Rocky Mountain Instinct 950 MSL
29er. Reality-check one-bike quiver
What it does well: “The 950 MSL is the bike that most people don’t know they need; the only bike they need,” said co-bike test director Sydney Fox. Why? It’s the benchmark for an affordable daily trail bike. Even though the 950 MSL will soon be updated, we called it in for exactly that reason, the current model year gave us a baseline of how a trail bike should handle, no matter the wheel size. Yes, the Instinct climbs well thanks to Rocky Mountain’s Smoothlink Suspension that quiets trail chatter without messing with efficiency in the early part of the suspension travel. But what make’s the 950 so versatile is its Ride-9 chip system that let’s you adjust the bike’s geometry based on preferred or most frequented terrain. Set up in trail mode (neutral), the slow speed handling remains best in class, and it excels at getting up and over rocks and roots and negotiating steep switchbacks. Feel like racing an endurance event like the Breck Epic? Simply adjust the chip to steepen the angles for an XC feel. Or slacken them out for a rowdier enduro style ride or if you just prefer slacker angles for roosting. As the name implies, nine configurations are possible. The Ride-9 system only boosts the versatility of an already versatile 29er trail bike.
What it does poorly: The 950 MSL doesn’t really do anything poorly, which is the point, but it doesn’t excel at high-speed enduro or XC racing either. Still, it’s another bike that 80 percent of riders would be happy on 80 percent of the time.
So who’s it made for? Price conscious trail riders looking for a well-balanced and playful ride should look here. With the tweaking options of the Ride-9, you can dial it in for your needs. $3,999; 29.2 pounds; bikes.com
27.5 Enduro and trail
What it does well: Alchemy’s carbon frames are hand built in Colorado, but the real story with the 27.5-inch wheeled Arktos is the suspension designed by David Earle, the same engineer behind Yeti’s wildly efficient Switch Infinity suspension. With the Arktos, Earle employed materials, positioning, and shock tuning for a unique suspension called Sine, because when graphed out it follows a Sine wave. Sounds techy, but the ride is intuitive. The initial suspension travel is open (regressive to bike nerds) for trail compliance. The mid-stroke is progressive, meaning it gets stiffer as you push through the travel so you don’t get bogged down in multiple midsized hits. And finally, the end of the stroke is open again so you can actually use all the travel the bike offers. Incredibly, for such a nuanced design, our testers described exactly those attributes in our debrief—despite having no primer on Sine waves. “Plush on the top and bottom end but doesn’t bottom out harshly,” said one tester. “Climbs well, but I still got through all the suspension on the descents,” said another. With a relaxed head tube angle of 66 degrees and a 150mm Float Factory 36 shock up front, the six-inch travel Arktos was the closest thing to a pure enduro bike we tested, but the climbing efficiency is so impressive it doesn’t feel like you’re riding a long travel bike on the way up.
What it does poorly: Dropper post choices are limited because of the pronounced kink in the seat tube, but that’s a quibble on a bike that we felt was the top descender in the test. A more vital point is deciding whether you have the terrain or the riding style (big air) to merit a six-inch travel bike.
So who’s it made for? It’s an enduro rocket on the way down, but a perfectly capable trail bike on the way up. Look here if you ride gnarly trail most of the time.
$6,199; 29 pounds; alchemy.bike