Bike Test: Rocky Mountain Sherpa 27.5+

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Over the years we’ve spent thousands of miles strengthening our painfully blissful relationship with bikepacking. We put it in such a way because it really is more of a relationship than it is an experience or skill. We approached it timidly, fully embraced the commitment, learned its ins and outs, and then repeatedly dealt with its painful jabs in order to enjoy its moments of unadulterated perfection. Through all the rocky unpredictability of our bikepacking relationship, however, one thing was consistent the type of bike we used. The bikes used for such an undertaking came from a commonly agreed-upon mold of rigid steel bicycles that felt heavy under foot but always came through for us and emerged from any tussle (mostly) intact.

The Rocky Mountain Sherpa entered our bikepacking relation- ship as the girl next door, with all the enticing features that elicit unbroken stares. Its carbon fiber frame and full-suspension design had us wondering if this was the one for us all along. With only one way to find out, we slipped away for a few weekends to determine whether it was a match made in heaven or simply a passing fancy.

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WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?

Rocky Mountain created the Sherpa using its full-suspension cross-country race frame, the Element, paired with a newly designed rear triangle. While the frame is constructed using Rocky Mountain’s Smoothwall carbon, the rear triangle is aluminum alloy to increase durability and strength when fully loaded. The obvious advantage of the wider rear triangle is the ability to run wider tires, although it also places the derailleur further outboard than on other models and allows proper clearance between the tire and chain for a 2×10 drivetrain. Both the front and rear shift cables are internally routed in the downtube, while additional internal routing options are available for a stealth dropper post or shock remote, although we don’t see either of those options being popular on this category of bike. Two bottle-mounting locations are provided—one in the triangle and one beneath the downtube—for multiple water-storage options on long trips.

Rocky-Jr-SpreadReady for it all: The best bikepacking trips provide a wide variety of terrain on a route that requires consecutive days to complete. Rocky Mountain has designed the Sherpa to conquer any terrain thrown at it while also providing upright comfort for long days of pedaling.

HOW IS IT UNIQUE?

One of the Sherpa’s claims to fame is its recognition as the first production full-suspension 27.5+ bike. The combination is designed to provide the stability needed for the varied terrain encountered on bikepacking adventures while also allowing the rider to be a little more rowdy once the uphill slug opens up into a ripping backcountry descent. The 120-millimeter Manitou Magnum fork provides it with a 69-degree head tube angle that is slacker than the Element’s, while a custom Manitou McLeod shock is valved to run at lower pressures, and therefore allows riders to run pressures in a more usable range once the bike is fully weighted.

Back in the limelight: For a period of time, Manitou seemed to have sat on the back burner of people’s minds. However they’re now stealing the show, as their introduction of plus-size-specific Magnum forks and McLeod shocks are becoming OEM on nearly every plus-size bike.

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Additionally, the Sherpa is the first bike to use the WTB Scraper i45 rim and Trailblazer 27.5×2.8-inch tire combination. The combination may be the hot new craze sweeping the industry right now, but it was the partnership between Rocky Mountain and WTB that first provided us with a glimpse of it over a year ago. Most important, check out the radical paint job. It’s not often you have a Tibetan snow lion guiding you into the backcountry!

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WHAT IS IT MADE FOR?

After a handful of trips on the Sherpa, all covering a variety of distances, we’ve honed in on the circumstances where its strengths are best utilized. In the end we would consider the Sherpa to be an excellent sub-100-mile, weekend bikepacking machine. Its carbon frame provides stiffness not typically found once a bike is loaded up with gear. Regardless of where the weight sits on the frame, out-of-the-saddle pedaling and hard corners still leave the Sherpa feeling solid, predictable and laterally snappy. The comfortable, upright position provided a ride that felt very planted when simply pedaling along, but it’ll also allow for a playful experience if the rider is willing to provide the gusto needed to throw it around. It’ll slice and dice through rocky sections of trail with its lightweight nimbleness, as the full-suspension design keeps riders confident through it all.

Riders looking to approach weekend bikepacking trips with an adventurous spirit will find a one-of-a-kind bike in the Sherpa. These are the types of bikepackers who are sure to travel light and leave some creature comforts at home in order to have a lightweight experience on the trail. The fast-rolling profile of the 2.8-inch-wide WTB Trailblazer tire minimizes drag while pedaling out fire roads, as its large volume provides the cushion and traction needed for the unexpected terrain you’re bound to encounter on any trip.

WHAT IS IT NOT  MADE FOR?

Once trips venture past the 100-mile mark, things generally become tamer as the rider gets into a one-pedal-after-the-next rhythm and locations become more remote. Such trips are better suited to a rigid frame that provides larger frame-bag capacities, which is where weight is the least noticeable. Additionally, even the slightest bob of the rear shock is noticeable on a long ride when the buddy grunting next to you is steadily chugging up the hill on his hardtail. While carbon has come a long way in terms of strength and durability (and even aluminum has its potential for catastrophe), the likelihood of being able to ride a damaged aluminum frame out of a remote location is still much more likely. Because of this, it’s difficult for us to suggest a carbon frame for the most remote rides where aluminum or steel is still the clear choice.

Rocky-6The red rock wave: While it may not be the White Line Trail that went viral, the Sherpa enabled us to conquer sections of trail that would have otherwise been terrifying on a traditional bike-packing bike.

TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?

The WTB Trailblazer tires strike a solid balance between terrain forgiveness and nimble playfulness, but the sidewalls are very exposed for a tire that is being relied upon in remote areas. We see the more protected sidewalls of the 27.5×3-inch WTB Bridger tire being more reliable in a bikepacking setting. Be sure to throw a trusted saddle on the Sherpa before your first outing, because a 100-mile ride is the last way you want to test your comfort on a new saddle.

Rocky-5Fresh lines: Take a look at that paint job! We were most impressed with its ability to resist any visible wear after hundreds of miles of rub from frame packs.

BUYING ADVICE

The Sherpa is an excellent choice for riders looking to embark on weekend trips where only minimal gear is necessary. As long as individuals don’t plan on using it for extended trips, every proud owner of a Sherpa will be satisfied with his or her decision as he or she is launching from one obstacle to the next while the rest of the group slows down and neatly picks through the rocks.

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