Preview: Rocky Mountain Instinct 970

By Vernon Felton

This summer, Rocky Mountain unveiled their revised Altitude line, which takes styling cues from their Element series, boosts the travel to 150 millimeters and adds 650B wheels to the mix. In all the hub-bub about 650B, another new-for-2013 Rocky Mountain model—the Instinct 29er—seems to have gone under the radar.

The Instinct has a lot in common with the latest Altitude. Obviously, it shares the Element and Altitude's basic frame design. Less apparent, but just as important, the Instinct 29er also boasts "RIDE-9": a shock mount containing two interlocking chips that enable you to significantly customize the bike's geometry and rear suspension behavior.

Rotating the chips raises/lower the bottom bracket half an inch and changes both the head and seat angles by as much as 1.6 degrees. At its steepest setting, the 130-millimeter travel 29er possesses a 69.3-degree headtube and 75.3-degree seat tube. In its slackest setting, those angles change to 67.7 and 73.7 degrees.

Nine different geometry settings are available--it's just a matter of rotating these shock mount chips.

Rotating those chips also tweaks the leverage ratio on the Instinct's rear shock. In its slackest settings, the suspension has a more progressive stroke, which should help prevent bottoming out for riders pushing the bike hard over technical terrain.

In total, RIDE-9 offers you nine distinct geometry and suspension-rate settings. Staring at the shock mount gives you no clue as to which setting is which, but Rocky Mountain has created a handy-dandy microsite that you can visit (as well as an app that you can download), which make sense of all your turning options.

The Instinct 970 that you see here sells for $4,400. Rocky also offers the $3,100 Instinct 950, which sports the same frame equipped with SRAM X9/X7 components.

The 970's stealthy black frame is decked out with an impressive kit that includes a Fox 32 fork, Float CTD rear shock (with handlebar remote), Race Face Turbine crankset, bar and stem, Shimano XT shifters and Shadow Plus rear derailleur, DT Swiss wheels and Avid Elixir 90 XM brakes. It's a truly impressive parts package that looks less like typical OE spec and a lot more like the kind of custom component mix someone would assemble themselves.

The Instinct 970 is equipped with a stellar parts kit that includes a RockShox Reverb Stealth post, Avid Elixir brakes, XT and Race Face drivetrain and Fox suspension, front and rear.

Rocky bills the Instinct as a cross-country bike, but "cross country" in Canada is easily the equivalent of "trail" or even "all-mountain" in most of the lower 48. Accordingly, the Instinct frame is equipped with ISCG 05 mounts, a 142×12 through axle, the excellent RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post and geometry oriented more towards having fun on technical terrain than winning a short-track race in a parking lot.

After a few rides, I swapped out the Turbine bars, which are too narrow for my tastes. I also dropped the stem to the bottom of the stack. With a set of 780 bars and a lower front end, the bike felt far more confident and planted.

To be frank, I need to spend a lot more time experimenting with RIDE-9. With this much adjustability at your disposal, it'd be crazy to make a snap judgment about the bike's handling traits, but so far I've been impressed with the bike in its middling geometry settings.

Fox's handlebar remote enables you to toggle between the rear shock's Climb, Descend and Trail modes with the flick of a switch.

This was one of the first times that I've spent much time using Fox's CTD handlebar remote. While I'm not a fan of the remote's aesthetics (the thing is gargantuan and looks like an implement of the Spanish Inquisition) there's no doubt that the device works perfectly. Each of the three clicks puts you into either Climb, Trail or Descend mode. What's more, when you have the ability to adjust your rear suspension on the fly, you wind up taking advantage of that adjustability far more frequently than you would if you had to reach down in the middle of a technical stretch to fiddle with the blue lever on the shock body itself. In short, it ain't pretty, but that handlebar remote enables you to wring the most performance out of that Fox shock possible. Cool.

Having recently spent quality time aboard some very stout 29ers (the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc and Banshee Prime), I'd have to say that I am satisfied, but not blown away, by the Instinct's stiffness under cornering. To be fair, I only have a handful of rides on this bike and I am running narrower rims, and smaller volume tires, so this is not exactly an apples to apples comparison. I'll have to reserve judgment on the question of frame flex until I equip this thing with some stouter wheels, sporting wider rims and tires less prone to squirming. I'm also going to put a Fox 34 fork up front—we'll see how that changes the handling.

In short, the Instinct—one of the growing number of 29ers aimed at more aggressive trail riders—has a lot going for it. I'm looking forward to giving this thing a thorough test this year and will be running it, side by side, against its 650B cousin, the new Altitude.

Stay tuned for updates along the way.