This is a post that will really date me, but it is best to explain my mountain biking experience before I get into the review. When I was in college, I had a rigid Haro Escape mountain bike. I rode that bike everywhere! I commuted to school from my apartment, I rode to the bars for a night on the town and I rode my Haro to the store to go shopping. During the weekend, I would load my bike into the car for mountain biking. The trails in the hills surrounding Moscow, Idaho typically were hard packed, smooth, fast clay. There was not a lot of roots, drops or really technical riding. It was ideal for a bike with no suspension.
It is a different story here in Seattle. Trails here tend to be rough, covered with roots and rocks and very technical. I upgraded to a bike with a suspension fork. I hated how mushy the fork was. Sure it smoothed out the big hits, but it really interfered with the riding feel isolating you from the trail. Even so, the rough trails around Seattle would beat you half to death. I test rode several new full suspension and hard tail bikes over the years, but was never really impressed. Over time, I lost interest in mountain biking, I got a road bike and became a roadie.
This last weekend presented me with an opportunity to try out the latest in mountain bike technology. Tacoma Bikes hosted Rocky Mountain Bikes from British Columbia for a demo day at Swan Creek Park in Tacoma. I had participated in BMC’s demo day at Tacoma Bike. I rode and reviewed three bikes that day, the BMC Impec, TeamMachine SLR01 and the silky smooth GranFondo 01. I enjoyed all three bikes despite the horrendous weather. This time, the conditions were ideal. Rocky Mountain Bikes brought four demo models for test rides. They included:
- Altitude 770MSL $5,600
- Instinct 970MSL $5,300
- Instinct 970 MSL BC $7,600
- Thunderbolt 770 $4,000
Upon my arrival at the Rocky Moutain tent and trailer, the rep/mechanic asked me what type of riding I do. I explained that I would most likely be more of a cross country rider. I do not picture myself doing downhill or freeride. I am way too old and brittle! He pulled out an XL Instinct 970MSL and had me start filling out a waiver. While I was working on the waiver, he asked me my weight and began to add air to the suspension with a shock pump (I am heavy). Once he installed a set of Shimano SPD he showed me around the bike.
All of the Rocky Mountain Demos featured their ‘Ride 9’ adjustable geometry and ride system. This system is a bolt and washer system which changes the rear shock mounting position. By doing this the bike has a lot of possible positions to favor a rider’s riding style, weight and the terraign that is being ridden. I was set up with a pretty neutral riding position for someone of my weight. The last few months have consisted of little else besides my road bike. Obviously the Instinct 970MSL was a bit foreign. The tech took a moment to point out the more unique features.
One was the Rockshox Reverb seatpost. After a long climb, you naturally want to drop the seat for a steep descent. Simply hit the bar mounted button with some weight on the seat and it drops to a pre-determined height. At the bottom of the decent heading into the next climb lift your butt off the seat and hit the button again and the seat comes back up to climbing height. This could be a handy feature. However, Swan Creek Park does not have particularly long or steep descents. I never touched it.
The other unique feature was the Fox CTD remote controlled rear shock. CTD stands for Climb, Trail and Descend. There is a handy lever on the bar to go between the three settings. I spent most of my time in the Climb setting.
Tacoma has a really nice amenity at Swan Creek Park. The trails are clean, well organized and market. They are typically very smooth few obstacles. They are even labeled based on direction and difficulty. The trails in general are smooth enough to tackle on a hardtail or even a cyclocross bike. In my opinion a little rougher terrain would be more appropriate for the Instinct. So how did it go?
After spending the last 1,000 or so miles on a road bike, my first few pedal strokes were awkward. It was totally foreign to me. That faded within a couple minutes. It had been my intent to ride several bikes during the Rocky Mountain demo day, but I had so much fun I rode the Instinct for over two hours! I only returned when I was hot, sweaty, thirsty and tired. For the first time, the suspension did not interfere with the feel of the ride. It did a superb job allowing you to stay connected to the trail. I was soon rolling down short steep drops that would have stopped me in my tracks on my hardtail. The Instinct really inspired a lot of confidence! I found Swan Creek’s ‘easy’ trails to be fast and fun while the more challenging trails were a little slower, but no less rewarding. I even took on the freeride trail, minus the big air. I frequently found myself laughing as I rolled over the ‘rolly-swoopy’ trail sections. What a fun afternoon! And what about Instinct 970MSL?
- The suspension has come a long way since I last rode a mountain bike! The Fox suspension does a really great job making the bike feel stable and connected to the trail.
- There is nothing to say about the Shimano/SRAM drive train. It shifts quickly and smoothly. You just use it and don’t think about it. Gearing was pretty ideal for the conditions, there was plenty of bottom end left for steep climbing. Top end is limited, but this is a mountain bike. I was skeptical of not having a triple, but it doesn’t seem necessary.
- The Instinct 970MSL weighs in at 27 lbs. Wow that is light!
- This was my first time riding a 29er and it did not disappoint. The wheels roll smoothly and I felt I still had plenty of ability to maneuver around tight corners. I do wonder if a smaller rider would be better served with smaller wheels.
- The Shimano XT hydraulic disc brakes are luscious. The control was heavenly. The brake levers are small and adjustable, the braking effort is ideal. I found I did not lock up a wheel unless I wanted to. Pulling the brakes on my road bike can make my hands tired. The same can be true on my old mountain bike. Not so with the XT discs. Why did it take so long for this technology to make it to road bikes?!!
- The Fox suspension felt great, but forget standing climbing. Try it, and it all turns into the mushy mess that turned me away from mountain bike suspension in the first place. I suppose it makes you climb with better form. I wish the suspension had an actual lock out for standing climbing.
- The remote lockout for the rear shock was mounted right over the rapid fire shifter levers. I cannot count how many times I attempted to shift the wrong lever.
- I loved the disc brakes, but they are a bit noisy. There was no squeaking, but they would sometimes make noise when released under load. I am willing to overlook this minor flaw in the face of such luscious performance. Mmmm. I will have dreams about those brakes. Happy dreams 🙂
After all these years, I have turned into a roadie. However variety is the spice of life. Hitting the trails greatly improves a roadie’s skills. My climbing ability on a mountain bike greatly improved when I starting road biking. Riding the Instinct 970MSL makes me very excited about mounting biking for the first time in a long time.