Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 (2019)
Melbourne Bikes - Electric Bikes
Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 (2019)
In this preview of the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay, we talk in-depth about the new platform, who it's designed for and the key features.
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ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTINCT POWERPLAY ALLOY 50 (2019)
Nothing sums up the intent of the new 2019 Instinct Powerplay like its own definition:
“Tactics exhibiting or intended to increase a person's power or influence.”
That’s off Google, by the way. So, the boffins at Rocky Mountain have delivered an E mountain bike that lets you ride further, and with more power. Sounds good.
But why should you buy the Instinct Powerplay (or it's more aggressive counterpart, the Altitude Powerplay) over a myriad of electric mountain bikes in the current - very competitive - industry? Because it’s the best. Simple. I’ll explain why. That’s not so simple; because you have to, first, understand what drives Rocky Mountain.
When Rocky set out to build an E-MTB, they bought all the leading E-MTB’s in the industry. And destroyed them. None met their requirements for handing, pedalling efficiency and small bump sensitivity. There was a naturalness that was missing from these bikes. A massive compromise.
As the manufacturer of some of the best mountain bikes in the world, this compromise is unacceptable. So they directly modelled their new electric mountain bike range off their non E-MTB’s. The first one in line was the Altitude, one of the most successful trail bikes ever produced. Then as the Instinct platform also underwent a makeover, the Powerplay version wasn’t too far behind.
But, where and how do fit the drive system so that it seamlessly integrates with the rest of the bike? Well, you engineer a custom drive system from scratch, so that the bike’s handling and suspension kinematics aren’t affected. An infinitely more difficult task, and the only one that will not compromise on performance.
FRAME AND BATTERY
The Instinct Powerplay frame is engineered for 29-inch or 27.5+ wheels. It’s sold as a 29 wheel platform in Australia. Exactly like the non electric version, the Instinct Powerplay also delivers 140mm of rear wheel travel and is matched to a 140mm travel suspension fork.
There are 2 battery options and 2 models sold in Australia. The Instinct Alloy 50 ($7,499.00) uses the 500Wh battery and the Instinct Alloy 70 ($8,999.00) uses the 632Wh. Both fit into the exact same dimensions, so riders can upgrade to the 632Wh, if required.
Every pivot location uses the best pivot bearings from Enduro Bearings. This significantly minimises friction when the rear shock is under load; allowing it to react to several impacts within seconds smoothly.
Another key aspect of the Instinct Powerplay is Ride 9. It’s a concept that you probably have never heard of before - or thought existed. It’s a square chip built into the frame. And it completely changes the way the Instinct feels, depending on the position.
At its heart, the Powerplay’s drive is the super unique Dyname 3.0 drive system. In development since 2010, this high-end Canadian drive system is the critical element in the Powerplay’s engineering chain. There are 2 ways Rocky Mountain could have attempted to produce the Instinct Powerplay. One, to source their drive system from any number of manufacturers (Shimano, Panasonic, Bosch, Yamaha…) but there will have been compromises to the Powerplay’s handling, control and suspension kinematics. An infinitely more difficult direction was to build their own custom drive system. But if they got it right, would allow Rocky Mountain to maintain their superb bike handling standards and ride quality.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
The huge amount of engineering that went into designing the Dyname 3.0 drive system is what has made the Powerplay one of the benchmark E-MTBs. Why? It’s the most natural feeling E-MTB - in both handling and power delivery.
"...the Powerplay will amplify everything you do right as a mountain biker - and it will amplify everything you do wrong."
The power delivery is crucial. An intricate torque sensor helps deliver gradual and sustainable power between 60RPM to 80RPM pedalling cadence range (considered the ideal range for mountain biking). Most riders get excited about ‘instant’ power delivery. This is not always a good thing because power that comes on too quickly when you’re pedalling up switchback climbs will cause understeer - usually into some immovable object, like a tree.
So the power delivery is crucial. The Instinct Powerplay delivers power smoothly, building to peak power.
The Powerplay uses an intricate torque sensor and algorithm. Essentially, the more you push down on the pedals the higher the torque that will be delivered to the back wheel - generating more forward motion. Because of this, as soon as you back off on the pressure (at the pedals), the torque (or pulling power) gets reduced too. This is perfect because it replicates how you would ride in the real world. The Powerplay has the highest torque figure out of any dual suspension E-bike (108N.m).
There is a downside to this - especially if you’re not a ‘smooth’ pedaller. You see, the Powerplay will amplify everything you do right as a mountain biker - and it will amplify everything you do wrong.
What this means is that if you don’t pedal in smooth circles and start mushing your way through the stroke, the power output will also feel mushy. The upside is that the Rocky will provide this feedback instantly, giving you a chance to correct your technique and in the process help you become a better rider.
INSTINCT POWERPLAY ALLOY 50 BUILD
The Instinct Alloy 50 is the most affordable build in the range.
Upfront the Instinct Powerplay uses a Rockshox Reba RL with 140mm of travel and is paired to a Rockshox Deluxe RT Debonair rear shock, which also delivers 140mm of rear wheel travel. It’s important to note that the front fork is E-Bike specific. It uses thicker stanchions that result in less flex, compared to the non-electric version.
Debonair is a name used for Rockshox’s new air spring. It has a larger negative air chamber that improves the suppleness of the rear shock and helps maintain traction - especially when descending or climbing tricky, loose and raw singletrack.
Both suspension units are easy to adjust and require very little initial input. Rock Shox has really easy to measure sag gradients; these are markings on the fork and rear shock that help you set up sag, easily and quickly. For those uninitiated, Sag is how much the suspension compresses under your body weight. In this case, 30% is the magic number.
Rebound is another critical adjustment to both suspension products (it’s the red dial). Rebound controls how quickly the suspension returns after it’s been compressed. Much too fast and the suspension is uncontrolled and bounces off obstacles too rapidly. Alternatively, too slow, and the suspension feels harsh and rigid because it can’t respond quickly enough to absorb impacts from repeated obstacles. So, with Rebound, there’s definitely a sweet spot.
We will go through a full suspension setup when you take delivery of the Instinct Powerplay to help you get the most out of the bike.
SRAM NX DRIVE TRAIN
When Simon, Australia’s Rocky Mountain Sales Manager, bought the bike in for me to test, my heart sank looking at the 11 speed SRAM drive train. Because you see, I’m what you would call a Bike Snob. “It’s not even 12-speed Eagle!”, I thought depressingly.
My experience couldn’t be further from the truth.
Riding the bike on the trails at Red Hill, gear shifts were executed superbly. There is no delay or mishifts. Red Hill has a lot of constant gradient changes and constant shifting under load didn’t daunt the groupset at all - even at uphill gradients of 30%.
The cassette max’s out at 46-teeth. Though it’s not as big as the 50-tooth sprocket that SRAM’s Eagle drivetrains use, climbing the very steep gradients at Red Hill posed no issue. Mainly because the Powerplay delivers so much torque - the most out of any legal E-Mountain Bike (or E-MTB) sold in Australia.
Another aspect of the drivetrain to note is the SRAM GX-1E shifter. It’s specifically designed for drivetrains on E-MTBs. It only allows 1 gear change at a time. Why? This reduces strain on the motor by minimising clunky gear changes and keeping torque changes smooth.
SRAM GUIDE T BRAKES
With any bike, let alone a Powerplay, bedding in the hydraulic disc brakes are a MUST. No negotiations. Otherwise, you won’t be able to stop effectively.
Much like my initial thoughts on the SRAM NX 11 speed, I thought I would dislike the brakes. Really...dislike. But once the bedding in procedure was complete, they worked just fine. There were no issues or loss of confidence riding down single black diamond runs - for the first time. Some magazines review may not put them on a level with SRAM Code or Shimano Saint brakes, but for the average to intermediate rider, they were fine.
The Guide T’s are a 4-piston brake caliper. There are 23 diameters to the pistons; one set of pistons are 14mm and the other 16mm.
Warranty on the Rocky Mountain Powerplay is:
- 5 years on the frame.
- 1 year on hardware.
- 2 years on the electronics.
- 1 year on drive wear items.
- 18 months on the battery.
- 2 years on Rock Shox suspension and SRAM brakes.
- 2 years on SRAM drivetrain parts.