First Impression: Rocky Mountain Sherpa

We’ve brought in a pair of Rocky Mountain’s “Overland” bikes for demo and have been busy getting their tires dirty. 

Rocky Mountain's Sherpa, a ready made "overland" bike
Rocky Mountain’s Sherpa, a ready made “overland” bike

Rocky Mountain’s new Sherpa model is loosely based on the venerable Element, which has stood the test of time in the XC/endurance categrory, but with a 27.5+ tire size twist to bring a bit more soft terrain capability. They’re pitching it as the first “bikepacking” bike you can actually have some fun with in the chunder.
We’ve been excited to see more of this bike since becoming a dealer; admittedly their well produced video with 5 guys on AZT was appealing enough for us to fill out the dealer app. Some time later and we’ve got the real thing in the shop.

Have a look

"Dude, it's got a dragon!" -actually, it's a Nepalese Snow Lion, which is even cooler.
“Dude, it’s got a dragon!” -actually, it’s a Nepalese Snow Lion, which is even cooler.
Dashing good looks
Dashing good looks

At first look, the Sherpa is… striking. A great looking bike, with a Tibetan Snow Lion painted on the front triangle. How do we protect this from bikepacking gear? more on that later. Noticeable specs include the 45mm WTB Scraper rims, and the WTB 2.8″ Trailblazer tubeless tires, the 2×10 Shimano drivetrain & brakes and Manitou McLeod/Magnum suspension. The cockpit consists of a a Race Face low rise handlebar & stem. I did a little “hooray” in mind on the selection of a 2×10 drivetrain selection over the ever-growing popularity of 1×11. While my daily driver trail bike sports a 1×11 setup, I feel strongly that a true “Overland” bike needs as wide of a gear range as possible. Likewise, the Shimano brakes are a solid choice that leave nothing to be desired.

A 2x10 drivetrain comes at a time when 1x11 is prolific. Maybe a good idea?
A 2×10 drivetrain comes at a time when 1×11 is prolific. Maybe a good idea?

First Ride
Swinging a leg over the bike for the first parking lot ride, the Sherpa feels more like a 29er than a fatbike. It accelerates quickly, and while there’s a bit of wind-up in the tires, it’s not so noticeable to distract from the whole bike package. It “feels” like a balanced 29er.
Since that parking lot test, I’ve ridden the Sherpa on a couple shop rides, and took her out for excursions at Section 6 in the town of Joshua Tree, with Jimma from Joshua Tree Bicycle Shop and did an out-and-back with it in the rocky, sandy Coyote Canyon outside of Anza, which is part of the Stagecoach 400 route. I felt this was a diverse enough series of rides to get a good initial feel for the bike.

Sitting on the bike, the Sherpa feels at home. A well balanced fit, ready for all day comfort, but with enough room for my 5’8″ frame to maneuver front to back on the bike on the medium size. Standover clearance was adequate, comparable to a 29er FS bike.

On the trail, I found the Rocky Mountain Sherpa to be a very competent climber. It really shines here. The more technical the climb, the better the Sherpa feels. Optimal climbing traction is provided by a balanced body position over the bike, proper shock setup, and well considered tire pressure on the 2.8″ Trailblazer tires. I found it especially well suited to seated rocky & loose climbs- when a “normal” bike would surely slip, or many fatbikes would rebound- the Sherpa maintained tire contact and surged ahead. A friend behind me observed the Trailblazer tires’ tendency to conform & hold on round or square-edged obstacles. The bike climbs well out of the saddle too, especially with 2 or 3 clicks of Platform damping added to the Manitou McLeod shock, and about the same amount of platform clicked in on the right knob of the Manitou Magnum fork. I never felt a need for more damping added to this suspension.

On flowy singletrack trail, the Sherpa “squats” a bit in the turns. Not so much as a sophisticated Enduro bike, but more than most “endurance” bikes typically would. This gives the Sherpa a playful, enjoyable feel and reminds you of the bike’s singletrack roots. It pops out of turns and accelerates well.

In sand, the Sherpa floats better than a “regular” bike but not quite as well as a fatbike. Fair enough, considering the tire width is somewhere between the two, right? The slightly slackened head angle with the 120mm fork helps the bike “settle in” a bit in the sand, steering with the hips.

 

Sherpa uses an aluminum rear end mated to the carbon fiber front triangle. 148mm Boost spacing provides clearance but doesn't feel too wide on the trail.
Sherpa uses an aluminum rear end on 148mm Boost spacing mated to a carbon fiber front triangle.

 

Spec Nitpicking

The WTB Trailblazer tire has the appearance of an evolved & very large Nanoraptor, a longtime favorite of off-road tourists. It rolls fairly fast on hardpack, but demands precise tire pressure adjustments in mixed terrain. Too soft and the sidewalls wrinkle in hard corners, too hard and it doesn’t keep as much grip as a tire this bike maybe should.

The Manitou Magnum fork was tricky to set up. Using the suggested pressure chart on the side of the fork leg, I found the fork sagged about 10% for my 165lb rider weight. When I adjusted for 20% sag, I still had some difficulty achieving full travel on a hard ride. I’ve been in touch with Manitou and am making some internal adjustments to the fork to get a more linear feel. (more on the next report)

The 720mm Race Face handlebars felt narrow to this 5’8″ tall rider. My “daily” trail bike has 750mm wide bars, and I’ve grown quite accustomed to them. It could be just what I’m used to, but I felt the bike’s seemingly unlimited traction could be better harnessed with wider bars. A rider with a strictly endurance/xc background might not have any issue with the bar width.

Follow Up

I’ll be riding the Rocky Mountain Sherpa quite a bit in the coming months, as we head out on new adventures and prepare for the Stagecoach 400. We pulled a bikepacking kit made by Oveja Negra Threadworks from stock that I’ll be strapping on the Sherpa and taking out for nights in the bush. I’ll report back on the bike’s bikepacking prowess and provide an all-around progress report.

 

 

 

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