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Rocky Mountain Instinct Alloy 50 2018 Review

A efficient 29er with a suspension design that can't back up its aggressive geometry
Rocky Mountain Instinct Alloy 50 2018
Photo: Jenna Ammerman
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Price:  $3,199 List
Pros:  Stellar climbing abilities, quick handling, adjustable geometry
Cons:  Suspension cant match aggressive geometry, rides like a bike with less travel
Manufacturer:   Rocky Mountain
By Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens  ⋅  Apr 11, 2018
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Our Verdict

The all-new Rocky Mountain Instinct Alloy 50 blends stellar climbing abilities and sharp handling with mediocre downhill performance. Three testers spend two weeks aboard this reworked 29er to provide you with the key ride characteristics. The Instinct is a trail bike through and through. Despite having 140mm of travel and aggressive angles, this bike isn't confident or comfortable charging down rowdy terrain. Still, the Instinct is an efficient climber that offers sharp and precise handling. The $3199 price tag on our Alloy 50 model helps make this bike a viable option for the trail rider who likes the safety net of a little extra travel.

Our Analysis and Test Results

October 2018 Update
The Instinct is unchanged for 2019. There are some minor component tweaks, but performance shouldn't be dramatically effected. October 2018.

Careful not to push this bike too hard down the rough stuff.
Careful not to push this bike too hard down the rough stuff.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Should I Buy This Bike?

According to Rocky Mountain the Instinct is their "most versatile trail bike" that is "stable and aggressive". This bike is certainly versatile in the realm of trail bikes. The Instinct is capable of both multi-hour climbs and small doses of choppy and steep terrain. We would not call this bike especially aggressive. We have ridden 29ers with less travel that are far more aggressive than the Instinct. This bike is best for trail riders who want a little bit of extra suspension but don't intend on riding significant amounts of gnar. Those seeking to attack significant amounts of rough trails should take a pass on this one.

Looking for a more aggressive mid-travel 29er? The Santa Cruz Hightower is more capable on nasty terrain. When compared to the Instinct, the Hightower descends with more confidence and feels much more substantial and composed on big hits as well as chatter. The Hightower's climbing position is slightly behind the cranks where the Instinct puts riders directly on top of the pedals. Despite the less-than-ideal climbing position, the firm platform provided by VPP suspension makes the Hightower a formidable climber. What's the catch? The Hightower is spendy. It is only available in carbon fiber with prices starting at $3999.

Working through fast corners is easy.
Working through fast corners is easy.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Got some extra cash lying around? The Yeti SB5.5 is a versatile and aggressive trail bike. This 140mm travel 29er offers solid climbing abilities and very capable downhill performance. Armed with a 160mm Fox 36 and 2.5-inch Maxxis Minion DHF front tire, this carbon all-mountain bike is a great daily driver that is also comfortable on an enduro race track. This trail-smasher is a perfect example of how travel numbers can be deceiving. This high-end performance doesn't come cheap. This bike is available in carbon fiber only with the entry-level build kit going for $4999 and our test bike selling for $7199.

The Transition Smuggler is a short-travel 29er with a hard-nosed attitude. Despite having a mere 120mm of travel, the Smuggler rides like it has far more travel. A slack head tube angle and 140mm fork give this bike the confidence to charge steeper trails. While this bike doesn't have the deep stroke support of the Santa Cruz Hightower it is still quite capable. Climbing abilities are respectable as thanks to an excellent climbing position. This bike is the most effective ascending with use of the shock's climb switch. Aluminum and carbon fiber models are available starting at $2999.

The Instinct is an impressive climber. Standing or seated, the...
The Instinct is an impressive climber. Standing or seated, the suspension remains calm.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Not dead set on wagon wheels? The Canyon Spectral offers a top-notch value at $2,399. On-trail performance is quite impressive with this versatile 140mm travel 27.5-inch bike. The component spec is nearly unrivaled on this $2399 bike and includes a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, RockShox Pike fork, and 2.6-inch Maxxis tires.

Frame Design

The redesigned Instinct has 140mm of rear wheel travel and was designed around a 140mm fork. Rocky Mountain uses their Smoothlink Suspension system which is a 4-bar design. The new Instinct is significantly slacker than the previous iteration. The Ride-9 system features adjustable geometry with a whomping nine settings. We tested our bikes in theneutral position 5 and the more slack and progressive position 2.

The recently redesigned Instinct.
The recently redesigned Instinct.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

We measured our large test bike in the neutral position. It had a 625mm effective top tube and 437mm chainstays to create a 1207mm wheelbase. The reach measured 462mm. The head tube angle came out to 65.8-degrees. The seat tube angle measured 74.7-degrees. The bottom bracket height is 340mm. Our large test bike hit the scales at 30 lbs 3 oz set up tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights

  • - Available in aluminum and carbon fiber
  • - 140mm of rear wheel travel, designed around a 140mm fork
  • - 29-inch wheels only
  • - Build kits ranging from $3199 to $5299
  • - Long travel, 155mm, BC Edition available for $5899
  • - Available in sizes S-XL

The Maxxis Minion DHF 2.3 offers predictable cornering in a wide...
The Maxxis Minion DHF 2.3 offers predictable cornering in a wide range of conditions.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Downhill Performance

The Instinct offers predictable and quick-witted downhill performance. Travel numbers can be deceiving and this 140mm 29er isn't as aggressive as some bikes with similar amounts of squish. This bike has a strong preference for fast trails absent of super rough or chunky terrain. The component grouping features some highlights and some lowlights.

The Instinct has aggressive geometry. Downhill positioning is aggressive and confident. In the neutral position, this bike has a 65.8-degree head tube angle. We tinkered with the Ride-9 geometry adjustment system. You have plenty of wiggle room to go with a significantly slacker setting. We felt keeping this bike closer to the neutral position helped retain slow speed handling. It should be noted that utilizing slacker geometry positions also makes the suspension curve slightly more progressive. On paper, the 462mm reach measurement seems spacious. That said, the Instinct felt very tight in the top tube.

The Instinct's suspension design cannot back up its aggressive geometry. This bike rides like a trail bike with a dose of extra travel as opposed to a mini-enduro bike. Charging down semi-steep and chunky terrain is jarring. One tester stated that the Instinct "rides like it had 20mm less travel than it actually does." It is 2018 and the 140mm Yeti SB5.5 can crush enduro tracks, the 135mm Santa Cruz Hightower rides significantly above its pay grade, and the 120mm Transition Smuggler punches far above its weight class. The Instinct cannot come close to the downhill capabilities of these bikes. Pointing it over chunky rocks is jarring and it feels unstable motoring over chatter. The Instinct can ride this rowdy terrain, but it isn't as supportive, plush, or confidence inspiring as we would like.

You can't quite let it fly on rough trails. This bike prefers a...
You can't quite let it fly on rough trails. This bike prefers a surgical and precise approach.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Instinct is far happier when ridden like a trail bike. Slicing and dicing down mellow to intermediate trails is quite pleasant. This bike handles well and responds to minimal rider input. Cornering abilities are respectable at all speeds. Given the aggressive geometry and 1207mm wheelbase, sharp and slow corners benefit from a proper entry.

The 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHF front tire was a nice specification while the 2.35-inch Maxxis Forekaster works well enough. Wider rubber could help this bike feel a bit more confident in the gnar. The 140mm Fox 34 Performance fork with the GRIP damper was serviceable. We are used to stiffer and burlier forks, but the Fox 34 Performance is respectable at this price point. SRAM Level T brakes are very okay. These brakes function, but they simply don't have adequate power to shut down high speeds for bigger or aggressive riders.

Given its swift climbing abilities, this bike is a great choice for...
Given its swift climbing abilities, this bike is a great choice for long rides.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Climbing Performance

The Rocky Mountain Instinct is an effective and efficient climber. The Smoothlink suspension provides a solid pedaling platform. The climb switch is not required, although flipping the lever into the medium position helps retain better effective geometry. The components worked well-enough on the ascent.

The Instinct puts riders right on top of the cranks. The 74.7-degree seat tube angle feels significantly steeper. This bike puts your nose right over the stem cap. Despite roomy effective top tube and reach measurements, the cockpit feels very tight. Still, the Instinct offers a pleasant climbing position. This comfortable suffering position makes long uphill grinds as pleasant as possible.

The Smoothlink suspension system offers a solid and calm pedal platform. Seated or standing, the Instinct is an efficient climber. There is minimal pedal bob, even with the shock in the wide open position. It is beneficial to use the climb switch as the sagged effective head tube angle slackens out when the shock is in the open position. The Instinct is no featherweight at 30 lbs 3 oz. That said, it doesn't feel especially heavy or clunky when grinding uphill.

No Eagle here. The 42-tooth climbing gear makes you work for it.
No Eagle here. The 42-tooth climbing gear makes you work for it.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The Instinct handles well on the climb. The 340mm bottom bracket height gives you plenty of clearance on technical trail features. Steering is sharp and it is easy to change directions when working through a rock garden. As with many bikes with longer wheelbases, tight uphill switchbacks can be a bit tedious. A solid game plan and a clean entry go a long way to negotiating a tight turn.

The components on the Instinct worked fairly well on the climb. The SRAM GX drivetrain was crisp and the 30:42t climbing gear is respectable. We love Eagle 1x12 drivetrains. Unfortunately, Eagle has not trickled down to all bikes at lower price points yet. The 2.3/2.35 Maxxis tires held up well. While the narrower tires save a good deal of weight, wider rubber can offer better climbing traction.

Photo Tour

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At $3199, the Instinct is a reasonable value. Modern geometry, aggressive angles, 29-inch wheels, and decent components can be hard to come by in this price range. Climbing is stellar and descending is acceptable.

Build Highlights

  • - Fox 34 Performance 140mm fork
  • - Fox Float DPS EVOL shock
  • - SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain
  • - SRAM Level T Brakes
  • - RaceFace Aeffect 30.9 dropper
  • - Maxxis Minion DHR II 2.3-inch front tire, Forekaster 2.35-inch rear tire

Photo: Jenna Ammerman


The Rocky Mountain Instinct is a swift climbing and sharp handling trail bike best suited for mellow to moderate terrain. Impressive climbing abilities make this bike comfortable option for long days in the saddle. This 140mm 29er doesn't have the chops to tackle enduro grade terrain like the Yeti SB5.5, Santa Cruz Hightower, or Canyon Spectral. Still, at $3199 this bike is a respectable value for trail riders who want a bit of extra squish.

Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens

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