One Ride Review: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt Short Travel XC/Trail Mountain Bike

Rocky-Mountain-Thunderbolt-750-Kingdom-Trails-ride-review

Over the last couple years the 27.5 shorter-travel (115-130mm) platform has been blurring the lines between XC and Trail categories.  Rocky Mountain’s Thurnderbolt is designed to handle the rowdy side of XC riding, and is a capable setup for almost everything shy of Enduro racing.

The aluminum frame has four available build specs, and I took the 2nd tier 750 ($3,300) on extended rides at NEMBAfest.  Vermont’s flowy Kingdom Trails and the efficient Thunderbolt were a perfect match, allowing me to ride all day in comfort, climb without pedal-bob, and hit downhills knowing I’d brought a gun to the gunfight.  OK, the well-manicured Kingdom Trails are more of a BB-gun gunfight, but trails like Troll Stroll and Sidewinder thoroughly used all 5” of travel and could have shot my eye out.

Rocky-Mountain-Thunderbolt-Action-Blend-Inches-of-Air

As XC trail networks continue to get more jumpy-flowy (thanks to group likes NEMBA), the Thunderbolt is just right for weekend trips to places like the Kingdom Trails, and for my everyday local XC trails. While slack for a XC rig, the 68.5º head angle is nicely balanced by short 16.7” chainstays, providing overall snappy handling. The Thunderbolt has a longer top tube and shorter stem than the Element (Rocky’s XC race focused 29er), and it has better slow speed handling and is less twitchy at higher speeds, than some of the bigger wheeled XC bikes I’ve ridden recently. The alloy frame and 120mm of travel make for a relatively heavy (29.3lbs) XC setup, but the hydroformed frame and Smoothlink suspension felt very stiff and efficient. A perfect setup for everyday XC/Trail rides, and not out of place at a XC race starting line.

Even set with more sag than I would normally run, the Thunderbolt felt stiffer than similar short-travel 27.5’s I’ve been riding lately. With mostly singletrack climbs, I seldom adjusted the Fox FLOAT CTD out of Trail mode, and I gleefully cleared hills feeling like I had energy to spare. I even received some backsided compliments from my cohort Ryan, about my strong climbing  despite missing so many of the weekday rides.  Since it’s not training or clean living, the Thunderbolt gets a lot of credit for my peppy climbing. And when pointed downhill, I had no issues keeping up or any desire for more travel on the buttery smooth Kingdom trails. I did go around one “big” built-up jump, but I blame a lack of dropper post (and cojones), more than a lack of suspension.  However on all the many other bumps and small jumps over 30+ miles of trail, I never had reason to hesitate, and let the bike rip on descents and pop features with impunity.

The 750 build package is a mix of mid-level Shimano and Race Face.  SLX brakes and shifters, and SLX hubs (15mm front hub and 12X142mm rear), with notable XT rear derailleur.  Race Face handles stem, bars, post, and cranks.  And Fox’s 32 120mm and FLOAT CD provide the cush.   The triple chainring setup on the 750 is an easy criticism, but some racers might appreciate the gear range options.  I’d prefer tubeless ready rims, but overall, the 750 is a cost conscious, but respectable build.

The top end 770 at $4,000 sports almost full XT (and XTR rear derailleur), remote switch on the FLOAT, tubeless rims, and a 2X10 drivetrain.  A very tempting setup if you have the extra $700.

Rocky-Mountain-Thunderbolt-Front-View Rocky-Mountain-Thunderbolt-750-one-ride-review

The Thunderbolt offers internal cable routing to keep things tidy, and internal dropper routing, but a dropper is not currently spec’d.  However, the demo fleet of Thunderbolts was being setup with dropper posts, so I would bet that this will be an option in 2015, perhaps on a new 790 model with a bit more travel.

Rocky-Mountain-Thunderbolt-750-laying-down

For a lot of us, the 27.5 shorter-travel bikes are the right tool for the job, offering XC efficiency, with Trail bike capability, and matching the everyday/everyman trails we ride most.  The Thunderbolt 750 is a strong example: very efficient but still playful, and at a good price point.  For the long rides at  NEMBAfest I thoroughly enjoyed the Thunderbolt’s climbing ability, and never felt under-gunned on the downhills.  For rocking neighborhood flow trails, or the occasional XC race, the Thunderbolt hits the mark.  It even makes a very satisfying plinky sound when the BB knocks over the can.

Bikes.com

Comments

Henry - 07/14/14 - 9:53am

I recognize the trail feature the bike is leaning on in the first pick. Definitely would be a good bike for the kingdom. How’d it do on the rooty stuff – Pastore Point and Riverwood?

Ck - 07/14/14 - 11:22am

There are days I wish i’d have tried harder to find one of these bikes(or a 5010) to test before going with a 27.5 Anthem.

Todd - 07/14/14 - 11:28am

Weight? I haven’t been able to find weights on these bikes anywhere!

Von Kruiser - 07/14/14 - 12:18pm

I have the 5010 and it is a great bike for sure. It’s all about less travel w/ relaxed geometry. Eats up the big bumps really well. Climbs ok w/ the less travel. Just make sure the rims you run are super wide and stiff… you will be pumped on the handling. The new Pivot is a little extreme on “less travel” but would like to check it out since Pivot always ride so nice. I bet Intense is working on one of these low travel bikes as well. Less is more on trail riding.

John Herron - 07/14/14 - 8:10pm

Henry – Pastore Point and Riverwood are relatively flat, so the roots and divots were no trouble at flatland speeds. Riverwood had some new bumps that were fun, perfect for the bike. The jump at end of Pines was only spot I wished for dropper post, and might have felt more courage with a little more travel.

Todd – around 28-30lbs depending on build spec.

buriedundersnow - 07/14/14 - 9:08pm

John Herron rules!

John Herron - 07/15/14 - 4:16pm

Nana, is that you?

Post a comment:

Comment sections can be a beautiful source of knowledge, conversation and comedy. They can also get pretty ugly, which is why we've updated our Comments Policy. If your comment isn't showing up or suddenly disappears, you might want to check it out.