If you have seen my brief YouTube first ride impressions of my 2020 Rocky Mountain Instinct you will already know that that first ride blew me away. Now that I have put more riding hours in on more terrain I’m still amazed at how capable and fun the bike is. Here is why I think they are the best e-mountain bike to come to Australia yet for 2020.
If you’ve seen the movie 300 you might remember this scene.
It tells the story of the Spartans (an ancient Greek warrior civilisation) and their battle of overwhelming odds of 300 Spartan warriors against an army of over 20,000 Persian invaders.
The Greeks armies are assembling their forces and one of the Athenian Greek captains turns to King Leonidas of Sparta and questions why he has only bought such a small army of 300?
At this point King Leonidas turns to one of the Athenian Army and asks him what he does for a living? “I’m a potter” comes the response. He turns to another “A blacksmith” comes the reply.
Leonidas turns to his 300-strong troops and asks them “Spartans what do you do for a living?.” In unison all 300 soldiers reply in what can only be described as the Greek version of the US Marine Corps “Hooah”
King Leonidas [turning to Daxos]: You see, old friend? I brought more soldiers than you did!
In the world of mountain biking if you wanted to go somewhere to hone your skills, and push your limits, then British Columbia in Canada would be a great place to start.
Rocky Mountain’s HQ is based on the outskirts of Vancouver, on the doorstep of Vancouver’s famous North Shore trails.
Rocky Mountain live and breath mountain bikes. To use the Spartan and 300 analogy, they’re not distracted by making road bikes, commuter bikes, hybrid bikes, or children’s bikes.
More to the point they are bikes that are designed and tested on some of the world’s most exciting and challenging trails. BC, ready for anywhere.
“Born in BC, ready for anywhere”
I’ve ridden loads of bikes over the years, but there have only been a handful of bikes that I jumped on and felt an immediate connection. The Powerplay Instinct is one of those bikes. For my riding style (aggressive trail) and rider height (185cm) the large frame is absolutely spot on.
Unlike almost every other eMTB brand on the market, Rocky Mountain aren’t constrained by using an off-the-shelf motor. This results in an eMTB that has almost identical geometry to their non-powered bike.
Figure 1: Geometry overlay of powered v non-powered Rocky Mountain
The Instinct Powerplay in a large frame has identical reach on the non-powered bike at 455mm, and the chain stay is only 6mm longer at 442mm (vs 436)
Compare this to a competitor using an off the shelf BROSE motor (e.g. Specialised Turbo Levo). In a large frame the chain stay is 13mm longer. So 455mm, and the resulting wheelbase 22mm longer at 1235mm vs 1213mm in the Rocky Mountain.
Doesn’t sound like much? Well if we look at the darling of the 29er non e-bike word, the 2020 Santa Cruz Tall Boy. In a large frame it’s running a chain stay length of 430mm giving a wheelbase of 1211mm, just 2mm shorter than the Rocky Mountain Instinct.
|Rocky Mountain Instinct eMTB||Specialised Turbo Levo eMTB||Santa Cruz
|Chainstay length mm||442||455||430|
Geometry has a huge impact on the way a bike handles on the trail. How it corners, descends and climbs. Good geometry inspires confidence. Confidence allows (makes) you to ride faster, and more importantly, have more fun.
It’s easy to get caught up in the more “superficial” specs on a bike. A fancy derailleur might look good, shift marginally better and save a few grams.
What it won’t do is make your bike handle better, or help you develop and grow as a rider.
Figure 1 above shows an overlay of frameset of the non-powered Rocky Mountain overlayed against the Powerplay frameset (the electric powered version). As you can see, they are almost identical. Most importantly the suspension pivot points and the bottom bracket placement are identical.
The result in my Instinct Powerplay is a bike that is progressive through its travel, feels planted in loose conditions (Bunya, Gap Creek), and climbs with minimal bob, even with the rear shock left in the open position.
I wanted to test my seat-of-the-pants rear suspension set up. So I used repeats of Jurassic (trail at at Bunya Reserve) as the reference trail as it’s got a reasonable mix of everything, including some small drops, and a short climb at the end.
I did four repeats with the Shockwiz (a suspension tuning device) paired to my phone (see fig 2) I experimented with lowering and adding pressure, and adjusting the slow speed rebound.
My fastest lap was with the rear pressure at the lower end of the recommended setting, which suited the dry loose conditions.
In the end I ran 13 seconds faster than my previous best time from 5 years earlier.
This is for the downhill only section to give a more realistic comparison against my previous non-electric mountain bikes ("analogue" bikes as one of my friends calls them!).
Back then I was riding a mountain bike 3 to 4 times a week. I rode a selection of bikes including a super lightweight carbon hardtail 29er with Fox Factory 34 Front Forks, a 150mm travel alloy Enduro 27.5 with expensive wheels, and a lightweight carbon 29er full suspension with 120mm travel.
Shockwiz data shows my set up is pretty close to ideal.
Strava data shows I’m 9% faster downhill on the Rocky Mountain than my younger, fitter self from 2015.
Whatever you think about Strava, it is an objective way to compare bike and rider performance. In case you’re wondering about my final set up. The yellow markers in the Shockwiz APP suggest some of my settings are out by 5% (or another way to look at it are they are 95% correct)
My PowerPlay Instinct is an A50 model which means it comes with 140mm travel front and rear. A RockShox Pike Select RC 140mm E-MTB up front and a RockShox Deluxe Select+ RT out back.
It would be nice to have fast and slow rebound adjustment (this comes standard on the Carbon A70 and BC Editions) but as the bike feels so planted and balanced, I’m not sure I’m missing out. I’ll find more speed through more saddle time than I will from endless suspension set up and adjustment.
The analogue 150mm enduro bike it replaced had an RRP of $5,500 plus $1,000 of upgrades, so a $6,500 set up. The RRP at the time of writing for my Instinct PowerPlay A50 is $8,299. Neither are cheap bikes, and both bikes are from specialist manufacturers.
With my hand on my heart I can honestly say that I’m getting $1799 worth of extra enjoyment from my Rocky Mountain.
When you look beyond main-stream, mass market eMTB’s and look for a similar bike, prices start at $9000+ for less power, and 2-year warranty vs Rocky Mountain’s 3 years.
The headlines here as far as the motor goes is 108 newton meters (NM) of torque and a 'ludicrous' mode.
The eBike market has become a bit of an arms race (similar to the German car manufacturers where we ended up with 600BHP family saloon cars from BMW, Audi and Mercedes.)
In the e-bike world it’s all about the torque of our motors and the watt hours (Wh) of our batteries. At 108Nm and 672Wh the Rocky Mountain scores really well here. Only Flyon (not supported in Australia) can claim more at 110Nm.
The story gets even better when you look beyond the obvious headline numbers. How many other manufacturers will show you the ramp up and ramp down times for their motors? Or the shape of their torque curve over a realistic RPM (cadence range)
Figures 4 and 5 below show Rocky Mountain’s ramp up and ramp down graph vs its competitors
The ideal eMTB motor map is an instant but progressive, ramp up, and fast ramp off.
On trail this means you’re less likely to brake traction when the power comes on. Better still it means instant off when you start to coast. It’s the most natural drive system I’ve ridden, with zero push in the corners.
The end result is better flow on the trail, and a more natural and enjoyable riding experience.
And yes, having 108Nm on tap for steep fire roads, or when you are feeling cooked at the end of a ride is a great option to have up your sleeve.
I haven’t done a scientific DB check on the motor however I can say it’s close to if not the quietest mid drive motor I’ve ridden. The Dyname 3.0 motor runs at lower RPM than its competitors (1200RPM vs 4800RPM), this results in a less high pitch noise.
672Wh comes as standard in Australia. Rocky Mountain have opted for a 48V platform for their batteries (most manufacturers run 36V)
This is especially important for Australia. A 48V system will run cooler than a 36V system (great in Australian summers). Secondly it can produce more grunt at lower Amps. Motor Power in Watts is a product of (V *A), so the Rocky Mountain can run 33% less amps to produce the same power as a 36V system. Less amps = less heat.
The picture below is my Instinct PowerPlay at Old Hidden Vale Adventure park near the start of Skyfall, on a 39.5-degree day. The ride for that day was 36kms with almost 800 meters of climbing. The bike had plenty left in the tank (I didn’t!!)
Best is very subjective. I can only answer from my personal experience.
Does it win the superficial “mine’s bigger than yours competition” in the car park spec sheet comparison?
No for the A50 spec. There’s no XT or XTR, or shiny gold Fox Factory Kashima Gold to dazzle your fellow riders (but you can get all of this in the Carbon C90 Rally Edition if you have the means)
No. not by a long way.
(At the time of writing a founders edition electric mountain bike from another company has an RRP of $26,500, with the “standard” edition running at $19,000)
In my opinion, Yes
If you love your mountain biking, Yes…. Or at least try one.
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