Rocky Mountain Instinct: Tested

By Justin Walker 27 January 2023
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It’s the age-old saying that there’s no “one bike” that can do it all in the mountain biking world. Is Rocky’s Instinct the ultimate myth-buster?

The Rocky Mountain Instinct has been a mainstay in the Canadian bike brand’s stable for a number of years, sitting in that ‘all-rounder’ segment and touted by the brand as its “most versatile trail bike”. The 2022 Instinct C70 is the latest-gen Instinct, first released in 2021, with the ‘longer, lower, slacker’ geometry brush splashed over it, along with a few updates, including an additional geometry asset (a two-position chainstay) to add to Rocky’s RIDE-9 adjustment system, plus a tweak of the suspension kinematics. 


The Rocky Mountain Instinct C70 is the second-from-top model and, as you’d expect, comes with a high spec level. The carbon-fibre frame (note: there are alloy frame models available) is made from what Rocky calls Smoothwall carbon and it features a press-fit bottom bracket, internal (and quiet!) cable routing, and the company’s RIDE-9 adjustable geometry. There is 140mm of rear travel, courtesy of a Fox Float X Performance Elite shock, and it is delivered through Rocky’s Smoothlink suspension – a four-bar design. A Fox 36 Float EVOL FIT4 Performance Elite Series fork provides 150mm of squish up front. The drivetrain is full Shimano XT: a 32-tooth chainring, 10-51T rear cassette (yep, it is huge), M8100 chain and 170mm XT cranks (for XL, L and M and SM; XS Instincts have 165mm cranks), combining with a Shimano XT shifter and rear derailleur. Shimano also provides the stopping power, courtesy of XT four-piston brakes and 180mm rotors front and rear.

The Instinct is available in two wheel sizes: XS is 27.5-inch; SM is 27.5 or 29, and M through to XL is 29-inch only. The wheels are Race Face AR 30 alloy rims with dependable DT Swiss Competition spokes, and the Maxxis Minion DHF 2.5 WT (front) and Minion DHR II (rear) tyres hint at the Instinct’s capability. The dropper post is a Race Face Turbine R, running at 175mm in this Large size. The overall weight of the Instinct C70 is 14.3kg – a notable jump on the previous-gen carbon model equivalent, which weighed in at around 13kg.

This additional beefiness reflects the trend in MTB design toward more durability and robustness, with this being most notable in the attention Rocky’s engineers paid to upping the rigidity of the frame’s front triangle for more direct steering. The jump from a Fox 34 to the current Fox 36 fork brings more stability and support in the front end along with an additional few grams. Rocky Mountain has pulled a bit of a cool trick with the Instinct; this carbon frame is identical to that used in the Altitude, the Instinct’s Enduro World Series focused stablemate, with 170mm (f)/160mm (r) travel. As a result, this means Instinct (and Altitude) owners have the ability to swap out the (carbon model only) modular shock mount to run a shorter or longer stroke shock. So, you are – sort-of – gaining two bikes in one, provided you have the dosh for an extra shock and fork. 

The addition of a 10mm chainstay adjustment might sound like not much but when used in conjunction with Rocky Mountain’s RIDE-9 adjustment system, it’s possible to customise the bike’s performance to any trail; stretch that chainstay out and you gain more stability at speed or keep it short for more fun. RIDE-9 is a fast way (it takes five minutes and two Allen keys) to alter your bike’s geometry and suspension performance. As per the RIDE-9 moniker, there are nine possible configurations, attained through the different positions of two interlocking chips.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Mountain Biking

In the field

It’s taken us a while to get our hands on the Instinct (huge thanks to Global Fitness and Leisure Pty Ltd, the Aussie distributor), which has meant this big rig has only been on test for a month. And, thanks to Sydney’s wetter-than-usual 2022, a lot of my local trails have been closed, which has limited time on the gold and red machine, albeit enough to garner some initial impressions. 

During this first phase of testing, I have kept the RIDE-9 setting in the Neutral position, and it simply works – for me, anyway, after getting used to the steeper seat tube, longer reach and slacker front end (note: we will be changing the RIDE-9 settings over the next few months and report back). That steeper seat tube has been a boon for one pain-in-the-proverbial climb on my local trail and I now rumble up it confidently. 

The bike’s suspension is very active, with plenty of traction over rough surfaces, and a great combo of Fox Float X out back and the Fox 36 Performance Elite fork up front.

It’s worth noting that, even though Rocky has increased the mid-stroke and bottom-out support on this latest Instinct, its suspension is still very active; there are more efficient climbers in this market segment, but for me, I’d rather have the oodles of traction on offer, and flick the Float X to its ‘firm’ setting. That supple rear end also meshes well with the Fox 36 Performance Elite fork and what’s going on up front. The internet is full of comments noting that for the money, the C70 should come with Fox’s GRIP2 36 fork – and I agree – but this ‘lower spec’ fork still does a commendable job, especially pointed downhill.

Speaking of downhill, for a trail bike with 140mm/150mm of suspension, the Instinct cranks down as if it is a far bigger bike, with that supple suspension keeping you glued to the trail at speed. I should note – and it’s early days – that even though the Instinct likes staying on terra firma, it can provide a playful side; popping off obstacles is easy, and loads of fun.

The not-so final word on the Rocky Mountain Instinct

The Rocky Mountain Instinct looks to fulfil the role of ‘one bike for all’ and seems to do an effective job. If you had to define the bike, it’d still probably be as an ideal fit for the trail/all-mountain segment, which is what most of us ride anyway. However, that added versatility in terms of adjustable geometry – and the ability to fit a larger shock and fork –contribute to the bike’s wide breadth of capability, meaning that occasional XC race and/or enduro ride are more than achievable.

The big issue – and this is by no means exclusive to this bike – is the price. That’s a lot of money for a bike but, as most mountain bikers (and roadies) know, that is where the bike scene has gone, and equivalent boutique/highly regarded brands are similarly priced.

When comparing the Instinct to its competitors, it offers plenty, especially with that aforementioned versatility thanks to the geo adjustability – and as mentioned earlier, this same frame geometry (and RIDE-9 adjustability) is available across all seven models, with three carbon-fibre and three alloy variants available at a notably cheaper price point than this C70. 

Look for a long-term review of the C70 in Issue 9 of Aus Geo ADVENTURE, and check here for updates.