek looking. This wasn’t done for appearances alone, however, as Rocky says that the smooth lines also make for a narrower Boost-spaced rear end that provides more heel clearance than even non-Boost bikes. Riders with petite kicks like myself probably won’t notice this, but those with flipper feet should be happy.

Most of Rocky’s full-suspension bikes feature a variation of their bushing-based pivot system, with the Maiden downhill bike being the only rig that had the full bearing treatment. The 2017 Slayer also uses sealed bearings at all pivot locations, but Rocky went this route due to the aforementioned search for clearance.

”The move to bearings on Slayer came about from our desire to make the back end narrower, even with Boost spacing,” Park said of the slim, one-sided pivot design that wouldn’t have been feasible with had they used bushings. And speaking of bearings, the upper shock mount sees more rotation than the lower shock mount, so they’ve also used bearings at this location in an effort to reduce friction.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga
Nice lines. The one-sided hardware isn’t just for looks; Rocky says that the Slayer’s Boost rear-end offers more heel clearance than non-Boost bikes.

Future Proofed From the Past – Tire clearance isn’t an issue on the majority of contemporary all-mountain and enduro race bikes, but the Slayer has even more room to spare than most. It can easily fit 27.5 x 2.5” rubber, but what if I said you could also run 26 x 3.0” meat? What goes around comes around, and what’s coming around soon is a new generation of wide 26” rubber that supposedly comes close to matching the outer diameter of a wide-ish 27.5” tire, thereby not messing up a bike’s geometry. Rocky Mountain is not spec’ing any of their bikes with these tires, but they did have a set of 26 x 2.8” Maxxis Minions on hand that were mounted up to wide Stan’s 26” rims. They looked odd, and a bit like old Nokian Gazzaloddis crossed with a tread pattern that actually works.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

There’s room for those three-inch-wide Gazzaloddis that you’ve been refusing to throw out.

To be clear, Rocky isn’t pushing this but rather only responding to what they see coming down the road. The mention of 26” x wide rubber is definitely worth a few good eye rolls, and I don’t expect it to become overly popular, but Rocky Mountain is future-proofing their new Slayer just in case someone wanted to go the short and fat route. They’re just another option.

ISCG 05… ish – The Slayer is 1x-specific, so those holding onto their front derailleurs will need to compensate by using one of the many pie plate-sized large cogs on the market. And with no need to accommodate a derailleur, the Slayer’s designers moved the bike’s main pivot out into that real estate to create more frame rigidity. The only issue is that this was where the upper chain guide tab would call home, so now there are only two lower tabs that are still spaced like a standard ISCG 05 setup.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga
Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

A wide main pivot means that there’s no upper ISCG 05 tab, leaving the two lower tabs. A small, chainstay-mounted guide is included with the bike.

e*thirteen has a two-mount guide out there already, and Rocky says that other companies will be releasing them shortly. You could, in a pinch and with a saw, probably modify a standard chain guide to work as well, but I never said that. Either way, the bike comes with a tiny bolt-on guide that sits atop the Slayer’s chainstay, and some sort of taco-style protection can be bolted into the two remaining chain guide tabs. You’ll have to get one of those new guides from e*thirteen if you want a lower slider.

Adjustable Geometry, Not Suspension – Rocky Mountain’s trailbikes feature an adjustable geometry and suspension setup, referred to as Ride-9, that lets the owner tune the bike’s suspension and handling independently by, you guessed it, nine different ways. It’s a neat system, but I’m also willing to bet that a lot of riders don’t take full advantage of it. The Slayer sports a simpler version, called Ride-4, that tunes the bike’s geometry without changing its suspension action. It provides just over a degree of head and seat tube angle adjustment, as well as 15mm of bottom bracket height change, while suspension ramp-up can be tuned via volume spacers as required.
Rocky was one of the earlier brands to start using relatively steep seat angles, and that continues with the Slayer; they’ve also designed the bike with a short seat mast that provides room for the new long-travel dropper posts that are coming out. I have legs that don’t quit, but I still couldn’t run a 170mm-travel dropper on some bikes. That shouldn’t be an issue on the Slayer, however, as I had quite a bit of post exposed when on both the large and medium-sized bikes.
Rocky Mountain Slayer

The Slayer’s Suspension Explained

Rocky Mountain has long applied the Smoothlink moniker to their full-suspension designs, and many have come to associate that name with an axle pivot that sits above or close to in-line with the bike’s axle. This is obviously not the case on the 165mm-travel Slayer, however, as it’s using a more traditional looking four-bar layout where the pivot sits well below the axle line. Yet the Smoothlink name remains. Asking if the change has anything to do with the expiration of the Horst Link patent seems like a reasonable question, doesn’t it?

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

The rocker-link and vertical shock give the bike similar lines as the Maiden, and a very different appearance to the rest of Rocky’s range.

Park replies to that challenge: ”Today we use Smoothink to describe our design philosophy and the ride characteristics we try to achieve with every model. In general, that means that our bikes are more supple during climbs and across a wider range of gears than our competitors, while having a controlled end-stroke and the typical Rocky Mountain ride feel of being more capable than the travel indicates. At this stage, we let the chainstay pivot fall where it needs to fall in order to achieve the anti-squat, axle path, chain growth, rate curve, anti-rise, etc. that we’re looking for.”

In other words, the name doesn’t define the design.

There are also only so many ways to get the job done, of course, which can lead to the age-old ”looks like a Session” comment that’s taken on a life of its own. ”The suspension kinematics of today have moved past the dogmatic battle between FSR vs. VPP vs. DW, etc.slow,” expounds Park. ”Suspension design is a game of millimeters, and while some systems may look similar, riding them will quickly set them apart.” Rocky says that they focused on creating support at the Slayer’s sag point, something that can often make for a lively feeling and relatively playful bike, and that the Slayer’s suspension ramps up in a moderately progressive curve. The idea is consistency over the whole stroke instead of a sharp ramp-up at the end of it.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga
The dropout pivot is located well below the bike’s axle line, but Rocky says that it’s still a Smoothlink design.

All four of the complete builds come with metric-sized, air-sprung shocks from either Fox or RockShox (the frame includes a Fox Float X2 EVOL), and the shocks on each frame size have size-specific air volume tunes – the larger the frame, the more volume spacers are in the shock’s air can. Rocky also says that the design doesn’t depend on the rider having to use air to hold the bike up, though. Want to bolt on a Vivid, Fox, or Cane Creek with a coil on it? That will also work just fine, I’ve been told.


Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Handling

I was supposed to only have the Slayer 770 MSL for an afternoon a rip down from Whistler’s notoriously rough Top of the World trail into the rawness of Khyber, Kush, and BC’s that would eventually deposit me at the newly opened Creekside portion of Whistler.

You’re probably thinking that a single lap isn’t enough to glean much from an unfamiliar bike, but this particular route packs in more vertical, more rocks, more roots, and more chunder than an entire week’s worth of shuttles at most locations around the world.

On top of that hand-cramping lap, I also snuck off with the 2017 bike to log another day and a half on the mountain that included more park riding and a few long, nasty climbs up Whistler’s neighbor, Blackcomb. You know, because mountain biking shouldn’t always require a chairlift, even in Whistler.

Through all that I learned something important: the Slayer is basically a downhill bike. Not really, of course, but its angles let you approach trails like you’re reading a choose-your-own-adventure novel in which you never perish.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga
It might be 20mm short on travel, but if you can ride a downhill rig quickly, you’ll get along well on the Slayer. That’s not something that can be said of all mid-travel bikes, either, but it’s a machine that rewards an aggressive, over the handlebar kind of style that keeps the bike’s front-end on track. It gave me the confidence to turn into a rough, rooty corner – of which there are a few thousand on that TOTW, Khyber, Kush route – at any point, concentrating more on the carrying maximum speed than worrying about getting caught up on anything. I imagine the rocks and roots might have been more worried about me than I was about them.
Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Let off the gas, however, and the Slayer can feel a bit overwhelming, especially on terrain that does more traversing than descending, or if you are simply just riding slowly. FYI, this is not a bike to piddle around on. It can feel a bit unwieldy in those moments, but it’s hard to fault the Canadian company for the Slayer’s all-or-nothing mentality when it comes to handling; doing so would be a bit like giving the Tragically Hip grief for not putting out jingly radio hits. It’s not who they are, and the Slayer ain’t no jingly radio tune that everyone is going to love.

What it is, though, is an extremely confident and capable handling machine that a skilled rider is going to go really, really quick aboard.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

Suspension

First off, the bike’s angles are such that you can often smash into the ground at a similar speed as you would on a true downhill bike, and even faster in some circumstances, which obviously puts the Slayer’s suspension in a bit of a spotlight. In a weird way, much more is expected of it than what you’d hope for from a DH rig; not only does it have to take in and dissipate a metric shit-ton of abuse (no pun intended), but it also has to be efficient and not steal away any of the playfulness that can make a mid-travel bike such a hoot to ride. Being a proper enduro race bike can’t be an easy life.

The 170mm of travel that comes courtesy of the Lyrik reminds me a lot of an up-sized Pike, which isn’t a surprise given the similar internals. At around 170lbs and as a solid expert-level rider who’s going to choose the fun line over the fast line every day of the week, I can’t tell you that it’s remarkably more rigid than its lighter weight brother, but quicker riders with more meat on their bones have said as much. The important thing, at least in my mind, is that the Lyrik’s damper and air spring aren’t going to leave anyone asking for more, regardless of their speed or meat.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

The back of the bike performs a lot like Rocky says it will: the Super Deluxe shock never clanged off the bottom of its stroke, even when running closer to 40-percent sag than 30-percent, but I also never felt like I was coming up short on travel. There’s enough sensitivity on top for the Slayer’s rear-end to feel stuck to the deck in most circumstances, which certainly provides a welcome amount of traction when combined with big tires run at low pressures.

While there’s traction for days, especially when braking on the loose, dusty rocks and steeps sections that make up a lot of Whistler’s side-country trails, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the Slayer’s suspension when it came to high-speed chatter and square-edge impacts. In my mind, it felt like a bit more feedback was coming up through the pedals and into my feet than I expected.

Rocky Mountain Slayer Photo by Margus Riga

I was on the 770 MSL model that comes with a RockShox Super Deluxe DebonAir RC3 shock that lacks the high-speed compression knob of the Fox-sprung bikes, an adjustment that might have let me dial in some more forgiveness. Also, it emerged after my time on the bike that the shock’s air can had extra volume spacers in it, meaning that I could have also been spending too much time in the shock’s stroke where it began to ramp up. This would certainly take away some of the air spring’s ability to move the rear wheel up and out of the way of rocks and roots.

It sounds like I need another go on the new Slayer to fine tune my setup, and I’m not exactly crying in my beer over that fact.

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