2020 Rocky Mountain Instinct BC Edition
Duration of Test (so far): 4 rides
Size Tested: Large
Geometry: See Below
Build Overview (Carbon 70 BC Edition):
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT 12-speed
- Brakes: Shimano XT 4-piston, 203 mm rotors
- Fork: Fox Float 36 GRIP2 Performance Elite, 160 mm
- Rear Shock: Fox Float DPX2 Performance
- Wheelset: Race Face AR Offset 30 rims; Rocky Mountain Sealed hub (front) & DT Swiss 370 hub (rear)
Wheel Size: 29′′
Suspension Travel: 155 mm rear / 160 mm front
Blister’s Measured Weight (as built, tubeless, w/o pedals): 30.0 lbs
MSRP (as built): $5,999 USD
Reviewer: Dylan Wood: 5’11”, 155 lbs; Ape Index +0.5; Inseam 32”
Since 2013, Rocky Mountain’s Instinct has served as the brand’s do-everything, full-suspension, 29er Trail bike. Rocky Mountain updated the Instinct in 2017, and they also added a longer-travel, more downhill-oriented version that we’re reviewing here, the Instinct BC Edition.
With 155 mm of rear travel and a 160mm-travel fork, the Instinct BC is situated in the popular, diverse, and convoluted category of “aggressive Trail” / Enduro / All-Mountain 29ers. I recently started spending time on the Instinct BC in the Gunnison-Crested Butte valley and fellow reviewer Eric Freson is also now getting time on the bike, but while we keep riding it, here we’ll go over the bike, the build, geometry, and some initial on-trail impressions.
The Instinct BC Edition is available in either an alloy or carbon frame. Apart from the obvious differences in material, the lower-end build kits are paired with the alloy frame while the higher-end kits are paired with the carbon frame, with the exception being the “70” build, which is available (with some component differences that we touch on below) on both frames.
[Note: Rocky Mountain recently announced a voluntary recall for certain alloy Instinct and alloy Pipeline front triangles made from 2018–2020. If you have one, click here to figure out if you need to get a free replacement front triangle. This recall does not include any of the carbon Instinct frames.]
The Instinct BC Edition features Rocky Mountain’s “Smoothlink” suspension that is ultimately a 4-bar, Horst Link design. I’ve been able to fit a 20-oz water bottle in the front triangle of the Instinct BC, but as you can see in the image above, it’s a very tight fit with the piggyback of the DPX2 shock.
While the normal Instinct — with 140 mm of rear travel — features Rocky Mountain’s Ride-9 geometry / suspension adjustment system, the BC Edition does not, since the frame does not have enough clearance for 155 mm of rear travel in 8 of the Instinct’s 9 different positions. So while many of Rocky Mountain’s frames offer a ton of different ways to adjust the geometry, the Instinct BC takes the guesswork (and customization options) out of the equation.
The Instinct frames come with Rocky Mountain’s “spirit guide” — an upper chain guide that cleverly secures to the frame with clean integration. The frames also feature full-sealed cartridge bearings; a press-fit bottom bracket; two (not three, due to the integrated upper guide) ISCG 05 tabs; some protection under the downtube, bottom bracket and on top of the chainstay; and internal cable routing through the front triangle.
It is also worth noting that the Instinct can be converted to the Instinct BC Edition, and vice-versa. Conversion requires a different rear link, a rear shock that is longer / shorter in stroke length and eye-to-eye length, and a longer / shorter fork, depending on which way the bike is converted. The normal Instinct uses a 210 mm x 55 mm rear shock while the BC Edition runs a 8.5” x 2.5” shock, which is indeed longer.
Rocky Mountain says the Instinct BC Edition can run a rear tire up to a 2.5” wide with 29” wheels (which is shown below with the stock 2.5” Maxxis Aggressor), and the Instinct frame is also compatible with a 27.5”+ setup, allowing tires up to 3” wide with the smaller wheels.
Rocky Mountain currently offers the Instinct BC as a carbon frame with a Fox Factory DPX2 shock for $2,899, or in four complete builds ranging from the $3,899, SRAM GX-equipped Alloy 50 to the $7,199, SRAM X01-equipped Carbon 90. In between sit the $4,699 Alloy 70 and the build we’ve been riding, the $5,999 Carbon 70, both of which feature Shimano’s XT drivetrain and XT 4-piston brakes.
All full Instinct BC builds come with a Maxxis Minion DHF EXO up front and a Maxxis Aggressor EXO out back, with the Aggressor being noteworthy in that it’s on the faster-rolling / less aggressive end of the spectrum for a longer-travel bike like the Instinct BC.
All builds apart from the high-end Carbon 90 come with Raceface AR 30 rims laced to DT Swiss 370 Boost hub in the rear and a Rocky Mountain hub up front. Bumping up to the Carbon 90 gets you Raceface’s carbon ARC 30 rims and DT Swiss’s 350 Boost rear hub.
For droppers, all full builds come with a Raceface Turbine R (aka, a Fox Transfer), apart from the Alloy 70, which comes with a OneUp dropper. Rocky Mountain notes that the relatively straight seat tube of the Instinct BC allows for relatively deep dropper post insertion, and you can find more info on that for each size in the FAQ section of their product page.
The Carbon 70 build that we’re reviewing is equipped with a Shimano 12-speed XT drivetrain and XT 4-piston brakes. Fox handles suspension duties, with a 36 Performance Elite with a Grip2 damper up front and a DPX2 Performance out back. Raceface’s Turbine series makes up the bars (780 mm), cranks, and 32-tooth chainring, while some Rocky Mountain parts round out the stem and grips.
It’s also worth noting that you can get the same drivetrain and brakes with Fox Factory-level suspension for $1,300 less if you go to the Alloy 70 build.
Initial Thoughts on The Build
When putting together our Rocky Mountain Bike Brand Guide back in April, I deemed the Carbon 70 kit the “Most Performance for the Price.” After riding it, I stand by that designation. This build kit provides a high-performance ride at an admirable weight (30 lbs on the dot for a size Large without pedals) and a fair price for what you get.
I’m a big fan of Shimano XT brakes and drivetrains, and the ones kitted on the Instinct BC Edition Carbon 70 have not disappointed. Particularly, I really like how well the XT drivetrain shifts under load, compared to most of SRAM’s offerings. The Raceface AR offset 30 rims laced to Rocky Mountain and DT Swiss hubs have a stiff, yet compliant feeling to them, and have stayed taught and true (as I’d expect, given the short ride time so far).
The Fox Float 36 Performance Elite fork with Grip2 damper provides just about as much adjustability in a fork that anyone could ask for, and only lacks Fox’s signature gold Kashima coating when compared to the “Factory” model.
The only weak point of this build, at least for me, is the Fox Float Performance DPX2 rear shock. This shock only gives you the ability to adjust rebound and set the compression damping in 3 pre-determined settings. I wish that Rocky Mountain had stocked the Performance Elite version here, which features low-speed compression damping in the “open” mode of the shock. Of course, if you rarely find yourself feeling the need to fine-tune your rear suspension, this will be a non-issue.
Also, I think riders who do lots of Enduro races and / or bike-park riding on the Instinct BC edition may want to upgrade to a more downhill-oriented shock like the Fox Float X2. On other bikes I have ridden with a Fox DPX2, I found that the shock had some issues “fading” and losing performance over longer descents. While burlier rear shocks may add a weight penalty, I believe the upgrade would be worth it if you want to frequently ride the Instinct BC Edition in lift-served bike parks or tend to ride long, rough descents.
This is one area where the Instinct BC stands out from most of its long-ish-travel counterparts. Particularly given the releases of several new ~150mm-travel bikes this year, the Instinct BC’s geometry numbers look notably shorter and steeper.
For a size Large, the Instinct BC’s reach comes in at 454 mm, rear center is 435 mm, and the wheelbase comes out to 1213 mm. To put those into perspective, with all measurements for a size Large, Commencal’s newest 140mm-travel Meta TR has a 490 mm reach and 1257 mm wheelbase; Transition’s new Sentinel has a 476 mm reach and 1263 mm wheelbase; Norco’s recently revised Sight has a 485 mm reach and 1262 mm wheelbase; the Banshee Titan’s reach and wheelbase come in at 470 mm and 1265 mm, respectively; and Yeti’s not-super-new SB150 has a 480.2 mm reach and 1248 mm wheelbase.
So, compared to many of the recently released bikes in its class, the Instinct BC is notably shorter. It also has a steeper head angle than many, though, at 65.9°, it’s not extremely steep. The Instinct BC’s effective seat tube angle is fairly slack at 74.4°, though with its shorter reach, we thought this might not be as much of an issue on the climbs vs. if you had the same angle on a very long bike.
Given the Instinct BC’s “aggressive trail” design intentions, its geo is looking more conservative at this point, though we were curious to see how different that made it feel compared to some of the longer, slacker bikes in this class. Particularly, for people who think bikes in this class have been getting too long and slack for their riding style, should the Instinct BC be on their list?
For reference, here’s the whole geo chart for the Instinct BC:
Initial Thoughts on Fit and Geometry
As we just mentioned, the Instinct BC Edition does not feature radically progressive geometry, especially when compared to the most recent of long-travel 29ers. When I first swung a leg over the bike, the fit felt familiar to what I had become accustomed to on other long-travel 29ers of 2-3 years ago, like the Santa Cruz Hightower LT. With the Instinct BC’s 74.4º seat tube angle, the pedals are slightly more forward than I would like. I’ve gotten along better with bikes with a ~76-77º seat tube angle like the Santa Cruz Megatower and current Hightower, where the pedals are in a better spot to put down the power, especially when the terrain gets steep.
All that being said, in terms of overall fit, I think the Instinct BC Edition’s geometry creates something that could be comfortable and work for many people, provided you’re not someone who wants a very long and slack bike.
By sliding the seat forward on the rails, I can alleviate the slightly-too-slack seat tube angle, which to me, is the biggest downfall of the Instinct BC Edition’s geometry. Because top tube lengths have stayed relatively consistent while other aspects of geometry have changed within the last few years, the Instinct BC hasn’t felt too short or too stretched out while in a seated pedaling position compared to other long-travel 29ers I’ve been riding. While standing and pedaling or standing while descending, the shorter reach and wheelbase do become more apparent to me, since I’ve been spending most of my time this year on relatively new bikes that are longer in those regards (below I’ll get more into what that feeling translates to).
While you shouldn’t expect a 155 mm Trail / Enduro bike to climb exceptionally well, I believe that the Instinct BC Edition can satisfy anyone interested in this sort of bike in terms of its climbing ability.
The Instinct BC’s anti-squat numbers are on the lower end of the spectrum at ~83% in the easiest climbing gear, while, for example, the Santa Cruz Megatower features ~100% anti-squat, depending on the geo setting you choose. Given this, it came as little surprise to me that the Instinct BC offered a notably more active suspension platform on the way up. This results in plenty of traction in bumpy and loose sections but a little bit more pedal bob on smooth fire roads compared to the Megatower and the old Hightower LT. As I touched on above, the Fox DPX2 on the Instinct BC Carbon 70 comes with a 3-position climb switch that does a good job of firming things up when desired. Like most other bikes I ride, I only touch this switch when I am pedaling up very smooth roads and trails.
If you spend most of your time pedaling up singletrack, the Instinct’s rear suspension offers a lot to like in terms of the amount of traction it provides. Combined with the fast-rolling Maxxis Aggressor rear tire, the Instinct BC Edition’s climbing performance is totally adequate for its class.
With a 32-tooth front chainring, the Instinct BC Edition has plenty of upper-end pedaling ability while sacrificing some easier pedaling in the lowest gears. Personally, I prefer a 30-tooth chainring paired with the 10-51 Shimano XT drivetrain, mostly because many of the climbs around Crested Butte are very steep and I prefer to pedal at a relatively high cadence.
With fast-rolling 29” wheels and 155 mm of rear suspension, the Instinct BC Edition does a very good job of keeping its speed in rocky and rooty sections of trail. I smashed the Instinct BC through plenty of moto-whoops, rock gardens, and high-speed rooty sections and was content with the ride-smoothing and momentum-retaining properties of the bike.
While most riders will be able to ride it quite hard in most terrain, where the Instinct BC really stands out compared to the longer, slacker bikes of today is its nimbleness and lively ride. The Instinct BC Edition felt poppy and active whereas other bikes like the Megatower would prefer to just go straight and stay glued to the trail. If you’ve spent time on any of the longer, slacker bikes of today and found yourself thinking they felt sluggish and one-dimensional, you might want to check out the Instinct BC.
After spending almost two seasons on a Santa Cruz Hightower LT, the Instinct BC Edition feels quite similar in terms of geometry and handling on the way down. I liked the Hightower LT because it did a good job of balancing stability and speed with maneuverability and liveliness. I have enjoyed my time descending on the Instinct BC Edition for the same reasons. I spent much of my time on the Hightower LT with a coil shock so this isn’t a totally apples-to-apples comparison, but with that caveat, the Instinct BC hasn’t felt quite as supple over small bumps but it’s also been more supportive when deeper in its travel.
The Bottom Line (For Now)
With its more conservative geometry and fun, lively handling, the Instinct BC Edition offers something that many of the longer-travel 29ers of today do not.
Its climbing performance is not particularly out of the ordinary (bad or good) for its class and I don’t foresee it ever preventing me from getting to the top of my favorite descents.
When headed downhill, riders looking for the fastest, most stable Enduro 29er may want to look elsewhere; so far, the Instinct BC Edition hasn’t felt quite as planted and stable as other bikes in this class like the Santa Cruz Megatower. That said, the Instinct BC does offer a distinctly more nimble and playful ride than other, more recently released, long-travel 29ers, while still keeping speed over chunky sections like a big-wheeled bike should.
We’re putting more miles on the Instinct BC and will be able to compare it to more bikes in the future, so stay tuned for updates.