–140mm rear travel, and 150 up front
–29-inch wheels for sizes small-XL
–27.5-inch wheels on XS and small
–Super supple suspension
–Size specific tune
–Seven spec levels
–Attention to detail is very impressive
–Not a ton of natural pedaling support
–Small-wheel lovers might miss the Thunderbolt
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Some of my all time favorite bikes have been 140-millimeter-travel 29ers, and the Rocky Mountain Instinct occupies a solid place on that list along with the Evil Offering, Ibis Ripmo (that one’s 145mm, but who’s counting?), and the old Trek Remedy. I even chose a Rocky Mountain Instinct as the platform for a custom dream build I put together back in 2017. Back then, the only version you could get the bare frame of the Instinct in was the BC Edition format, which came with a different shock, link, and 155mm of travel—so I promptly ordered the parts I needed to swap it back down to my beloved 140mm travel number.
There’s just a lot to love about that travel number for all around trail riding, because it tends to result in bikes that feel like they’re sneaking into long-travel levels of capability, all while maintaining much of the energetic pep that makes short-travel bikes so fun. They also tend to come in at reasonable weights. The new Instinct checks these boxes, and more.
I mean, just look at it. This thing is a work of art. Every millimeter of the frame’s slender silhouette has been scrutinized. The lines are clean and elegant and the tube shapes and profiles were designed with real intent and care. Even the forward shock mount and swing-link containing the Instinct’s RIDE-9 geometry adjust chips look smart. The bike’s cable routing has undergone some much needed refinement as well. Cable management on the previous Instinct was not good, but the routing on the new one is superbly clean and quiet—something that’s much harder to pull off than one might think. It’s nice see Rocky nail all these details, which also include low-profile but effective downtube protection and a very well-done slap pad on the chainstay.
But the Instinct didn’t just get prettier, it of course received kinematic updates to increase mid-stroke and bottoming support, as well as the cursory geometry updates we’ve come to expect, like much longer reaches across the board—the size large, for example, is now the same length as the previous XL at 487 millimeters (in the neutral geometry position). The seat angle got a degree steeper, too, ranging from 76 to 77 degrees, while the head angle got a degree slacker, ranging from 65 to 66 degrees. Rocky also equipped the new Instinct with adjustable chain stays that can stretch 11 millimeters from around 437 to 448, depending on what RIDE-9 geometry position the bike is in.
Rocky added a size to the range as well, with the addition of an XS. This, however, comes along with the removal of the 27.5”-wheeled Thunderbolt from Rocky’s lineup. But, Rocky isn’t abandoning small wheels altogether—the XS rolls on 27.5-inch hoops, and the size small is available as a dedicated 27.5er, and as a dedicated 29er. So, while there are actually five sizes, there are actually six options. This sort of folding of the Thunderbolt into the two smallest sizes is still an overall reduction in offerings, but it makes sense. Let’s be honest, 29ers are just a lot more popular these days, but small wheels do offer real advantages to shorter riders.
The smallest two sizes also have a sloping toptube to minimize standover height, and they interestingly also run a different size shock as the rest of the sizes. Medium through XL have 52.5mm of shock stroke to provide the bike’s 140 millimeters of travel. The Small and XS have the same amount of travel, but have just 45 millimeters of stroke, resulting in a leverage rate increase. This effectively makes it easier for lighter-weight riders to achieve maximum travel and experience the same suppleness that heavier riders on larger bikes feel. This may seem like it isn’t totally optimized for riders that are both short and stocky but keep in mind that it’s easier to add support to a stock shock via volume spacers and compression damping, while making one work for lighter riders often requires expensive custom tuning and revalving.
Speaking of suppleness, that’s where the Instinct really shines. It’s not the most naturally efficient pedaler, meaning that the suspension is pretty active when climbing with the shock in the open position, but it makes up for it in ground-hugging traction. There aren’t a lot of other bikes that are as supple off the top and as buttery smooth through chunky sections of trail as this bike is. And there’s so much cornering grip that you could almost mistake the Fox DPX2 Performance Elite that comes on the Instinct Carbon 70 for a coil. Oh, that reminds me, you can also get this same level of build—full Shimano XT— in a “Coil Edition” with Cane Creek coil Helm fork and DB Coil IL shock for an extra $730. I can’t even imagine how much traction that thing must make.
But anyway, for an all-round, do-everything aggressive trail bike, the Instinct doesn’t leave a lot to complain about. Even with with its ability to make gobs of traction, the Instinct still has a very easy-going lightweight feel to the way it rides—which is partly due to the fact that it’s actually pretty light at just over 30 pounds. Not bad for a bike with 140/150mm travel, a Fox 36 Grip 2 fork, and aluminum hoops. However, it’s also the suspension that gives the bike its liveliness. It flutters over the terrain in a way that feels unique because most bikes that do such a great job of tracking the ground don’t often love to lift off of it. This bike does. It provides a nice blend of stability and sportiness, and it looks real good in the process.
Sure, there are other bikes that climb with less suspension activity, but the pedal platform lever is super handy to reach down for, and the middle setting quiets the bike more than enough for most situations. And, for those willing to give up a small bit of the Instinct’s off-the top sensitivity—which, again, it has in spades—by dialing in the low-speed compression on the shock, that could be enough for some riders to be perfectly happy running it open all the time. And besides, all that suspension activity makes for one hell of a good time when gravity’s on your side. Overall, I think Rocky Mountain did a fine job tuning both the bike’s kinematics and the appropriate shock tune.
There aren’t many companies that offer seven spec levels plus a frame-only. At the entry level, the Instinct Alloy 30 comes in at a reasonable $3,130 and comes with the very impressive Shimano Deore 12-speed drivetrain, non-series Shimano MT420 4-piston brakes, RockShox Deluxe Select Plus shock and 35 Gold RL fork, WTB ST i30 rims laced to Shimano MT410 hubs rolling on quality Maxxis Minion rubber.
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Photos and Video: Satchel Cronk