Just like the two main trail systems near Fruita, Colorado, Rocky Mountain’s recently revamped and relaunched Pipeline and Instinct trail bikes offer distinctly different experiences. I use this comparison, because that’s where the North Vancouver-based company held a recent riding camp for athletes (Thomas Vanderham, Geoff Gulevich, Sam Schultz), ambassadors (think fast kids with lots of Instagram followers), and a small group of press (including Mtbr).
South of Interstate 70 at the Kokopelli zone, it’s rocky and occasionally rowdy, with trails such as Horsethief Bench, Moore Fun, and Mack Ridge serving up a mix of ledgey drops and high speed chunk. To the north of Fruita is the famed 18 Road trail system where the emphasis is on punchy steep climbs, high speed flow, and swoopy berms. The jumps on Joe’s Ridge and sheer precipitous thrills of Zippity are not to be missed. Press play to get a better idea of what we were up to during two great days of shredding.
Indeed, both riding areas are bucket list worthy — and while you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to head east to sample nearby Grand Junction’s Lunch Loops, then drive up the Grand Mesa for a few runs at the Powderhorn Bike Park. Places such as Moab, Utah, may get more press, but Colorado’s Western Slope is a truly amazing place to ride mountain bikes, only with fewer knuckleheads motoring around in side-by-sides.
As for which bike to bring, options such as the Pipeline and Instinct are both viable. Barring a few exceptions, this is not shuttle territory, so you need a rig that can capably scamper up techy, rocky trail, and then bomb back down with control and confidence. Mtbr spent one day each on the two Canadian-designed steeds and for the most part were impressed, though preference is definitely given to the 29er wheeled Instinct.
Billed as an all-around trail bike, it has 140mm of travel front and rear, clearance for up to 29×2.6 tires, and the Ride 9 chip system, which allows the user to change up angles to fit terrain and riding style. Depending on which setting you choose, headtube angle is 66-67 degrees and seat tube angle is 74.5-75.5 degrees. Reach on size L is 455mm-465mm. The bike also comes with two headset cups, one installed, and a second taller cup that can be swapped in if you want to run the Instinct in plus form.
Your other plus option is the Pipeline, which utilizes the exact same frame (with a different paint scheme), and comes with the taller headset cup installed to accommodate for the slightly smaller diameter of the plus wheel set-up. No need for a fork swap. So yeah, they’re basically the same bike, just with different stock wheelsets. The Pipeline is also set-up with 140mm travel front and rear, but key angles are slightly different, with the headtube ranging from 65.6-66.6 degrees, and the seat tube going from 74.1-75.1 degrees. Those slight variations earn it the “aggressive trail” moniker.
And though we didn’t get to ride it, there’s also the Instinct BC Edition, which is basically a burlier version of the 29er Instinct that reflects how the Rocky staff like to set-up their personal bikes. It’s similar to Yeti’s Lunch Ride or Specialized EVO offerings. Travel on the Instinct BC is 155mm rear/160mm front, and it comes spec’d with wider bars and tires, and more powerful brakes. There’s also no Ride 9 system, so angles are fixed at 65.9 for the headtube and 74.4 for the seat tube. Tire clearance is 29×2.6 or you can swap the headset cup and ride it plus up to 27.5×2.8.
With all three bikes there are a host of running changes from the previous iterations, which as you could have surely guessed, fall into the nowadays common refrain of longer, lower, slacker. Rear ends are shorter and Rocky’s Smoothlink suspension is now more progressive with added support at sag level. That means you can run a little less shock air pressure for off-the-top sensitivity, but still get good mid-stroke support. Rocky also claims better anti-squat for improved pedaling, and says they retooled the internal cable routing mechanisms for easier install and less chance of on-trail rattle.
Other top line highlights include room for a bottle cage inside the main triangle even with a reservoir shock, the inclusion of a small integrated upper chain guide, longer dropper post travel compatibility, boost spacing, metric shock compatibility, and well-conceived appropriations for Di2 electronic shifting systems and Fox Live suspension tech (whenever that becomes a reality). Finally, they’re using bearings instead of bushings in several key places to improve durability, and the bikes have trick looking single-sided blind pivots in the rear.
Like I mentioned above, I only got to ride each bike for a couple hours, so no full review here. Just some initial impressions. If you want to learn more, grab shoes, pedals, and your helmet and head to one of the many great consumer demo events. Always best to ride before you buy.
But generally speaking, both bikes delivered on the promise of all-around capability. (I rode the Pipeline on the Kokopelli Trails and the Instinct at 18 Road.) Whether on low-speed tech or smooth straight-up steeps, both bikes climbed well enough thanks largely to the steepened seat tube angles that helps keep weight over the front wheel. There was also a noticeable lack of pedal-induced bob even when suspension was left open.
But if I had to pick one for uphill duty, it’d be the Instinct, which simply rolls better thanks to its skinnier tires and bigger wheels. The Pipeline (and its 2.8 tires) obviously provide better traction, but traction isn’t a huge issue around Fruita so that advantage is lessened, while the extra rolling weight is not.
I also have to point out the Pipeline’s BB height (or lack thereof). I’m sure some of it was user error and perhaps low tire pressure (I was running in the 18psi range), but regardless I smacked my pedals more on that one test ride that I’d done in the previous month’s worth of testing on various bikes from other manufacturers. It was so common that if I bought that bike, I’d seriously consider swapping out the stock 175mm cranks for 170s. As it was I really had to pay attention to pedal position, lest I repeat the one over-the-bars crash I had near the tail end of our Horsethief Bench lap.
On a positive note, the Pipeline had no problem with the loop’s handful of techy bits, including several 2-3-foot ledge drops and a chunky, off-kilter roll into a dry creek bed. Despite their sometimes sluggish nature, I’m a big fan of plus set-ups. The tires have improved dramatically in the past couple years, which in the case of our 20’ish person group meant just one puncture over two aggressive days of riding. And that was by former Red Bull Rampage podium finisher Vanderham, who obviously pushes his gear a little harder than the rest of us. It also helps when the plus tires are Maxxis 2.8s that are probably closer to 2.68. Bottom line, you get huge amounts of traction without much penalty (except more pedal strikes in the case of my time on the Pipeline).
On Day No. 2, I switched over to the Instinct, which due to some confusion with Rocky’s overseas factory, was actually built up using the taller headset cup that was intended for the Pipeline. I was told by a Rocky staff member that this was an early production run error, and that it only changed BB height by a few millimeters. The cup’s primary purpose is to keep headtube angle consistent, so these tester Instincts were a tad taller/slacker up front than intended. I mention all this because when I measured BB height on the two bikes, the difference was pushing an inch (far more than the 4mm difference listed on the Rocky Mountain website when both bikes are in Ride 9 slack mode). And while admittedly this was done using the very unscientific tape-measure-in-a-parking-lot method, the Pipeline’s BB was significantly closer to the ground.
Whatever the case, my time on the Instinct was pure pleasure. The wagon wheeler easily crested 18 Road’s steepest steeps (think the beginning of Chutes & Ladders and the several nasty ups on Zippity), but was also plenty playful and stable at speed. I honestly think the days of dull-witted 29er trail bikes are behind us and the Instinct is a prime example of that evolution. This bike had no problem carving quick berm-to-berm turns and popping off small features. Not once did I wish for smaller wheels. Instead I just headed out another run.
To learn more about the Rocky Mountain Instinct and Pipeline, head to www.bikes.com. For trail beta from the best area bike shop visit otesports.com. And keep scrolling down for more pictures from two superb days of high desert riding.
by Spanner Dan
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