by Matt Gersib
As we roll into 2015, there are an increasing number of fat bikes claiming to be “developed for Bluto”, but just what that means is open for interpretation. Much as we were back in 2005 with 29″ers, the fatbike world is today wrapping its arms around how geometry and suspension can and should work together when you’re rolling 3.8- to 4.8-inch tires down a rough or snow-packed trail.
The Rocky Mountain Blizzard is just such a beast, and we’ve got one in-house for a long-term test. True to its British Columbia heritage, the $2,699 (US) bike comes set up ready to rip on dirt or snow trails. Centered around a low bottom bracket, slack head tube angle and Bluto’s long (51mm) fork offset, the geometry of the Blizzard suggests a bike that will work especially well on the downhills.
The Blizzard is a thoroughly modern frame, with a massive 12x197mm through axle rear end to go with Bluto’s 15x150mm through axle on the front. Internal cable routing for the derailleur(s) and/or internally-routed dropper post is also included, giving the frame a clean, integrated look.
Speaking of look, the combination of tapered headtube, beautiful hydroformed alloy tubes with smooth welds and subdued matte black and grey graphics give the Blizzard a sublime, understated beauty in a marketplace that’s way too packed with bikes whose color screams “LOOK AT ME, DAMMIT!”. I love it way more in person than I thought I would, and every time I’ve ridden the bike, at least one rider has commented on how great it looks.
Our test Blizzard is the company’s flagship 2015 model. The aforementioned Bluto and shifty/stoppy bits from Shimano’s excellent SLX groupset are highlights of the component spec. Exceptions to the SLX party include an upgraded Deore XT clutch-type rear derailleur and a RaceFace Evolve fatbike crankset with a single 24-tooth narrow-wide chainring and mini-sized bash guard. No front derailleur or shifter is included, but there is a mount for a front derailleur should the owner desire a wider gear spread.
There is another model (the Blizzard Deore) which uses a rigid alloy fork in lieu of Bluto, with spec based around a Shimano Deore drivetrain and brakes. At $1,899, it saves about $800 at the cash register, so a rider on a limited budget can get the bike now and have a killer platform for upgrades later. Rocky Mountain also sells a Blizzard frame kit, which includes a Bluto fork, Cane Creek headset and Wheeltech hubs, for $1,399.
The gearing is a topic you’ll hear a lot about, but my initial rides suspect that, despite the fact that you can only pedal to about 18-mph comfortably with the stock setup, I don’t dislike it as much as I thought I would. In fact, I’ve rarely thought about it on my initial rides on the Blizzard. That said, the stock KMC “rustproof” chain has already bitten the dust, having broken twice on my first ride with the bike.
Rocky Mountain’s Alex mentioned the fact that many fat bike riders take their bikes to and from the ride with a car, and in the winter, road chemicals are very corrosive to steel parts such as chains. And while I don’t disagree with him on that point, a rust-free chain isn’t worth much if it breaks during the ride. With ultimate reliability in-mind, I replaced the KMC with a Shimano Dura Ace 10-speed chain, which will rust if neglected… but they rarely break.
The stock RaceFace flat handlebar and stubby 60mm stem make the bike a bit of a “stink bug” for me (high butt, low hands). As a result, one of my first mods to the bike will be going 20mm longer on the stem (to an 80mm model) and 20mm higher on the handlebar with an Easton rise bar from my parts bin. I’m also considering adding a dropper post to get the bike on-track with the descending potential I feel is locked inside.
Finally, the stock wheelset is worthy of mention. It features very smooth-rolling Wheeltech hubs laced to Sun/Ringle Mulfut 80SL rims with butted spokes. Set up with the aforementioned through axles, it makes for a smooth, stiff and reasonably light wheel setup that doesn’t break the bank.
Initial Ride Report
Designed to easily take 4.7-inch tires, the Blizzard comes stock with the new Vee Tire Bulldozer 4.7.Unfortunately, the Bulldozer tires should more accurately be labeled a 4.25, or optimistically a 4.5, but mounted on the stock 80mm wide rims, my calipers are showing a fat 4.25. Bummer… The flat-top profile of the tires also makes them a poor choice as a front tire, in my opinion, as their consistent auto-steer affected my ability to accurately hit a desired line.
After switching to a 4.8-inch Surly Bud on the front of the bike for my second ride, I realized the handling was a result of the Bulldozer tire. Its effect on handling isn’t nearly as pronounced on the rear, but they roll slowly, with a tractor-like low growl.
Having that awesome meat (the Bud) on the front of the bike for the second ride transformed the bike’s handling. I’ll talk more about this in my first full report, but long story short, a Blizzard owner has a lot to gain by swapping out at least the front tire for something better in their local conditions.
Look for my first test of the Rocky Mountain Blizzard in 2-3 weeks. There, I’ll talk at length about the bike’s handling and performance on both dirt and snow, and changes I’m making to the bike to make it fit and perform better for me. Until then, you can learn more about the Rocky Mountain Blizzard on the company’s website.