Rocky Mountain Sherpa Review: Long Term Tested
After 1,000 miles, here are thoughts and impressions on the world’s first full-suspension bikepacking specific bike… beyond the beautiful paint job.
Words and photos by Christophe Noel
Although the Rocky Mountain Sherpa is a relatively new addition to the bike world, I am one of a lucky few to get a head start putting it through the paces. Even with a busier than usual start to my riding season I just tipped the 1,000 mile mark on my Sherpa and certainly know it better now than I did back in April during its clandestine product launch.
Before I get into the nuance of the Sherpa and how it plays into the wants and needs of the bikepacker, let me back up a tad and explain why this was such a ground breaking bike when it was announced earlier this year.
The Sherpa was the first-to-market full suspension bike to employ 27.5-inch wheels in a plus-size width. We’ve now seen a number of similar bikes enter this space, although most of them are in the pre-production phases and not slated to hit dealers until later this year. At any rate, Rocky Mountain did the Sherpa one better by adding a few tweaks aimed specifically at bikepacking, not just the usual singletrack shenanigans. That, as much as anything, turned a lot of heads.
You can learn a lot around a campfire with 84 beers.
During a week of camping last April as the Sherpa received its first real-world shakedown, I had the chance to talk its creator, Rocky Mountain’s Alex Cogger. He expressed his desire to build a gear hauler around a proper trail bike with attributes that allowed it to tackle a wide range of surfaces without sacrificing the spirit of the ride. If viewed under a microscope, Rocky Mountain’s DNA probably looks like a series of twisted berms and jumps, much like those found in the mountains outside their offices in Vancouver. It made sense they wouldn’t build just another touring mule, but a bike capable of a good huck and carve, even while portaging a weekend’s worth of kit. The question is: Did they pull it off?
In an effort to find out for myself, I loaded up my Sherpa for a lap of the White Rim Trail outside Moab. My first day was an ambitious 75 mile romp over stepped ledges, rock gardens, and more than a few sections of deep sand. The 45mm WTB Scraper rims and 3.0 WTB Trailblazer tires made short work of the soft surfaces, and the suspension components soaked up all of the bumps that would have otherwise been transmitted to my bones. To say it was comfortable is an understatement. It was also quicker than I anticipated, dispatching the miles with the efficiency of a skinny tire bike.
Since that trip in late Spring I’ve had the chance to take the Sherpa out for a handful of overnight trips and have compiled the following impressions, most positive, a few on the not so great side.
As we all know, bikepacking involves long hours in the saddle. In an effort to provide the most comfortable perch possible, Rocky Mountain fitted the Sherpa with a shortened stem which compliments what I feel is an already conservatively short top tube. The positioning is comfortable without putting the rider upright like Mary Poppins.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m terrible at setting up my suspension for my ever-changing needs. Many of my desert forays can begin with as much as 9 liters of water on board. That crushing weight plays havoc with suspension settings, but I’ve found the Manitou Magnum fork and McLeod shock can be tuned to strike a balance between too firm and annoyingly soft. The fork in particular is predictable and progressive with ample lateral stiffness when pushed into a hard turn.
The Sherpa is packaged with Shimano M506 hydraulic brakes paired to 180mm rotors. They do an admirable job of decelerating the bike at full-tilt boogie, but I ended up replacing those brakes with Shimano’s XT brake kit.
Tires and Wheels
If there is a glaring shortcoming to the overall Sherpa build it is with the tires. The WTB Trailblazer tires when mounted to WTB’s own Scraper rims create a combination with spooky cornering qualities. Read that as scary. I thought it was just me, but other riders have mentioned the same. Once put to a lean, the shallow knobs at the tire’s edge seem to vanish. On the upshot, the tightly spaced center knobs give the tire a fast and efficient roll, but like many of us out there––I think turning is nice. The Trailblazer’s 2.8 width compliments the rolling efficiency of the platform, and don’t feel as plus-size as other tires. I have since mounted 3.2 tires on the Sherpa and feel it makes for a more spirited ride when traction gets iffy.
Like a growing number of riders, I have been won over by the simplicity of the single-ring drivetrain. On the rolling terrain of the White Rim, I reaffirmed my love of one shifter. I found myself shifting in and out of the front rings continually, making simultaneous adjustments to the rear derailleur. It made for more shifting than necessary. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the two-by system is a negative, but for my liking I would have preferred just one ring up front.
It goes without saying, any full-suspension rig is going to present gear storage limitations. The Sherpa’s small main triangle allows for a custom Porcelain Rocket frame bag with just enough space for a fully loaded 3-liter water reservoir. I have no complaints with that small space, probably because of the additional storage provided by the bottle mounts under the downtube.
The question I ask myself when evaluating the Sherpa is: Did Rocky Mountain deliver on Alex Cogger’s initial concept? I think they did. Not everyone wants to plod along on a steel hardtail. There is no reason why a rider can’t infuse a little shred into a multi-day ride, or ask for more comfort and mixed-terrain performance. Within that scope, the Sherpa delivers on its promise. I am loath to use terms like quiver killer but have to admit this bike has a lot of potential to be a great one-bike solution for many riders. From a week day trail whip to a weekend escape pod, it hits the mark.
- FRAME SMOOTHWALL™ CARBON
- REAR TRIANGLE FORM™ 7005 SERIES CUSTOM HYDROFORMED. ABC™ PIVOTS. PRESS FIT BB
- FORK MANITOU MAGNUM 27.5+. 120MM.
- SHOCK MANITOU MCLEOD CUSTOM VALVED. 95MM.
- HEADSET CANE CREEK FIFTEEN SERIES: IS42MM TOP / 52MM BOTTOM TAPERED
- STEM RACE FACE 6° X 70-100MM
- HANDLEBAR RACE FACE EVOLVE 3/4 RISER Ø31.8MM X 725MM X 9° SWEEP
- GRIPS ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOCK ON MUSHROOM
- BRAKES SHIMANO M506 HYDRAULIC DISC 180MM
- BRAKE LEVERS SHIMANO M506 I-SPEC SHIFTER MOUNT
- SHIFTERS SHIMANO SLX RAPID FIRE I-SPEC 2X10SPD
- FRONT DERAILLEUR SHIMANO DEORE E MOUNT 2X10SPD
- REAR DERAILLEUR SHIMANO XT SHADOW PLUS DIRECT MOUNT 10SPD
- CRANKS & CHAINRINGS RACE FACE TURBINE CINCH CUSTOM 83MM 170-175MM 38/24T 2X10SPD
- BOTTOM BRACKET RACE FACE CINCH 30MM BB92 PRESS FIT W. 83MM ADAPTERS
- CASSETTE SHIMANO HG50 11-36T 10SPD
- CHAIN KMC X10 10SPD ECOPROTECT ANTI RUST
- FRONT HUB SUNRINGLE SRC PLUS / FAT FORK SPECIFIC / 6 BOLT / 32H / 15X110MM AXLE
- REAR HUB DT SWISS 350 / 6 BOLT / 32H / 12 X 142MM AXLE / STAR RATCHET FREEHUB
- SPOKES DT SWISS COMPETITION
- RIMS WTB SCRAPER I45 27.5+ TCS TUBELESS READY
- TIRES WTB TRAILBLAZER 27.5+ TCS 27.5″ X 2.8″ TUBELESS READY
- SEATPOST ROCKY MOUNTAIN XC 30.9MM X 400MM
- SADDLE WTB VOLT RACE