The Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay is an eMTB that will likely find itself in consideration for a lot of e-bikers. Its mid-travel numbers, modern (and adjustable) geometry, and 29” wheels make this a highly versatile trail bike. Which is probably what you want when laying out the cash for an electric MTB. I mean, who has multiple eMTBs in the garage?
Indeed the Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70’s powerful motor, slack steering, and reasonable weight make it a great contender that can take you far up in the mountains and shred its way down. Unfortunately, my experience with the bike was marred by multiple motor shutdowns. While the fixes were easy the problems were concerning at the least and started happening pretty early on a brand-new bike.
2022 Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70 – Key features and specs:
The trail-focused Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70 has a full carbon frame, offering 140mms of rear travel with a 150mm fork. The rear linkage is Rocky’s trademark Smoothlink four-bar design, but the main pivot gets bumped to a mid-high position to make room for their Dyname 4.0 motor. With the absence of an XS frame option, all sizes of the Instinct Powerplay roll on 29” wheels.
In addition to their Ride 4 chip which simultaneously adjusts geometry and suspension rate, the Instinct Powerplay’s rear end includes a flip-chip that adjusts the chainstay length by 10mm, a feature RMB added to many of their latest generation MTB frames. Rocky’s proprietary rear brake adapter flips around to accommodate either chip position.
Frame fitments include Boost-spaced 148mm rear axles (and 110x15mm front), press fit BBs, 30.9mm seat masts, and clearance for tires up to 2.6” wide. Cables/hoses are all routed internally, and the frame has cable trays inside with tie-down points to prevent rattling.
RMB lists the complete weight for the Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70 at 50.8 lbs. My scale showed 51.63 lbs with pedals. For further details on this bike check out my 2022 Powerplay launch article.
The Instinct Powerplay is assisted by Rocky Mountain’s Dyname 4.0 motor, which puts out an impressive 108Nm of torque and peak power of 700w. The motor gets its power from a 720Wh internal down tube battery. Fully charging the Instinct Powerplay takes four hours (with the 4A charger supplied with most models). If that isn’t enough capacity for you, the Instinct Powerplay can also host RMB’s Overtimepack, an external battery that adds another 314Wh to the bike.
On the handlebar, RMB’s compact Micro Remote uses three buttons (up, down and a menu button) to switch between power levels, enable walk mode, choose what’s shown on the Jumbotron display screen, or move through the bike’s diagnostic menus (RMB does not have a tuning app, the bike does everything itself).
The Instinct Powerplay features RMB’s Ride 4 chip at the lower shock mount. The chip offers a small adjustment range for the bike’s angles, but does produce a decent reach range and slightly alters rear end length as well. It’s key to remember the chip also affects the shock rate, so riders have to find a balance between the geometry and suspension feel they want.
Depending on the Ride 4 chip setting, head tube angles range from 64.2° to 64.95° and seat masts go from 76.2° to 76.95°. Reach on the medium frame I rode ranges from 457-466mm, and rear end length sits between 436-439mm in short mode, or 446-449mm in long.
I started my testing with the Instinct’s Ride 4 chip in Pos. 3 (neutral) and the chainstay chip in short mode. This put me at a 64.7° head tube, 76.7° seat mast, 463mm reach, and a 437mm chainstay length.
Rocky’s geometry is pretty in-line with today’s norms, and at 5’10” I found their medium frame fit very comfortably. At 463mm reach, the front end is roomy but not too stretched out. Rocky shipped the Instinct Powerplay with several spacers under the stem, and since eMTB’s encourage longer rides I was happy to leave them there (the stack height itself is not high at 620mm in neutral). The steering angle felt great to me; not too slack to climb comfortably, but slack enough to feel capable on steep downhill sections.
After a bunch of rides, I flipped the Ride 4 chip into its slackest position (Pos. 1) bringing the reach down to 457mm and slacking out the head tube to 64.2°. Neither adjustment felt radically different, but the slacker steering did boost the bike’s downhill prowess slightly, and the shorter reach made it a little easier to shift my body around when needed. It’s safe to say the Instinct’s geometry range makes it a widely capable mid-travel machine that can handily tackle anything short of high-level enduro or downhill race courses.
I rode the rear end in short mode for a while, then flipped the chip into long for the latter part of my review. In short mode, the bike is still a fair-sized beast but the rear end rails through tight switchbacks nicely and there’s enough chainstay length to keep good climbing traction on just about anything. However, rear wheel traction only gets a boost when you move into long mode!
The longer rear end finds traction extremely well, and it seems to offer a healthy margin of error regarding body position. With shorter rear ends there comes a point on steep climbs where you want to lean forward, but have to keep weight on the rear tire to maintain traction. With longer chainstays I find that the balance point is widened, and it takes less body language to keep the tire planted. I should note that I also changed the Ride 4 chip position when I switched into long mode, and I’m sure dropping the BB by 6mm also contributed to that firmly planted, ‘in the bike’ feel. Given that the bike’s cornering only feels marginally slower with the stays extended, I prefer riding the Instinct Powerplay in long mode. After riding an incredibly steep and technical climb with my eMTB friends, the benefit of the extra traction in long mode was firmly reinforced.
Rocky Mountain’s current linkage requires more shock pressure than most brands’ usual ‘body weight in psi’ configuration, so I would up running 175psi in the Fox Float X Performance rear shock where I’d normally be around 145psi. A glance at RMB’s setup chart makes this an easy job, and thanks to Rocky Mountain stocking size-specific tuned rear shocks, I had no problem getting the Instinct Powerplay’s suspension dialed in.
Climbing with the Float X’s firm switch on, I found I was limited to about 50% travel on roads, smooth trails, and even singletrack climbs. I like bikes that climb aggressively, and I find the Instinct’s rear shock still uses enough travel in firm mode to provide good traction over rootbeds and rocky sections. When I switched into open mode, I didn’t wallow much deeper into the travel while climbing – Even on a pretty technical ascent, I was still only dipping to maybe 60% travel. There was a slight loss in efficiency, as the shock in firm resists pedalling forces better, but of course, with a motor you can easily opt to max out comfort and traction without slowing yourself down.
While I never expected to say there was a distinct advantage to a heavier bike, the weight of eMTBs does translate into a smooth ride! With a 50+lbs trail bike, the suspension feels highly active and supple as it’s being pushed down to the ground with a fair bit of weight. I’ve always felt RMB’s Smoothlink linkage isn’t the most plowy, trail-deadening design, but their eMTBs offer more of that feel than their much lighter non-assisted bikes. Anything ranging from small bumps on a climb to chattery downhill sections gets absorbed quite nicely by the Instinct Powerplay. Bigger, harder hits are also dealt with pretty well, and in neutral position the shock felt linear until the bitter end. When I switched into Pos. 1, I noticed the bike resisting hard hits more than before and after a fast lap on a rough trail, I was still a few mm’s from bottoming out. I wouldn’t say the bike is non-rideable for me in its most progressive position, but I’d have to thrash it hard to get full travel.
With the added weight you do sacrifice the poppy quality RMB’s non-electric bikes offer, but that’s inherent with any eMTB. Rocky Mountain has done a fine job of maintaining good mid-stroke support, so you can forget you’re on an eMTB when pumping through berms and rollers.
Motor and Electronics:
RMB’s Dyname 4.0 motor is a powerhouse. Its output power is enough that I rarely used the highest ‘Ludicrous’ assist setting, but I did try it for one super steep climb and it gave a ton of assist without accelerating too much to pedal through tight corners. I ride mostly in the Trail setting (45% power) and sometimes jump into Trail + (70%) for steep climbs or to save my energy on longer rides. I’ve never had the Dyname motor behave oddly while running – the power comes on very smoothly, and it’s always consistent and predictable. I thought the motor on the Instinct seemed slightly louder than the Altitude Powerplay’s I tested last year, but if that’s even true it’s still comparative to Shimano’s EP8 at worst.
You can adjust both the torque sensitivity and Boost levels of the Powerplay bikes, but I haven’t felt the need with the Instinct. Its factory settings already provide assist levels from zero to, well, ludicrous, and the pedal sensitivity feels appropriate at RMB’s settings. This adjustability is a nice option for eMTB riders who are particular about fine-tuning.
I have no complaints about the Micro Remote or Jumbotron’s operation, both are easy to navigate and the remote is small and ergonomic. I personally like how the Jumbotron keeps any display unit off your handlebars. It is a bit harder to glance down at the top tube quickly, but even with a handlebar display, I wouldn’t attempt to monitor my stats while riding anything fast or technical!
RMB’s huge 720Wh battery provides a ton of ride time. I’ve been out for short laps that only used 10% of the battery, and have yet to drain a full charge on a single ride. I’d guess most riders could get at least 8 hours of riding on a charge, but likely more if you’re not going nuts with assist power. Battery charging was as described, taking about four hours for a full charge. I did not have any issues with the battery or charger during my test.
I did, however, have issues with the bike’s motor shutting down multiple times. My first four rides on the Instinct Powerplay were flawless. Then, as I was sponging off the bike I noticed the display had come on, and was showing a ‘Communication Error’ message. I then realized the motor would not turn on, and the bike was effectively non-rideable. Already? I was not impressed.
At first I suspected water got into the electronics, but after discussing the problem with Rocky Mountain they assured me the displays endure extensive waterproofing tests. Instead, they suspected a wire between the display and motor could be pinched or disconnected inside the frame. Unfortunately, that means visiting an RMB dealer, and I live a day trip away from the nearest option.
The bike sat idle for a few weeks until Crankworx Whistler, where RMB’s techs were on-hand. I brought the bike there, and within minutes their technician had it running. It seemed the wiring was all fine, as a simple system reset and re-calibration got the Instinct Powerplay working again. On one hand, it was nice to see an easy fix to the problem. On the other hand, this simple issue kept me off this brand-new bike for a few weeks, which was extremely frustrating!
A few weeks later the Instinct Powerplay showed another communication error on startup, but all I did was turn the bike off and on again and everything was fine. However, soon after that, it happened again – and this time I was at the top of a mountain! Thankfully I only had to go downhill from there, but I couldn’t remember how to do a re-calibration or system reset at the time (which is very simple and takes mere seconds), and was stuck riding out with no power. Once the bike was home, I performed a re-calibration as the technician at Crankworx did and the motor came back to life.
What’s interesting is another technician from RMB (not the one at Crankworx) has since told me re-calibrations shouldn’t resolve a communication error, but in my case, this procedure worked twice. They only recommend switching the bike off and back on, or taking it to a dealer. I can’t explain this, as the bike wasn’t shut off after I re-calibrated it… it just started working immediately. Both times my motor shut down, I did try a few on/offs and they didn’t resolve anything.
RMB did say they’ve recently released a firmware update to address the issue of communication errors showing up too easily. My demo bike would probably benefit from that update, but with no nearby dealers it wasn’t convenient for me to get it done. I was also told re-calibrations should be done weekly with these bikes, which was news to me; RMB says this info is listed in the bike’s owner’s manual, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. When I tested the Altitude Powerplay last fall, I was only told to re-calibrate it after a break-in period of about 100kms, and the bike never required another to keep running.
Given the frequency of these errors, I would have to recommend Powerplay owners get familiar with the re-calibration procedure before even riding their bike. Maybe if you do it weekly it will prevent surprise motor shutdowns, but I’d be aware of the chance this could happen mid-ride if you turn the bike off during a break or a trailside repair. My demo bike produced three communication errors and shut down twice within 150kms of riding, but I wasn’t doing the weekly re-calibrations (and the firmware update might resolve this).
Not two weeks later, I went to check something on the bike and got a fourth communication error on start-up. Luckily this was another ‘off and back on again’ situation. Unfortunately, this is the second of two Rocky Mountain eMTBs I’ve had technical issues with; I had different electrical problems with the Altitude Powerplay I tested last year.
I’m also not super impressed with how the Instinct’s walk mode works. With the walk button held down, the motor seems to give the wheel a quick burst of power but then cut out. Then you get another burst, then nothing. The walk mode still helps you heave the bike uphill, but it would be much less awkward if the power delivery was more consistent. After asking Rocky Mountain about this, they said walk mode works best with the chain near the middle of the cassette (whereas I had the bike in lower gears). I did have friends suggest putting the bike in higher gears and power settings, or trying to keep weight on the wheel, so improving my technique might produce a better result.
The Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70 comes with Fox’s 36 eMTB Float EVOL Grip Performance fork, which felt great and was easy to set up following Fox’s recommended settings. I had no performance-related issues with the fork, and while I’m not a heavy rider it felt stiff enough for a bulky eMTB.
Aside from the Race Face Aeffect crank, the Instinct Powerplay comes with a Shimano XT drivetrain. This bike comes with a 34t front ring, and a 10-51t cassette. The larger front ring is fine since you have assist power, and gear shifting was quick and reliable throughout my test. Shimano’s XT Trail 4-piston brakes are strong as hell (especially with 203mm rotors front and rear), so they’re a great choice for an eMTB!
I’ve ridden Race Face’s AR30 rims on several of RMB’s bikes, and found them to be pretty tough. On a previous bike I slashed through a rear tire without damaging the rim at all, but I did manage to dent the Instinct Powerplay’s rear rim on a hard hit that pinch-flatted a tube.
Rocky Mountain sticks with a tried-and-true Maxxis combo, running 2.5” Minion DHF/2.4” DHR II 3C MaxxTerra EXO+ tires on the Instinct Powerplay. While rim tape and tubeless valves are included to make the upgrade easy, a stock tubeless setup would be nice for any bike in this price range.
RMB’s 35 AM handlebar comes stock at 780mm wide with a 25mm rise, and all sizes of the Instinct Powerplay come with 40mm long stems. I’m quite happy with bars between 780-800mm, and with 40mm stems so the Instinct’s cockpit felt great to me.
The Race Face Turbine R dropper post worked without fault during my rides. A 150mm post on a medium frame is sufficient, but a 170mm would be awesome. I’ve always found WTB’s Volt Race saddle fairly comfortable, and wouldn’t rush to replace it.
The Instinct Powerplay Carbon 70 is available in Satellite/Cherry Bomb/Eye of the Tiger (as tested) or Beyond the Sea/UD Carbon/Black Dog colorways. MSRP is $9,159.