Tester: Karl Rosengarth
Age: 59 | Height: 5’10” | Weight: 150 lbs. | Inseam: 32”
Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)
More info: bikes.com
Rocky Mountain calls the new-for-2016 Pipeline an “aggressive trail” bike. This pugnacious, plus-sized rookie uses the exact same carbon fiber main frame as Rocky’s 29 inch Instinct trail bike. Rear travel on both bikes measures 130 mm, but front travel on the Pipeline bumps up to 150 mm. The Pipeline’s aluminum rear was redesigned for 27plus, resulting in 17.4 inch chainstays—almost 0.4 inches shorter than the Instinct’s.
Rocky Mountain’s tried-and-true Smoothlink suspension cushions the rear end, with help from a Fox Float DPS Factory shock. According to Rocky, the Smoothlink design keeps chain growth to a minimum, which helps reduce pedal-induced bob. Placing the rear pivot 10 mm above the rear axle keeps the average chain torque line closely aligned with the suspension’s instant center of rotation throughout its travel—another feature that’s designed to keep pedal bob in check.
Smoothlink features a linear suspension rate, which is intended to produce a bottomless feel. Mounting the rear brake caliper on the seatstay of this four-bar design keeps the suspension active during braking and prevents the braking forces from otherwise affecting the suspension, according to Rocky.
The Ride-9 feature allows the user to adjust both the bike geometry and the suspension’s progressiveness, via flip chips on either side of the rear shock mounting bolt. Ride-9 offers—you guessed it—nine different settings. With its 1.6 degree range of head angle adjustability, the system makes possible noticeable changes to the geometry/handling of the bike. The ability to tweak suspension progressiveness opens up a suite of tuning options.
Borrowing the main frame from the Instinct 29er, and designing the rest of the 27plus Pipeline around it, resulted in bikes with rather short top tubes. I rode an XL, when I normally ride a large. Don’t get me wrong—the bike fit me fine. Just be aware of this sizing quirk and make sure you test ride before you buy. You may want to upsize.
Rocky Mountain always manages to impress with well-thought-out component choices that don’t cut corners and pack plenty of bang for the buck. With the Fox 34 Float Factory 150 mm fork leading the way, I knew right away that the Pipeline meant business. This supple, adjustable, well-controlled fork gobbled up everything that I could dish out.
The 11-speed drivetrain features a Shimano XT rear derailleur, 11-42 XT cassette and Race Face Turbine cranks with a 28 tooth chainring. Shifting was flawless and I never dropped a chain. However, the binding bolt on the left-side crankarm did manage to work its way loose. This was a previously used demo bike and I didn’t check the bolt before riding, so I’ll give Race Face a mulligan on that one.
The Sun Ringlé SRC Boost 148 mm rear hub and single-ring drivetrain both help assure there’s plenty of clearance for the the Maxxis Rekon Exo 27.5 X 2.8 tubeless ready tires. Rocky says tires up to 3.25 inch wide fit fine.
The Pipeline is the sort of bike that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shakes the complacency right the hell out of you. It urged me to ride faster and take more aggressive lines. Suddenly, my all-too-familiar trails sprouted new, fun, alternative lines. Not because the Pipeline magically made me a more-skilled rider, rather because it helped me squeeze untapped radness out of my middling skill set. Despite the lack of a front derailleur, my left thumb got quite the workout pumping the remote on the RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost—getting low and letting ‘er go.
I give most of the credit to the Smoothlink suspension, a design that won my heart years ago. Sure, the plush 150 mm Fox fork is ready to rumble. And the grippy 2.8 inch Maxxis Rekons inspire confidence at warp speed. But the rear suspension is the star of this show.
The Smoothlink feels supple and bottomless—without bobbing and weaving with every pedal stroke. It is very active off the top, makes square-edged bumps vanish, and keeps the party train on the rails when things get sketchy.
For the most part, I kept the rear shock in the “open” setting (the lowest level of compression damping). During seated pedaling, there was very little suspension bob. Leaving the shock open also helped the rear wheel maintain traction on technical inclines. The folks from British Columbia know a thing or two about earning their turns—so it’s no wonder that Rocky made sure the suspension works as well on the way up as it does on the way down.
Switching to the medium damping setting helped reduce the bobbing that I encountered on technically challenging trails that required a lot of body English or out-of-the-saddle gymnastics. Under those conditions the very active suspension felt better with added damping to help keep things calmer. Hey, that’s what those switches are for. The only time I resorted to the firmest of the three damping settings was on long road sections or paved climbs.
Now we come to the part of the review where normally I’d give my take on the bike’s geometry and how it affects the ride. However, with the Ride-9 feature that’s like trying to hit a moving target. I experimented with a wide range of settings, which transformed the Pipeline from a slack, low funhog that loved to point its nose down the fall line—to a surprisingly spry steed that felt nimble and well-suited for long, crosscountry excursions (albeit a rather long-legged steed).
Those who ride steep gravity trails one day, reel off cross-country epics the next and race enduro on the weekends should appreciate the ability to easily reconfigure the Pipeline to suit the trail du jour.
That’s really not me. My riding style tends toward the pedaly end of the Pipeline’s spectrum. After experimenting, I adjusted the bike to where it best suited my style—more of a cross-country handling feel—and just left it there. It felt almost like riding a bike custom made to my specifications. That sure beats riding a bike that’s just a teeny bit slacker, or slightly steeper, than I’d prefer.
With so many different wheel size and suspension options available these days, the term “quiver killer” has fallen out of favor. However, with this adjustable, 27plus dually Rocky Mountain has created a bike that excels in a wide range of scenarios. While the Pipeline is billed as an “aggressive” trail bike, and it certainly is a capable shredder that loves it fast and hard, it’s also politely Canadian—willing to skate along at any pace and level of aggression that suits you. Just watch your back, especially the scruff of your neck.
Without pedals; specs based on size tested.
- Reach: 17.2 – 17.9”
- Stack: 24.6 – 25.1”
- Top Tube: 24.4”
- Head Tube: 67.2 – 68.8°
- Seat Tube: 73.7 – 75.5°
- BB Height: 12.9 – 13.7”
- Chainstays: 17.4”
- Wheelbase: 47.0”
- Weight: 28 lbs.