RELEASE & FIRST RIDE
2020 Rocky Mountain Slayer
Bringing Freeride Back
Words & Still Photos by Chili-Dog | Action Photos by Margus Riga
The Rocky Mountain Slayer, one of the most iconic big hit bikes from one of the most iconic mountain bike brands. This trail brutalizer first crept into the woods back in 2001, and like many serial killers, has undergone massive changes to disguise itself since then. After a dormant period for single crown freeride bikes, it seems the industry has circled back to long-travel bikes that are ready to send riders off cliffs, over gaps, and down the nastiest shit they can find. It seems the masochistic crew (and we love ‘em) over at Rocky Mountain thought the best way to show us their next-generation Slayer was to have us follow Thomas Vanderham and Wade Simmons down some of those same crazy-ass lines they used to develop the Slayer. While the trails may be much the same, we were thankful that the bikes are not! The new 2020 Slayer took me down some of the gnarliest and steepest stuff I’ve ever ridden at a media camp, and it was ready for more. Let’s dig in to see just what’s changed for 2020. Thankfully they’ve evolved a lot from 2007 so you can actually pedal this time. Meet the new 2020 Rocky Mountain Slayer, now in both 27.5” and 29” flavors with 180 and 170mm of travel respectively. Long live freeride.
Building on the legacy that is the Slayer, Rocky Mountain wanted to improve the capabilities of their do-it-all big hit bike while also adding a 29-inch flavor to the menu. Originally, the project started as an improvement of their current 27.5 bike, but during development, they watched the resurgence in popularity of long travel 29er. Not wanting to miss the boat, Rocky Mountain saw the potential for the Slayer to go both 29 and 27.5 in its final form. That meant two entirely different frames, but Rocky Mountain decided diversifying the Slayer offerings was worth the investment.
After playing with line drawings, suspension layouts, and kinematics, Rocky Mountain decided that an Altitude style top tube shock mount would yield the best ride. Thanks to their impressive shop, all prototyping is done in-house at Rocky’s North Vancouver HQ. They even heat treat their alloy in Canada and have full CNC capabilities. This allows Rocky to see a prototype through from initial sketches to a rideable bike. As a fun tribute and part of the experimentation process, Rocky Mountain actually used their Pipedream retro bike as a test bed for the new Slayer suspension design. The Pipedream has the same kinematics as the new Slayer, but with retro tubing and old link plate designs. Bet you didn’t even notice!
Aside from having both a 27.5” and 29” frame, Rocky Mountain answered the call and will offer a full aluminum model along with their carbon models that have aluminum rear ends. The full alloy bikes will offer a lower price point and will be released this November. Carbon bikes are available now.
Wanting to avoid critics in the chat rooms, the Rocky Mountain Slayer has ample room for a water bottle, spare tube or enduro banana. The brand’s dedicated quest for longevity and durability led them to use increased bearing sizes throughout frame, which also increases stiffness. All frame hardware is accessed from one side of the bike, with only 5 or 6mm hex key. All bearings are also shielded to minimize dirt intrusion, further bolstering the bike’s reliability.
Rocky will be offering the 29er in sizes M-XL while the 27.5” bikes are available in S-XL. The bikes also come with full rubber down tube protectors for shuttle protection and clever internal cable routing grommets that allow for cable movement while riding but help stop dirt intrusion and can be flipped for euros running moto-style brake levers.
In typical Rocky Mountain fashion, they didn’t design the Slayer to hit a specific weight target. One ride on their local North Shore trails is enough to make it clear that their terrain requires strength and durability over low weight. Despite the burly construction and being on coil, the Slayer rides with plenty of pop and agility. If I had to guess the weight based on riding alone, I’d put the bike at around 30lbs. The actual scale weights are a little higher. A 29” Slayer Carbon 90 tips the scales at a respectable 33.8-lbs in a size medium. A 27.5” Slayer Carbon 90 complete comes in at 33.5-lbs in size medium.
The top tube mounted Smoothlink suspension favors traction, but still pedals well for a coil-sprung bike with 170mm of travel. Part of that capability is due to revised suspension from the previous Slayer. The new 2020 Slayer gets tweaked kinematics so that the anti-squat is a flat line around 80-90%. That’s a big departure from the previous bike where the anti-squat was a progressive curve. The change results in less pedal kickback through the rough stuff, which was a sticking point on the last generation Slayer. The rate of the suspension curve was also altered to fit with the linear nature of modern air shocks, and the coil shocks on the factory builds. There’s no arguing with the ground-hugging capabilities of a quality coil sprung bike, and the choice to go coil on the Slayer makes complete sense.
Stephen Matthews, Rocky Mountain’s brand manager, pointed out the typical new bike talking points during our brief presentation. Like every other company that’s serious about staying in business, the Slayer got lower, longer and slacker. That philosophy goes even father thanks to the RIDE-4 chip in the rear shock link. The four-position link has a massive range of adjustment in the bike’s geo. For the duration of the camp we rode ours in the neutral position 2 setting. Riders who travel and ride in very different types of terrain will love the big adjustments that can be made via the flip of a chip.
The 29” Slayer head tube angle position ranges between 63.8 degrees and 64.8 degrees depending on the RIDE-4 position. The 27.5” bike HTA ranges from 63.9-64.8 degrees. Bottom bracket drop has 12mm of adjustment on 27.5” models and a massive 16mm of adjustment on 29er frames. That puts BB drop at 18-6mm on a 27.5 and 34-18mm on a 29er size large frame. Seat tube angles range between 75.8 and 76.8 degrees on the 29er, and 75.4-76.3 degrees on the 27.5” model. Since Rocky intended these bikes to be ridden hard down the steeps, the seat tubes are ultra short, and allow for full post insertion, even for dropper posts over 200mm. While I’ve been on many bikes that put the seat right in your way on steeps and in the air, the Slayer gets it way out of the way and allows for full body movement above the bike. Nicely done.
Rocky Mountain offers a 90 and 70 level build of the 27.5 Slayer, and a 90, 70 and 50 level build of the 29er Slayer. The 90 builds are the top of the line option, with Factory Fox 36 and DHX2 suspension, full Shimano XTR build, and Race Face ARC 30 wheels. The 70 models feature a Shimano XT group, with Rock Shox Lyrik and Super Deluxe suspension and Race Face AR 30 wheels. The 29er bikes are also available in a 50 level build with Shimano SLX drivetrain and brakes, and WTB ST i30 TCS wheels. One area that stays the same between all bikes is the Maxxis Minion DHF Double Down Maxx Grip 3C Tubeless Ready 2.5 front tire and Maxxis Aggressor WT Double Down Tubeless Ready 2.5 rear tire. Check out the Rocky Mountain website for the full build specs on all bikes.
Most media camps take it pretty easy. We ride fun trails, but it’s typically safe stuff with some extra bonus options for the adventurous few. The Rocky Mountain crew does things differently, and we were warned in the invitation email. While Wade Simmons and Thomas Vanderham insisted our riding was “just the tip of the iceberg” on the shore (and I believe them) it was by far the rowdiest trails I’ve ever been on at a media camp.
Our first warm up lap had us dropping into steep loam with tight, technical terrain and slick roots. One thing the shore is particularly known for is loam holes, where repetitive riding makes deep holes and pockets in the loam. These holes make a rough trail even more rough, and push a bike and suspension. Given that the Slayer was born on these trails, it has zero issues swallowing them up and maintaining forward momentum. While I typically like the agility of 27.5 wheels, for these trails my 29er test rig was quite welcome.
The terrain we tackled got me thinking again about how incredible modern bikes are, since this is stuff that would have demanded a DH rig not that long ago. Despite dropping in on a bike I’d never been on, I was immediately comfortable and confident aboard the new Rocky Mountain Slayer. My personal test rig for the camp was a size large 29er in the 70 build spec with XT brakes, XT drivetrain and Rock Shox suspension spec. While it was no featherweight, I appreciated the tough build and coil shock’s sensitivity as we smashed through the deep loam holes that abound on the shore.
This bike is beyond capable. For riders looking to putt around on local flowy singletrack, the Rocky Mountain Slayer is not your bike. The slack head angle and capable suspension make it ideal for riders in the bike park, or those tackling what should be DH trails that you have to pedal to.
Rocky Mountain threaded a fine line with the Slayer between being too slack and just right. One key to their success is the huge range of adjustment in the RIDE-4 chip. While it does require a tool and a bit of time, the chip has massive influences on the way the bike rides. Because of the demanding nature of the shore, I kept mine in position 2 for fear of BB strikes on the many rock rolls, logs, and incredibly technical climbs. On trails that are a bit more open, the slacker positions make this bike beyond capable in ultra-steep terrain.
To put into perspective what this bike is capable of, the Rocky crew and talked me into riding the infamous and near-vertical Dynamite Roll originally built by Ryan Berrecloth… After psyching myself up I dropped in and rolled out with a smile on my face. I did it in an open face helmet on a bike that I could pedal to the top of the trail. This is certainly something I would have needed a full face and DH rig for not too long ago.
See that little speck on the massive rock face? That’s me aboard the new Rocky Mountain Slayer riding down the biggest near-vertical rock face I’ve ever set tires on. Not your typical media camp photo.
To call the capability of the 2020 Rocky Mountain Slayer impressive would be an understatement. This bike isn’t a toy— it’s a precision weapon made for tackling things trail bikes shouldn’t be on and is part of a new generation of freeride bikes that can do it all.
As our ride went on, I was impressed time and time again with just how poised this Slayer is. Even though I was on the 70 level build with the more budget-friendly suspension and limited tuning capability, the Slayer’s suspension design excelled on the challenging North Shore trails. While a lot of long travel 29er bikes are unruly and long in tight sections, I had no such issues getting the Slayer to thread between steep corners and logs. This is a bike that truly hides its size until it’s needed on a big send or steep rock face. It also has the pop needed to gap sections of trail and float off jumps and over rough stuff.
While we only spent two days aboard the new Rocky Mountain Slayer, it’s a bike with promise for riders looking for a capable bike that isn’t sluggish on the tight stuff. While I’ve enjoyed seeing this new crop of long-travel 29ers storm the scene, many of them are a lot of bike to throw around on the more common, casual trail ride. The type of stuff most riders face on their weekly rides can be torturous when it feels like you’re dragging a bag of rocks behind you. I’m excited to see where the Slayer fits into the long-travel 29er marketplace, but my initial impression is promising.
This isn’t designed for riders who live in flat areas or spend most of their time on mellower trails. Yes, it does have impressive all-around capabilities, but it’s sort of like buying a Ford Raptor when you live in New York City. This bike is purpose-built and it’s been built well. If you’re regularly pedaling or shuttling to the top and then riding down stuff that you have no business doing in an open face helmet, the 2020 Rocky Mountain Slayer has you covered.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Whether this bike is for you or not, it’s an impressive machine. We’re excited to test one long term, and hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to throw a leg over the 27.5” version as well. Rocky’s intention is to have the 29er function as the race bike, while the 27.5 hits the freeride/bike park rider market. For riders spending significant time in bike parks or on steep, technical trails, it’s a great choice that lets you have a truly capable bike that will do just about anything you need. The Rocky Mountain Slayer is burly, brutal, and ready to take it all.
For more information, visit the Rocky Mountain website.