ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT POWERPLAY ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN BIKE REVIEW
The power to play more
ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT POWERPLAY ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN BIKE REVIEW
When we reviewed Rocky Mountain’s enduro-focused Altitude Powerplay electric bike last year, the wrecking crew was thoroughly impressed. In fact, it moved the staff enough to garner an Editors’ Choice award. Between its powerful Dyname 4.0 motor system and superb mid-high pivot suspension, the Altitude checked all the right boxes. So, when Rocky Mountain offered its shorter-travel Instinct Powerplay for review, we jumped at the opportunity. This trail-oriented version has a lot in common with the Altitude. The question on test riders’ minds was, “Would it bring the magic that we felt last year?” In many ways it did, but for some it fell short.
Rocky Mountain is still one of the only brands to design and manufacture its own drive unit. Unlike brands that use motors from Shimano, Bosch, Fazua or Brose, Rocky Mountain’s Dyname 4.0 drive unit and all its components are proprietary. Rocky Mountain’s drive unit is one of the most powerful on the market with 108 N/m of torque and 700 watts of peak power.
The motor layout is unique in many ways. All ebike motors have some sort of gear-reduction system to bring the high-rpm electric motors in line with pedaling cadences. Instead of gears or belts, Rocky Mountain utilizes chain-drive reduction. The Dyname motor also utilizes a small drive sprocket mounted high on the drive unit. The cranks are standard-issue mountain bike versions with a regular bottom bracket. Between the cranks and drive sprocket is an idler wheel with the system’s torque sensor that measures rider input directly from the chain.
The 720 watt-hour battery pack that resides in the bike’s downtube can be taken out in about a minute by removing the skid plate and single anchor bolt. The battery can be charged on or off the bike. There is also a 314 watt-hour Overtime add-on battery pack that bolts to the bottle cage mounts for a total capacity of 1,034 watt-hours.
The Rocky Mountain has a large display on top of the upper downtube called the Jumbotron. From that screen, you can see all vital information about the ride and system, including real-time statistics. You can also tune each of the four assist mode percentages from 0–100 percent, as well as Boost (the way the power comes on when you pedal). The higher the Boost, the stronger the assist comes in conjunction with your efforts. Since everything can be done on the bike, there is no need for a phone app.
If you think the Instinct’s frame looks awfully similar to the Altitude’s, you are right. The carbon front triangle and aluminum stays are exactly the same. The primary difference lies in the shock’s downtube mount that compensates for the different shock stroke and length. The combination of the fork and shock spec, along with this mount, gives the Instinct not just less travel but different geometry. Unlike the Altitude, the 29-inch-wheeled Instinct is not mixed-wheel compatible. A full-size water bottle fits inside the front triangle, and the chainstays feature low-durometer guards for silent running.
Geometry is trail-focused with a 64.7-degree head angle, 76.7-degree seat angle and 488mm reach on our size-large test bike in the neutral, number three, RIDE-4 flip-chip setting. This flip chip located in the shock linkage offers four different geometry settings that can be swapped in seconds with a single Allen key. These adjustments affect both geometry and shock rate. Chainstay length is adjustable by 10mm, too, via a flip chip running between 437mm and 447mm long.
Rocky Mountain offers the Instinct Powerplay in seven models ranging in price from $5,499 for the Alloy 10 version with aluminum frame and Shimano Deore drivetrain to $12,999 for the Carbon 90 build with XTR drivetrain and Factory-level Fox suspension. Our test Carbon 70 version falls at the upper end of that spectrum with a Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, Race Face AR30 rims, Aeffect Cinch cranks and a Fox Turbine R dropper seatpost. Tire spec includes the uber-popular and grippy Maxxis Minion DHF and DHRII combo. Its cockpit consists of a Rocky Mountain-branded aluminum stem and bars, along with a WTB Volt saddle.
Rocky Mountain’s Smoothlink suspension system gives the Instinct’s frame 140mm of wheel travel. The design is a mid-high-pivot, Horst Link-style, four-bar suspension system with the main pivot higher than that on most of Rocky’s bikes. It’s positioned just above the motor’s drive sprocket, much like a bike with a high pivot with an idler pulley. Dual bearings beef up the Horst pivot for eMTB abuse. The RIDE 4 flip chip affects shock rate with more progression in the slack setting and a firmer initial stroke in the high setting.
A 150mm-travel Fox Performance Series 36 fork with Grip damper is spec’d in front of the Carbon 70 build. The Grip damper features a wide range of low-speed damping adjustments—from wide open and plush to firm but not totally locked out. Its Fox Float X shock is also a Performance Series model, so it’s all black anodized without the Kashima coating and only has rebound damping adjustments, not compression like its Factory-level cousin.
With one of the most powerful motors in its class and an efficient pedaling suspension system, the Instinct scoots up climbs with authority. In fact, there are few climbs it can’t master, with one exception—we struggled on technical climbs due to pedal strikes. A relatively low bottom bracket height and long, 170mm crankarms forced us to be very aware of where we placed our pedals. Since the Instinct is designed as an all-around trail-focused bike, we are a bit more critical of this defect. Shorter cranks would really help this situation. We tried the higher and steeper flip-chip setting but felt compromises in steering on the descents, so we settled back into the neutral setting for most of our riding.
Power and suspension-wise, the Instinct is better than most when the trail gets steep. Its suspension is active enough under power to provide good grip while remaining neutral and bob free at the same time. Its seat angle places the rider in a powerful position, but this is one bike that you don’t really want to pedal with the motor off. System drag is on the high side, making assist almost a necessity. We were easily able to tune the assist, with most riders either going for the powerful +2 Boost setting or -2 for those wanting to feel a little more burn after the ride. We would like to see future generations of this system become more finely tunable, though. More than one rider wanted to tune lower Boost settings in less powerful modes without giving up the snappy +2 in higher assist settings. As it is, Boost adjustments affect the whole range.
You can feel the Instinct’s similarities to and differences from the Altitude on the descents. The Instinct is aggressive yet more playful with quicker steering and a shorter front-center feel. Corner turn-in response is faster, and it is easier to pick inside lines. We were able to ride some really steep lines and get away with it, particularly with the RIDE-4 chip in the slack position. The neutral setting provided the best combination of cornering and pedal clearance, though. It wasn’t until we faced a combination of steep and rough terrain that the trail really favored its longer-travel brother, the Altitude. Still, the descending performance was impressive for a trail bike. Suspension action was simply superb, both front and rear. The bike was planted in the chop and still had pop on jump faces and when we were pumping bermed corners.
WHAT DID WE LOVE?
Power-hungry riders will love Rocky Mountain’s Dyname 4.0 motor system. It’s punchy and tunable to suit a wide range of needs. Its large battery meant long rides were no problem, or we would just get up to four or more hours without recharging. We were finally able to test with the optional range extender that let us go really long in the high-power mode without worry. It was a bummer to give up the water bottle space, but wearing a pack is a small price to pay for the range you get. Test riders really enjoyed the Jumbotron interface and small handlebar remote switch, too.
WHAT DID WE HATE?
There is very little to dislike about the Instinct Powerplay. We did not experience the power reductions due to the motor overheating that we experienced with the Altitude. The lighter weight of the bike, cooler ambient temperatures and perhaps even software changes may have had something to do with that. The only problem we experienced was that the Race Face dropper post stuck in the collapsed position after being stored in the cold for more than a few days. After cycling through the travel once, operation was back to normal. This is not something we have experienced with Race Face or Fox dropper posts.
After a year on the Altitude and some extreme temperature swings, we experienced issues with the sprag clutch crank’s spider assembly (that’s also used on the Instinct). It would sometimes fail to engage, freewheeling in both directions and delivering no power from the rider or motor to the rear wheel. After cleaning and lubing, it has remained trouble free. This did not happen to our Instinct but it’s something to keep an eye on long term. The torque sensor can be sensitive to chain conditions and other variables, requiring occasional recalibration. At least it’s a simple process that only takes about a minute.
The Instinct is a fantastic, all-around, trail-focused electric mountain bike, but, as great as it is, test riders were not fighting over it like they did the Altitude. One reason is that our test riders tend to prefer longer-travel ebikes, but another explanation has to do with the new generation of lightweight, trail-oriented ebikes from Trek and Pivot that were in our test rotation at the same time as the Instinct. These other bikes are down on power and range compared to the Rocky Mountain Instinct, but they are also 10 pounds lighter, resulting in a much different feel on the trail. As the electric bike category evolves and subcategories emerge, the pieces of the pie are getting sliced thinner and thinner. Having many choices is a beautiful thing. The Altitude Powerplay is tailor made for the rider who wants the response of a shorter-travel bike with all the power and range one could ask for.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT POWERPLAY C70
SUSPENSION: 150mm (front), 140mm (rear)
WHEEL SIZE: 29″
Weight: 50.5 pounds (without pedals)
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
Frame: Carbon/aluminum, 140mm travel
Shock: Fox Float X Performance
Fork: Fox 36 Float EVOL GRIP Performance Series, 150mm travel
Wheelset: Race Face AR 30 Tubeless aluminum rims
Tires: F: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 WT 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ tubeless-ready. R: Maxxis Minion DHR II 2.4 WT 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ tubeless-ready
Seatpost: Race Face Aeffect R (175mm travel)
Saddle: WTB Volt Race 142
Handlebar: Rocky Mountain AM, 780mm width
Stem: Rocky Mountain 35 AM, 40mm
Grips: ODI Elite Pro lock-on
Headset: FSA Orbit NO.57E
Brakes: Shimano XT Trail four-piston
Rotors: Shimano RT66, 203mm (f)/203mm (r)
Rear derailleur: Shimano XT
Shifters: Shimano XT
Crankset: Race Face Aeffect Cinch
Bottom bracket: FSA BB89.5 24mm
Cassette: Shimano XT 12-speed, 10-51T
Chain: Shimano M8100
Head tube angle: 64.2–64.95°
Reach: 482–491mm (19–19.3″)
Stack: 632–626mm (24.9–24.6″)
Effective seat tube angle: 76.2–76.95°
Bottom bracket height: 330–340mm (13–13.4″)
Chainstay length: 436–446mm (17.2–17.6″)
Wheelbase: 1,253–1,263mm (49.3–49.7″)