Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 Review: Back to The Future
In an industry that can often be oversaturated with new upgrades, ultra-light carbon everything, and electronic components; there are still those that believe in rock solid bikes with reliable parts. The Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 is a sturdy fat bike that offers plenty of packing space and mixes just the right amount of modern ingenuity with time-tested features.
I picked up my Surly Krampus a few years ago for a few simple reasons — it has a durable chromoly steel frame that’s perfect for multi-day bikepacking trips, it features components that work great but are not overly expensive, and it’s got big tires that are perfect for venturing out into the unknown. Aside from minor preventative maintenance, I’ve had no major mechanical failures. I think that’s what makes a good bikepacking bike. A bike built for riding in the snow should be no different.
On the other hand, riders now have the option to take advantage of technological advancements while still having confidence in a reliable build. As manufacturers start to blur the line between performance oriented and dependable, new school components and design have their place in the bikepacking world. This means having hydraulic brakes, dropper posts, and huge cassettes aren’t just for the weekend warrior – and simplicity can still be found in modern parts.
Rocky Mountain’s 2017 Blizzard fat bike lineup consists of four unique models that all allow clearance for up to 4.8” tires, geometry claimed to replicate an agile trail bike, and a wide range of price points approachable by everyone. The Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 stood out in our minds as a ready and capable winter bikepacking bike due to its rigid fork with cage mounts, a reliable 1×11 drivetrain, and an internal cable routed alloy frame. The only aspect of the bike that may seem a bit too futuristic is the paint job, but that’s starting to grow on me.
A BIKE SHOP OWNER’S FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I’m new to Kelowna, BC – one of the first days I had off work I scooted around the city to get a feel for the bike shops and what they’re all about. The Lions Cyclery was a definite outlier. Meshkat, the owner, focuses on custom builds and high quality components, and has a good understanding of what makes a solid bikepacking setup. I thought it would be cool to hear some first impressions from a shop owner who is addicted to the details… so here they are:
Building the Blizzard was straightforward and easy. As a mechanic I always look for the small details being correct when I pull a bike out of the box to build it. Things like proper cable routing and length, derailleur hanger alignment, and wheel trueness are clues of how much a company cares about their bikes and the experience the rider has. The Blizzard came out of the box well protected and only needed a small adjustment of one of the derailleur limit screws and a minor straightening of the derailleur hanger. The build of the 2017 Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 seems like a smart balance of performance and durability. The lack of a suspension fork means that the bike may be a little less capable for general trail riding than the -50 model but less long term upkeep and less chance of problems in the backcountry are the positive trade-offs.
As far as the parts spec on the -30 there are strong points and weak points because as with any bike Rocky Mountain has to make build choices that match the general component level and to make a certain price point. Strong points in the spec are in the frame which features clean and smooth welds and fork which seems strong and robust with tons of clearance. The Sram NX drivetrain is new and seems like a fair choice for the build although it lacks the range of the higher end groups. The stock Maxxis Minion FBF/FBR tires are a definite upgrade from the 2016 models and should be good on a mix of terrain. The Blizzard’s 67 degree head tube angle is well within the modern style of slack high flop front ends and should feel good with gear loaded up.
The Lions Cyclery
ROCKY MOUNTAIN BLIZZARD -30 VS SNOW
Upon receiving the Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30, I was really only interested in two things – how it performed on snow and how it performed loaded. I aimed to push the Blizzard further out of the valley I live in, and towards the mountains. I’m of the opinion that a bike with 4.8” tires should be ridden on snow, and snow alone… or on planets with snow-like terrain. I found the Blizzard excelled at maintaining control in snow and ultra loose conditions, but difficult to justify when riding terrain where standard width or plus sized tires would do. That’s a lot of extra rubber under you if you’re not benefiting from it. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia made for a great testing ground due to the wealth of local singletrack, and the transition to steep rocky terrain leading up out of the valley. It’s often a grunt to successfully tackle these climbs in the summer, and was definitely no easier in the winter – but the Blizzard certainly made it manageable.
The gear range is ok for winter bikepacking pursuits, sporting a tiny 28T front ring and an 11-42 cassette. SRAM NX throughout meant quick, snappy shifting even when riding through snow, and the 1×11 setup was welcomed with open arms to simplify the entire build. I choose to politely smile and nod at those who insist 2×10 is the only way to go. With that said, a smaller than average front chainring is especially important to maintain solid cadence on the tricky sections. Too steep did come much sooner when riding ultra wide 26×4.8 wheels, especially when loaded with gear, so I would imagine the Blizzard would be a great candidate for a wider range cassette such as Shimano’s XT M8000 11-46 cassette… or a cog expansion kit from Wolf Tooth or One Up. This might just give it the extra oomph when loaded down and tackling steep and loose ascents.
Something new, and definitely worth mentioning, for the 2017 Blizzard -30 was the swap between the Sunringle SRC hubs to Rocky’s sealed front hub and an awesome DT Swiss 350 out back. DT Swiss’ patented ratchet system means a higher number of engagement points, which is a solid match for a heavily loaded fat bike. It’s great to see a brutally efficient and functional component, that has innards that are easily replaceable, as this shows Rocky Mountain is rethinking and evolving to make the Blizzard better year after year – good work.
The Maxxis Minion FB’s are inspired from the popular Minion DH, downhill specific tire. Although the Minion FB’s are marketed as dirt tires for fat bikes, and not necessarily optimized for snow, they are still a major upgrade compared to the 4.7” Vee Rubber Bulldozers found on the 2016 Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30. For riders looking to take full advantage of running tubeless, the Blizzard -50 comes with the tubeless ready Minions with EXO casing, compared to the cheaper 60TPI version on the -30. When running between 5-15 PSI, the chunky side knobs offer a bit extra traction in the corners, and minimize the chances of losing the frontend in sloppy snow. I will add that they are loud and slow rolling on anything that isn’t soft, chunky, or both – but I trust that should you add the Blizzard -30 to your quiver, you’ll be destined for the white stuff. I’ve also heard that some fat bikers absolutely hate these tires, and I definitely had brief moments of frustration trying to maintain traction on steeper climbs and tight corners. I’d definitely be interested in hearing feedback about people’s experience with various 5” tires in the comments below.
BIKEPACKING ON A BLIZZARD
I was particularly stoked to see a reasonably sized main triangle on the -30, as this is sometimes something that gets sacrificed on a fat bike. So in terms of readily available packing space, the Blizzard is pretty much top notch between the countless bottle mounts inside the main triangle, more mounts on the fork, and enough clearance at the front and back for whatever gear you want to bring. The only qualm I have is the lack of cage mounts on the underside of the down tube – especially given the amount of clearance down there.
I often found myself riding in a fairly relaxed position and had to remind myself to shift my weight backwards to maintain traction on soft or chunky snow. With that said – I found the Blizzard to be just as comfortable riding tight, loosely packed trails as cruising down service roads with no names. The wide Q-factor, due to those big old tires mounted on 80mm rims, was definitely noticeable on the first few rides, and even more so on longer hauls. But that’s a small price to pay for the places I could go.
To be honest I wasn’t expecting anything huge from Rocky’s claims for a “mountain bike feeling” fat bike, but it really is a playful and nimble bike that has trail bike geometry to thank for this – the times I rode the Blizzard unloaded had me thinking about cruising singletrack in the summer. However, I was particularly impressed on how solid the Blizzard handled fully loaded for winter bikepacking. It’s a stable bike, that should come as no surprise, but once outfitted with overnight gear and food, I found it to handle better in loose snow and slide out less on slippery sections. Smart packing and weight distribution definitely plays a part in this, but surprisingly enough I believe the trail bike geometry is to thank for its solid handling with a load.
The Blizzard -30 was fun to bikepack on, and opened up new riding opportunities that created an uninterrupted riding season. At first I stuck to the local trails, packed down by hikers and other fat bikers – but it didn’t take long to start pushing further out into areas that would only greet me with the tracks of snowmobiles or the odd 4×4.
- FRAME: 6061 SL series custom hydroformed alloy, 12mm x 197mm thru axle
- FORK: Rocky Mountain Fat AL light, 15mm x 150mm
- HEADSET: FSA No. 578
- STEM: Rocky Mountain AM
- HANDLEBAR: Rocky Mountain AM 760mm
- BRAKES: SRAM DB1, 180mm
- SHIFTER: SRAM NX
- BRAKE LEVERS: SRAM DB1
- REAR DERAILLEUR: SRAM NX
- CRANKS & CHAINRINGS: SRAM NX, 28T
- BOTTOM BRACKET: SRAM GXP 100mm
- CASSETTE: SRAM PG-1130, 11-42T
- CHAIN: KMC X11, ecoprotect anti rust
- FRONT: Rocky Mountain sealed 150 x 15mm
- REAR: DT Swiss 350, 197mm
- SPOKES: WTB 2.0
- RIMS: Sunringle Mulefüt 80, tubeless compatible
- TIRES: Maxxis FBF / FBR 26 x 4.8 folding
- SEATPOST: Rocky Mountain SL 30.9mm
- SADDLE: WTB Volt
- WATER BOTTLE MOUNTS: 2 inside main triangle, triple fork cage mounts
- EXTRAS: Internal cable routing, stealth dropper post compatible
- Trail bike style geometry lends itself to a truly shreddable design.
- The biggest tires are, in my opinion, an obvious choice for getting way out there.
- Fairly roomy main triangle for storage that’s packed full of bottle mounts.
- Mid-range components are perfect for winter bikepacking trips.
- Anything cage mounts on the fork… need I say more?
- No bottle mounts on bottom of down tube, but plenty of space for a fuel bottle or water.
- Maxxis FBF / FBR’s are sometimes not aggressive enough for technical winter trails.
- Would be nice to see a 46T or even 50T on the cassette.
- Size Tested Large
- Weight TBA
- Place of Manufacture Taiwan
- Price $1,899 (2,500 CAD)
- Contact Bikes.com
The Rocky Mountain Blizzard -30 was a joy to bikepack on this winter, but could definitely use a few changes. Surprisingly enough, these changes are all related to tackling steeper grades, which will always be a bit of a slog on a fat bike. The tires performance were questionable for climbing, and I ran out of gears quickly when ascending snowy trails. It’s not the cheapest, nor the most expensive fat bike on the market.
I made the most of having the Blizzard in my possession, jumping on the big tired bandwagon right after a solid snowfall and cold temperatures hit the Okanagan Valley, and riding deep into the season as things started to warm up again. Winter isn’t just white fluffy snow and -10C days, and this bike performed well the entire time. It’s ready to bikepack right out of the box, offers plenty of packing space, and sports modern components that you won’t be afraid to use. When loaded up, the bike and myself both felt at home, lending itself to the fact that we imagined this to be a solid winter bikepacking steed. It’s the kind of bike that allowed me to spend less time planning the perfect route, and more time throwing my hands in the air and saying “screw it, let’s go.”
Rider Profile / Miles Arbour
Miles dove into bikepacking headfirst on the Kokopelli Trail, explored the COLT, and wrote about his year one gearlist. His recent relocation to British Columbia has opened up opportunities to explore bikepacking at its fullest, including winter bikepacking.
Disclosure: Rocky Mountain loaned us this Blizzard -30 to ride over the winter for this review.