Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt Review
Carbon 90 BC Edition
By Rob “The Rake” Dunnet
Rocky Mountain Bikes arguably helped shape the way we ride mountain bikes today and the Thunderbolt is a prime example of their roots growing stronger. Rocky Mountain was at the forefront of freeride back when riders like Brett Tippie, Wade Simmons, and Richie Schley made the case that race results weren’t all that mattered in a “resume”. Hardcore riding deep in the woods keeps the brand sharp and helps them develop some of the best bikes on the market. We’ve spent quite a bit of time testing the Thunderbolt BC Edition on trails not too far away from their headquarters in British Columbia.
This year’s BC Edition of the Thunderbolt looks a lot like the 2020 Thunderbolt. In years past the BC Edition boasted an extra 10mm of travel and a burlier parts spec. The recently released 2020 Thunderbolt already has increased travel and a similar build kit to the bike we tested so it seems the trend for burlier bikes continues on. The Rocky Mountain website lists it as a 27.5” bike that is 26+ ready.
The Thunderbolt is available in five sizes ranging from XS to XL. All sizes have Rocky’s Ride-9 adjustment system that allows riders to fine-tune geometry and suspension with a pair of Allen keys. Information for adjusting the Ride-9 system can be found on the Rocky Mountain website and it gives a good rundown of how to adjust the geometry/suspension and what the adjustments will do.
The build that we tested isn’t available in 2020 as the carbon Thunderbolt models have gone to Shimano drivetrains. The closest 2020 model to the bike we tested would be the Thunderbolt Carbon 70. Rocky Mountain confirmed that there will not be a BC Edition for 2020 as all of the Thunderbolt models see an increase in travel to 140mm.
The bike we tested came stock with a 140mm Fox 36 and a Fox Float DPS in the rear. The 2020 models come stock with a Fox 34 and the Float DPS. The change from a Fox 36 to a Fox 34 is something we are not thrilled about as we imagine many of their heavier and more aggressive riding fans will agree.
The build spec on the bike we tested has the best of both worlds. GX Eagle components on the drivetrain while Shimano XT brakes control the speed when the bike is pointed downhill. The 2020 bikes see a change from the GX Eagle to Shimano. Not a horrible change by any means.
Our Thunderbolt BC has a Race Face 35mm cockpit that carries over to the 2020 bikes. The bike also has a Race Face dropper post and Race Face ARC 27 rims on DT Swiss 350 hub in the rear and a Rocky Mountain hub in the front. The trusted Minion DHF and DHR II round out the build kit and offer more than enough traction.
We have been on and off this bike since early summer and have ridden a wide variety of trails and terrain all across British Columbia. To be honest this was a hard review to write as we had a love/hate relationship with this bike. And it’s that love/hate relationship that has given us a good idea of who this bike is right for.
Our relationship with this bike started out a bit rough. Our first ride on the Thunderbolt BC can only be described as scary. We set the bike up the same way that we set up a new bike. We set the fork and shock sag, set the compression and rebound, adjusted bar and lever position and checked tire pressure. We went out to a familiar short section of trail and that is when the fear set in. We couldn’t keep the bike online and bounced off a couple of trees before making it back to the truck. The bike rode low in its travel and the suspension felt slow and sluggish. It felt like we were braking late and that the bike lacked traction. We placed the blame on the suspension settings and started from scratch.
After that first ride, we had a good idea of where the suspension was but it took us a while to get it to where we wanted it to be. The rear shock took a couple of rides to figure out, maybe we should have adjusted the Ride-9 settings sooner, but our stubbornness set in and we tinkered with air and rebound to get it to feel right. The Fox 36 that comes stock on the Thunderbolt BC Edition and the 2020 Thunderbolt took us longer to figure out. The fork felt great on fast, flowy sections of trail and then would dive and ride low in its travel on steep technical downhills. Setting the Fox 36 became a game of air pressure adjustments and compression clicks.
Somewhere during the setup phase of the Thunderbolt BC, we realized that maybe the bike needed to be ridden differently than the bikes we were used to riding. We started riding the bike more aggressively and started to enjoy riding the Thunderbolt BC. Instead of going for an afternoon ride we started trying to smash Strava times. We started looping our favorite local trails and started to see our times get faster and faster.
From past experiences, we knew it was only a matter of time that chasing Personal Bests would turn into bouncing off trees and spending the rest of the summer on the couch. We started to dial back a bit on chasing Strava times and found a happy medium of pushing the bike hard and going for an easy lap.
The final set up of the Thunderbolt definitely made it have a bit of a stiffer ride. Small bump compliance was sacrificed for a bike that rode high in its travel. It also resulted in the bike feeling a bit harsh on initial impacts before smoothing out into the rest of the travel. The suspension settings made it easy to maintain speed and railed berms, making it almost too easy to burp tires. We ended up running more air pressure in the tires, which made the bike roll faster and put us right back into the hot lap zone. We basically turned the Thunderbolt BC into a 140mm travel rocket ship. Long story short, it’s hard to not ride this bike fast.
Climbing on the Thunderbolt was similar to descending, it needed to be ridden aggressively. We found that sitting down on steep technical climbs caused the front end to come up a bit. By leaning forward or standing up and pushing the bike hard on these climbs we were able to get up anything we needed to. The Thunderbolt BC tends to bob up and down a bit with the shock in open mode so we found ourselves using the climb switch on the Fox Float DPS shock. It made a significant difference in climbing performance but on short punchy climbs where both hands were needed it resulted in a slightly inefficient climb.
It wasn’t until three months into this test that we actually fell in love with this bike. We were riding with another Thunderbolt BC Edition owner who also shared some of our sentiments for this bike. During our talk, I realized this bike is like your significant other. They may do things that bother you from time to time and they sure as hell aren’t perfect, but you love them anyway and when things are right, it just clicks.
After a long climb, he suggested that I try a new trail I’d never ridden back to town. As blind corners and ledges came into sight I realized I was having a lot of fun! I had come to peace with my relationship with the Thunderbolt BC. I let off the brakes, pushed my body over the front end and threw caution to the wind. The Thunderbolt BC was my sail and it carried me down.
The Wolf’s Last Word
Every time we rode the Thunderbolt we scared ourselves a little bit and that is something we started to enjoy. It took us longer to get used to the Thunderbolt BC than any other bike we have ridden in a long time. We went from riding slow and feeling uncomfortable to smashing all of our Strava times and riding at the edge of our comfort zone.
If this was the only bike in the garage we would either end up the King of the Mountain on our local descents or on the couch broken from a run-in with a tree. To get the most out of the Thunderbolt BC, it needs to be ridden aggressively. At slow speeds, the bike is a bit harsh and challenging to control. At high speeds, the Thunderbolt BC is a different bike altogether. It is playful, it stays on- line and it feels like a rocket ship. We found seconds being shaved off our times every time we rode a familiar trail. With a bit more time we’re certain we would have found that KOM or the couch limit.
So who is the Thunderbolt BC Edition for?
The Thunderbolt is for an experienced rider who wants to ride a rocket ship. A rider who knows how to get out of trouble quickly because rocket ships are hard to control. It’s for riders who like to tinker and adjust their geometry and suspension. The Ride-9 system can give the bike’s pilot a very different feel depending on the trails, but it will take patience and a refined palate to know what is right. If you’re an aspiring racer, live for the clock or want to grab a tiger by the tail, the Thunderbolt BC will give you run for your money! If you’re just out for a scenic cruise and want to enjoy the sights, it may be better to just admire the beauty of this frame from afar and coast on by.
Frame: Smoothwall Carbon; 140mm
Fork: Fox 36 Float, Performance Elite, 140mm
Shock: Fox Float DPS, Performance Elite, EVOL
Brakes: Shimano XT, Ice Tec rotors; 180mm
Handlebar: Race Face Turbine R, 780mm
Headset: FSA Orbit No.57E
Saddle: WTB Volt Race
Seatpost: Race Face Turbine R
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle; 12s
Stem: Rocky Mountain 35 CNC
Hub: Rocky Mountain (f); DT Swiss 350 Boost (r)
Rim: Race Face ARC27
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF MaxxTerra 3C (f); 27.5 x 2.3”; DHR 2.3” (r)
Bottom Bracket: SRAM BB92 DUB
Cassette: SRAM XG 1275; 10-50T
Cranks: SRAM Stylo Eagle 7k; 34t
Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle; 12s
Loves Getting Wild
Adjustability and Tuning
Takes Times To Learn
Climbing With Shock Open
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