Bike Review: Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 70 Trail Bike

A must-have rig for all-day adventures

Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 70 Trail Bike

The Instinct received a complete update for 2021 following the redesigned Altitude, an enduro race rig that we tested earlier this year. Rocky Mountain’s goals for the new Instinct included making the bike more efficient both uphill and downhill as well as adding adjustability for different riding styles and rider heights. The new Instinct is designed to be so versatile that it will absorb the duties of Rocky Mountain’s Thunderbolt through 2021. Seeing the new Instinct arrive at our office quickly sparked a roshambo battle among our testers, with all of them hoping to get a chance to swing a leg over this brand-new dream machine.

Rocky’s new Instinct offers highly adjustable geometry and the perfect amount of travel.



Modern riders demand more from their bikes than ever before, so Rocky Mountain addressed those needs by ensuring ease of maintenance, frame durability and full control over the Instinct’s geometry. The rear axle was designed with a flip chip, allowing riders to adjust the rear end by 10 millimeters. This provides high-speed stability in the long setting and a more playful, snappy feel in the short setting. Additionally, Rocky continues to use its Ride-9 adjustment system for further fine-tuning.

Full-length downtube protection keeps the Instinct looking fresh during shuttle runs or when blasting over small paint-seeking rocks. Carbon frame models provide internal cable routing for a rattle-free ride and easy setup, while alloy-framed bikes have large cable ports. Rocky then took things a step further by adding dual bearings to the chainstay and seatstay areas for enhanced stiffness and durability.

The Instinct is designed with 140 millimeters of travel and ranges in wheel diameter depending on its frame size. Size extra small and small models have 27.5-inch wheels combined with low-slung top tubes, providing additional stand-over clearance for shorter riders. Meanwhile, small through extra-large frames are offered with 29-inch wheels for enhanced roll-over performance.


There are quite a few Rocky Mountain Instinct models added to the lineup this year that offer an array of options for all types of riders. This includes six carbon build kit options, two alloy models and some frame-only options.

We tested the Carbon 70 model that sits just under the Carbon 90 and 99 models. This build featured a full Shimano XT kit, a pair of DT Swiss hubs and Race Face AR 30 wheels, along with a Race Face cockpit.

To keep the trails feeling smooth, Rocky gave the Instinct a Fox 36 Performance Elite fork and matched it up with a Fox DPX2 shock. The bike rolls on Maxxis rubber front and rear and comes fully ready to be converted to tubeless. Other standout components include a OneUp chain guide and a pair of Ergon GE1 EVO grips.


Rocky’s Ride 9 system allows riders to finetune geometry.

Rocky Mountain continues to use its four-bar suspension design known as Smoothlink, but takes it a step further with size-specific tunes. The goal behind Smoothlink is to offer a supple beginning stroke, supportive mid-stroke, and progressive end stroke, ensuring maximum traction, rider support and a bottomless feel. Rocky’s engineers painstakingly tuned each frame size to best suit its intended rider.

This do-it-all trail bike feels comfortable in every situation.


The 2021 Instinct shares many of the same technologies and features seen on the redesigned Altitude; however, it’s important to note that those bikes are quite different in their intended purpose. The Instinct is meant for long days in the saddle and efficiently tackling all types of trails, while the Altitude was designed for aggressive riding and enduro racing. The Instinct is for riders who are up for the challenge of a technical climb and ready to pin it through singletrack and push it on every descent.

A flip chip at the rear axle gives two wheelbase settings to adjust cornering feel.


Once we got this new machine on the trail, we quickly noted its willingness to keep climbing all day, yet it always welcomed a fun descent. The Instinct strikes a perfect balance between uphill efficiency and downhill prowess. We rode the bike with the shock set in the open position throughout the majority of our testing. In this setting, the bike provided a solid platform, allowing us to charge up the trails in or out of the saddle. Charging technical sections was another welcome challenge and encouraged our testers to find new lines. When a long, boring road approached, the Instinct continued to impress with a perseverance to conquer the mountain.


Although the Instinct has no problem charging up the trails, it’s happiest on the way back down. We experimented with the two axle positions and found the short position proved to be the most fun on tighter trails, allowing the bike to be more easily tossed around. The long setting aided high-speed stability, which could benefit riders looking for a weekday trail bike and a weekend enduro machine all in one package.

Taking the time to adjust the Instinct will unlock its true potential. While it will require some quality time in the garage to get this bike perfectly set up for your riding style, you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your efforts.

rocky mountain instinctMODS AND UPGRADES

Other than small personal preferences and, of course, your choice of pedals, the Instinct is as ready to shred out-of-the-box as they come. Although the model we tested wasn’t the most elite model in the lineup, we couldn’t find a single upgrade worth spending your hard-earned money on. Rocky did an excellent job providing riders with exactly what they need.


The Instinct is a great all-around bike built to handle just about every trail situation. Keep in mind, the perfect do-everything bike is often not the best at specific tasks, such as going up against a true downhill rig or a super lightweight cross-country bike. That said, the majority of riders who just want a bike that can comfortably handle rough terrain and not hold them back on the descents will be hard pressed to find a better option than Rocky Mountain’s 2021 Instinct.


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