Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 Review
Cons: No digital display, wimpy tires and fork, center of gravity feels high
Manufacturer: Rocky Mountain
Our Analysis and Test Results
Rocky Mountain has only recently launched its electric mountain bikes and the 2019 Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 is the least expensive full-suspension model they offer. This is a good looking bike with a very cleanly integrated battery and motor that nearly hides its e-bikeness. It has moderate modern trail bike geometry and plush rear suspension that quietly smooths obstacles in the trail. The drive system is robust and provides a good distance range, but testers were pretty unimpressed with the all-in-one control/display unit. A couple of questionable component specs are also a serious detriment to its downhill performance and make it less confidence-inspiring than we feel it should be.
The iWoc TRIO remote control on the Instinct Powerplay is definitely a little disappointing. With a name like that we expected a little more from this all-in-one unit. Sure, the controls work, they're relatively simple and have decent ergonomics. We can't really complain about their functionality. The attempt at making the controls an all-in-one unit with a light up display could have been better executed in our opinion. Rocky Mountain integrated small colored LED lights behind the control buttons that indicate the support level and battery life. This sounds good in theory but is less than impressive in practice.
There are three total buttons on the control unit; a power button in the middle and an up and down button to shift through the drive unit's support settings. The LED lights are just barely visible above and below the power button in the middle of the unit. Similar to the small LED lights on the control of the Giant Trance E+, the lights on this control are difficult to see when riding and in bright light conditions. In fact, we found the lights to be almost entirely useless, though it does blink with a color that corresponds to the output setting you're using. With the Giant's control, you can at least have a decent idea of how much battery life is remaining, not so with the Instinct.
The charging port on the Instinct Powerplay is on the top of the drive unit near the junction with the seat tube. The charging cord and the port have a good interface, and the plug isn't prone to coming loose during charging. We did notice that the charging port cover prefers to stay open, however, which allows for dust, water, and debris to get in there. This cover could use some improvement.
The Instinct Powerplay has the geometry to get after it on the descents, but its performance is undermined by the spec of the RockShox Reba fork that is just inadequate for a bike of this weight. Don't get us wrong, you can and probably will have a fun time on the descents, especially smooth and moderately pitched trails, but when the going gets steep or rough, the fork seriously detracts from rider confidence and the bike's overall downhill performance. The tire specification doesn't help either and further tilts this bike in favor of smooth and less technical trails.
The numbers are all pretty spot on for the Instinct Powerplay and it has a capable modern geometry that's ready and willing to get after it. Rocky Mountain has also included the Ride 9 adjustable geometry system that allows you to make nine incremental adjustments to the geometry using a set of flip chips. We tested it primarily in the neutral position, which we found to the perfect for most situations. The 66-degree head tube angle is appropriately slack while the measured reach of 446mm and wheelbase of 1194mm are on the more moderate side. Despite the moderate length reach and wheelbase numbers, the Instinct remains stable at speed thanks to its heavyweight. Body position on the descents feels comfortable, and the rear suspension design smooths over small to mid-sized chop as if it's not even there. This bike feels calm and composed, tracks well, and performs well up to a point. The RockShox Reba fork is simply not substantial enough to handle the weight of this heavy e-bike. There is noticeable flex in the fork, and it is disconcerting and doesn't inspire the confidence to really get after it. The Instinct also feels like it carries its weight a little higher than some of the competition and along with the less aggressive tread of the tires make this bike a bit less competent in the corners.
The Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 will work well on the descents for the vast majority of riders who take it a little easier and aren't trying to tackle steeper or more technical terrain. People looking to push it a little harder will want to look at other models with beefier fork specifications and meatier tires. The Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro is a good example. Its downhill performance is enhanced by the fact that it has a sturdy Fox 36 fork and a grippy Maxxis Minion DHF front tire. The same goes for the YT Decoy. That bike is much more capable and fun to charge on the descents due to its significantly more capable componentry and slacker geometry.
The Instinct Powerplay is no slouch on the uphills, but it's not all gold stars. Rocky Mountain has designed the frame with a nice steep 75.9-degree seat tube that puts the rider right up above the cranks. This results in a comfortable upright seated pedaling position that is great for scooting up steep sections and over technical obstacles in the trail. The pedal-assist motor also provides plenty of juice, and the rear suspension helps make the rear end of the bike feel glued to the ground.
On the climbs, we again noticed that the Instinct Powerplay feels like it has a higher center of gravity than some of the competition. This was most noticeable in tight technical sections or uphill switchbacks where maneuvering this heavy bike felt more awkward and sluggish. The Maxxis Rekon tires also don't provide the best climbing traction, but with the pedal assistance from the motor, it wasn't too bad. The e-bike specific drivetrain was a highlight, and it feels efficient and dialed in for the weight and power of the Instinct. Power output is also quite good, and there aren't any awkward power cutouts like you may experience on other drive systems.
All of the electric mountain bikes we've tested perform relatively well on the climbs thanks to their pedal-assist drive systems. In most situations, these bikes are generally easier to ride uphill because of the assistance they provide. This is the case for the Instinct Powerplay which has smooth and consistent power output and offers the most torque of all the models we've tested. This is especially noticeable when compared to the drive system on the Ghost Hybride SL AMR which just doesn't deliver as much power or torque on steeper climbs. The Instinct doesn't have an abrupt power cutoff when you stop pedaling as we've experienced with older models of the Specialized Turbo Levo and the Ghost. This smooth power band and transition helps when riding technical sections of trail where you may stop pedaling briefly.
The Instinct Powerplay has a quick pickup, consistent and smooth power output, and plenty of torque. Rocky Mountain developed their own drive system called Dyname 3.0. This system is different than most others on the market with a proprietary design that supposedly allows for greater freedom of frame design. They claim their drive system spins at 1/4 the speed of the competition, which is meant to be more efficient and less noisy. They also claim a max torque output of 108 Nm which is really quite impressive; the Bulls E-Stream is the next highest at 90 Nm.
Pedal assistance starts the moment you push down on the pedals, there's no lag, and it almost feels a little jumpy. It comes on smooth, feels muscular, and gets up to speed quickly. It has interesting modulated feel that responds well to the amount of effort you put in, the harder you pedal, the more power it provides. The torque feels great, much more powerful than the motor on the Ghost and roughly the same as the Giant Trance E+. It also shifts between output settings smoothly, and the power cutoff feels natural and not too abrupt when you stop pedaling. The motor itself isn't really noisy, although the idler pulley that the chain goes through on its way to the drive unit does make a fair amount of noise.
Our testing showed that the Instinct uses its power efficiently, and it had the best distance range of all the models with a similar size battery. On our range test course, we rode the Powerplay for 20 miles and 4,297 vertical feet in the highest output setting. While we do feel this is impressive, it should be noted that our tester felt he had to use more effort than on other models in the same test. Regardless, the Instinct has a good range; you may just have to work a little harder.
For comparison, on the same exact range test course the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro went for 19.02 miles and 4,000 vertical feet. Yes, that is a mile less than Powerplay, but our tester said that he did it with noticeably less effort. The Specialized Turbo Levo is an outlier here, with a 700Wh battery that easily went a full 10 miles farther than the Instinct. That's not an apples to apples comparison, but when you calculate their efficiency in terms of miles per 100Wh of battery, the Levo comes out at 4.22 versus 4.00 for the Rocky Mountain.
The Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 has a functional build that'll get you out on the trail but several components hold this bike back from riding more aggressively. If you're not trying to power through any chunky rock gardens or really lean it over when cornering, then this build might be adequate for you. If you want to rail some turns, smash through some chunder, or hit small rock drops, then you may be disappointed by the tires and the fork spec'd on the Alloy 50.
The Instinct Powerplay has 140mm of front and rear wheel travel and nice modern geometry numbers. The rear shock is a RockShox Deluxe Debonair RT that works well and helps smooth over small and mid-size chop with ease. The rear end of the bike has a balanced feel, and the shock provides a supportive pedaling platform. Rocky Mountain missed the mark with the RockShox Reba RL E-Bike specific fork. This fork works fine in mellow terrain, but it is noticeably flexy and isn't quite up to the task of suspending the front end of this 52+ lb bike. Testers found the flex of this fork to be disconcerting in rough terrain and any bigger hits on the trail. A fork with a more substantial chassis would be much better on a bike this heavy.
The cockpit setup on the Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 is dialed and feels suitable for everyday trail riding. They've used a bunch of house-branded Rocky Mountain parts on the front of the bike like a nice short stem, a 760mm wide handlebar, and comfortable lock-on grips. This bar/stem setup is comfortable, feels solid, and steers this bike effectively, although some riders may wish for a wider handlebar. Out back, they've chosen a crowd-pleasing WTB Volt Race saddle mounted atop a Race Face Aeffect dropper seat post. The dropper worked well for us during testing, and we liked the 1x style remote lever.
Rocky Mountain spec'd a set of SRAM Guide T brakes with 20mm rotors front and rear to control the speed of the Alloy 50. The "T" version of the SRAM Guide brakes aren't especially well known for their power, but when paired with the 200mm rotors on this bike we found them to work quite well. The drivetrain consists of a SRAM NX/GX-1E e-bike specific combination that testers felt worked very well.
The tires on the Alloy 50 are another place where we feel Rocky Mountain really missed the target on this build. The 29" x 2.6" Maxxis Rekon tires are okay, but they really don't have an aggressive enough tread for a bike of this weight. Testers found these tires to lose traction easily in corners and when climbing and had little confidence in them, especially at speed. This bike could use tires like the popular Minion DHF and DHR II combo to provide better climbing, cornering, and braking traction for a bike this heavy. The wheelset is solid with a nice wide profile and internal rim width to handle plus-sized tires.
At the Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50's retail price of $5299 this bike falls toward the lower end of the price spectrum for the models in this review. If you're a less aggressive rider, this bike is ready to roll as it is and is a better value. If you want to ride more aggressively, you'll probably want to replace at least the tires right off the bat, and this will cost some additional money.
The Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 has an excellent modern geometry and a powerful pedal assist drive system. Unfortunately, this bike is held back from greatness by some questionable aspects of its build, most notably the Maxxis Rekon tires and the inadequate feeling RockShox Reba fork. Both the fork and the tires leave a lot to be desired and are a big part of the reason this bike is outperformed on descents. We were also quite unimpressed with the e-bike controls that have the worst display of all the models we tested. This bike is most at home on smooth and mellow trails.
Other Versions and Accessories
Rocky Mountain makes two versions of the Instinct Powerplay including the Alloy 50 reviewed here.
-The Instinct Powerplay Alloy 70, $6,399, shares the same frame and drive system, but it comes with a 632 Wh battery, a Fox 34 Float Performance fork, A Fox Float DPS Performance rear shock, SRAM Guide RE brakes, Race Face AR 30 wheels, and a Fox Transfer dropper seat post.
-They also make four models of the Altitude Powerplay which has 150mm of rear and 160mm of front wheel travel. It is offered in both carbon and aluminum frames with prices ranging from $5,499 - $9,199.
-The Growler Powerplay 30, $3,899, is currently the only hardtail model in their Powerplay line. It has an alloy frame, 130mm of front wheel travel, and a budget-minded component specification.
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Chris McNamara