Bike Test: Rocky Mountain Instinct 970

Rocky Mountain is a company straight from the North Shores of British Columbia, Canada. Its bikes are built to tame the diverse playground that provides a perfect testing ground for all types of riding, from cross-country to downhill. Riders experienced with riding on “The Shore” know that even a cross-country ride is certain to contain plenty of nasty and technical trails strewn with rocks, roots and features. The Rocky Mountain Instinct 970 MSL 29er was developed on these trails.


Named for its instinctive ability to tame trails, the Instinct is a mid-travel trail bike with 29er wheels that is capable of tackling a huge variety of trail types. Whether it’s smooth singletrack on your local after-work loop or the rough-and- tumble backcountry routes of the BC Bike Race, the Instinct can handle both scenarios.


The Instinct is carbon fiber through and through, sporting Rocky’s Smoothwall carbon construction, which is designed to minimize the voids and extra material on the inside of the carbon tubes, thereby decreasing weight and improving consistency for ride quality and strength. The frame also uses Rocky’s SmoothLink suspension, which is essentially a modi- fied four-bar linkage design. Other standout features include a tapered head tube; press-fit bottom bracket; internal routing for shifters, brakes, and a dropper post; and Rocky Mountain’s proprietary Ride-9 shock mounting system.


A Shimano XT component package matched with tried-and- true Fox suspension front and rear leaves little to chance. This bike is built to not only be light and smooth but also dependable for many miles on the trail.

The Raceface Turbine components deliver rock-solid performance and give the bike a more customized look than typical house-brand components. The crank and rings are stiff and crisp shifting, and the shorty stem is ultra stiff and sleek-looking.

Moving out: The full-carbon construction is not only aesthetically pleasing but also impressively stiff and responsive. Where other manufacturers choose to just do a carbon front or rear triangle, Rocky goes for the full-tilt package and builds the whole frame out of their proprietary Smoothwall carbon fiber. The Instinct runs on the small side, with the effective top tube of the “large” frame only measuring 23.8 inches. Our tallest test riders, who typically ride large frames, would have opted for the XL with this bike.

Ride-9 explained: Ride-9 enables riders to choose one of nine geometry and suspension configurations to suit their riding style, terrain and weight. By simply removing the front shock-mount bolt and flipping the chips that press into the frame, a rider can modify both the geometry and suspension curve. Running the shock farther forward slacks out the geometry for steeper and more technical terrain, while running it farther back makes the handling sharper and pedaling more efficient.

Pedaling: Out of the gate, the Instinct feels efficient, thanks to the remote-controlled Float CTD shock. We appreciate Rocky’s decision to use the remote only on the rear suspension. The Instinct accelerates well enough without it, but the little bit of pedal bob the SmoothLink suspension design does have is easily remedied by setting the shock’s CTD function to the Climb mode.

Cornering: Despite the 29er wheels and 5 inches of travel, the Instinct feels surprisingly nimble on the trail, handling tight turns and switchbacks with ease. When
set to the slackest Ride-9 setting, the bike also exudes confidence on high-speed sweeping turns. The relatively low bottom bracket also keeps the rider’s center of gravity low and in “attack” position for quick line changes on the trail.

Descending: Point the Instinct downhill and you’ll know where the name comes from. With the Ride-9 system set to the slackest and most stable position, the bike knows where to go. While the 5 inches of travel may seem ample on paper, this bike descends like a lightweight trail bike with a little extra forgiveness.

The Instinct’s SmoothLink travel has a lively and active feel that devours chunder without a hint of brake jack. Our most aggressive test riders were able to find the bottom of the travel on technical trails; however, riders could agree that the light, lively and active feel of the Instinct was a perfect match for a huge variety of trails.


The Ride-9 system works great to fine-tune the ride characteristics, but don’t think of it as an on-the-fly adjustment. The shock-mount bolt and chip system are far too intricate to be messed with on the trail. Instead, experiment with a few settings, then find the one that works best for your trails and just ride it.

The internal cable routing does a great job of keeping the frame looking sleek. The same can’t be said for the six cables coming off the handlebar. The front end of the bike looks cluttered from the rider’s perspective. Sure, you could forgo the dropper post, remote shock control or front derailleur, but which one would you willingly give up? We’ll keep them all and just deal with the clutter.

Fox’s CTD remote doesn’t mate well with the brake levers and shifters. When mounted to the inside of the lever, it interferes with the shifters, and when mounted on the outside, it’s difficult to reach without taking a hand off the bar. We appreciated the function of the Fox’s CTD system, but the remote still needs some work.

The Continental Race King tires have a very round profile that hooks up well in most conditions, and the tires have a very predictable feel when laid over. That said, they have more rolling resistance and struggle to bite into the hardpack and loose-over-hardpack trails we regularly test on. We would replace them with something faster and lighter when they wear out.


The Rocky Mountain Instinct proves its mettle as a very well-rounded 29er trail bike. While not the simplest solution for any rider, the combination of dialed suspension performance and very adjustable geometry (thanks to the Ride-9 system) makes this bike appealing to a huge cross section of riders.

Riders looking for an aggressive descender that can handle the gnarliest of chutes and trails should look elsewhere. Riders looking for the pedaling efficiency of a lightweight trail bike who don’t want to give up all the forgiveness of an aggressive bike will find the Instinct a perfect match. ❏



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