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Rocky Mountain Growler 50 Review

An aggressive hardtail with the DNA of an enduro bike that comes alive as speeds increase
Rocky Mountain Growler 50
Photo: Laura Casner
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $1,899 List
Pros:  Aggressive geometry, built to last, killer tires
Cons:  May be overkill for riders/trails, sluggish in tight spaces
Manufacturer:   Rocky Mountain
By Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson  ⋅  Mar 7, 2020
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 9
  • Fun Factor - 25% 8
  • Downhill - 30% 10
  • Climbing - 30% 7
  • Build - 15% 8

Our Verdict

The redesigned Rocky Mountain Growler 50 is a hard-charging hardtail with the attitude of an enduro bike. This aggressive bicycle lives for high speeds and can be ridden ridiculously hard for a squish-less bike. It responds very well to an aggressive pilot and loves being smashed through corners and hucked off every roll and bump in the trail. As a result, this bike earned our Top Pick for Best Aggressive hardtail. Don't go thinking this is some clumsy, bulky, bicycle. We were pleasantly surprised by the Growler's climbing abilities. The steep seat tube angle provides a very efficient pedaling position, and it handles well-enough as long as things aren't super tight or techy. At $1899, this bike is a great value as it boasts a solid build kit with fantastic rubber to back-up this bike's rowdy attitude.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $1,899 List$2,150 List$2,579 List$2,399 List$2,100 List
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Pros Aggressive geometry, built to last, killer tiresHigh value, fun on a wide range of terrain, dialed geometrySwift climbing, sharp handling, excellent valueHigh fun-factor, rails corners, very poppyEasy-going geometry, exceptionally versatile, killer drivetrain
Cons May be overkill for riders/trails, sluggish in tight spacesPoor fork specification, less compliant frame compared to outgoing modelNot as fun on rough trails, 11-speed drivetrainNarrow range of terrain where it shines, terrible rear tire specificationHeavy, weak tire specification
Bottom Line A mean and aggressive hardtail with an appetite for high speeds and steep trailsA well-rounded hardtail that blends solid value with stellar performance in most situationsA slick-climbing hardtail mountain bike that is ready for a cross country race but is happy thrashing flow trailsA very fun and versatile hardtail that is comfortable on a narrow range of terrainA versatile bikepacking rig that has the ability to rip trails
Rating Categories Rocky Mountain Growler 50 Specialized Fuse Expert 29 Ibis DV9 NX Santa Cruz Chameleon 29 R Marin Pine Mountain 2
Fun Factor (25%)
8
9
8
9
7
Downhill (30%)
10
9
7
7
7
Climbing (30%)
7
8
9
7
8
Build (15%)
8
8
8
8
9
Specs Rocky Mountain... Specialized Fuse... Ibis DV9 NX Santa Cruz... Marin Pine...
Wheel Size 29" 29" 29" 29" 29"
Weight (w/o pedals) 31 lbs 3 oz 29 lbs 14 oz 26 lbs 8 oz 30 lbs 5 oz 33 lbs 15 oz
Frame Material Aluminum Aluminum Carbon Aluminum Steel
Frame Size Tested Large Large Large Large Large
Available Sizes S, M, L, XL XS, S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL S, M, L, XL
Fork RockShox 35 Gold RL RockShox 35 Gold RL, 130mm Fox Float Rhythm 34 Fox Rhythm 34 120mm RockShox FS 35 120mm
Wheelset WTB ST i30 TCS 2.0 rims with Shimano MT400 hubs Specialized Stout Alloy SL, 29mm ID Ibis Hubs, Ibis 938 Alloy rims SRAM MTH hubs with WTB ST i25 TCS 2.0 rims Alloy Doublewall rims w/ Shimano and Alloy hubs, 32mm ID
Front Tire WTB Vigilante TCS Light High Grip 2.6" Specialized Butcher Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.6" Maxxis Minion DHF EXO TR 2.3" Vee Tire Flow Snap 2.6"
Rear Tire WTB TrailBoss TCS Light Fast Rolling 2.6" Specialized Purgatory Grid, Gripton, 2.6" Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6" Maxxis Ardent Race EXO TR 2.25" Vee Tire Co Flow Snap 2.6"
Shifters SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-speed SRAM NX Eagle Shimano SLX 12-speed
Rear Derailleur SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed SRAM NX Eagle SRAM NX 11-Speed SRAM NX Eagle Shimano SLX 12-speed
Crankset SRAM SX Eagle 30T SRAM NX Eagle DUB SRAM NX 30T SRAM NX Eagle 148 DUB 30T 175mm FSA Grid 32T
Bottom Bracket SRAM BSA DUB SRAM DUB Threaded SRAM GXP XR SRAM DUB Threaded FSA Outboard
Cassette SRAM PG-1210 11-50T SRAM NX 11-50T SRAM PG 1130 11-42T SRAM PG 1230 11-50T Shimano SLX M7100 12-speed, 10-51T
Saddle WTB Volt Race 142 Specialized Bridge Comp WTB Silverado 142 WTB Silverado Race Marin Pine Mountain Trail
Seatpost Rocky Mountain Toonie Drop TranzX dropper 150mm travel 34.9mm diameter KS E30i Dropper Race Face Aeffect TranzX Dropper, 150mm
Handlebar Rocky Mountain AM 780mm Specialized Stout Riser 780mm Ibis 780mm Alloy Race Face Ride Marin Pine Mountain Trail Bar, 50mm rise, 780mm width
Stem Rocky Mountain 35 AM Specialized Stout Ibis Race Face Ride Marin 3D Forged Alloy
Brakes Shimano MT420 4-piston front, MT400 2-piston rear SRAM Level TRL SRAM Level SRAM Level T Shimano MT520 4-piston front/MT500 2-piston rear
Grips Rocky Mountain Lock-on Light Specialized Trail Lizard Skins Charger Evo Santa Cruz Palmdale Marin Bear Paw Locking
Warranty Five Years Lifetime Seven Years Lifetime Lifetime

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Growler 50 returns for the 2021 model year with a new paint job, a 12-speed SLX/XT drivetrain, and a $100 bump in price. We expect the same hard-charging hardtail performance. December 2020

The Rocky Mountain Growler is built to party. Plain and simple.
The Rocky Mountain Growler is built to party. Plain and simple.
Photo: Laura Casner

Should I Buy This Bike?


The Growler is a fantastic option for the rider who values an aggressive bike and is willing to give up a touch of climbing prowess. Riders who might want an enduro bike but can't quite swing the price tag will love this bike. The Growler also makes a great second bike for an aggressive trail or enduro rider who wants a simple and low maintenance bike for the wet months or mixing it up. Riders seeking a super balanced and well-rounded hardtail may want to look elsewhere. There are far better options if you place value in efficiency and want a quick-handling bike.

If you want a super well-rounded hardtail, the Specialized Fuse is a supremely balanced shredder. The Fuse earned our Editor's Choice award for Best Hardtail. The Specialized delivers a superb balance of climbing efficiency, slow and high-speed handling, and a high-fun factor. The Fuse works well for a considerable number of riders on a lot of different trails. The Growler definitely shreds harder, but the Fuse gets the edge in climbing and is a little more intuitive for novice and intermediate riders.

The Growler is a hardtail that features enduro-style geometry.
The Growler is a hardtail that features enduro-style geometry.
Photo: Laura Casner

Maybe all of this talk about shredding and blistering speeds isn't all that appealing. Perhaps your idea of a fun hardtail is a bike that is supremely efficient and sporty. The Ibis DV9 is a light and zippy hardtail that climbs like a breeze. This carbon fiber bike is very light and cruises uphill. It operates with a precise attitude and steers very well, responding immediately to rider input. If you want a bike that can handle a cross country race while still being a blast on an average trail ride, the Ibis delivers. Downhill performance is solid, and this bicycle relies on its sharp handling to slice and dice through obstacles. The Growler blows the DV9 out of the water in terms of aggressive downhill performance and stability. The DV9 climbs far better and has a much more nimble feel.

A 64-degree head angle is typically found on an enduro race bike.
A 64-degree head angle is typically found on an enduro race bike.
Photo: Laura Casner

Frame Design


The Growler features an aluminum frame with boost spacing. This bike is designed around 29-inch wheels and has clearance for tires up to 2.6-inches wide. It has internal cable routing and has mounts for one water bottle cage within the front triangle. According to Rocky Mountain, the frame was designed around a 130mm fork, but our Growler 50 comes stock with a 140mm fork.

The Growler has a geometry that you'd usually find on a big full-suspension enduro bike. It sports a 64-degree head tube angle, a 75-degree seat tube angle, and the wheelbase measures a lengthy 1237mm. The effective top tube length is 638mm, while the reach comes out to 470mm with moderate 435mm chainstays. Our test bike hit the scales at 31-lbs 3-oz set up tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights

  • Aluminum frame, no carbon fiber options
  • 29-inch wheels with clearance for 2.6-inch tires
  • Press-fit bottom bracket
  • Boost spacing
  • Can accommodate a 130mm or 140mm (tested) fork
  • Mounts for one water bottle cage
  • Internal routing

This bicycle has no problem airing it out over some chunk.
This bicycle has no problem airing it out over some chunk.
Photo: Laura Casner

Downhill Performance


It is no mystery that the Growler was designed with downhill performance as a top priority. It shreds, plain and simple. This bicycle is incredibly stable and can be ridden insanely hard for a hardtail. The aggressive geometry resembles that of an enduro race bike, and the build kit can back up blistering speeds and big boosts.

One look at the side profile of this bike and the slack head tube angle becomes apparent. If one had to guess the head tube angle, the numbers 66 or 65.5-degrees might come to mind. Nope, this head tube angle is actually 64-degrees. Those numbers are much more in line with an enduro bike than a hardtail mountain bike. The ultra-slack front end, combined with mid-length, 435 mm chainstays, create a 1237mm wheelbase. The long wheelbase delivers a ridiculously stable ride at high speeds. The harder you push this bike, the better it feels. When motoring down a straightaway or high-speed section, it is nearly impossible to find the speed limit of this bike. The lack of rear suspension provides plenty of feedback when things get choppy, and this will be the factor telling you to dial back the speed…the geometry is about as stable as it gets.

The Growler feels best when carrying loads of speed.
The Growler feels best when carrying loads of speed.
Photo: Laura Casner

High-speed handling is impressive. This bike responds well to rider input when carrying a head of steam. Dip a shoulder or snap your elbow, and the Growler reacts promptly. Slower speed handling can be a bit more awkward. If your favorite downhills feature some ultra-tight switchbacks or awkward sections, this can be problematic. The sheer length of this bike makes it a little sluggish in tight spaces. Bikes with more conservative geometry steer better, and this can help you correct a botched line, not so much with the Growler.

Despite not being the best in tight, awkward corners, the Growler rails berms. Whether you prefer to carve through a berm smoothly or to smash into the pocket with reckless abandon, this bike is a blast. The meaty 2.6-inch WTB Vigilante front tire has the attitude to back up aggressive movements. In loamy or loose dirt, this tire really shines.

We loved the Growler for providing an enduro-inspired downhill experience in a hardtail. When you find yourself on some rocky or choppy trails, it is still very apparent you are riding a hardtail and not a squishy enduro bike. The aluminum frame is more comfortable than carbon, but it does translate a lot of the trail surface to the rider. The beautiful thing about the 2.6-inch tires is the ability to run a slightly lower tire pressure. At 21-22-PSI, the tires add a little bit of extra damping to take the edge off. To be clear, it is still quite evident that you are riding a hardtail, but the lower pressure adds a small and appreciated element of comfort.

The Growler handles chunky sections well for a hardtail thanks to...
The Growler handles chunky sections well for a hardtail thanks to meaty tires, a sturdy fork, and a slack head tube angle.
Photo: Laura Casner

The Growler is a reasonably fun-loving bike. It can't match the most playful hardtails we have tested with crazy short rear-ends that constantly beg the rider for manuals and wheelies. That said, despite its length, this bike doesn't take life too seriously. While the most fun thing to do on this bike is to ride it really fast, it is a reasonably poppy bike. We were inspired to yank up on the bars with every roll in the trail to try and gap obstacles.

The Growler 50 has a decent build kit. There are some definite highlights and some lowlights that are to be expected at the $1,900 price point. The 2.6-inch WTB Vigilante/Trail Boss tires are fantastic. They are definitely heavy, but they are some of the hardest shredding tires on the market with the chops to back up stupid speeds. The RockShox 35 Gold RL is a stout and tough fork. While this fork is stiff and burly, it doesn't feel particularly good, and ours developed a sticky feel after about a week of riding. We found that running a lower air pressure makes it feel smoother, but then you blow through the travel. The Rocky Mountain Toonie dropper post broke on the third ride. The portion of the actuator where the cable hooks in, cracked. We were forced to run a rigid post while Rocky Mountain sent a replacement. Their warranty department took good care of us, and we had a new dropper in less than a week.

Gentle, seated, climbs are pleasant aboard the Growler.
Gentle, seated, climbs are pleasant aboard the Growler.
Photo: Laura Casner

Climbing Performance


There is no mistaking the Growler for a feathery, cross-country inspired, hardtail. This isn't the bike that you jump on to try and set a personal record up your favorite grueling climb. That said, this bike delivers a surprisingly pleasant climbing experience that is comfortable and reasonably efficient. We found it to be much better motoring up smooth and buff climbs as opposed to techy and tight ones.

The climbing geometry on the Growler is pleasant. When you are perched in the saddle, the steep 75-degree seat tube angle provides direct power transfer. The cockpit is plenty spacious without stretching the rider out. When spinning it out on well-designed trails, the Growler feels efficient. Despite the 31+-pound weight, the bike doesn't feel particularly long or heavy. With just a little bit of effort, you will reach the top of the climb soon enough and without too much pain.

The seat tube angle is pretty steep and puts riders directly on top...
The seat tube angle is pretty steep and puts riders directly on top of the cranks.
Photo: Laura Casner

The climbing experience gets a little wonky when things get tight and technical. Given the length of the bike, it can be awkward on technical pitches. With a hardtail, it is beneficial to finesse and sneak your way up rocky and rooty sections of trail while being light on the bike. The Growler can feel difficult in tight and techy spaces as a result of its reduced maneuverability. In addition, the slack front end steers slower than a bike with slightly more conservative geometry. It is really important to be smart about line choice and have clean entries into tight switchbacks.

Steep and punchy climbs were reasonably pleasant aboard the Growler. Being a hardtail, you can really stand up and hammer the bike without losing any energy into a rear shock. When climbing up a steep climb in the seated position, it is important to pay attention to the front wheel as it can rise up and wander a little bit. This takes a moment to get used to, but it wasn't a crippling problem by any stretch.

The component grouping worked well on the climb. The combination of WTB Vigilante and Trail Boss tires are certainly not light. In fact, they are significantly heavier than most tires on the market, and you could feel it while grinding uphill. The 2.6-inch width comes in handy and allows you to run lower pressure and increase the contact patch as the tire sags into the trail. It also takes the edge off rocky and chattery climbs. The SRAM GX 12-speed drivetrain is solid. The 30x50t climbing gear is plenty light enough for those long slogs.

Photo Tour


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


At $1,899, the Growler 50 is a strong value. This is a super-capable hardtail mountain bike with gnarly geometry. This bike can be ridden ridiculously hard compared to many other bikes we have tested. The aluminum frame has no suspension and should stand up to plenty of abuse. The component grouping was a bit of a mixed bag, but Rocky Mountain nailed the key components, including aggressive rubber and a solid if underwhelming, fork.

The Growler lives for high speeds. We loved it.
The Growler lives for high speeds. We loved it.
Photo: Laura Casner

Conclusion


The Rocky Mountain Growler 50 is a ripping hardtail with enduro-bike DNA. This bicycle lives for blistering speeds and aggressive riding, and we've awarded it our Top Pick as Best Aggressive Hardtail. This is a simple and low maintenance bike with the geometry of a super enduro race bike. Uphill performance was surprisingly pleasant, making the Growler a viable daily driver.

Other Versions


Rocky Mountain makes three versions of the 2020 Growler with the 50 model we tested as the top of the line.

The Growler 40 goes for $1,599 and comes with a Suntour Raidon 34 fork, a SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, Shimano MT 400 brakes, and a dropper post.

The Growler 20 is super affordable at $999, and it comes with a lower-end but functional build to match. The spec includes a Suntour XCM34 fork, a Shimano Altus 9-speed drivetrain, Shimano MT201 brakes, and a rigid alloy seatpost.

Pat Donahue, Jeremy Benson