Home > MTB

Review: 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct C50

A refined and redesigned trail bike from the B.C. mountain bike brand

Rocky Mountain Instinct 2021 C50

Today Rocky Mountain uncovered its refined and redesigned Instinct line of trail bikes. There is a long list of significant changes, like more travel, 10-mm chainstay adjustment, and size-specific wheel sizes. There are also numerous smaller details like added protection, better durability and a replaceable shock mount.

We dug through the details in the bike launch already, but how do the changes work on the trails?

We’ve had the chance to ride a 2021 Instinct Carbon 50 for a few months now, through a wet west coast winter. Does the new Instinct have the same natural feel for the trails the old bike built its reputation on? It turns out it really does. The mid-range C50 adds an impressive build kit, too.

Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review 2021

2021 Instinct: A trail bike, pure and simple

Since the Altitude stepped in as Rocky’s dedicated enduro race bike (no more Instinct BC Edition) the Instinct is free to focus on just being itself. A trail bike. That’s already a wide range to cover without adding the demands of enduro, and the new Instinct benefits from its more focused purpose.

RELATED: Rocky Mountain launches redesigned 2021 Instinct

Rocky Mountain has refined the Instinct line, upping the travel to 150 mm up front, adding more frame adjustments, better protection, and updated geometry to the frame. For the C50, that frame is built up with a solid array of parts designed to pedal all day, and ride down anything you come across along the way.

Shimano XT Trail four piston brakes
Shimano XT Trail four piston disc brakes and 180-mm rotors keep the Instinct in check whenever needed.
Rocky Mountain Instinct C50: Components ready for the real world

Rocky does a smart job of setting up the Instinct C50 to be ready for the real world out of the box. Spec’ing dream bikes isn’t too challenging: just put all the best parts on and charge what you want. The C99 takes care of that quite well. Getting good value out of a mid-range bike requires hard choices. And, to me, Rocky puts its money (or, your money) where it counts.

Opting for the upgrade to Shimano’s XT Trail four-piston brakes and an XT rear derailleur on top of Deore SLX build is a smart move. It adds performance where needed, and excellent control in tight situations. The SLX/XT drivetrain combo has functioned smoothly and reliably throughout the test period.

Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review 2021
Our size Large Instinct C50 review bike came with 29″ wheels, while XS come in 27.5″ and Small frames have the choice between the two.

A Fox 36 fork initially seemed like overkill on a 150/140mm trail bike but, after seeing how capable the Instinct is on steep, rough terrain, it is the right move. Fox shed some weight off the 36 platform this year, so it is not holding you back on any all-day adventures and the added stiffness kept me confident and in control on bigger features. The Performance line, the Fox 36 Float EVOL Grip Performance and Float DPS Performance shock, are both solid options for the mid-range price point.

The tradeoff comes at the wheels. DT Swiss’ 370 hub doesn’t have great engagement. WTB’s ST Light i30 TCS 2.0 rims are tubeless-ready, but I’ve never found them as durable as some competitors. On the other hand, the rims are well dressed, with Maxxis Minion DHF (2.5″ WT) and DHR II (2.4″WT) to keep all this tidy, and well connected to the dirt.

Every brand seems to have its own in-house dropper post now, and Rocky is no exception. The “Toonie Dropper” – named after a notorious North Shore feature – isn’t as buttery smooth as bougier options. But it’s also only of the only dropper posts I’ve used for any length of time that hasn’t developed any side-to-side play. If staying in-house cuts a few dollars off the Instinct’s price as a fringe benefit, the Toonie is a win.

Riding the 2021 Instinct

2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review
Rocky Mountain’s Ride-9 system returns, along with a modular, replaceable shock mount
Adjustments with big impacts: Ride-9 and chainstay length options

Rocky Mountain includes two forms of geometry adjustment on the Instinct, much like on the new Altitude. Ride-9 and a 10-mm chainstay length adjustment. Between the two, the Instinct can cover a lot of ground.

Ride-9 isn’t new, but the new Instinct is a particularly good application for Rocky’s design. Trail bikes have to cover a wide range of riding styles, from fitness-focused adventures to daily riding and, more than ever, burly trails. Since Ride-9 changes the suspension’s leverage ratio instead of just changing geometry, the Instinct covers this range quite well.

On the “slack” end, the Instinct dives into corners and rolls through chunky features that are on the limit of its 140mm/150mm travel. Switching to “steep” makes the pedaling platform more supportive, gives you more clearance when pedaling through technical, rocky trails and makes the bike steer a bit snappier. With seven other options covering the middle ground between those extremes, there’s a geometry and leverage-curve combo that should fit nearly any rider and trail. Switching settings remains as easy as ever.

Adding the 10-mm of chainstay adjustment takes the Instinct’s trail sense to another level. Set it to long for more stability at speed, or short for a more playful ride. In practice, this is a really substantial change that is easy to feel on trails. In short/slack, the bike fit’s the “trail bike” ideal of a playful, bright ride that loves to corner, cutty and get air off every little trail feature. Slack/long makes the Instinct more steady, and better at holding momentum through the same corners, and staying comfortably on line through bouncy sections. Playing around between the various long/short and Ride-9 combos, I was impressed how balanced the different settings felt, even while feeling very different than each other.

Changing chainstay is a little bit more complex, requiring a flip-chip in the dropouts and rotating the brake adaptor. It’s not a mid-ride sort of change (or, if you do, don’t drop a bolt), but it’s well within the range of parking-lot pre-ride adjustments if you are comfortable centering your disc brake calipers. Unlike some designs, there’s no need to change rotor sizes or anything else, either.

Slacker, longer, but not sluggish

As the industry continues to move along with the “slacker-lower-longer” trend, there’s a risk that the fun-factor of trail bikes can disappear in this drive to stability. Rocky Mountain moves in that direction without losing the trail bike feel on the Instinct. From the first pedal, the Instinct C50 feels ligher than its 31.1 lbs. weight. It accelerates quickly and changes direction with ease. That said, it’s still a bike designed by Rocky Mountain, and it is biased towards feeling good on tougher trails.

As mentioned above, the Ride-9 / chainstay combo gives the Instinct a great range. The new Instinct is, on average, 1-degree slacker across the Ride-9 positions, with a longer reach than previous years being balanced out by a 2-degree steeper seat tube angle.

Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review 2021

In the saddle, the Instinct still feels balanced and comfortable enough to set out on all-day expeditions or everyday rides that tend more towards rolling trails than mini-enduro rides. It’s not the most efficient pedaling bike, but it does come very close to an “efficiently active” design. It is also much more supportive in the “steep” setting if efficiency is your priority. Outside of that, there is a little suspension movement without it being excessive or a distraction while riding.

Descending, the Instinct stays impressively balanced and composed through rough trails. Compared to similar-travel and purpose trail bikes, the Rocky settles into the travel nicely instead of being overwhelmed or harsh feeling when there is a longer stretch of challenging trail. The beefed-up pivots and reshaped front triangle must be paying off, as the Instinct tracks clean, without being overly harsh or rigid.Rocky Mountain Instinct C50 review 2021

Review: 2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct C50

With a host of redesigns and refinements, Rocky Mountain has elevated the Instinct to the upper ranks of modern trail bikes. The C50 has an impressive combination of feeling light and easy to maneuver, but with a suspension design that oozes confidence in challenging technical settings.

With two independent frame adjustments, Rocky Mountain gives riders the freedom to set the Instinct C50 up as they see fit. And, if you’re someone who frequently rides in very different trail areas, the freedom to tailor the Instinct to different purposes with relative ease. While Rocky Mountains have always been adept on the more technical trails, the new chainstay flip-chip pairs with the updated geometry to give riders the option to make the Instinct much more bright and lively than previous bikes. Hopefully enough so to satisfy most riders longing for a new Thunderbolt.

That the Instinct seems to feel comfortable across its range of settings, despite how the bike’s character changes, is impressive. It makes the Instinct capable of covering a wide breadth of riding that falls under the trail category. From fast, flowing cross country to the steeper, more technical trails that the B.C. brand calls home.

Instinct Carbon 50: Pricing and availability

Rocky Mountain sets the mid-range Carbon 50 loose for $7,000. With Shimano XT and SLX mixing with Fox Performance suspension, it is a solid and trail-ready build.

The C50 comes in two colour options. An eye-catching Ice Ice Baby blue and Matte Carbon finish, or the more subtle glimmer of Violet Hills and Enter Sandman Matte finish on our test bike.

2021 Rocky Mountain Instinct is available at dealers now.