Rocky Mountain Blizzard Fat Bike
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
MSRP: $2699 (at the time of this review)
When Rocky Mountain announced their Blizzard Fatbike last year, I was smitten. I immediately contacted them for a review. Rocky Mountain was one of the first brands to start the freeride revolution, and their bikes forever changed the sport of Mountain Biking. Now that they've entered the Fatbike world, they've shaking it up again.
This is a stunning bike. In fact, this may be the most beautiful bike I've ever seen. Bold lines, killer BC-inspired Native American graphics, HUGE tires, and a bluto suspension fork really set this bike apart. Staying true to their Vancouver BC roots, the Blizzard sports a Native American theme backed by a matte black frame.
The Blizzard has an all-aluminum frame with a Rock Shox Bluto front suspension fork, Shimano SLX hydraulic disc brakes, a 2x10 drivetrain powered with SLX shifters and an XT rear derailleur, a custom porcelain rocket frame bag, and a smattering of raceface parts like cranks, stem, and bars. The wheels have wheeltech fatso hubs laced to SunRingle Mulefut 80mm wide rims with 4.7 inch Vee Rubber Bulldozer tires. While this bike does not come with a dropper post, it is set up to run one in the future should you desire to add one. For the price, the Blizzard is very well spec’d.
ON THE SNOW
In case the "Blizzard" name didn't give it away, the 4.7" fat tires should give you an idea of what this bike was built for: dominating the snow. Before fatbikes, winter in the snowy states meant storing the bike for several months, and watching MTB videos wishing it were summer again. Fatbikes, with their wide tires, enable a rider to ride on a packed (or unpacked) snow and continue the mountain biking season through the winter months. Even the ski areas and national forests are starting to catch on, with many of them grooming fatbike-specific trails. Fatbiking is not a fad; it's here to stay.
The Blizzard's tires are FATTER than most other fat bike tires, at 4.7" wide. Until you see these in person, you won't believe how wide they are. Tires this wide means, coupled with the 80mm wide rim means you can run insanely low pressures (2-3 psi), and have traction on just about any surface, whether it be snow, ice, sand, dirt, or even pavement (though I recommend far more than 3 psi for pavement).
At 15 psi (far more than the recommended PSI for snow/ice), the Blizzard was able to ride flat snowy trails quite well. Once the trails started to point up, however, the bike favored lower pressure (as do all fatbikes). Around 2-3 psi, I found that this bike could not be stopped. Even though they were buried beneath 6 inches of snow, I could climb all my summer trails. The traction available was unbelievable!
Even though the insanely low psi of the Blizzard allowed it to climb up and down the sketchiest of terrain, cornering was an entirely different story. For a moment, I would forget that I was riding on snow, and then came a corner and WHAM! down I went. Cornering on the snow is best done at moderate to low speeds, with lots of forethought and planning. So even though the tires have excellent grip when climbing and braking, you need to remember that you're riding on frozen water, not tacky hero dirt.
ON THE DIRT
We need to remember that this bike was designed primarily for climbing in the snow. However, we're all seeing more and more fatbikes showing up on our local singletrack trails. Surely you have a friend or two who sold their full-suspension in favor for a fatbike year round. How does the Blizzard stack up on the dirt?
Let's not fool ourselves, this is a big bike with big tires. It doesn't ride like a dirt jumper or your favorite enduro machine. It rides like a 1996 Ford Bronco with a 6" lift and 37" mud terrain tires. It was a completely different experience than riding a typical mountain bike.
Due to the wide rims and wide tires, this bike really had a tendency to self-steer on the hardpack. Unless the tire pressures were above 25 psi, keeping the front end under control required a lot of concentration and effort. The gyroscopic effect was strong as well. At low speeds, this was less noticeable, but at speeds of ~ 20mph and faster, it was a chore to keep the front tire straight. Most of this is due to the wide rims, wide tires, and the poor front tire tread of the Vee Rubber bulldozer tires. We heard from a fellow Blizzard owner that swapping the front tire to run backwards helped reduce the self-steer, and he was right, but it didn't completely eliminate it. We predict that slightly narrower rims and a different tire tread will help reduce the self-steer and make the bike more enjoyable on the hardpack. But let's not forget that this bike was designed first and foremost for the snow.
The Bluto did a fantastic job quieting trail chatter. With a medium psi in the rear tire (10-18 psi), the tire would eat a lot of the bumps that would otherwise plague an XC race hardtail. However, we need to remember that tires are no replacement for suspension. There's no rebound or damping control, so at higher speeds, don't expect the ride of a full-suspension. At moderate and slow speeds, this bike was extremely comfortable, even on chunky sections. The traction with these wide tires is insane. Gravel, sand, and loose rock were no match for this bike. It clawed its way through whatever terrain it was on for traction.
On a 60 mile bikepacking trip, the Blizzard was fantastic. The included frame bag, while smaller than it should have been, was really well built and really helped keep the essentials mounted on the bike. This bike handled extended hours in the saddle like a champ, and gravel roads were more comfortable than on any other bike I've ridden. I'm a big fan of the bluto on all conditions. I'll never own a fatbike without a bluto.
All this being said, this bike was not my first choice for dry conditions, and it didn't leave me wanting to sell my other bikes and ride the Blizzard in all conditions. It wasn't playful, jumpy, or very nimble in the fast, flowy sections because of its geometry...
Geometry is personal; VERY personal. Everyone loves something different in their bikes, so take my reviews in this section with a grain of salt. This is my opinion, which reflects my style and preferences. I'm a huge geometry nut; geometry is everything. If a bike is poorly spec’d, but it has a killer geometry, I'm going to love it. If it has the best parts in the world, with horrible geometry, I'm going to hate it. The geometry on this bike fels a bit dated, and frankly, it made the bike difficult for me to love. With its long chainstays and relatively conservative head tube angle, the Blizzard is a climbing machine. Regardless of the terrain, it just wants to climb and climb and climb. The short top-tube means the bars are closer than today's modern enduro machines. That means quick, tight, predictable handling at slow speeds, and twitchy, cramped handling at high speeds. Granted, this bike wasn't built to bomb downhill at Mach 2, but I continually found myself over-riding the bike. It didn't handle quick direction changes, pumping, manualing, and jumping very well at all due to its compact front and long rear. For this reason alone, I gave the bike 4 stars out of 5. I expected a lot more from Rocky Mountain, especially considering their freeriding roots. However, if you look at their entire 2015 lineup, they tend to favor longer chainstays, steeper head angles, and shorter top tubes. Some people will love this geometry, but for me, it was the opposite of playful.
Perhaps I'm not being fair and I'm expecting this bike to be a Swiss-Army knife. It was clearly designed for snowy riding, and it did quite well at that (especially the climbs). However, this bike didn't feel even a little bit nimble, flickable, or playful. I like a bike that very fun when pointed downhill. I'm the type of guy who likes to pump every roller, jump off every small transition, and really throw it around on the turns. If that riding style describes you, chances are you'll find the geometry rather underwhelming. Rocky Mountain easily had another 1" they could have shortened the chainstay. If they had done that, added an inch or two to the top tube, and slackened out the head angle a few degrees, they would have one of the funnest fat bikes out there. I'm not the most advanced rider on the planet, but I can bunny-hop 5 gal bucket just fine on most bikes, but on this bike, it took all I had to hop up a curb.
WHAT IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE GEOMETRY I LIKE?
You're in luck. There are some people who really like this geometry. I have a buddy, and avid mountain biker of over 25 years, who sold all his bikes because he loves his Blizzard so much. He rides it for everything: snow, bikepacking, xc, singletrack, sand, slickrock, you name it. The long rear end keeps it planted on climbs (even on very slippery climbs), and it can carry an amazing amount of weight without changing the handling much. At high speeds above 25 mph, however, the bike starts to show its weakness. Here are my predictions of how different riders would rate the geometry of this bike.
Riders who like to pump, jump, flow, and throw the bike around: 3/5 stars
Riders who like to do leisurely rides through the woods: 5/5 stars
Riders who want to bikepack long distances and need a wide tire to do so: 5/5 stars
Riders who like to do XC style riding, climbing, or workouts in the snow: 5/5 stars
Riders who want to hit every corner as fast as they can in the snow and jump off buried logs: 3/5 stars
No bike is immune to problems. Our test Blizzard only had one problem in the hundreds of miles we logged on it: the rear hub. On the first few rides, the rear hub skipped a few teeth every now and then. It felt like the chain was broken for 2 seconds, then it caught back on. This was a little unnerving, especially when cranking up a climb, sprinting out of the saddle. Not good. It happened a few more times on those rides. I took it home, took it apart and greased the freehub and pawls, but it still skipped on the next ride. After that, I put a hundred miles on the bike with zero skips. It was weird, but it never gave me another issue since. Apart from that, the bike was flawless.
SUMMARYIn closing, I really wanted the geometry of the bike to match its amazing looks and components. Some people will feel that this is the best bike out there. Unfortunately for me, the geometry got in the way of it being a playful and fun bike to ride. It felt more like a purpose-built tool than a toy. In all fairness, it did exactly what it was designed to do: get me out riding in the snow on my regular trails. I just had to take it easy and not over-ride the bike or expect a playful ride.
I think this bike will really appeal to non-aggressive riders who just want to get out, get some exercise, and log some miles in the snow, sand, or bikepacking. With a few tweaks, Rocky Mountain could easily make this one of my favorite bikes, but I realize I'm probably in the minority, and they'd end up bugging more people than they'd please.