27 Feb 2018

Are mid-travel 29ers the SUV of the mountain bike world with their wide scope of ability in the middle of the suspension spectrum? In our experience, a well-executed 29er with around 130/140mm has the nerve to go anywhere and strike a balance between climbing and descending prowess, the new Rocky Mountain Instinct aims to do just that.

The not-so-minor details


Rocky Mountain Instinct 50






Flies on singletrack and rides all day.
Decent value for a boutique brand.
Lovely and light!


Weak brakes.
Limitations from the fork damper.

We’ve been on the Rocky Mountain Instinct 50 for a little over a month now it’s been a real pleasure, lead it to fast and open singletrack and this 140mm travel 29″ wheeled carbon beauty flies up and down the mountain alllllll day long.

As you could expect from a Canadian company steeped in heritage and based on Vancouver’s North Shore the bike’s finish, fit and frame geometry looks ready to rumble. But did our suspicions around the appropriateness of some of spec (which we highlighted in our first impressions piece) surmount to anything on the more technical trails? The bike feels light to ride and comes in well under the 13kg mark, not bad at all!

The all-new Instinct promises more versatility than the previous version.

We do love us some smart frame design.

The Instinct is all-new for 2018, vastly different to the outgoing model in appearance and design, bringing it into line with rest of the Rocky range. It’s a sleek looking frame, finely colour matched and well protected with under the frame armouring from flying trail debris. The pivot on the chainstay is fastened from the inside creating a smooth finish with the hardware concealed from view, something we’ve seen from Rocky in their newer models.

The vulnerable down tube is protected from debris impacts by a thick rubber guard.

The chainstay pivot fastens from the inside to create a smoother backend contributing to the Instinct’s clean shape.

Some lovely smaller things to point out on the Instinct frame is the cable management; large headtube ports with some smart plastic bosses keep the cables neat and tidy, and more importantly off the frame, so no unwanted rubbing the paint job around the head tube. There are provisions for Shimano Di2 with internal battery storage, and we spy mounting threads for the unreleased FOX Live Valve system. 

They have even replaced the traditional nylon DU bushing on the lower shock mount with their own neat bearing system, which will increase the life of the linkage and keep rattle at bay.

Rocky replace the lower bushing with two cartridge bearings for increased life and less susceptibility to developing play.

The spec, a little confused perhaps, or is that just us?

Bear with us while we over-analyse the spec, we think there may be a slight identity dilemma going on here.

Lightweight SRAM Level brakes, are we going cross-country riding?
140mm travel FOX 34 and a Minion front tyre, are we going all-mountain?

  • Combine a 140mm travel Fox 34 fork with a chunky Minion DHR front tyre and a slack 66-degree head angle and all we say is; “Let’s party and descend hard!”
  • Then we see it comes with lightweight Level TL brakes and narrower rims than we’d expect, and we now think; “Let’s turn those legs baby and do some k’s because we are going cross-country!”
  • Suddenly the downhiller in us is tempted by changing to more powerful brakes, wider rims, and even fantasises about lifting the fork to 150mm and we now think; “Let’s put up with the extra mass and rule all of the trails!”
  • Or are we looking at it all wrong, and we should be slamming the stem, steepening the head angle to 67 degrees and running even lighter tyres front and rear so we can; “Grab a big bag of protein powder to make some marginal gains because we’re going to race our mates all day.

We were right, what are those XC brakes doing here?

For a bike that has so much descending potential, the dual-piston SRAM Level TL brakes are not ideal, save them for a cross-country bike where counting grams matter. With the Instinct being an impressive 12.78kg out of the box we wonder why Rocky Mountain spec’d these brakes, was it really for saving weight or was it dollars? The brakes have a snappy bite initially but then the power and feel fade away on long descents, perhaps something like the new entry SRAM Guide T could have been a sounder alternative?

The Level brakes feel nice under the finger, but on long descents, the power fades and their snappy feel turns into a wooden feel.

27mm rims are wide… Right?

It was only five or so years ago that 25mm internal width rims were considered wide, and before that 19 – 21mm was the norm. Since then the wheel brands have played around with wider rims, settling on around 28-30mm to give the tyres a generous profile, providing more grip at lower pressures.  

A fast rolling rear tyre on 27mm rims is a speedy combination, but some riders might want a wider footprint on rougher trails.

The Instinct 50 comes with 27mm rims, which was fine for the duration of the review, but we did need to pump the tyres up five to ten more PSI than we would typically on a wider rim. However, under hard cornering, we still felt the rear tyre rolling around. 

Coming to grips with the FOX fork.

The Instinct Carbon 50 comes with a 140mm travel FOX 34 Float Performance fork, the ‘Performance’ level forks use a simplified Grip damper where higher spec FOX forks use the FIT4 damper. The fork feels beautifully supple and active, and with a few clicks of the large blue dial on top of the leg, you can add compression damping in a flash and the rebound has a vast range from too fast to too slow.

The FOX uses a Grip damper in the right leg, which is totally fine for the most part but we found its limits on larger repetitive impacts.

During repetitive harsh impacts, the fork doesn’t rise to the occasion like the more expensive FIT4 forks do, it felt like it dove to easily into the latter part of its travel, we found this on the Recently reviewed Scott Genius 920. Bigger and heavier riders will, unfortunately, notice this more. In past experiences we have improved the situation by adding those little green air volume spacers, this will give the fork more support and ‘ramp up’ to help resist blowing through the travel too easily. 

Add a couple of these into the air spring to reduce the volume if you’re a heavier or harder rider.

‘Ride-9’ the lesser known Transformer.

Adjustable geometry has become commonplace on trail/enduro bikes over recent years, useful for the savvy rider for dialling a bike in for your local terrain or swapping it around for different trail styles, though most manufacturers typically offer two positions. Rocky Mountain has stepped it up, and has nine! Nine options, that’s fun… but who are we kidding? Don’t we all just stick it into the slackest possible option, because a slack bike is a badass bike? 

Ride-9 achieves its adjustable geometry through the use of two sets of two square shock hardware chips that rotate inside each other. Each of the nine positions affects how slack/ low (67-66 degree)  and how progressive/ linear the suspension of the bike can be. But don’t stress! Rocky Mountain has a great page on its website explaining Ride-9 and what each position means.

The Ride-9 system will allow you to tinker to your heart’s content to find a balance of suspension feel and head angle adjustment.

Over the course of the review, we played around with the Ride-9 and the different options and settled on the slackest, lowest position. The bike felt more stable at speed in this mode, and we didn’t feel like it lost anything in its handling over the whole spectrum. 

More importantly, how did it ride?

Once we got the suspension and bike dialled it was like we started to unlock its potential and on open flowing singletrack this bike flies! When the trail starts to flatten out or has an uphill pinch, we got quickly rewarded with constant trail speed. Its well-supported pedalling encourages you to get up out of the saddle and keep the legs turning, so we could blast through that section and get to the descending fun again. 

It’s nice to be on a bike that encourages you to get up and go, rather than some bikes where you end up sitting down and lazily steering while turning the pedals with low effort.

Yessss, singletrack for days.

Climbing on this bike is not a chore, and if you were inclined to join your less gravity inspired cross-country mates for a ride, you wouldn’t feel like you have bought a bazooka to a knife fight, it jams plenty of ability in a lightweight package.

We found the limits of the GRIP damper in the FOX fork when the impacts got heavier, experimenting with air volume spacers will lift its game and resist blowing through its travel.

Why do we keep trying to up-spec this bike into an Enduro race bike?

As mentioned before the geometry is quite progressive and still pushing the boundaries of what an aggressive trail bike can manage. It’s incredible how quickly geometry has changed over the last few years. The Instinct has a 66 to 67-degree head angle which is relatively slack, and a 1206mm wheelbase is quite long and is considered to be a ‘trail bike’ with 140mm of travel. 

By modern standards, this is true when you compare it to the monstrous YT Capra and Evil Wreckoning with these bikes pushing the boundaries of what an Enduro 29er’s can be.  But go back four or so years, and Trek’s Remedy 29er was an enduro beast with stock 140mm travel, slightly steeper 67.5-degree head angle and a shorter 1179 mm wheelbase, and it one of the most winning stage bikes in the EWS with Tracey Moseley (and Justin Leov) at its helm.

So, is this bike for us?

Mid-travelled aggressive 29er trail bikes are becoming more commonplace because of how versatile they can be. Want to hit a cross-country loop? Sure, go all day. Want to do some mellow bike park laps? Hell yeah, let’s go!

No better example of this is our long-term test on the Norco Sight C9.2. We have had great success on this bike, and even though it is slightly heavier and has less travel,  (keep in mind it has a higher price point and spec) we were able to follow the EWS route in Tasmania without any problems and didn’t feel like we needed more bike.

These mid travelled 29er bikes are enjoyable to ride and are opening the doors what is possible on lesser travel. With the changes, we have suggested the Instinct could be as good as the Sight.

Final thoughts.

We enjoyed riding this bike, it was lightning fast on open singletrack, making you feel like a hero. With a couple of component changes like the brakes, rim width and tubeless conversion, it’d be more confident in the rough and adding air volume spacers in the fork would be a god idea too.  No surprises that a lot of our complaints are solved with the more expensive Instinct 70,  but of course, it costs more with its full-carbon frame and better spec. Bikes, huh? Always have that ability to make you want to spend more…