Dirt Rag Magazine

Rocky Mountain updates Element for more BC/XC goodness


The Element has always been a cross-country bike that can handle more than it far share of rowdy trails. Rocky Mountain is making it even more capable with the newest version of its cross-country “race” bike.

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From Rocky Mountain:

This is the result of over two decades at the front of the pack. The new Element features more efficient suspension performance, refined marathon geometry, Ride-9™ adjustability, and room for two bottles inside the front triangle. The smallest details were examined in search of point-n-shoot rigidity and unrivalled speed.

This new Element is a full-on XC marathon weapon, but with the confidence of a trail bike” says product director Alex Cogger. “People used to show up to BC Bike Race expecting to grind fire roads all day, only to walk the descents and snap their made-for-the-scale bikes in half. XC racing has evolved, and bikes that can’t handle the real world have no business on the course.”

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Some things to take note of:

-Dropper post on all but the least expensive models
-Two bottle cages inside the front triangle on all five sizes
-Room for 29×2.35 tires
-Ride-9 chip for adjustable geometry and suspension leverage ratio
-All models come with a 120 mm fork, most with at least 34 mm stactions.
-Front derailleur compatable

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We’ve always been partial to the BC Edition of this bike, and it delivers once again with Minion DHR and SS tires, a 800mm bar and a RockShox Pike. Pictured below is the 990 RSL BC Edition. The other models released today are the top of the line 999 RSL, 970 RSL, 950 RSL and 930 RSL. All bikes have carbon frames and versatile internal cable routing.

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The bad news? No pricing, yet. And these won’t be ready until late 2016. We hope we can get our hands on one sooner, because these look like a lot of fun.

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Element999_RSL_Profile Element970_RSL_2x11_C1_Profile Element970_RSL_1x11_C1_Profile

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First Ride: Rocky Mountain Pipeline


For some riders the name Pipeline will bring up old memories of adjustable travel URT suspension and Giro Switchblade helmets. But put those thoughts out of your head. This new bike might as well be an alien species for how little DNA is shares with that early freeride bike.

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Much like the Sherpa, Rocky’s first plus bike, the Pipeline shares a main frame with another model, in this case the 29″ Instinct trail bike. This idea of sharing frames among a few models or wheels sizes while adjusting geometry with fork travel and a different swingarm seems to be a trend that is catching on in the industry, and one that makes a lot of sense considering the cost of developing carbon fiber molds for each size.

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I rode the fancier of the two models, the $4,800 Pipeline 770 MSL. Shimano provides XT for the 1×11 drivetrain and brakes, RaceFace kicks in the bar, stem and crank. The RockShox Reverb does dropper duties and the wheels are a a mixes of brands, most notably 35mm (internal width) Alex tubeless rims and Maxxis Rekon EXO tires front and rear.

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Dre Hestler and Wade Simmons acted as tour guides, and we ended up on a fun combination of trails, dead-ends, and dirt roads. While none of the terrain was particularly challenging, there were some fun bits and sandy corners to give me a feel for the bike.

I’m just finishing up a review of the Santa Cruz Hightower, which has very similar travel numbers to this bike, and has (optional) 27plus wheels. Since the Pipeline is based on a platform that is a few years old, we’ve seen geometry change pretty dramatically since then, and the size large, with its 23.5 top tube felt small while climbing and cranking along on the flats.

Fortunately the rest of the geometry is quite modern. Rocky’s Ride 9 chip system can adjust geometry (and shock progression). I rode it in the middle, which gives it a 68 degree head angle and  about a 74.5 seat tube. Combined with pretty “normal” 17.4 inch chainstays, the Pipeline felt peppy and fun on the trails at the less-than-warp speeds that we traveled. Once the seat was down, any sense of “small” disappeared, and the bike was more than ready to take the roughest lines I could find.

With only a single ride on this bike, versus a few months on the Hightower, it is hard to really compare the two. I’d be will to bet, if compared head-to-head on each company’s’ local trails, I’d like the Santa Cruz better in Santa Cruz and the Rocky better on the Shore.

I would have preferred a first ride on some of the trails in this video, but alas, the biggest U.S. bike event is held at a venue with mediocre trails.

I came away wanting more time on this bike, and wondering how it would feel with some the even more aggressive tires will be seeing soon from Maxxis.

The less expensive $4,000 Pipeline 750 MSL shares the same carbon main frame, aluminum rear end, 1×11 XT drivetrain, but swaps out the Fox suspension for less expensive RockShox options and the RaceFace components for house brand bits. Wheels and dropper remain the same. The 750 is orange. I like orange.

More info at Rocky Mountain’s website, bikes.com.

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First Ride: Rocky Mountain Maiden World Cup


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A little over a week ago Rocky Mountain announced its new Maiden downhill bike, and we brought you up to speed on the details here. As we hoped, we were able to ride a few laps aboard an early-production Maiden World Cup at Whistler.

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After a period of downhill bikes trending steadily slacker, the market seems to have leveled out between 63 and 64 degrees, which is right where the Maiden plays. Even in the slackest 63-degree setting the Maiden struck a comfortable balance of maneuverability and stability, particularly combined with the very-short 16.7-inch chainstays.

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This was my first ride aboard BOS suspension and I’m thoroughly impressed with the Idylle Air model spec’d on the World Cup. This air-sprung fork is very supple, and soaked up Whistler’s extensive braking bumps and bomb holes incredibly well. It also provided a well-controlled and comfortable ramp up to end of stroke.

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Out back, the BOS Stoy RaRe was very well matched to the fork, soaking up small chatter and big hits without breaking a sweat.

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In designing the Maiden, Rocky Mountain invested a lot of time and energy in minimizing the impact of braking force on the rear suspension. The company’s patented Autonomous Braking design “[balances] anit-rise, caliper rotation, and instantaneous inertial brake transfer values” to keep the rear suspension active when braking. That’s a bunch of tech-speak, but in a nutshell, most all of today’s downhill bikes squat under braking, which firms up the suspension a bit due to being deeper in the travel. Combine that squat with caliper rotation and you can end up with grip-slip under braking. On the Maiden, I couldn’t believe how composed and neutral the bike felt under braking. It was astonishingly smooth under even the worst braking bumps.

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Although all of the complete bikes are spec’d with 27.5-inch wheels, the Maiden offers some interesting options to make it 26-inch compatible. By installing a headset spacer and utilizing the lower rear axle position, the geometry is optimized for 26-inch wheels. With 26-inch wheels and fork, the trail number is nearly identical to that of the 27.5-inch setup.

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The Maiden’s Ride-4 chip is similar in concepts to Rocky’s Ride-9 chip, but simplified substantially. The chip’s four positions subtly adjust geometry, but are said to have a negligible impact on suspension performance. We didn’t have time to play with the settings, but look forward to doing so in a future long-term review.

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Photo by Adam Newman

In all, I’m very impressed with the Maiden. It was easy to ride and very intuitive from the moment we rolled in the park. The suspension’s performance on small bumps and braking bumps was nothing short of astounding, while the big-hit performance far more capable and I am able to push it. The Maiden seems like an incredibly well-designed and executed bike. I’m sure looking forward to getting my hands on a long-term test sled. Look for production bikes to begin shipping in October.

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Inside Line: The new Maiden DH bike from Rocky Mountain


There are a lot of bad bike videos out there. This is not one of them.

Good music, not too much slow-mo, good job capturing the feel of just how fast this bike is movings, and Vanderham isn’t dressed like a toddler who didn’t get out of his PJs.

Bravo.

Below is the bike in the video, the new Maiden.

MAIDEN WORLD CUP HERO VERTICAL

It was no secret Rocky was developing a new downhill bike, its previous downhill platform, the Flatline was long in the tooth, to say it nicely.

The details from Rocky’s press release:

• Full carbon frame, link, chainstay, and seatstay

• Optimized for 26” or 27.5” wheels with Equalized geometry

• Four bar Smoothlink suspension

• Pipelock collet axles lock into the frame for stiffness

• Oversized Enduro MAX type bearings for longer bearing life and higher load capacity

• Integrated frame protection: molded downtube guard, shock fender, chainstay protector, and bolt-in fork bumpers

• Di2 electronics compatible with internal stealth battery port

• Internal cable and brake routing

• PressFit BB107 bottom bracket, drop-in IS42|52 headset, 157mm axle spacing, ISCG-05 tabs

• Sizing: S/M/L/XL

Geometry:

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There is a lot of interesting tech going on with this bike, and I’m about ready for bed, so check out BIKES.COM/MAIDEN for the lowdown on the result of four years of development.

There will be four models and a frameset:

MAIDEN UNLIMITED SIDE

Unlimited — $10,499

MAIDEN WORLD CUP SIDE

World Cup — $6,999

MAIDEN PRO SIDE
Pro — $5,499

MAIDEN PARK SIDE
Park — $4,499

Maiden Unlimited Frame Only C1 (Black) side

Frame Only — $3,999

Hopefully we’ll get our first ride on the Maiden next week at Crankworx, stay tuned.

 

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One Bike Challenge: Is the quiver killer finally possible?


Last year when working on the 2015 editorial calendar for Dirt Rag, I realized the holy grail might finally be found.

Found is really the wrong word, and maybe the grail is the wrong metaphor, but who doesn’t love a good Indiana Jones reference? In any case, the grail I’m referring to is a single mountain bike that can handle all the riding I would want to do in a year, and do them all well enough that I wouldn’t regret not taking another bike that was more suited to the task at hand. And I had to have fun. Having to suffer through an event due to poor bike choice is never any fun.

In any given year I might be taking part in endurace events (100 milers, stage races), attempting to not crash too hard in a bike park, or exorcising demons on a bike-camping trip. That is a tall order to ask of a single bike, and an even taller order to ask when the rider (me) has access to bikes that are designed with a focus on just such events.

With all that in mind, I picked three events to see if a modern trail bike could really do it all.

Bikepacking

I planned a multi-day trip in the wilds of central Pennsylvania. With plenty of little-used pavement, dirt roads and singletrack, this would be a true test of my route finding and the bike’s ability handle a variety of terrain with the load of a self-contained camping set up.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: RSD Mutant rigid steel 29plus, a model that is now replaced with the Big Chief.

Endurance

I decided it was time to revisit the Wilderness 101. The last time I rode it was at least a decade ago, on a rigid Karate Monkey with terrible cable disc brakes, terrible IRC Mythos tires, and an inadvertently terrible 34-18 gear choice. It was a top 5 hardest day ever on the bike for me. And I’ve had a lot of hard days on the bike.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: Black Cat Custom 29er hardtail singlespeed

Bike Park

The Chomolungma Challenge at Snowshoe Bike Park is not the most well know downhill race, but it deserves more attention. Chomolungma translates as “Goddess Mother of Mountains,” a name used by Tibetans for the mountain we know as Everest. What does this have to do with Snowshoe, a much smaller hill nowhere near Tibet? Everest is 29,029 feet tall. 20 laps of the Western Territory at Snowshoe is roughly 30,000 feet. Line up some racers and see who can do it the quickest. Simple.

I did this race a few years ago on a downhill bike, and for the most part enjoyed it, even with a broken derailleur cable for the last five laps or so. This was also the race the broke our circulation guy’s shoulder. (This was a awful as it sounds)

Unfortunately due to deadline timing, I won’t actually be able to take part in the race, but I’ll travel to Snowshoe to do the laps to simulate the carnage. I’ll miss the nice ladies handing out drinks and snacks in the lift lines during the race.

What I’d be riding if I wasn’t on the “One Bike”: KTM Lycan LT 271.

The One Bike

I had a list of mid- to long-travel 29ers that I was working from when this idea was hatched. The big wheels are more suited to the endurance and bike packing parts of this challenge, and the bigger wheels would hopefully make up for some of the short travel when attempting to not die at the bike park. Some riders wondered why I wasn’t using a longer travel 27.5 bike, but I felt the bigger wheels and shorter travel were more important for the two longer events.

One by one the 29ers fell by the wayside. Some where about to be redesigned, some companies didn’t return my calls or emails, and some were being sold at a faster rate than they could be made leaving none for the begging media.

So I started searching again. And hit upon this:

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That is a picture of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition. A few emails to Andres Hestler, and the bike was at my door.

Yes, it “only” has 27.5 wheels. Everything else about it is just about perfect. A 130 mm Pike fork is sturdy enough for Snowshoe, but not so long and heavy as to be a huge hinderance bikepacking or attempting to make quick work of 101 miles. The carbon frame keeps weight down. A dropper post is must, obviously. The real key that sold me on the Thunderbolt is Rocky’s Ride9 geometry adjust technology.

Via a simple chip system, head angle can be adjusted from 68.2 degrees to a delightfully slack 66.5-degrees. That is among the slackest available for a bike with a 130 mm front end, at least for a stock bike. Ride-9 also allows for adjustments for a more linear or progressive shock rate, and for lighter or heavier riders. This sounds pretty ideal for my uses. A single bolt holds the chips in place, although in the slackest setting, the frame blocks access to the air valve, making shock tuning a bit of a pain.

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I’m limiting myself to only tire and cockpit changes. I’ve made some swaps to stock parts to get some extra time on components I’m reviewing, but nothing that changes the nature of the bike.

Stay tuned for the changes I made for each challenge, the gear that helped me finish, and finally the big write up in the pages of our magazine. Subscribe right now and you might be in time for the full test to arrive in your mail box.

 

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First look at the new Rocky Mountain Sherpa


We first got a look at the Sherpa concept last spring at the Sea Otter Classic, and now one year later Rocky Mountain is ready to introduce the bike to the world.

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Built around the 27plus tires—in this case WTB’s 2.8 Trailblazers—the Sherpa is loosely based on the Element 29er and contains much of the technology found on other Rocky Mountain bikes, including the SmoothLink suspension design. The inspiration for the bike actually came from WTB’s tires, Rocky Mountain said, and they found it fit perfectly with the kind of backcountry exploration that is becoming more popular.

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With 95 mm of travel in the rear through a new Manitou shock, the carbon front triangle is paired with aluminum rear swingarm with a standard 142×12 rear hub, not the new Boost hub. To fit the chain around the tire Rocky Mountain partnered with RaceFace to make a Turbine crankset with an 83 mm spindle to widen the Q factor a bit. Up front the suspension duty is handled by a Mantiou Magnum 120 mm fork (also new) which is Boost sized with a 110mm hub.

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Rocky Mountain readily admits that the concept isn’t for everyone, and won’t be replacing any other products in its lineup, but is an option for mountain bikers who love exploring as much as shredding.

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The Sherpa will be available in four sizes for $4,500.

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From Rocky Mountain: Early in Spring 2015 we headed down to Arizona for a few days of desert overland bikepacking. The roll-call included Olympian Andreas Hestler, freeriders Wade Simmons and Geoff Gulevich, renowned filmmaker Brian Vernor, and Rocky Mountain product guy Alex Cogger. The first goal was to escape the Pacific Northwest winter, and the second goal was to test our new Sherpa bike.

The Black Canyon Trail runs roughly 80 miles North to South. Beginning on a high plateau, it winds through rolling grasslands before descending into a landscape of Saguaros, Chollas, and other Sonoran Desert flora. We were treated to chilly nights and frosty desert mornings, but once that sun rose, wool layers were peeled and we had to contend with the steady, relentless heat of the day. The landscape we encountered was fully alien to us, full of incredibly beautiful things just waiting to stab you the moment you stray from the trail. Between the bullet-holes in everything and the buck-naked rider we ran into on day three, it was clear this trip was about getting weird in the desert.

 

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Review: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770


Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #180. To make sure you never miss a bike review, order a subscription today. You’ll be helping to support your independent mountain bike forum.

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The Thunderbolt is an all-new offering in Rocky Mountain’s 2014 lineup. With its 120mm of front and rear travel, this 27.5-inch platform is Rocky’s general-purpose XC bike, slotting between the company’s Element XC race and Instinct trail bikes.

There are four models in the Thunderbolt lineup made from aluminum using Rocky Mountain’s SmoothLink suspension. This fully active design positions the rear chainstay pivot above the rear axle to keep the “average” chain-torque line parallel to the line between main pivot and rear pivot. According to Rocky Mountain, this configuration provides a wide gear range where pedaling neither compresses nor stiffens the suspension.

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The flagship 770 model is decked out with a FOX Float remote CTD rear shock and 32 Float 120 FIT remote CTD fork (with thru-axle). On a 120mm XC-oriented bike, a 32mm fork seems the proper blend of weight consciousness and abuse-absorbing performance. No complaints from this XC guy.

The SmoothLink suspension feels very active over small bumps, offering supple compliance with little resistance to initial movement. I like it like that. For all-around recreational riding, I set the CTD (Climb-Trail-Descend) switch in the Descend mode (the lowest level of compression damping). During seated pedaling, there was very little suspension bob. It may seem counterintuitive, but I preferred the Descend mode for in-the-saddle climbing. The active suspension kept the rear wheel planted and clawing up sketchy inclines. Climbing prowess is one of this bike’s strong suits.

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The firmer-feeling Trail mode came in handy on technically challenging trails that had me frequently moving in and out of the saddle or exerting a lot of body English. The bike felt more settled with the increased compression damping. I could see riders who prefer a firmer suspension platform sacrificing some initial compliance and running Trail mode as their default. Since pedaling out of the saddle would get the party bouncing, standing climbs were best dispatched in the Climb mode (lockout).

That’s the magic of an active suspension coupled with the remote CTD control. The suspension is super responsive by nature, but it can be fine-tuned via compression damping to match conditions and/or rider preferences. At the flip of a switch, you can have it your way. You want fries with that?

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For a 120mm XC bike, the Thunderbolt feels surprisingly bottomless and capable at absorbing big hits. The SmoothLink suspension’s end-of-stroke spring rate ramps up to prevent harsh bottoming out without killing the responsiveness through the rest of the travel range. Just point those 27.5-inch wheels into the rubble and crank to daylight. There’s
 no wallow in the mid-range, and with the 12x142mm thru-axle securely tying the rear end together, the tail doesn’t wag the dog. Factor in the good pedaling performance and there’s no doubt that this is a very well-behaved XC suspension design.

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Rocky Mountain gave this versatile XC rig all-arounder geometry to match its multitalented character. Short-ish 16.8-inch chainstays make for an agile bike that grooves across a packed dance floor without stepping on toes. The “lengthened from traditional Rocky Mountain designs” top tube stretches the wheelbase to an appropriately stable 45.3 inches. The short rear balances the long front, and the combination creates an XC bike that reacts nimbly in technical situations, yet feels sure-footed when carving a fast corner or letting ’er rip down a steep chute. The 24.2-inch top tube on the size large also plays well with the short-ish 80mm stem and 725mm-wide handlebar (both of the Race Face Turbine flavor).

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The bike’s 68.5-degree head-tube angle is a balancing act in and of itself. The Thunderbolt’s steering response feels smack dab in the middle of the XC range: snappy without crossing the line into twitchy territory. The Thunderbolt doesn’t have the “plow factor” of slacker bikes, but that’s not a complaint; rather, it’s a reminder of this bike’s XC intent.

The 13-inch-tall bottom bracket helps keep the weight low-slung. Still, it wasn’t until I replaced the stock Race Face Turbine post with
a FOX D.O.S.S. dropper that the Thunderbolt’s needle moved from
the middle of the XC range into trail-bike play land. Dropping down enhanced high-speed stability and inspired me to carry more speed through corners. Lean, carve, repeat. Appropriately, the Thunderbolt provides both internal (stealth) cable routing as well as external cable guides for a dropper seatpost. Aesthetically, two remote controls (CTD and dropper) made for handlebar spaghetti, but functionally everything was duck soup.

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The rate-limiting factor in corners was the cornering traction of the Continental X-King tires (27.5×2.2 inches). I could push the Thunder- bolt hard into a turn and everything would be fine and dandy until one or both of the tires would break free and skitter sideways. I under- stand that X-Kings are all-around XC tires, and Rocky Mountain’s product manager told me that the next tire in Conti’s lineup was “too far over to the trail side of riding” for the Thunderbolt’s intent. I get those points, but personally speaking, give me a set of Mountain King IIs and call it nirvana.

The stock X-Kings are tubeless-ready and come mounted on Stan’s NoTubes ZTR Crest rims (with tubeless-ready rim tape applied). I ditched the tubes, added my own valve stems and Stan’s NoTubes sealant, and rolled tubeless during this test. The ZTR Crests are sweet XC rims that would work great on race day, should one be so inclined.

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Recently we learned that Rocky Mountain will trim this 770 model from the 2015 Thunderbolt lineup. The top shelf will be occupied by the new carbon Thunderbolt MSL series, which offers even shorter chainstays, lower stand-over, RIDE-9 adjustability, and new pivot technologies.

Moving forward, the aluminum Thunderbolt range will top out at the 750 model ($3,300). If you have $4,000 in your wallet and act fast, you may still be able to score a 770 while they last. Its component highlights include a Shimano XTR Shadow rear derailleur and XT shifters/brakes/hubs/front derailleur, a Race Face Turbine crankset and Team XC Press-Fit bottom bracket, and a Cane Creek 10-series headset.

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The Thunderbolt is a versatile XC whip that is equally at home flying through open flow trails, slashing through tight spots, or hunker
ing down and powering through chunk. Be forewarned: Throwing 
a leg over this well-mannered 27.5-incher may induce a Goldilocks epiphany, when enlightenment strikes and everything feels “just right.” Go ahead, I dare you.

 

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First Impressions: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt


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The Thunderbolt is an all-new model in Rocky Mountain’s 2014 lineup. With its 120mm of travel, this 27.5 dual-boinger is Rocky’s general-purpose “XC” platform. The Thunderbolt slots in between the company’s Element “XC race” and Instinct “trail” bikes. Mind you, the folks from BC have high expectations of what an XC bike should do. Product manager Ken Perras told me, “The bike is designed to put the fun back into XC riding. That means hitting the lines reserved for something with a bit more travel, linking up those roots into a double, and letting go of the brakes on that crazy chute.” Read the full story

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