-140 millimeters rear travel, 150 front
-29-only on sizes medium through XL
-27.5-only on size XS
-Size small available in either 29 or 27.5
-Full carbon frame
-Adjustable geometry, kinematics, and chainstay length
-Smart, functional customization
-Clean, understated look
-Ride 9 flip chip requires some trial and error
-Chainstay-length flip chip adjustment not fine enough
-Not cheap, but cheaper options abound.
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Ok, so here’s how we se it. If the Altitude is Rocky Mountain’s enduro bike and the Element is their XC bike, then by process of elimination, whatever goes in between must be a trail bike. The short-travel 27.5-inch Thunderbolt is gone for now, leaving only the Rocky Mountain Instinct. For a while, the Instinct has been a 140-millimeter-rear-travel 29er. So, that means trail … right? Granted, this year’s move to a 150mm fork—a Fox 36 on some models—does edge it towards the all-mountain category. But still, most builds don’t have a piggy-back rear shock, most builds spec a fork that fits squarely in the trail category, and none of the geometry settings yield a head angle slacker than 65 degrees. Borderline, maybe, but come on! There isn’t even a build with a 200mm front rotor!
Well, apparently the process of elimination was not a reliable way to try and pigeon-hole this bike. The Rocky Mountain Instinct is far too capable to be lumped into a category as pedestrian as “trail bike.” Get it up to speed, and it will be determined to keep you at speed. It is planted and stable and, though definitely not bottomless, it was eager to suck up the business end of any bump we happened upon down our root-covered Bellingham test track. But we all got there in different ways, thanks to Rocky Mountain’s Ride 9 flip-chip system.
Normally, a flip chip will simply allow you to opt for a lower, slacker geometry setting, ideally with minimal effect on suspension behavior. Ride 9, on the other hand, also introduces the ability to adjust the leverage-rate curve. Only one tester had much interest in taking advantage of it, but construct Ride 9’s puzzle of concentric squares a specific way, and you can combine that slack setting with noticeably more (or less) progressive feel. Compared to adding and removing volume spacers in a rear shock, these other settings are actually a breeze to access.
But another tester pointed out that the bike doesn’t immediately tell you if you’re in the setting that suits you best. It takes spending a lot of time in each before you encounter enough good or bad moments to know if you got it right or if you need to roll that 9-sided die again. Thankfully, a simple low, middle and high position are intuitive and easy to access for those who don’t feel a need to make the Instinct’s suspension any more or less progressive.
And then you have to think about the chainstay flip chip. But this is way easier, because it allows you to switch between just two settings: Regular, or JusticeLeague Snyder Cut. We all agreed that the still-pretty-long shorter setting of 437mm best suited what this bike would be used for most of the time. Even though it’s more ground-huggy than poppy, the Rocky Mountain Instinct rides too light to just be a barge. But that doesn’t mean the rangy, 447mm setting won’t make sense for some.
One tester who went on an extra lap just to try out the long setting discovered the Instinct’s potential to be an enduro addict’s trail bike. Someone who wants a bike that won’t wallow, is reasonably responsive, but won’t scare you if you get it up to speed. The same might be said about the Privateer 141, but for very different reasons. The Privateer has a full degree slacker head angle than the Instinct (depending on Ride9 setting), and is significantly heavier than the carbon one we tested. There’s something more manageable about the Instinct on the climbs. It feels … normal. Sure, we could have used a steeper seat tube angle, but the easy to reach climb switch did the job nicely. It’s a bike you really can ride almost everywhere.
And a bike that almost everyone can ride. There’s an XS size that drops down to 27.5-inch wheels. And a small size that you can get in either 27.5 or 29-inch. And all three configurations use a shorter-stroke shock but offer the same amount of travel. The greater mechanical advantage makes it easier for lightweight riders to get into the travel. And although nearly $7,000 for the Carbon 70 that we tested is a little steep for a bike without carbon rims, you can get into an alloy instinct for $3,130 that has a pretty neat spec, and all the chips you can flip.
More than just another bike that “blurs the lines between categories,” the Rocky Mountain Instinct will let you decide what category it’s in. Not just because of its 18 different personalities, but because the chassis that those personalities all share is ready to go in whatever direction you ask it to.
Here’s that $3,130 starting point. The Instinct Alloy 30 gets you Ride 9 and the chainstay flip chip, along with a stellar Deore 12-speed drivetrain and too-good-to-be-so-cheap 4000-series Shimano 4-piston brakes. The important mechanical bits on this bike will more than satisfy the majority of riders on the majority of terrain. The RockShox 35 fork is plenty stout to do the stuff we talked about above, but the damper isn’t all that sophisticated. But if you picture yourself needing more than what the “majority” needs, and if you didn’t roll your eyes at the idea of a “sophisticated damper,” then you absolutely should bump up to the Instinct Alloy 50. It’s quite a bump to go up to $4,500, but if we could reach through this screen and grab you by the collar until you admit you can afford it, we would. The Fox DPX2 shock and Float EVOL (not bare-bones Rhythm) 36 fork alone are worth the upgrade. But it then goes to a DT Swiss 370 rear hub, XT derailleur and SLX shifter and brakes. There is very little on that build that you will ever want to change until you completely break it off. As far as sweet spots go, it’s Mexican Coca-Cola.
Photos: Anthony Smith