2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition

The Ride

Right out of the gate, my ride on the Instinct began with one of those climbs that starts steep, and just gets progressively steeper. It’s one of those situations where the only reason I’m not walking up it is because the guys I’m with are still riding, and the only reason they’re not walking is because I’m still riding. (Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.)

This was also the place where I decided that I really like how the Instinct climbs. For a relatively long travel bike with stout components, it’s not too heavy, and the suspension design is pretty efficient. But more importantly, the geometry just works really well for going up steep climbs. Even on grades that are at the limit of what I can pedal up, the front wheel of the Instinct was planted, and I had a relatively easy time maintaining traction at the rear wheel.

Noah Bodman reviews the 2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition for Blister Gear Review.
Noah Bodman on the 2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition, Whistler BC.

The Instinct’s long chainstays and the moderately steep seat tube angle gets lots of credit here; my Evil Following, which has much shorter stays and a much slacker seat tube, is a huge handful on those sorts of climbs. And it’s worth noting that I was doing that climb with the Instinct in low / slack mode — fussing around with the Ride-9 chip could make it even better.

On the way down, from the very beginning I felt pretty comfortable on the Instinct BC in terms of the bike’s fit. The geometry feels very neutral, and for the most part, I didn’t feel like I had to adapt to the bike. The head angle feels slack enough to provide a stable ride, but not so slack that slow speed corners were a handful.

The only exception to that neutral handling was the long chainstays — in a few tight, wiggly bits, the length of the rear end was noticeable. It wasn’t necessarily bad, it just meant that it was a little harder to tuck the rear end into corners compared to a bike with super short stays. The flip side of that, however, is that the riding position feels very centered on the bike. As I noted in my review of the Trek Session 9.9, this can really help with higher speed corners — the bike’s geometry naturally helps weight the front tire, so I didn’t feel like I had to keep my weight forward quite as much to maintain traction.

Like many of the Rocky Mountain bikes I’ve ridden, I also found the Instinct to be quite stiff, especially considering its relatively low weight. I think a big reason for that stiffness is the use of Rocky Mountain’s “ABC” and “BC2” pivots, which run on bushings rather than bearings. The upside of bushings is that they’re considerably lighter and also stiffer than the cartridge bearings that are used in the vast majority of full suspension bikes.

Those bushings are not, however, without their downsides, and that brings us to where the Instinct BC falls a bit short. Mainly, it just doesn’t absorb smaller bumps all that well, which is the same thing I found on the Altitude BC and the Thunderbolt BC (both of which use similar bushings in their pivots).

Noah Bodman reviews the 2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition for Blister Gear Review.
Noah Bodman on the 2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition, Whistler BC.

On larger compressions, the Instinct BC did just fine; I didn’t find that it blew through its travel, and it seemed to resist hard bottom outs fairly well. It was on smaller bumps where the Instinct BC felt pretty harsh, even with the rear shock fully open. On chattery roots and rocks, the Instinct just didn’t seem to smooth them out nearly as well as other bikes. I’d say that bikes like my Evil Following and the Transition Smuggler do much better, even though they have less travel. Even running the rear shock on the soft side, the Instinct, Altitude, and Thunderbolt are some of the least “plush” bikes I’ve ridden.

Now that firm suspension isn’t all bad — as I noted at the outset, the Instinct BC climbs very well, and there’s no doubt that the firmer suspension helped in that regard. But really, suspension is there to absorb bumps, and the Instinct’s suspension falls short in that regard when compared to other bikes in its class that are running on bearings.

On the trail, that harsh feeling of the suspension meant that the bike was a bit less inclined to carry speed through chunky, rooty terrain. Where other bikes would smooth things out and allow speeds to pick up, the Instinct tended to get jostled around a bit more. For that reason, I felt like I had to ride the Instinct much more actively, picking the bike up over roots and rocks rather than just letting the suspension do it’s thing.

On slower, more technical trails, the Instinct felt more at home, since those types of trails tend to require more body english anyways, and a big, squishy suspension bike is less beneficial.

Admittedly, my time on this bike was limited, so perhaps with more time I could have dialed in the suspension a bit to make it better. But given the limited adjustability of the Monarch RT3, and the fact that I’ve had similar experiences on other Rocky Mountain bikes (that extensive suspension fiddling didn’t fix), I think the improvements I might have gained would have been relatively minor.

Bottom Line

There’s no question that the Instinct BC is a relatively light, stiff bike that climbs better than the vast majority of bikes in its class. For that matter, I’d say it climbs better than a fair number of bikes that have significantly less travel.

But for all the accolades that the Instinct BC deserves on the way up, it falls a bit short on the way down. The suspension action lacks the suppleness that allows comparable bikes to charge through rough terrain, and that makes the Instinct BC a bit less fun and a bit less versatile. To some extent, good, neutral geometry and a great parts spec make up for this, but the Instinct BC isn’t the only bike out there with good geometry and parts.

At the end of the day, the Instinct BC is worth looking at if you want a longer-legged 29er that still climbs like a champ. It’s also not a bad option for people who are primarily riding slower-speed, more technical trails, but that’s a fairly narrow category. In terms of versatile, mid-travel trail bikes, I think there are better options out there.

3 comments on “2016 Rocky Mountain Instinct 990 MSL BC Edition”

  1. “Reach on the Instinct BC is on the short side; the Large I rode ranges from 409 mm – 426 mm, depending on the Ride-9 position. At 5’9” I felt entirely comfortable on the Large, but people who like longer bikes might be looking for a bit more room. Especially since Rocky Mountain doesn’t offer the BC edition in a XL, tall people might be out of luck.”

    The Instinct BC is actually offered in up to a XXL size.

      • Assuming we’re limiting the discussion to 29ers, I’d look at the Transition Smuggler (a bit shorter travel) or the Specialized Stumpjumper 29. Both are pretty solid all-arounders.

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