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ROCKY MOUNTAIN PIPELINE TEST

September 26, 2016
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screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-7-12-56-amThe term “pipeline” is used by Canadians like the Rocky Mountain crew to describe a style of riding that is inspired by the awesome terrain in British Columbia. Riders flock to the loam like the salmon to Capistrano, and the roots on the trails grow thicker than Tom Selleck’s mustache. This new plus-sized trailbike seeks to deliver that style with big fat plus-sized wheels and tires mated to the Rocky Mountain’s Smoothlink suspension. The jury is still out on whether plus-size will reign supreme over fat, or whether plus-size tires are faster or better than standard tires. Regardless, the number of mid-fat bikes is growing, leading many to think that there is more to these bikes than meets the eye. Aggressive trailbikes are Rocky Mountain’s cup of tea, and through the course of our testing, we pushed the Pipeline to see if it could hang with the rest of the family.

rocky7Mid-fat fun: Last year Rocky Mountain stepped into the mid-fat game with their bikepacking machine the Sherpa, and this year have made their intentions known with the aggressive trailbike the Pipeline. Between the wider tires, versatile geometry and capable suspension, there really isn’t much this bike won’t handle.

WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

Plus-size bikes are still a fairly rare sight on local trails. As with anything new, it can take a few seasons for riders to embrace the concept, and the Pipeline is another step towards legitimizing plus-size tires. Rocky Mountain designed the Pipeline for riders seeking maximum traction but on an aggressive all-mountain platform.

The Pipeline has a versatile platform that will appeal to a wide range of riders, whether it’s cross-country racers looking for a capable trailbike or adventure seekers hoping to cram a little extra excitement into their next bikepacking trip. Rocky Mountain offers two levels of the Pipeline, starting with the 750 MSL for $4000 and topping out with the 770 MSL for $4800.rocky3Drop in: The Pipeline has enough travel to get rowdy and drop into sections instead of “rolling” them. The compact geometry made it easy to throw the bike around and get it airborne whenever we wanted.

WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Both levels of the Pipeline are equipped with a carbon frame and aluminum rear triangle. The Pipeline uses an interchangeable chip system called Ride-9 that allows riders to change the geometry and suspension with nine different settings, depending on the terrain and rider style. The Instinct is one of Rocky Mountain’s more established platforms, and some of its geometry carries over to the Pipeline. Be aware that this bike has a smaller fit than other bikes in this category. Most of our testers ride large frames, but we felt pretty comfortable on an extra large.

rocky5It’s what they ride in B.C.: The Pipeline is a 1x-specific frame that shows Rocky Mountain’s commitment to riding without front derailleurs. Between the added traction and the right front chainring, riders won’t be in over their heads with this setup.

The frame will fit up to 3.25-inch tires, and riders can go down to narrower sizes if they feel so inclined. The bike sports 130 millimeters of travel and is designed around a 150-millimeter fork. Rocky Mountain also includes modern technologies such as Boost spacing, internal cable routing and a Press-Fit BB92 bot- tom bracket. Rocky Mountain is fully committed to the single-ring design that won’t accept a front derailleur.

WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?

Shimano XT is one of the most established components on the market, and with it spec’d on our test bike, we were confident we would have consistent braking and shifting. The full Fox suspension was plush and complemented the rear suspension design with a balanced feel. The plus-sized, 110-millimeter fork axle spacing matches the bike’s stout nature well.

rocky10You know they work: Our test bike came with a full Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes. The XT brakes have a proven legacy that will give any rider the confidence they need to ride hard.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

All-mountain bikes have plenty of suspension, and it’s easy to underestimate them. We set the sag at 30 percent and really felt comfortable there, although some riders might want to adjust for the larger air-volume tires, depending on their local terrain. With 16 psi in the front tire and 17 in the rear, 30-percent sag was effective for our local trails.

rocky9A lot of options: The Ride 9 rear-suspension design gives riders different options to dial in the geometry and performance. The bike ships in the mid setting, and from there riders can go as slack as a 67.2-degree head angle or as steep as 69 degrees.

Moving out:

On paper, an XL is too big for almost all of our testers, but the Pipeline fit most of our riders comfortably (although a couple who are on the fence between a medium and large couldn’t swing it). We definitely recommend test riding a couple sizes to dial in the fit.

rocky-fullLean it just a little more: Plus-size tires have some serious benefits, and one of them is having a little extra confidence in high-speed corners. The 2.8-inch-wide tires feel like they have endless traction, especially when leaning hard through a turn.

Cornering:

Plus-size tires have some serious benefits, and one of the biggest is being able to carry more speed through corners. The Maxxis tires hooked up with extreme confidence through berms and carried momentum out of corners. We did play around with the tire pressure some to nail down a healthy balance. The geometry allowed us to lean the bike over, although the top tube bulges out a bit where the shock mounts and banged the inside of some of our riders’ knees when cornering hard.

rocky4The steeper, the better: With mid-fat tires, it was easy to sit back and spin up steep sections of trail without worrying about losing traction. Riders may not be setting any records on the climbs, but they will be able to climb comfortably.

Climbing:

There is no denying how much traction riders get out of plus-size tires, and on steep climbs it is noticeable. We wouldn’t say these tires will be setting vertical records any time soon, but planted in the saddle and spinning away, we were able to motor over sustained and steep climbs. The geometry allowed us to lean over the front bars and grind out steep sections. We spent most of our time with the shock completely locked out; the other two positions were a little too plush.

Descending:

We have said it plenty, but plus-size tires are flat out fun to ride. The extra rubber gave us more stability and still had a playful feel through tight sections of trail. The rear suspension was incredibly smooth and kept up with the bike at high speeds. We had plenty of front-end stability with the Fox 34 fork and felt supported in sketchy moments.

The head angle for this amount of travel sounds steep on paper, but we never felt like our weight was pushed too far forward on descents. In comparison to standard wheel sizes, this bike felt competitive when it came to downhill speed. The big tires felt just narrow enough to carry their speed without much effort.

rocky2Just have fun: We have said it plenty of times about plus-size bikes, but they are simply fun to ride. The wide tires allow riders to relax a little bit and not worry about picking clean lines while still feeling like they have a playful wheel.

TRICKS, TIPS OR UPGRADES?

We were pretty pleased with the overall build and performance of the Pipeline, but the geometry is very unique, especially in conjunction with just how much the rear suspension can be tweaked. Having nine different positions to choose from makes it easy to be overwhelmed by the options. Our biggest tip is to keep things simple when testing.

The 28-tooth front ring gave us all the climbing gears we wanted, but we had trouble finding the right gear on some of the high- er-speed descents and had a few spin-outs. Riders might consider stepping up to a 30- or 32-tooth front chainring.

rocky8

BUYING ADVICE

Plus-size is only gaining traction (pun intended) on the trails. is a versatile bike that’s as comfortable being a trail-bike shredder as it is a bikepacking adventure bike. With the dialed geometry and competitive build kit, the bike offers a capable package that will take several different forms to suit a rider’s needs. This is a plus-sized bike that could actually satisfy a rider looking for one bike that can do it all. Sure, it probably won’t win any cross-country races, nor is it the best choice for a day at the gravity park; however, the big tires and capable suspension will make a novice rider more confident. Expert riders will be blown away by the traction and will love the versatile nature of the Pipeline. Don’t let the big tires scare you; they’re bringing that Canadian pipeline feeling to the trailbike.

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