2022 Rocky Mountain Instinct Deniz Merdano43.jpg

2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct

Words Pete Roggeman
Photos Deniz Merdano
Date Mar 9, 2021
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Introducing the 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct

The Instinct is a trail bike with teeth, sporting 140mm of rear wheel travel paired with a 150mm fork. For most riders in most places that don't intend to race XC or Enduro (and even some that do want to race), this is your bike. With geo that is progressive without alienating a swath of riders' body shapes, the Instinct's intentions are clear: pedaling efficiency for long rides in a variety of terrain, and plenty of capability for taking on technical sections of trail. If your priorities are close to 50/50 for pedaling efficiency and technical prowess (give or take 10-20%), Instinct is your jam.

For a while there you could be forgiven for being a bit confused about which trail bike in Rocky's lineup would suit you best. This was mostly to do with the fact that the 27.5 vs 29er battle hadn't been decided yet, so riders were faced with a plethora of worthy choices: Thunderbolt, Instinct (not to mention the Instinct BC edition), Pipeline (same frame as Instinct but with 27.5+ rubber) and Altitude. Now that Rocky has released the Altitude as a 29-inch wheeled all-mountain/enduro killer with 170mm front and back, it freed them up to simplify things among trail bikes with a little less travel. Gone is the Thunderbolt with its 27.5" wheels for all frame sizes, here to stay is the new for 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct, which wisely sees wheel size options adjusted based on frame size:

  • Size XS: 27.5" wheels front and back,
  • Size S: a choice between 27.5 or 29" wheels front and back (no mullet version),
  • Sizes M through XL: 29" wheels only, front and back.

Some will mourn the lack of a 27.5" trail bike in Rocky's lineup, but I bet they have good data on demand from shops and distributors to back up their decision. And it's probably easy to argue that one or two fewer models in the lineup (without really sacrificing options or coverage across the spectrum) make for easier SKU management, and lower overhead.

What else is new?

Not surprisingly, geometry has changed and the 2021 Instinct sees some updates which, if you want to spend time poring over geo charts, will reveal that the 2021 Instinct has very similar numbers to the 2021 Altitude. Notably, reach has grown by ~30mm, HTA is one degree slacker, wheelbase is about 40mm longer, BBs rose about 6mm and STA is 1.5-2.5º steeper, depending on size*. Rocky's popular Ride-9 adjustable geometry/suspension system lives on.

*values are all based on the Slackest setting in Rocky's Ride-9 system.

The old Instinct had conservative numbers, the new one is significantly updated but not over the top, which should not be a big surprise to those familiar with Rocky Mountain geometry. They've worked to update geometry over the last few years, but there's a balance between updating your line to reflect modern times and making such drastic changes that your shop's faithful customers all of a sudden have to realize that last year's Large is this year's Medium. Not everyone copes with their cheese being moved all at once.

There are two more changes worth noting that add a nice degree of adjustability to the Instinct frame. First, two-position adjustable chain stays allow 10mm of variance between the regular and long modes (changing wheelbase from 1231 to 1241mm in size Large). Second, on carbon Instinct frames the the forward shock mount is modular, allowing for future updates to kinematics (and shock stroke length). The chain stay adjustment in particular is a nice addition: well-executed and simple to experiment with, requiring an 8mm and 6mm Allen to remove the axle, re-orient the hardware, and re-install; you also have to remove the rear caliper and re-orient the adaptor - simple to do but just changes it from a two minute job to a four minute one.

Screen Shot 2021-03-08 at 5.56.53 PM.png

Here's your guide to Rocky Mountain frame geometry abbreviations...

Screen Shot 2021-03-08 at 5.57.46 PM.png

And here's your 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct geometry numbers (in the Low/Slack Ride-9 position with long wheelbase).


Rocky has always been good at tending to the little things for frame design, and the Instinct has plenty of this in evidence.

  • Dual bearings at the chain and seat stays and lower shock mount are a nod to the Instinct's intention as a trail bike built to deal with the elements of a harsh winter and lots of mileage.
  • Three downtube protectors provide complete and ample protection against shuttle shine and rock strikes.
  • The chain stay protection does a great job of killing noise, and the 'Canadian Shield' yoke protection extends the Instinct's clean look and also raises the loam shelf up and away from the area where the chain stay yoke meets the main triangle, offering some long-term protection from abrasion and ingress.
  • Tube in tube cable routing (carbon frame) and large ports (alloy frame) make for easy cable and hose management, and in a nod to riders in other places, cables are moto style compatible, which is a small touch that goes a long way with some riders.

First Impressions

I've had a chance to ride the Instinct in a variety of places including the Sunshine Coast, Squamish, and on the Shore. Because our test size Large is a bit on the small side for me, we'll have someone else give it a longer go and a proper review, however it wasn't too small for me to get some early impressions. The Instinct's handling is immediately noticeable for being sharp and precise. Steering inputs are quickly translated into predictable action, and I detected no lack of stiffness or precision from the front or back end. It is happy to be pushed in hard and will hold a line or eat a hole at the bottom of a rough section - I just had to remember to adjust expectations slightly vs bikes with 170mm up front and something similar out back. The Instinct is comfortable in rough, technical sections, just at slightly reduced speeds as compared to a larger bike. No surprises there, and frankly that's what it's made to be.

I ran it with 29-30% sag which necessitated about 240 psi of pressure in the DPX2 - the most pressure I've run in an air shock in quite some time. It held up remarkably well, but did tend to get a bit harsh when successive hard hits started to stack up - again, this isn't a surprise and I wouldn't expect AM/enduro bike performance from a trail bike's frame and shock. I also didn't mess around with spacers and have no doubt that a bit more time spent there would finesse the feeling. But that doesn't mean I wasn't happy - the truth is that my early impressions of the Instinct are that it's a mighty good trail bike. Pedaling response was fantastic and I found myself getting up and over several tricky technical climbing sections just by sticking with it a bit longer than normal and being reimbursed for perseverance. Pumping through flows sections was very rewarding and I often found myself carrying ample speed so that I could pick the wheels up and let them skip over rough areas more often than I would with a larger bike. The Instinct is nimble without losing stability or predictability.

Our test bike is the Instinct Carbon 90 which retails for 11,999 CAD, so it would be unforgivable if there were any spec lowlights, and there weren't any. I'll let our main reviewer dig into that more in their review, but the XTR brakes and drivetrain, Fox Factory 36 and DPX2, Race Face carbon wheels and Maxxis rubber were all bang on, of course.

If there were ever any question in the past about whether an Altitude or Instinct suited you more, there should no longer be any indecision - they are very different beasts. Altitude is an EWS-winning Enduro bike that can handle the Shore's nastiest terrain, whereas Instinct can surprise you with its comfort level in the jank but definitely hits its stride one or two steps removed from the scariest lines but doesn't shy away from rides with scary elevation profiles.

Instinct Models and Pricing

The Instinct is now available with the following MSRPs:

  • Instinct Carbon 99: $14,099 CAD / $10,449 USD
  • Instinct Carbon 90: $11,999 CAD / $9,399 USD
  • Instinct Carbon 70 coil: $9,399 CAD / $7,629 USD
  • Instinct Carbon 70: $8,369 CAD / $6,899 USD
  • Instinct Carbon 50: $6,999 CAD / $5,549 USD
  • Instinct Carbon 30: $5,949 CAD / $4,499 USD
  • Instinct Carbon Frameset: $4,179 CAD / $3,549
  • Instinct Alloy 50: $5,649 CAD / $4,499 USD
  • Instinct Alloy 30: $3,859 CAD / $3,129 USD

Tech Details and Weights

Instinct (29”)

  • 150mm, 44mm (FOX) or 42mm (RockShox) offset fork
  • Max tire clearance is 29 x 2.6
  • Chainring size: minimum 30T // maximum 34T
  • Sizes: SM-XL


  • Frame & Fox DPX2 shock: 3.14 kg (6.90 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 99, complete: 13.08 kg (28.8lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 90, complete: 13.65 kg (30.0 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 70, complete: 14.24 kg (31.3 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 70 Coil, complete: 14.56 kg (32.0 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 50, complete: 14.15 kg (31.1 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Carbon 30, complete: 14.4 kg (31.7 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Alloy 50, complete: 15.3 kg (33.7 lbs), size MD
  • Instinct Alloy 30, complete: 15.76 kg (34.7 lbs), size MD

Instinct (27.5”)

  • 150mm, 37mm offset fork
  • Max tire clearance is 27.5 x 2.6
  • Chainring size: minimum 30T // maximum 34T
  • Sizes: XS-SM


  • Frame & Fox DPX2 shock: 2.95 kg (6.50 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 99, complete: 12.89 kg (28.4lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 90, complete: 13.25 kg (29.2 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 70, complete: 13.98 kg (30.8 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 70 Coil, complete: 14.27 kg (31.4 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 50, complete: 13.99 kg (30.8 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Carbon 30, complete: 14.05 kg (30.9 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Alloy 50, complete: 15.10 kg (33.2 lbs), size SM
  • Instinct Alloy 30, complete: 15.40 kg (33.9 lbs), size SM

*complete bikes and frameset weights include protectors, chainguide, seat collar, and axle: 94.5 g (0.2 lbs)

For complete specs and more details about the 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct, head on over to bikes.com.

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+12 Timer hotlapz Shoreboy DancingWithMyself jaydubmah IslandLife DarioD Zero-cool Nologo 4Runner1 grambo cornedbeef
Kenny  - March 9, 2021, 5:50 a.m.

Alloy rims, DT350 and fit4 damper on a $12,000 bike? 

I guess there are no "spec low-lights" but these are not exactly highlights either at 12k. 

I'm sure from a business perspective basically getting two bikes out of one frame with the bolt-on upper shock link and dumping the thunderbolt it all makes great sense, but it's still a little sad.  But then again I'm clearly not their demographic.


0 Jason West Nologo
Deniz Merdano  - March 9, 2021, 7:07 a.m.

ARC carbon wheels on the 90 build and I understand the intentions to further distinguish this bike from the Altitude with the Fit4 spec..

Still, $12k is lots of dough


+2 IslandLife Nologo
Kenny  - March 9, 2021, 7:18 a.m.

Website says "arc 30 carbon" for the 99, and just "arc 30" for the 90, so I dunno.


mrbrett  - March 9, 2021, 6:37 a.m.

That's a damn fine looking frame. For a while there Rocky went nuts with colour matching decals on everything, and thankfully they got the message on slightly more subtle details.


+7 Sanesh Iyer jaydubmah Merwinn IslandLife Zero-cool 4Runner1 Timer
Mammal  - March 9, 2021, 7:33 a.m.

As someone who usually gravitates toward the lower end alloy bikes right off the bat, to look see how respectable the spec is for the bikes I can afford... Not great, when you consider Rockshox Gold fork and Deluxe Select shock. My Ripmo AF is looking like a better purchase all the time.


Sanesh Iyer  - March 9, 2021, 7:45 a.m.

Seems like everyone's prices are creeping up thanks to 2021.


+2 IslandLife boomforeal
Mammal  - March 9, 2021, 8:43 a.m.

True, the same RAF I purchased last year is $200 CAD more now. So glad I went all-in on bikes and parts in the first half of 2020! And considering I've already done a complete in-house service if the DVO fork and shock, the bike-value game just keeps coming up Millhouse.


+1 Merwinn
Pete Roggeman  - March 9, 2021, 10:14 a.m.

Cost increases in shipping alone is adding hundreds to bike prices. I know of one major manufacturer getting ready to announce (at least to shops if not publicly) a 10% increase across the whole line, and others will be in the same boat.


+1 Andrew Major
Dave Smith  - March 10, 2021, 8:30 a.m.

A lack of shipping containers is the largest contributing factor to the sudden spike


+4 Dave Smith Todd Hellinga Tim Coleman Merwinn
Cooper Quinn  - March 9, 2021, 8:38 a.m.

Unfortunately I think this is more a product of 2021 than Rocky specifically. 



+1 Nologo 4Runner1 Timer Joseph Crabtree Merwinn
Lu Kz  - March 9, 2021, 10:05 a.m.

No, it's a Rocky thing. Pre-covid their bikes were already starting to have some pretty serious price creep compared to previous model years (even without updates and basically the same spec) and then Covid blew it out of the water.


+1 Cooper Quinn
Dave Smith  - March 9, 2021, 2:21 p.m.

If you're not hoarding tires (among every other damn thing) now, then the only rubber you'll be wearing out is on trail-runners come October...that's if you already have trail runners. 

Pete - this small parts story bears looking into.


Deniz Merdano  - March 9, 2021, 8:33 p.m.

We'll be fiiiiine.


Perry Schebel  - March 10, 2021, 8:55 a.m.

oh thanks, now i'm panicking. *buys up entire western canadian inventory of maxxgrip rubber*.


cyclotoine  - March 10, 2021, 9:26 p.m.

This. Where is the value spec? It’s the alloy 50 I guess but the spec sucks. I’ll keep my privateer 141 on order.


+2 Jason West Timer
WalrusRider  - March 9, 2021, 9:23 a.m.

Why do bike companies coincidently have such similar paint colors and designs every year? Half and half paint colors seem to be the thing for 2021. Specialized Stumpjumpers and these Rocky Mountains. The Stumpjumper Evo Expert even uses the same black with mint green. Mondraker and Commencal also are doing half and half paint for 2021.


+2 AJ Barlas Dave Smith
Pete Roggeman  - March 9, 2021, 10:01 a.m.

Yeah, you're absolutely right. They're looking at the same design shows, outdoor trends, etc...as the world has gotten more connected, it's easier to keep an eye on those things and pick out colours that are going to be hot a year or two in advance. The black and mint split scheme is certainly popular (Canyon is also using something similar) but to be fair to Rocky, they've had some pretty unique colour schemes in recent years.


+2 AJ Barlas Dave Smith
RNAYEL  - March 9, 2021, 12:22 p.m.

Norco was ahead of their times with split colours back in 2016


Ethan Nishimura  - March 10, 2021, 11:49 a.m.

2016 called, they want their Range C7.2 back!


+2 Lu Kz Geof Harries
Merwinn  - March 9, 2021, 9:29 a.m.

Based on prices, I might be doing more gravel riding instead of getting a new RM bike this year.


+1 4Runner1
Lu Kz  - March 9, 2021, 10:06 a.m.

Trail bike with teeth AKA All Mountain


+10 Andeh Sanesh Iyer Mammal AJ Barlas DMVancouver Jerry Willows Cooper Quinn Andrew Major grambo Pete Roggeman
Kenneth Perras  - March 9, 2021, 12:02 p.m.

Nice First Look article Pete. 

To address a few spec comments, the Carbon 90 model does indeed come with Race Face ARC31 carbon rims. I just checked the website and it is displaying this correctly. 

The 350 hub on this model also gets the upgraded 36T ratchet over the possible 18T, and less durable 54T. It might not be the fanciest rear hub, but it will still work 10 years down the road. A cursory glance at similar models from Specialized and Santa Cruz also show 350 hubs or 350 guts.

Something that might have gone unnoticed by many is the Instinct Carbon 70 Coil. The sizes with the 210x52.5 DBiL shock can have the stroke increased at home by removing the travel spacer, resulting in 146mm travel. The Helm coil on all sizes can also have its travel increased to 160mm without purchasing any extra parts. That adds quite a bit of versatility to the bike, on top of all the other frame features that took a bit of work to implement. I know of quite a few riders right now running this 146/160 combo as way to bridge the gap between the Instinct and Altitude.


Lu Kz  - March 9, 2021, 9:24 p.m.

You'll have to forgive me if I find it entertaining that someone is already thinking about how to blend two build kits of what is essentially the same frame. A goldilocks bike indeed!


Kenny  - March 10, 2021, 5:45 a.m.

I was looking at the 2020 so my bad on the rims, 2021 shows carbon you are right, so that certainly helps. 

The coil option does sound cool and the new helm seems really neat so kudos on that. 

Compared to Santa Cruz, who it sounds like are increasing prices 10% in the near future, it's not too out to lunch but still not great. The x01 reserve at 11k will be 12k after the price hike. Groupset isn't apples to apples, probably considered lower than XTR, but it has I9 hubs and stem and a King headset. 

Honestly any 12k bike is tough to justify for someone who's will to do some DIY. Frame only at 4500 leaves a lot of budget for parts, if they're in stock....


+1 jaydubmah
JL Robichaud  - March 10, 2021, 1:03 p.m.

Great bike and article. Alot of press about this release. But think Pete missed a few things..

"They've worked to update geometry over the last few years, but there's a balance between updating your line to reflect modern times and making such drastic changes that your shop's faithful customers all of a sudden have to realize that last year's Large is this year's Medium."

last years large reach is 460.... this years medium, 462.

Also " so it would be unforgivable if there were any spec lowlights, and there weren't any. "

As others have mentioned, Fit4, cheap saddle and 350/in house hubs for a 12k build... livable short term compromises, but I'd change these out in the first season.


+1 Kurt Adams
Mark  - March 10, 2021, 4:10 p.m.

Love the link to Who Moved My Cheese in the body of the article. I've been riding a first gen carbon Instinct with a Fox 34 for a few years and it's been a great trail bike imo that can handle a fair bit of abuse when the trail dictates it. This new bike seems like it would be a decent upgrade, but at $12K it's another example that makes me wonder what the fack we are doing with this sport. I spent $1800 on my Instinct used and will probably have it for quite a few more year yet. The idea of spending $12K on a bike seems ridiculous when entry level bikes perform so well these days. This isn't a shot at Rocky directly, but the bike industry in general. IMO mtb seems to be going way to high end considering where this sport started.


+1 Sanesh Iyer
Mammal  - March 11, 2021, 10:09 a.m.

Like you say, there are plenty of good-value models being offered by other companies over the past year or so, Covid inflation aside. Some $4500 CAD bikes in 2021 comes with very usable equipment and frame quality. That would have cost $3191 in 2000, and when you consider how damn well these ride comparatively, today's value bikes are a great deal.

It's the top end models and certain brands that charge more of a premium overall that are lower on the comparative value scale.


+1 Sanesh Iyer
Perry Schebel  - March 11, 2021, 10:39 a.m.

yep. while the top end is getting stratospheric (pretty sure aggressively diminished returns), the mid-range (alas, i guess that's now around $5k) is populated by lots of shreddy - ready hardware these days. 

would be interesting to see a head to head review of premium vs value specs - say the carbon 99 vs the alloy 50 (with an $8k (!) price spread). bling: is it all that? lets find out.


+1 Merwinn Pete Roggeman Kurt Adams
Sanesh Iyer  - March 11, 2021, 10:47 a.m.

I would just like to add that:

A Kona Stinky Air in 2008 was 4,999 USD (https://www.bikeradar.com/reviews/bikes/mountain-bikes/kona-stinky-air-review/).

According to the internet that's 6,232 USD in 2021 dollars (https://smartasset.com/investing/inflation-calculator#apLAz7076e)

That effectively lines up with the 2021 Instinct Carbon 70. Which is also made of carbon, has a dropper, and is generally better across the board (as much as I too bemoan that the 36 Fit4 even exists). If you compare it to the Alloy 50, prices have actually come down over the last 13 years.

We should all be anti-salary-stagnation in the workplace.


Pete Roggeman  - March 16, 2021, 3:27 p.m.

Yeah I don't think pricing/inflation/real dollars is usually really considered all that carefully when people make those comments. As far as I remember - way back into the mid 90s - mountain biking was always super expensive at the high end. Always.

That doesn't mean I think it's ok, nor that I think that 12k for a bike is 'reasonable' per se - value is relative to everyone - but it's easy to cry foul, that doesn't make it true.


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