Review: Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 750 MSL

First announced in late 2013, the Thunderbolt was billed as being equally at home on long, technical climbs as it is on flowy singletrack descents, having you powering through the rough stuff and popping off every trail feature you lay your eyes on. This was quite a bold claim for a bike with 120mm travel and labelled as a XC/ Trail bike.

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 13.jpg

 

The Frame


Available in aluminium and carbon in a wide range of specifications, including a BC Edition meant for even harder riding and a frame only option, there is a Thunderbolt for most budgets and rider. Rocky Mountain have opted for bushings rather than bearings for their lower weight and increased lifespan. There are grease ports to make servicing the bike quick and easy which will increase the life of the bushings and save on maintenance costs. Cartridge bearings have completely been eliminated from the Thunderbolt's pivot locations. This was made possible thanks to Rocky Mountain's new Pipelock main pivot. The Pipelock uses an expanding collet housed inside the large diameter hollow axle to lock the axle into the frame while also applying even pressure to the bushings making for a stiff and responsive frame.

 

As is becoming increasingly common, internal routing is used on the Thunderbolt. The rear derailleur housing and the hydraulic hose for the RockShox Reverb run inside the downtube while the rear brake is routed outside the frame. A screw-on access plate is located on the downtube close to the bottom bracket to allow easy access to the internally routed housing, and it also makes the bike compatible with Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting system by creating a spot to mount the battery. There is room for a full size water bottle to fit inside the front triangle, and another one can be carried on the underside of the downtube.

 


Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 4.jpg

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The bike's geometry and suspension feel can be altered using Rocky Mountain's Ride-9 shock mount system. By unscrewing a bolt and changing the position of the two inserts located at the shock's forward mounting point, riders can choose from a total of 9 different options, selecting everything from a steeper, more plush setup, to one with the slackest head angle and most progressive suspension feel. The head angle can range from 67.2° to 68.4°, and the corresponding seat tube angle goes from 73.7° - 75.3°.

 

 

The Smoothlink suspension, a four-bar system which, unlike the Horst Link, places its chainstay pivot above rather than below the axle. Rocky Mountain claims it keeps the bike active across a wider range of gear ratios and enhances bump absorption without affecting pedaling efficiency. During my time on the bike I did not notice any signs to proof otherwise.

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 10.jpg

 

Components


Fork: With a 120mm worth of travel on offer the Fox 32 certainly feels stiffer than it does at 140 or 150mm, but when pushed hard it still shows signs of flex. A RockShox Revelation would be my cure for this or for those who plan to hammer their Thunderbolt day in and day out, the BC Edition with the 130mm Pike will be a better option.

 

Drivetrain: A 2x10 Race Face Aeffect SL crank powers a mixed SLX/XT drivetrain that performed flawlessly throughout the review period. Shifting was good and the cranks stiff enough to not give away anything the frame puts on the table.

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 8.jpg

 

Brakes: Shimano's SLX is the brake of choice on the 750 MSL. I would run 180mm front and rear to keep the speed the bike is capable of in check when needed. Other than that I was happy with them and they certainly do offer great value for money.

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 12.jpg

 

Seatpost: Another bike, another RockShox Reverb that just gets on with it and works as advertised. The only thing to note here is I prefer a right hand lever mounted on the bottom of the left hand side of the grip. It is easier to reach the lever with your thumb and requires less movement in the wrist meaning you will be gripping the handlebar even when actuating the dropper.

 

Wheelset: The Wheeltech Helix TR25 (by SUNRINGLÉ) rims are tubeless compatible. Laced to Shimano Centrelock hubs they are functional rather than headline grabbing. At 20.8mm internal width and 24.8mm external, I found them on the narrow side, but they do appear capable of outlasting many a gnarly trail.

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 1.jpg

 

Tires: The 750 MSL comes stock with a Maxxis Ardent in front and a Maxxis Ardent Race in the rear. The bike I rode was shod with an Onza Ibex 2.25 front and Vittoria Barzo 2.25 rear. It was my first time riding the Barzo and felt it was a good fit for the Thunderbolt. Unless you are running a pure XC rear tire or semi-slick, you will be hard pressed to find a tire that offers the balance of speed and grip of the Barzo. Under hard braking it does lose grip and slide, but it is predictable and within limits of what you would expect from the tread design.

 

The Onza Ibex is a great fit for this bike. Offering grip in spades without sacrificing out-right speed.

 


Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 5.jpg

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Saddle: WTB's Volt Race is a comfortable saddle to spend a day on with good support and a pressure relief channel that runs the length of the saddle.

 

Full Specification

[spec_list][spec_list_row='Frame']Smoothwall Carbon. Bc2 Pivots & Grease Ports. Pipelock Main Pivot. Press Fit BB. Ride-9 Adjustable Geometry & Suspension Rate. Di2 Ready.[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Size']XS - S - M - L - XL[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Fork']Fox 32 Float Fit4. 120mm. Rebound / Firm - Medium - Open Settings / Tapered Steerer[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Shock']Fox Float DPS Remote Custom Valved. Smoothlink Design 120mm. Rebound / Remote Firm - Medium - Open Settings[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Headset']FSA Orbit C-40: IS42mm Top / 52mm Bottom Tapered[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Stem']RMB 6° X 60-80mm[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Handlebar']Race Face Evolve 1/2 Rise 31.8mm X 750mm X 9° Sweep[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Grips']Rocky Mountain Lock On XC[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Brakes']Shimano SLX Hydraulic Disc 180/160mm[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Brake Levers']Shimano SLX I-spec Shifter Mount[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Shifters']Shimano SLX Rapid Fire I-spec 2x10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Front Derailleur']Shimano SLX E Mount 2x10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Rear Derailleur']Shimano XT Shadow Plus Direct Mount 10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Cranks and Chainrings']Race Face Aeffect Sl Cinch 170-175mm 38/24T 2x10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Bottom Bracket']Race Face Team XC Press Fit[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Cassette']Shimano HG50 11-36t 10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Chain']Shimano HG54 10spd[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Front Hub']Shimano / Centerlock / 32h / 15mm Axle[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Rear Hub']Shimano / Centerlock / 32h / 12 X 142mm Axle[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Spokes']WTB 2.0-1.8 Butted[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Rims']Wheeltech Helix TR25 Tubeless Compatible By Sunringlé[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Tires']Maxxis Folding F: Ardent 27.5" X 2.25" R: Ardent Race 27.5" X 2.2"[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Seatpost']Rockshox Reverb Stealth 30.9mm X 350-420mm[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Saddle']WTB Volt Race[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Weigth']12.6 kg[/spec_list_row][spec_list_row='Retail Price']R62,900[/spec_list_row][/spec_list]

 

Features

  • Fully Di2 compatible with integrated battery stealth port in down tube
  • Internal cable, shock, and stealth dropper post routings keep cables neatly stowed
  • Easy internal cable management with down tube stealth port
  • 142mm E-Thru rear axle increases stiffness
  • BB92 pressfit bottom bracket provides maximum lateral stiffness
  • Grease ports on BC2TM and PIPELOCK pivots allow for fast and easy maintenance
  • Travel: 120mm (F) / 120mm ®
  • Wheel Size: 27.5"
  • Intended Use: XC Trail

On the Trail


Heading out on my first ride, I was a little worried about the bike's trail and single track manners as it proved to be a very good climber. Once dialled te rear suspension offers a great balance between pedaling platform and small bump sensitivity.. Tackling technical climbs on the Thunderbolt turned out to be a stand out feature. It chows loose ascents with conviction and makes light work of sections that would otherwise have left you standing next to your bike.

 

The Thunderbolt shows even more speed when pedaling along on flowing, rolling trails. Even in the slackest setting there are no signs of compromise and it is happy being a mile-muncher. Hit some single track and the Thunderbolt comes alive. For a bike that is stable at speed it came as a bit of a surprise just how agile it is. Direction changes come at breakneck speeds if you so wish. There are no signs of it being twitchy or nervous which is a testimony to its sorted geometry and component spec. The handlebar at 750mm gives enough leverage to manoeuvre around and through the tightest sections.

 

Look closer at the Thunderbolt's numbers and you will soon understand why it is so easy to flick the bike around and get the front wheel off the ground for a manual. Super short chainstays (422mm) adds a big doze of fun to the Thunderbolts character.

 

Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 14.jpg

 

Amazingly enough none of this came at the expense of cross-country speed. It is light and stiff enough to be raced on weekends with the ability to flick it into racing mode with the RIDE-9 system, you won't feel like you are riding a cumbersome trail bike. The ability to change the geometry to suit a racing stance is a big bonus. Reach of the size Large we had on review is good at 443mm in its slackest setting and 460mm in its steepest setting. Add this to the pedal friendly 73.7° - 75.3° seat angles and you have a bike that is as suited to technical trail riding as it is to racing.

 

Cross-country racers should sit up and take note of this bike. With courses becoming increasingly technical and the usual open road sections of marathon racing making way for twisty sections, the Thunderbolt could be a great weapon as it gets up to speed fast and holds momentum well.

 

Verdict


The Thunderbolt 750 MSL is one of the first bikes I have ridden that felt like it had the attitude of a 26" with the speed of a 29" bike. Whether blasting through gnarly rock gardens, around tight switchbacks going up or down or giving it gas on fast, open sections this bike is happy to play along and do so with confidence. If it was a car the Thunderbolt would be a pocket rocket - punching above its weight class and bringing sport car performance to an everyday car. The GTI of mountain bikes.

 




22 Comments

KarlvN, Apr 12 2016 08:10

Pricing for the alu?

Captain Fastbastard Mayhem, Apr 12 2016 09:16

Still loving this thing and its intended purpose. Was on my shortlist for bikes when looking last year. Would LOVE to have one as my 2nd bike

NicoBoshoff, Apr 12 2016 09:25

Still loving this thing and its intended purpose. Was on my shortlist for bikes when looking last year. Would LOVE to have one as my 2nd bike

Ja, I don't think I'd want this as the ONE bike, but as one OF my bikes?  Hell yes.  I reckon this and an Enduro and you're golden.  But more than one bike?  Ain't nobody got time for that.

Captain Fastbastard Mayhem, Apr 12 2016 09:40

Ja, I don't think I'd want this as the ONE bike, but as one OF my bikes? Hell yes. I reckon this and an Enduro and you're golden. But more than one bike? Ain't nobody got time for that.


Absolutely. When I think of a trail bike in addition to the reign, I just remember that with a few more psi in the suspension and lighter tyres my reign is more than capable. Especially given that I can lower the fork to 130mm which makes a big difference to how it climbs (seat tune angle)

Meezo, Apr 12 2016 09:42

Absolutely. When I think of a trail bike in addition to the reign, I just remember that with a few more psi in the suspension and lighter tyres my reign is more than capable. Especially given that I can lower the fork to 130mm which makes a big difference to how it climbs (seat tune angle)

 

don't do it, nobody cares about going uphill anymore, its all #enduro

TheJ, Apr 12 2016 03:18

After over 20 years in the sport, I am clearly getting too poor to keep getting the nice stuff. My eyes start watering if I have to lay out over R20k for a bike. Probably why I hand down parts to myself from previous bikes to keep the nice stuff rolling longer.

Matchstix, Apr 12 2016 10:37

Love the BC edition. Dream bike for me

Iwan Kemp, Apr 13 2016 12:01

Still loving this thing and its intended purpose. Was on my shortlist for bikes when looking last year. Would LOVE to have one as my 2nd bike

 

Jaco (ex Bike Shed) says he's had his for 2.5 months. Goes on to say he hasn't ridden his Altitude in 2.5 months! 

Iwan Kemp, Apr 13 2016 12:08

Pricing for the alu?

 

Checked with the importers for you and they only have stock of this model at the moment. Will update once we know more on new stock arriving.

Desi, Apr 13 2016 02:28

Checked with the importers for you and they only have stock of this model at the moment. Will update once we know more on new stock arriving.

Do they have pricing on any of the models/frames yet?

Captain Fastbastard Mayhem, Apr 13 2016 02:32

Jaco (ex Bike Shed) says he's had his for 2.5 months. Goes on to say he hasn't ridden his Altitude in 2.5 months!


For him to say that...

MarcHD, Apr 13 2016 10:29

Do they have pricing on any of the models/frames yet?

Hi Desi,

 

I represent This Way Out at Contermanskloof (formerly The Bike Shed)

We currently have various sized models of both 2015 and 2014 alloy Thunderbolt's.

 

We are currently offering huge discounts on our older models as well as on our 2016 models.

Note that only the 750 msl featured in this review is available in the 2016 range, however special requests can be accommodated depending on international stock levels.

 

Let me know if you would like me to get in touch with you regarding demo rides or simply viewing the bikes at any of our three stores.

 

Thanks again for the superb review Iwan! 

 

Cheers

Slowbee, Apr 14 2016 07:24

if you had to compare this with a giant anthem 650, which gives you the better value?

Desi, Apr 14 2016 08:22

Hi Desi,

 

I represent This Way Out at Contermanskloof (formerly The Bike Shed)

We currently have various sized models of both 2015 and 2014 alloy Thunderbolt's.

 

We are currently offering huge discounts on our older models as well as on our 2016 models.

Note that only the 750 msl featured in this review is available in the 2016 range, however special requests can be accommodated depending on international stock levels.

 

Let me know if you would like me to get in touch with you regarding demo rides or simply viewing the bikes at any of our three stores.

 

Thanks again for the superb review Iwan! 

 

Cheers

Hi Marc,

I might pop into Contermanskloof or Meerendal store today.

Desi

Iwan Kemp, Apr 16 2016 08:32

if you had to compare this with a giant anthem 650, which gives you the better value?

 

This bike has been knocked down from R74k so there's already "value" at that price. This is a completely different beast compared to an Anthem, though. It can and will be the perfect one bike for many riders. It is a super capable trail bike that will shred with bikes twice it's size only to race XC the next day! It is not only trail "capable" - it is a proper trail bike. The Ride9 makes it an all round option.

Desi, Apr 16 2016 12:47

Oops... I just bought a Thunderbolt 750. :)

Matchstix, Apr 16 2016 04:21

Niiiiiiceeee!! Don't be shy show off s pictures!

Desi, Apr 16 2016 04:40

Niiiiiiceeee!! Don't be shy show off s pictures!


Haven't taken any yet, but will do tomorrow.

raptor-22, Apr 16 2016 05:01

great bike that I like a lot. 

 

Comparing to an Anthem is a bit unfair as thats more XC/mararthn oriented.

Compared to an Anthem SX its stacks up really well with the Anhem SX having a strong edge in pedalling efficiency.

Coparing to a Trance, the Trance wins it. It just feels more stable and planted whether going p or down. 

My next favourite is the Thunderbolt and Habit. Both are very good but I feel loose out a bit to the Trance with its unrivalled stability

justanotherbiker, Apr 16 2016 05:22

What a beauty. I'll trade my steed for that tomorrow.

I really need to stop looking at new bikes.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Desi, Apr 17 2016 03:01

Maiden voyage.

 

Matchstix, Apr 17 2016 05:30

Very nice!! Took the demo MSL out this morning.