First Look: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition.
Maximum fun — Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt BC Edition.
Rocky Mountain's 2018 lineup has been anything but boring. They released updates on nearly all their full suspension models including the Altitude, Instinct, Pipeline and last but not least the Thunderbolt. We've had a hard time keeping these bikes in stock so we thought we'd hop on one and see what the fuss is all about.
The Thunderbolt is offered in a few different build kits including a heavy duty kit called the BC Edition (tested). If you're looking for a lightweight, spry and nimble "downcountry" bike, you may want to stick with the regular version of the bike. If you're looking to make the Thunderbolt your one and only, we'd suggest going with the BC edition. Arguably, the BC edition is a more versatile, all around performer. The 10mm extra travel and stiffer fork (fox 36) will allow you to ride tougher trails without feeling too outgunned. This isn't an enduro bike however. Its a trail bike through and through. It's still a pretty quick climber and nimble, playful descender. The 27.5" wheels keep steering and cornering nice and tight leading to a very playful ride.
The Thunderbolt is listed on Rocky Mountain's website under the XC category. We certainly wouldn't think of it as an XC bike, rather a smack dab in the middle trail bike. The head tube angle ranges from 65.9-67.1 using Rocky's Ride 9 system. We tested the bike in position 3. In this position the head tube angle comes in at 66.3 and the seat tube angle at 74.3. The reach in size L is 456mm with a wheelbase of 1,189mm. This geometry comes in very close to the new crop of "downcountry" bikes like the Yeti SB 100 and the Santa Cruz Blur. We would argue that the Thunderbolt is a more versatile bike due to the extra travel. The closest bike we could compare this to would be something like the Evil Calling.
While nothing on the C90 BC Edition spec is top-of-the-line, the build offers some of the best value components on the market. The Fox 36 Performance Elite is our favorite fork, GX Eagle is the working class drivetrain and the Raceface cockpit and wheels finish things off nicely.
This isn't an XC bike. It doesn't climb like one. In fact, we were a little surprised to find that it doesn't really climb much better than the Instinct. Don't get us wrong, it's not a poor climber. Don't expect to go chasing the lycra weenies, though. The suspension is rather active while climbing so we usually took advantage of the shock lockout. The active suspension helps with rear wheel traction while climbing techy sections.
The Thunderbolt really shined in tight uphill switchbacks. It took very little english to maneuver the bike around tight corners. Even corners littered with rocks and roots were little competition for the Thunderbolt. When things got really steep, like REALLY steep, the Thunderbolt wanted to wheelie quite a bit. Scooting the saddle forward and dropping the stem a few spacers would help fix the issue, but would also change the downhill abilities of the bike. We might suggest running the Ride 9 in one of the steeper settings to pull your weight forward a little.
It took us a while to figure out who this bike is for. With short-ish travel and small wheels, the Thunderbolt doesn't really fit one of our tidy categories. It's not XC, it's not a traditional short travel 29" trail bike, it's not an enduro bike either. It's a bike for folks who want to maximize the fun. It's nimble and really poppy. It's a confident enough descender to ride hard trails.
In the geometry setting we tested the Thunderbolt, the head tube is slack enough to drop into steep chutes and chunky lines without too much fuss. It does require that you are in the zone and paying attention — no falling asleep on this bike like you can with a long travel 29er. You have to pay attention to line choice and keep things tight. Thankfully that's pretty easy to do with the Thunderbolt. Its steering is precise and changing lines is a breeze. It's one of the most nimble bikes we've ridden lately. It corners on rails. It is made for those riders who look for every bonus line and extra credit feature on the trail. The suspension is supportive enough to pop off the smallest lips.
The Thunderbolt isn't a plush ride — it's not meant to be. Rather it provides good support and makes you bring your A game. Thats not to say it isn't a capable bike either. Just don't expect to surf over the top of every bump on the trail. It eats up bigger hits just fine, keeping the bike under control.
The Thunderbolt might not be the first bike that comes to mind when you're looking for a new trail bike. It's not a typical XC bike. It's not a slouchy enduro bike. What it is though, is a hell of a lot of fun.
Stop by the store to check out our Rocky Mountain Inventory. We are looking forward to bringing in a handful of Rocky demo bikes for 2019. Also take a look at our first impression of the Rocky Mountain Instinct BC.