Rocky Mountain Growler 50 Review
Cons: May be overkill for riders/trails, sluggish in tight spaces
Manufacturer: Rocky Mountain
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Our Analysis and Test Results
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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