Life tip: When the chance arises to ride new bikes on some of the best trails in Colorado, take it.
Winter was slowly creeping into Jackson, with temperatures dipping and the mountains growing ever whiter as the days went on. While this meant that ski season was right around the corner, mountain biking was becoming harder and harder as the trails turned from perfect dirt to a wet, muddy mess.
A small town on the western slope of Colorado, closer to the Utah border than to the mountains, held the perfect remedy for those fall blues. At this point, the secret is definitely out, so here it is: Fruita, home to over 100 miles of singletrack, is a destination ripe for year-round riding, offering some of the most unique trails in the West.
Truth be told, I was not just down there to explore the singletrack. Rocky Mountain Bikes was hosting Camp Instinct, an opportunity to experience riding their all-new Instinct and Pipeline platforms. While outwardly similar - the bikes actually share the same exact frame - they are completely different animals out on the trail.
The 27.5"+ Pipeline and 29" Instinct are perfect machines for enjoying the scenery found behind them. Max Ritter photo
We spent two very full days logging miles aboard each bike familiarizing ourselves with their intricacies; chasing some of Rocky’s fastest athletes up and down Fruita’s amazing singletrack on the classic 18 Road and Kokopelli trail systems.
As mentioned, both the new Instinct and Pipeline share the exact same 140mm-travel frame and almost identical build kits. However, that is about where the similarity stops. As to be expected, swapping between the 27.5”+ (Pipeline) and 29” (Instinct) wheels make an enormous difference on the trail.
Gone is the linkage found on the Altitude and other bikes in the lineup, replaced with a smooth as butter (they went so far as to make custom bearing-based shock mounts) four-bar rear end, Rocky calls Smoothlink. The bike is now 140mm travel front and back, and still features their Ride-9 adjustable geometry with nine different settings.
The frame looks incredibly clean, featuring internal cable routing and hidden pivots on chainstays. One gripe is the press-fit BB (my inner bike mechanic cringed), but it does allow the lower shell to be wider, stiffer and fit boost spacing on the rear end, necessary for those plus wheels. Regarding geometry, it follows the trend of longer and slacker, with a longer reach, slacker front end, and longer wheelbase, all translating to a better handling bike at speed.
Note: The Instinct is also available as the Instinct BC, a beefed up, longer travel version featuring 160mm of travel and even slacker geo. I was not able to ride one in Fruita, but it’s their version of a race-ready 160mm 29er enduro bike.
The super-clean frame, with a redesigned suspension platform features pedal efficiency and big-hitting guts in a refined package. Max Ritter photo
Riding the Instinct:
As a purpose built 29” trail machine, the new Instinct falls into the category of medium travel big-wheeled bikes. The bike was designed to be a do-anything, go-anywhere bike, perfect for everything from lunch laps to epic singletrack journeys in the high mountains of the world.
Hopping aboard the Instinct, we took it for a few runs down Fruita’s infamous 18 Road trails, a series of flowy singletrack descents following the ridgelines of the North Fruita Desert punctuated by several short and very steep climbs.
At first impression the bike caught me off guard by how well it kept its speed through corners, rolls, and choppy sections of trail. So much so that I would come way too hot through sections of trail that nearly tossed me off the bike. Well, since not crashing is probably not a testament to my riding skill, it must have been the bike that smoothly held the line and kept rolling. The suspension stays very active under power, helping absorb rough sections with ease even when mashing the pedals. For a 140mm travel bike, it takes bigger hits well and feels plusher than most. However, the skinnier, low-profile Maxxis Forekaster tires did make the bike seem somewhat unstable if I was not paying attention 100
percent of the time.
Personally, I have never been a big fan of 29” wheels, preferring 27.5” for maneuverability and playfulness, and simply because the geometry of most big-wheeled bikes has so far never really suited my riding style. However, the Instinct is certainly a game-changer in this story, providing enough pop and agility as well as a reasonable amount of travel for the geometry to make me happy.
Big meaty tires add a whole new element of fun to this extremely capable platform, especially in technical, rocky terrain in the desert. Max Ritter photo.
Riding the Pipeline:
The new Pipeline is more than just the plus-tired version of the Instinct. Swapping out the wheels and adding the included headset spacer cup to offset the change in geo changes the bike dramatically. It goes from a nimble, yet somewhat unstable beast, to a tank that can plow through any line, up or down, no matter how fast you go. While slower rolling than the Instinct (noticeable when trying to keep up with the 29er) due to the meatier tires, the bike feels planted and insanely predictable on steep and technical ground, but begs to be pointed at bigger drops and thrown around in the air like a full-on enduro rig.
Plus-sized tires are nothing new, but only recently have they become truly interesting for hard-charging mountain bikers, mated with aggressive geometry on bikes. Their advantages are clear: Insane amounts of traction and a more forgiving ride due to their higher volume and lower pressure. For technical desert riding, or anywhere where traction is key, a slack bike like the Pipeline with meaty tires like the Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR 2.8 is an amazing option.
The bike provides insane amounts of traction in loose corners and through technical terrain. Paris Gore photo.
The 140mm of travel translate to efficient climbing and pedaling, and the extra traction from the big tires allows riders to sneak up lines they never thought possible. This is the kind of bike that will take a good rider looking to up their game on technical terrain to the next level, and allow expert riders to have fun jibbing around on the trail on a nimble but more forgiving platform than most other bikes.
Fruita's flowy singletrack is some of the best in Colorado. But shh, I didn't tell you that. Paris Gore photo.
The versatility of the Instinct/Pipeline platform is amazing; not only can they rip all kinds of terrain, a rider could buy one frame with two wheelsets and swap between them at will, depending on the trail or conditions. Both bikes are incredibly capable machines, part of a new crop of superbikes that can pedal all day, descend like bats out of hell, and still be fun at slow speeds on tight, winding terrain. However, Rocky’s offerings in this class stand out as incredibly refined. The build kits make sense, the ride quality is predictable yet fun, and they are certainly top contenders in that “do-it-all” class of bikes everyone has been pushing for.
I preferred the Pipeline and its 27.5+ wheels, as it felt more playful and jibby, making riding technical terrain a breeze. However, I would give the very promising Instinct and its wagon wheels another chance, especially on the home trails like Teton Pass.
Max Ritter photo
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Absolutely classic riding in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. Jake Fojtik photo. Here’s a quick history lesson. In the late 1970's, Crested Butte was already considered the Mecca of mountain biking. While Marin County, California may have had the bikes, Crested Butte certainly had the trails. The tiny town, right smack in the middle of Colorado’s Elk Mountains, paved the way for modern mountain biking, blazing trails high into the mountains surrounding town, all focused on one thing: two-wheeled