Rocky Mountain’s R&D facility is nestled at the foot of Vancouver’s North Shore Mountains, home to some of the most well-known trails in the world. The company started in 1978 when a few soon-to-be founders were working at a bike shop and began modifying steel road bikes with flat bars, wide tires and thumb shifters. To say their designs have come a long way is one heck of an understatement. Today, Rocky Mountain builds every one of its bikes—from cross-country to downhill—to handle the rugged terrain and conditions that the founders cut their teeth on. The North Shore has shaped Rocky Mountain’s bikes, and this year the company has turned out a new all-mountain trail machine dubbed the Instinct. We brought one of these machines to the SoCal trails to see if the Shore-inspired trailbike could hold its own on our testing grounds.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
The Instinct is arguably the most versatile bike in Rocky’s lineup. The bike comes to the table with a stable but aggressive geometry and suspension that can handle technical and steep trails, but it also sports a fairly efficient pedaling platform. It’s no XC racer, nor is it a downhill sled; instead, it’s a dedicated trailbike packing enough travel to not only take the edge off but inspire confidence on truly rocky terrain. If this version of the Instinct doesn’t seem burly enough, Rocky also builds the Instinct in a BC version, which comes with an extra 15 millimeters of ground-leveling travel.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The Instinct is built with Rocky’s proprietary Smoothwall carbon technology, which uses a special process to mold the carbon without the little voids inside the tubes you can’t see. Think of it as the difference between walking barefoot at night on a smooth wooden floor and walking on that same floor covered with Legos. Smoothwall technology eliminates all the nasty sharp edges and saves weight at the same time. Oh, it also makes the frame stronger because the carbon layup is more consistent.
As a cherry on top, the Instinct features the patented Ride9 system, which allows the rider to choose from nine different geometry configurations via a pair of interlocking chips connected to the shock mount. The single bolt can be moved to any of nine positions, which gives the bike a range of up to a full degree of adjustment in the head and seat angle, as well as over a 1/2-inch change to bottom bracket height and significant changes to suspension linkage rates.
WHICH COMPONENTS STAND OUT?
Rocky Mountain demonstrates its attention to detail with this build kit, which sports a top-to-bottom parts spec we could ride right out of the box. There are things you could upgrade, but the combination of the Fox suspension throughout, Stan’s wheels and proven SRAM Eagle drivetrain leaves little for us to poke a hole in. All of the components are in line with the price tag, and while they are not top end, they will provide many miles of reliable performance.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Ride-9 explained: The system works simply, with two interlocking square chips in the rocker. Those chips can be removed and reconfigured into nine different combinations, all of which offer different geometry and ride characteristics. If you’re a suspension perfectionist, consider this the project you’ve been waiting for. Some riders will see this as an unnecessary feature that will be set up once and then forgotten about; however, Instinct riders owe it to themselves to experiment, take notes and find the position that works best for them. While the adjustments may seem minuscule on the geometry chart, we can attest that they do make a noticeable difference on the trail.
Moving out: The Instinct has very modern geometry, which includes a relatively long top tube, short stem, wide bars and impressive standover height. It truly shows its British Columbia roots with this aggressive styling. It also comes with slick internal cable routing that’s easy to use and quiet, even on rough terrain. It’s finished with a very eye-catching paint job that got people’s attention on the trails.
Pedaling: Rocky’s engineers designed the Smoothlink suspension to support pedaling efficiency. While the bike may not exhibit quite as much “anti-squat” as some other designs we’ve tested, we never felt the need to reach for the pedaling platform lever on the shock. The bike feels snappy, even when left in the fully open mode. It also feels as if it delivers the power input to the rear wheel with ease.
Climbing: The Instinct is certainly not afraid to climb to earn the descents. In fact, this may be the best feature of this bike. It hides its travel best when it’s pointed uphill and rewards climbing effort with an efficient and relatively lightweight feel that loves to go uphill.
Cornering: Depending on which mode you choose with the Ride-9 system, the handling of the Instinct can be tweaked noticeably. We found ourselves gravitating towards the slacker and lower settings, which gave the bike a fairly planted and stable feel. If you’re looking for a nimbler feel, it’s only a single bolt position move away.
Descending: The Instinct feels as if it has every millimeter of the travel it claims and has a supple feel off the top that works on chattery descents quite well. While it is no bruiser, it will hang with any trailbike with the same amount of travel. We found ourselves riding some of our most technical test trails with confidence. On the smooth sections, we looked for the fun bonus lines to take advantage of the bike’s lively feel.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
The chainstay assembly is large and creates a lot of noise from chain slap. Even though Rocky built the frame with an integrated chainstay protector, we found it necessary to descend technical trails in a lower gear (bigger cog) to prevent some of the noise. Even then, the bike still made more noise over rough terrain than many others we’ve tested.
The Instinct delivers on the promise of a versatile trailbike that’s efficient, supple and capable. The Ride-9 system allows riders to custom-tune the handling, and, although many may find it unnecessary, that doesn’t take away from this bike’s ability to shred the trail up and down, no matter which bolt hole the shock is mounted to. The Instinct strikes a great balance between descending capability and climbing prowess, putting it at the top of our list of trailbikes.