Not a day after we brought you the news of BMC's new e-MTB, the Trailfox AMP, we're writing another big new release story. This one's from Canada, courtesy of Rocky Mountain: they've got a new electric mountain bike, the Altitude Powerplay, which is arguably even more interesting.
Not for Rocky Mountain the simple (and well tested) route of getting a motor from a company that makes motors and using that as the power source. Oh no: the Rocky Mountain engineers fancied that it'd be a better idea to use their own system, so they've built one. It's called Powerplay™ and they've been developing it since 2010.
“Rather than bolt on a bulky off-the-shelf system, we struck out on our own to redefine the category”, says Rocky Mountain's Alex Cogger. “The Powerplay system is the result of designing an electric drive for the suspension and geometry needs of proper mountain bikes; in fact, the geometry and pivot points of the Altitude Powerplay are identical to those of the new Altitude. In our opinion this is the first electric bike that actually rides like a mountain bike should.” Rocky Mountain are of the opinion that the geometry of their bikes is just so, and they wanted the e-bike to match. As you can see from this gif, it very much does:
That wouldn't have been possible with an off-the-shelf motor, say Rocky Mountain, and indeed the 425mm chainstay length is a good 20mm shorter than even tightly-packed Shimano and Bosch-powered bikes.
Another thing that's different is that the motor isn't a bolt-on unit: to prevent creaking and wear, pedaling forces are isolated from the drive system via a bottom bracket shell that is integral to the frame itself. That helps with the strutural stiffness of the frame too, and it means that the bits that wear (the bottom bracket bearings and the drive sprocket) are serviceable with normal workshop tools.
The system is running at a higher voltage: 48V as opposed to 36V for the more established systems. Rocky Mountain say that allows faster charging, and better heat management when you're hitting the motor hard on a climb. Down the other side a clutch mechanism disengages the motor entirely when it's not being used to minimise drag.
Battery-wise Rocky Mountain are speccing a giant 632Wh battery, but even with that the bikes aren't super-heavy compared to the competition, with claimed weights for the three builds between 21.6kg and 22.3kg. Rocky Mountain say you can get up to 80% battery (505Wh) in two hours of charging.
Rocky Mountain's system is designed to appeal to the purist: there's no big display, the only control option on the bike being a small remote that tells you the assist level and the battery state. The system can link via Bluetooth to your smartphone and from there you can customise the motor response, track rides, get range estimates and more.
The Bike iteslf is a carbon-framed 150mm all-mountain machine using Boost axles and 27.5x2.5” tyres; it's also compatible with 26x3.0” wheels and rubber. Rocky Mountain say it's “the first e-MTB that features true aggressive trail ride feel”, although we know a few other manufacturers who'd dispute that. Anyway the frame comes in four sizes from S-XL and there's three builds available.
For those with the deepest pockets the Altitude Powerplay Carbon 90 will set you back £8,499. It uses SRAM's e-MTB-specific EX1 8-speed drivetrain and Guid RE brakes, and there's a Fox 36 fork and Fox Float DPS shock handling the suspension. You get a Fox dropper seatpost too.
The second-tier Altitude Powerplay 70 is two grand less at £6,499, but still manages Fox suspension and seatpost and SRAM EX1 gearing. The fork and shock aren't the top-end factory units and the wheels are downgraded.
The cheapest of the three builds, the Altitude Powerplay 50 (£5,499), saves another grand by running a smaller battery – though at 500Wh it's still as big as pretty much any of the opposition – and using Rock Shox Yari forks and a Deluxe RT shock, and a Race Face dropper 'post. You still get SRAM EX1 running gear though.
The car park test
The Altitude Powerplay will be available in select European markets – including the UK, happily – from July. But by lucky hap we had a man passing by the factory last week who managed to get a quick go on the bike. Only round the car park (literally) but here are his thoughts:
"I think the thing that struck me most was how much it looked and felt like a regular long travel trail bike. From standstill it certainly feels like any other regular MTB I’ve ridden, and it’s only when you get a few cranks in and up to speed do you realise that there is actually a motor down there giving you a firm push in the back.
"The motor itself is whisper quiet – almost inaudible when riding around on the flat smooth tarmac of the car park I tested – and the way the torque provided ramps up to match your effort feels natural to me. You just accelerate faster than normal!
"The chassis feels really balanced and predictable, even when at low speed and cornering tightly, where the extra mass has the potential to be somewhat cumbersome and awkward. In my opinion this mostly comes from the bespoke motor being placed that much further in front of the BB compared to the off-the-shelf Bosch and Shimano units which are centred about the crank spindles.
My brief ride couldn’t have been much briefer, or much less relevant to real world conditions. But as a relative e-bike newbie I was intrigued. I’m fascinated to know what it would feel like out on a proper ride. My guess is pretty damn good."
We'll get our hands on one just as soon as we can. In the meantime you can head over to the Rocky Mountain website to get the full low-down.