The 2018 Rocky Mountain got a rejiggering from last year's design, most notably moving from 130 millimeters of rear travel with 150 millimeters up front toward an even 140 millimeters across the board, with special attention to pedaling efficiency and small-bump compliance. For those without a degree in orthodontics, the line now serves a broader range of income brackets by offering two alloy models that allow riders to get into a complete bike at $2,600, along with two fancy-pants carbon-fiber rigs, including the top-of-the-line Carbon 70 we tested.
Let's not beat around the bush, the Pipeline was born to descend and to do it quickly. Between the bite of the girthtastic 2.8-inch Maxxis DHF/DHR tire combo and the increased rear suspension, this is the type of bike that lets you make a game out of choosing crappy lines—a little game one tester just calls "riding." We found the Pipeline excelled at speed with one rider describing the feel as "ground huggary at its best." However, the same planted characteristic that inspires confidence on dirt made this bike feel less jumpable compared to its shorter-travel and snappier counterparts.
Similarly, the suspension that absorbed anything and everything when pushing hard got a little bogged down while slowly picking lines through burlier sections. However, when we turned the bike around and headed back up those same rock-laden sections, the active suspension made the tires want to hook up more than a frat boy on Tinder. Given the nature of this bike's strengths, it wasn't especially surprising that the tradeoff for stellar big-bump absorption is some bob over smooth sections when the shock is open.
Rocky Mountain's Ride-9 geometry adjustment system may be under-appreciated by the type of riders who take their bikes into shops to get their sag set and flats fixed, but our admittedly techno-geek testers found it be a standout feature. With a couple of Allen keys, riders can choose from any of nine geometry setups that allow a downright indulgent amount of bike-futzing. The steepest setting puts the headtube angle at 66.6 degrees with a seat tube angle of 75.1, while the slackest position takes a full degree off both.
With Performance Elite Fox suspension, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, Shimano XT brakes and bomber Stan's Baron S1 rims, the Pipeline Carbon 70 is dressed to the nines and is a good fit for riders happy to overlook the drawbacks of plus-sized bikes for the trail gobbling benefits of a long-travel, big-tired steed.
Q&A with Ken Perras, product manager, and Andreas Hestler, Brand Ambassador
Holy crap. The Pipeline name brings me back to coil springs, purple and green frames, and a simpler time when nearly all mountain bikes came with fenders long before Enduro was a thing. For those who remember this bike from back in the early 2000s, what does today’s Pipeline share—if anything—with its earlier namesake?
Back when the original Pipeline was released, it was aimed at the rider that wanted a bike to tackle the unknown. You had one bike and needed to be confident that it would excel no matter where you rode it. The premise for the new Pipeline was and still is the same: It's a bike that instills confidences in anyone that swings a leg over it. There's a misconception that plus tires are for beginners, to increase comfort and traction. I think our launch video with Wade Simmons and Jesse Melamed absolutely charging in Pemberton shows that even pros can benefit from bigger tires.
The Pipeline offers more front and rear travel than most bikes in the 27+ category. What was the end goal of the design decision to go big or go home?
Our previous generation Pipeline (2016-2017) had a 150-millimeter fork paired with 135 millimeters of rear travel. It made sense to keep the travel numbers similar in order to not change the original intended use and ride feel from the older generation bike. At the same time, the frame is shared with the Instinct which ended up at 140 millimeters of travel front and rear. Since the two were designed in parallel, it made sense to end up with a travel number that worked for both platforms.
There were a lot of changes to this year's Pipeline from last year, both in travel and geometry. What performance differences were you setting out to achieve with these changes?
The previous generation Pipeline was created with the Instinct front triangle mated to a new, wider rear triangle to fit plus tires. That first plus Pipeline came about because we had many customers asking us for a plus platform and doing it this way made sense at the time. There were a few geometry compromises that we were not completely happy with so we decided to make sure that this new bike was dialled: updated geometry, shorter chainstays and refined kinematics to name a few things. Most of the changes match the improvements we made to our line as whole, starting with the Slayer and being further refined with the new Altitude. In the end, we created a better fitting, better riding bike that new and returning Pipeline customers will be very happy with.
Years ago, I met a guy who rode a brand-new bike locked-out for three months thinking the suspension felt oddly 'harsh,' so it's both intriguing and slightly terrifying that the Ride-9 system puts so much control over a bike's feel into the hands of anyone with a couple of allen wrenches. What went into the decision to hand over this level of customization to riders instead of locking the bike down to one 'perfect' geometry?
We are constantly receiving positive comments about our Ride-9 system; the level of adjustability is unique to our bikes. However, I understand that using this feature can be both complicated and intimidating so we offer a handy detailed guide on our website that shows users how to use the Ride-9 system and what the effects of the different positions will be. We also make sure our partners, from shop staff to ambassadors to sponsored athletes, know how to use the system so they can help educate others on the trail. Finally, we ship our bikes in the Neutral (position 5) setting which is where we optimize the bike's design. If one were to never change the Ride-9 chips to a different position, at least they will be on the setting that works best in all scenarios.