For 2018, Rocky Mountain has a brand new Instinct platform that’s built around 29in wheels and 140mm travel. Here we have the BC Edition, which uses the same frame, but adds in a bigger 160mm travel fork as well as a longer-stroke shock and a custom linkage to eke out 155mm of rear travel. As our resident Calder Valley trail explorer, Antony, has been razzing aboard the Instinct BC Edition for the past month. Over to Antony for the full review.
Until relatively recently, it seemed that if you wanted a bike with 29in wheels, there was an unwritten law you had to resign yourself to less travel. 29ers, the conventional wisdom went, already gave you the equivalent of a couple of extra inches of suspension, so throw in a bunch of extra boing and the mixture would just become too rich. It didn’t help that, thanks to unrefined fork and frame geometry, a lot of early 29ers were somewhat ungainly beasts, better suited for rolling over trails than dancing through them. However, this is an industry that can’t leave a sub-niche unfilled. As bike designers have gained confidence in the new format, the travel of 29er frames has crept up again, and now they’ve even made a dramatic entrance on the Downhill World Cup circuit. As recently as three years ago, if that had popped up in your crystal ball, you’d probably have written it off as lens distortion.
Lovers of the big wheel now have a small but exciting slew of long travel trail bikes to choose from, but with this version of the Instinct, Rocky Mountain has taken a novel approach, plugging a 160mm fork and a bigger shock into a frame that normally runs 140mm travel front and rear. This is the sort of thing that riders with a devil-may-care approach to warranty claims have been doing to bikes for years, but that’s not to say that this model of Instinct is the result of a product manager flicking through a suspension catalogue and speccing the long ones.
The frame is markedly different to the regular 140mm travel Instinct. It’s slacker overall, and loses the adjustable geometry but gains a carbon back end. The BC Edition comes with a jump in price, but it also gets an upgrade to virtually all its build kit over the regular Instinct including the bigger fork, better brakes, branded finishing kit and a Fox dropper. Almost everything except the drivetrain is upgraded.
Rocky Mountain is not a johnny-come-lately to the carbon fibre game – the Instinct has been available in the fantastic plastic since 2014. The front triangle is generous enough to take the Fox piggyback shock and a water bottle. The chainstay pivots are hidden on the inside of the frame, giving the rear triangle a lovely touch of mystery, while also increasing heel clearance.
Unlike previous Rocky Mountain full suspension bikes, the Instinct (and the 27.5+ version the Pipeline) is running sealed cartridge pivot bearings throughout the back end. In theory, this should provide a significantly smoother feel to the suspension, with the bonus of reducing maintenance. There’s a neat built-in chainguide sitting above a press fit BB, which gave no noise or trouble throughout the test. I generally prefer bottom bracket bearings to come in the thread-in variety, though for a carbon frame like this, that would mean another metal component that needs to be glued inside the carbon structure.
Looks are always subjective, but the mix of glossy orange and subtle sparkly green is one of the nicest paint jobs I’ve seen on a recent mountain bike, even though the mix of finishes probably adds noticeably to the cost. Like Hope’s HB160, it’s also constructed with rigid moulds for the interior of the frame as well as the exterior, a process which is more complicated than standard carbon fibre manufacturing but allows more precise control over tubing profiles.
Unlike the 140mm travel Instinct, the frame is also available separately, with an RRP of £2799. That’s a lot of spondools, but as superbikes go, Rocky Mountain has gone as far as they can to deliver value for money. The frame is Boost spacing, takes 27.5+ wheels in addition to the stock 29ers, and is Di2 and Fox Live Valve compatible. The latter is an automatic suspension control system that’s been in the works for a couple of years now, but still hasn’t been released. If there’s a mountain bike frame out there which can currently claim to be future-proof, this is it.
With most of the budget blown on the frame, the rest of the spec list is designed to do the job on the trails, rather than wow you into hitting the buy button. Front and rear suspension are from Fox’s Performance Elite range. The forks have a tooled 15mm thru-axle rather than the QR axle you might expect. It saves 40g but as someone who transports bikes inside cars and vans I found it a pain. Presumably this isn’t an issue in Rocky Mountain’s native Canada, as you can just hang it over the tailgate of your pickup.
The rest of the build kit eschews carbon for aluminium. 785mm Race Face Turbine bars feel appropriately wide to control such a beast, and the ends also dip slightly, effectively lowering the stack height of the front end. The lock-on grips are thin and cheap-feeling but do the job.
Drivetrain is the SRAM GX Eagle groupset, save for the Truvativ Stylo crankset, which is made from a cheaper 6000-series alloy, but otherwise looks absolutely identical to the 7000-series alloy GX crankset. It might not be top end kit, but Chipps has previously tested SRAM GX Eagle and absolutely loved it. This particular set was initially prone to noisy gear changes but they were cured by a spot of barrel twiddling. Even a slightly poorly Eagle drivetrain has a better range than any other 1x. If you can’t get up it on this, you ain’t gonna get up it on anything.
The Fox Transfer dropper post also comes from their Performance range, and again received much love when we tested it separately. The wheels combine an own-brand front hub, a DT Swiss rear hub, and the latest incarnation of Stans Flow rims. At 29mm wide internally these do an excellent job of supporting the chunky ‘Wide Trail’ 2.5in Maxxis tyres, which are here in their very poshest triple compound version. Sizing up more like a 2.7in, these perfectly suit the intentions of the bike.
Geometry numbers for the Instinct are where you’d expect them to be, with one exception. The 65.9° head angle and 74.4° seat angle are completely on point for an aggressive trail bike, as is the 432mm reach on the medium size (455mm on the Large, and 482mm on the X-Large). However for this particular model Rocky Mountain have opted to go with much more ground clearance than most trail bikes. BB drop is 19mm, which translates to an unsagged BB height of almost 14 inches. In a world where bike geometries seem to be rapidly converging, this is an anomaly.
Out in the hills though, the Instinct didn’t feel like a conventional trail bike on stilts. It wears its travel very well indeed, and feels as responsive and fun as bikes with inches less squash. The ride is engaging – you can feel what’s happening under your wheels – yet nothing you’re battering over seems to slow you down. The 29er wheels cope with bike-swallowing divots brilliantly, and technical terrain seems to come at you in slow motion. Part of that is undoubtedly down to the suspension, but the tubeless tyre and wheel combo also work perfectly together, finding grip in the sketchiest places.
Another unexpected spec highlight was the SRAM Code R brakes, which have just the right combination of modulation and power to stop the bike skittering away on dubious lines. Winter smacked us right between the eyes in the UK this year, and I ended up riding the Instinct in some decidedly sub-optimal trail conditions, involving ice, torrential rain, or some combination of the two. Yet it never felt out of its depth.
It’s worth noting that the Float shock is quite responsive to tweaks, and letting just 5 psi out of the shock made for a relatively big change in feel and sag. The high centre of gravity means you can run the suspension a bit softer if you prefer, but it’s worth getting it dialled in to the sweet spot between lively and limousine.
Climbs were also dispatched without drama. I felt no need to use the shock lockout, and while there’s no getting around the fact that this is a big bike, with tyres that weigh almost a kilo apiece, the low gearing and efficient suspension get you to the top as painlessly as possible.
If the Instinct misses a trick, it’s the superior composure that lower-slung bikes have in tight corners and steep switchbacks. It’s not skittish, it just lacks some of that locked-on guided missile feel. The trade off is that it’s great on unmade natural trails – you can pedal where you’d normally be trying to eke out momentum, roll unfeasibly high steps on low-speed tech, and the question “Will that be OK?” only occurs after you’ve ridden over whatever “that” is.
Three Things That Could Be Improved
- The spec is ‘workaday’ rather than ‘wow’
- A tooled front axle looks neat, but it’s a bit of a fiddle
- Adjustable geometry would broaden its appeal
Three Things We Loved
- For a bike with so much travel, it’s lively and fun
- The extra ground clearance is great for Calderdale, or anywhere with loads of rocks
- The future-proof frame won’t need upgrading any time soon
There’s no getting around the fact that this is a tall bike, but whether this ruins the ride for you depends to a large extent on where you ride. If, like in our part of the world, nature likes to periodically remodel your favourite trails with a combination of flood water and boulders, the Instinct will be singing your tune. It’s also worth noting that fitting plus size wheels lowers the BB a touch, but if you live for the corners, or get your jollies against the race clock, the regular Instinct might be more up your street.
However, if I was lining up for the start of a blind enduro stage, or descending a Munro in fog, there are few bikes I’d rather have under me. The BC Edition will cost you a premium over the regular Instinct, but it’s a top quality platform and despite its extra girth, it’s involving and fun enough to ride that it never feels like too much. Riders will either hate the higher centre of gravity, or love the feeling of being able to roll over anything without grounding out, but in the current race to make bikes slacker and lower, Rocky Mountain deserves respect for offering something different.
2018 Rocky Mountain Instinct BC Edition Specifications
- Frame // Smoothwall Carbon Fibre, 155mm Travel
- Fork // Fox 36 Float, Performance Elite Series, FIT4, 160mm Travel
- Shock // Fox Float DPX2
- Hubs // DT Swiss 370, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Stans Flow MK3, 29mm Internal Rim Width, 32h, Tubeless
- Tyres // Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 3C 2.5in WT Front & DHR II EXO 3C 2.4in WT Rear
- Chainset // Truvativ Stylo 7k Alloy, GXP, 32t X-Sync 2 Eagle Chainring
- Chainguide // Spirit Guide
- Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
- Shifter // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM GX Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Code R, 200mm Front & 180mm Rear
- Stem // Rocky Mountain 35 CNC, 50mm Long
- Bars // Race Face Turbine R, 35mm Clamp Diameter, 780mm Wide
- Grips // Rocky Moutain Lock-On
- Seatpost // Fox Transfer Performance Elite, 150mm Travel
- Saddle // WTB Silverado Race
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- RRP // £5499
|Product:||Instinct BC Edition|
|From:||Greenover Sports, greenoversports.com|
|Tested:||by Antony de Heveningham for 4 weeks|