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REVIEW

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 - Budget Review

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Jun 17, 2019

Growler 40 - BC Edition

The Rocky Mountain Growler 40 has all the bones of a great entry level mountain bike. The aluminum frame, fork, and wheels are designed around the very flexible 27+ platform.* The 34mm stanchion SR Suntour fork is basic and easy to service but also has enough chassis stiffness and performance that I can put it out of my mind and just ride the bike.

A smart mix of a SunRace 11-46t cassette and Deore 1x drivetrain, with a clutch rear derailleur, provide a wide gear range that's easily tuned for errands, gravel, light trail, or climbing technical singletrack by swapping out a single four-bolt chainring. The Shimano MT400 brakes are excellent after a rotor swap.

When it comes to local mountain bicycling, the Growler 40 isn't perfect out of the box. At the same time I asked it to do things which I'd guess are on the edge of Rocky Mountain's design goals for a bike model that will be beaten raw by Groms and ridden on gravel trails by their grandparents.

*XS is 26+

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

The stock tires are quick, quiet, and comfy for gravel riding and rough pavement. At the least, the front is getting upgraded for technical trail work.

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WTB Vigilante tires in 27x2.8". High Grip up front and Tough Casing front & rear. They're also available in 26+ for the XS and Small Growler customer.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

The X-Fusion dropper post remote Blows Away the stock options on many bikes that cost thousands and thousands of dollars more.

I built the bike, including upgraded tires and rotors, and proceeded straight to pedaling the Growler up the No Quarter climb on Fromme. On my first ride down I hit the same trails I usually ride on test bikes that cost many times its price. It took a bit longer than normal, a few DH sections were notably hairier, I walked a couple of features, and I was smiling at the bottom.

This bike costs 1360 USD | 1550 CAD. It's pretty amazing.

Awesomized

To make the most out of the 67° head tube angled trail hardtail, I dropped the fork lowers, upgradedthe brake rotors, threw on some aggressive meat and dialled in the bar height. There's a full article on my awesomization-process here. The one other addition I'd have loved to make happen is a 150mm dropper post, or a quick release seat collar for that extra bit of drop when trails get hairy.

It's not the universally comfortable WTB Koda but I'll guess that the most folks purchasing this bike will be quite happy with the stock WTB Volt.

For tires I'm running 27x2.8" WTB Vigilante rubber with the Tough Casing sidewalls. The key to enjoying a Plus setup - 26+, 27+, or 29+ - is not to skimp on sidewall support. Out back is the Fast Rolling version and up front is the High Grip version, which is a great way to min-max wear and grip even on greasy winter days.

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SR Suntour forks are among the cleanest and simplest on the market in terms of doing a basic lower service.

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Plus tires with great sidewall support and tubes removed add a lot of traction to a hardtail with a basic suspension fork.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

The 30t ring is a good call overall, but for real offroad riding for beginners and groms I'd order up a smaller 76 BCD narrow-wide ring.

After the first ride I bolt on a pair of well-worn Renthal Ultra-Tacky lock-on grips for some extra comfort and traction without the effort of gluing grips on a test bike. After a couple of weeks on the MT400s, with upgraded rotors, I threw on a set of budget Magura MT Sport brakes to test.

This is as good as this Growler is going to get for me. Sure, there are (much) more expensive tires and I could install a fork that costs as much as the bike but pumping in that kind of cash would be missing the point. Although, a Works Components -2° Angleset is only 100 USD. Ha. That's how it begins.

VS. Chameleon

Unlike the rest of the Rocky Mountain lineup, which has largely shed their reputations for making small bikes, the Growler fits on the tiny size. For serious trail riding this is a definite size-up situation and I'll guess whenever the next redesign happens this size large Chameleon will have the seat tube length of the medium and the top tube length of the XL.

This point on sizing was really brought home by the back-to-back testing I did with the Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon, which has a very similar fit but is a size medium. Santa Cruz is another company slowly shedding their reputation for undersized bikes but the Chameleon is by no measure gigantic.

This test period encompasses a lot of back-to-back days on the Chameleon and the Growler and with the pedaling positions dialed on both bikes they're incredibly similar on the trail right down to the I-wish-it-was-a-bit-slacker head tube angle.

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At 5'9" I'd still error towards the large Chameleon for tech-gnar but I had a lot of fun riding the medium.

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I'm undoubtedly a large in the Growler and I'd choose an XL with the medium's seat tube length if I was the designer.

A fair test? Maybe not. The Growler 40 is laughably heavier,* was setup with significantly more aggressive tires in a smaller wheel size for much of the test period, and it's over 4x less expensive. Shimano Deore isn't winning any short-term shifting battles against GX Eagle.

I did ride with the same folks on both bikes and while I was slower on the climbs the ride order was similar on the descents and my smile was just as large. The Growler also gets points for the press-in headset cups because if I was taking the long-term Growler Challenge this thing would be getting a Works Components Angleset right away.

*Especially the wheels.

The Growler Challenge

Yes, it's more of a struggle on the climb compared to a 5700 USD Carbon Chameleon and the 10spd Shimano Deore shifting is sluggish compared to Eagle. The SR Suntour Raidon fork tries it's damnedest but can't compete with forks that cost almost as much as the Growler. The sizing needs a tweak and the do-it-all geometry is a bit small-and-steep for aggressive local terrain.

Longer, lower, slacker - no one is going to mistake the Growler 40 for an XC race bike, so why not slack the head angle out a bit more? A sagged HTA of say 65° the handling isn't going to be negatively affected for usage that isn't aggressive - the customers who don't think about bike geometry - but it's really going to serve the ripper on a budget.

Rocky Mountain delivers a hell of a lot of bike at this price and I have a plan to eke out a bit more performance without spending a dollar more - the Growler Challenge.

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With a sagged HTA 65° or 64° the Growler would be better when trails turn nasty with zero trade offs within it's usage set.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

The X-Fusion Manic is a perfect spec choice. I'd love to see a 150mm version instead of 125mm on all sizes.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

Shimano's Pox on riders everywhere (aka 'Resin Only' rotors) are one of two must-do upgrades for serious off road riding.

Here's the strategy;, put one of Rocky Mountain's brilliant local design guys on a Growler 40 for six months and the next generation of this bike will be sporting more Reach, a slacker HTA*, more standover, a 150mm Manic** dropper post, more aggressive tires (maybe not Vigilante-aggressive), and non-resin rotors - which may mean a switch to Tektro brakes at this price point and I'm totally good with that.

Would I take the Growler Challenge? Hell yes. With the changes noted above I'd shelve my other bikes for half a year, single speed the Growler with a tensioner off the bottom bracket and ride the crap out of it with a giant smile on my face. Combined with the great looking paint and a price tag under 2k CAD including great tires and tax? Yes please.

*My theory on hardtail HTA is the sagged number should at minimum equal the static number on a full suspension bike for the same application. Minimum.

**The Manic is a great choice for spec and the best post and remote combo/$ on the market, I'd just like a 150mm instead of a 125mm.

Grom Me

The Growler 40 is a great beginner trail bike that's worthy of upgrades in terms of stretching the purchase price out through a few layers of advancement before potentially throwing down the big dollars on a high performance rig. After that with the right tires it will make a great back up bike when your high-end machine is busted or for pedaling down the street to pick up a case of beer.

The Growler 40 is a perfect grom bike. I keep hearing and reading about how great kids/teens have it these days in terms of the high end machines that are available to them. Ha. If I had a tween or teenager who was into mountain biking they'd be riding a right-sized Growler.

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Easy brakes to bleed, a forgiving drivetrain in terms of tuning, and an easy basic fork service that only requires tools you own.

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Detune that Shimano Deore clutch out of the box and then add some tension as it breaks in. Experiment for the best balance of silence and shifting.

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Parents, just a reminder that one of your riding buddies has a high-end QR in a box at home they can't use. Can't beat Shimano XT or XTR.

It's not just about the price being right, or the Growler being a fantastic bike to learn on. It's also a relatively cheap machine to maintain and an awesome platform to learn bike maintenance. The brakes are easy to bleed, the fork is very simple to clean and service, the hubs are basic cup-and-cone Shimano units, the cable routing is sane, and it has an external bottom bracket.

With some parental guidance or a couple lessons from a friendly local wrench during the quiet season this is a bike that any mountain biker can easily maintain on their own and I think that's beautiful.

Pedaling Makes Perfect

Pounding down rough trails I really appreciate the long 440mm rear center and being able to air down the WTB rubber for traction and comfort. The Alex MD35 rims are not light but have proven surprisingly durable and I haven't burped a tire yet.

When it's forced to eat a lot of compressions or gets punched hard the 130mm Suntour Raidon fork is loud - both the damper and air spring - compared to top-end suspension. I don't notice the noise at all if I'm charging and the chassis is plenty stiff, so when I hear the fork I know to let off the brakes.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

Yes, I'm getting hot-and-bothered over stealth dropper routing. Down low on the back of the seat tube and under the BB is an excellent choice.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

I really like SR Suntour's higher performance Auron and Durolux RC2 forks. The cheaper Raidon shares some of their best features.

Rocky Mountain Growler 40 AndrewM

Tire clearance is ample despite the bike using a 135mm rear end. I'm running a 2.8 WTB Vigilante on the 35mm Alex rim with lots of room.

Buy it as is for light trail or gravel riding, or upgrade the rubber and hit real mountain bike trails - the Growler 40 is a lot of bike for 1360 USD | 1550 CAD. Either way, my key advice is to work with your local dealer to get the right size, regardless of what the sticker says. I'd choose a size up that fits with a 40-60mm stem.

I'm a big fan of hardtails and Plus tires, with proper sidewall support, so the Growler 40 arrived with a few boxes ticked already and overall, I'm very impressed with the bike. Before I had even sat down to write this I'd recommended it to a handful of friends for their kids' new rigs (from XS to XL) and also to a few adults I know looking to get into the sport.

Rocky Mountain has the ability to mule bikes right here in North Vancouver and a stable of folks that rip on them. And they are not afraid to push different ideas. They have a great bike now and I think they have the recipe to own this category and price with the Growler series if they want to.

More on the Growler 40 here...

Comments

GiveitsomeWelly
+1 Tjaard Breeuwer
Karl Fitzpatrick  - June 17, 2019, 12:15 a.m.

I had to jump forward to comment on your sagged hta statement...

I'm positive that on a ht the hta gets steeper with sag not slacker.... so 67static would be approx 68-69sagged...

#justsayin #htbrag

Reply

WheelNut
0
WheelNut  - June 17, 2019, 1:55 p.m.

Correct. That's why he wishes for a 65 degree (static) HTA instead of the (static) 67 degree HTA the bike has.

Reply

GiveitsomeWelly
+2 Andrew Major Tjaard Breeuwer
Karl Fitzpatrick  - June 17, 2019, 12:18 a.m.

Ayup... you're suggesting sag with an angle set. 

I'll eff off now.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Metacomet
Andrew Major  - June 17, 2019, 6:46 a.m.

Thank you, I jumped in and edited that sentence to make it more clear.

My point is simply that dude riding it to the store isn’t going to give a hoot what the HTA is and anyone buying the Growler who does care would probably like it a bit slacker.

Reply

Timer
+2 pdxkid Andrew Major
Timer  - June 17, 2019, 8:15 a.m.

To start things of, I love your in-depth reviews of non-mainstream bikes and components and actually bought a pair of MT Trail Sport on your recommendation.

There is one issue, though: It feels like your skills and knowledge of the local trails are so far beyond mine (and those of many other people) that a lot of your conclusions dont apply to us. Forgive me, but any statement about suitable gear spec from someone who cleans No Quarter on a single speed seems suspect to a mere mortal like me. Similarly the Growler ridden by you might be perfectly suitable for all the gnar, but would the same be true under someone who doesn't casually ride (double?) blacks on a rigid bike?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 pdxkid Timer
Andrew Major  - June 17, 2019, 8:39 a.m.

Thanks! I hope the Trail Sports have been awesome for you.

I’d suggest that (aside from drops or the longest rolls) most riders could take the Growler (with aggressive rubber) and ride it down whatever trails they normally hit on their bike comfortably.

For example, if they ride a Nomad down Ned’s the Growler will be fine down Ned’s - same/same for Bobsled or Boogieman.

The biggest difference between riding this Growler, my Honzo, a Nomad, or etc down these trails comes down to speed. Especially when the trails are dry and loose or greasy.

I’d call myself a strong novice rider and hopefully haven’t oversold my riding ability. I take plenty of breaks climbing No Quarter and for example, I walk a couple sections of Grannies and Bookwus (my current favourites) and skip the biggest optional lines on Upper Oil Can (a trail I road the Growler on plenty of times).

Reply

UFO
+1 Andrew Major
UFO  - June 17, 2019, 9:56 p.m.

I have to totally agree with this train of thought. As a previous Chromag Primer owner and for now a Specialized Fuse rider, there's nothing that my Norco Range 29 enables me to ride that I can't ride on my hardtail.

Sure my line choices are different, my speeds are vastly different, and finally my body also feels very different the next morning.

Riding the hardtail is just a different, more engaging and interactive experience. Maybe if I had the cajones to ride bigger or faster, things would be different on the big bike

Reply

IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - June 17, 2019, 9:40 a.m.

In the last couple years Rocky has been quietly kicking out some very well thought out budget hard-tails ripe for upgrades.  Your comments about them being great grom starter bikes rings true.  Just bought my 8 year old the Vertex Jr. 24... and I challenge anyone to find a bike as well spec'd for a better or even similar price point...

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 IslandLife
Andrew Major  - June 17, 2019, 11:19 a.m.

You have to allow for the two schools of thought as rigid 20/24” bikes with Plus tires are becoming more and more common. Some level of suspension at a lighter weight and without the cost-sink and maintenance of a suspension fork.

As kids bikes with decent suspension forks and good geo go I agree. The Vertex line looks great (I like the 2018 colour ways better - but maybe that’s just me), geo is dialled, and the spec is excellent. Even the Vee Rubber Crown Gem tires look pretty good (maybe throw a 2.4” Vee Flow Snap up front). I haven’t seen anything better per/$. 

Throw on some Chromag Radar pedals (or the plastic version in the future) and ride.

Reply

IslandLife
+1 Andrew Major
IslandLife  - June 18, 2019, 11:58 a.m.

Yep, plus tires vs small travel suspension is a good debate for bikes like this ... but my own experience of switching to a 29r then going from beefy casing tires and back as well as insert tests, has really shed lots of light on the differences between sprung and non-spinning weight vs un-sprung and spinning. Small amounts of weight gain make big differences when it's un-sprung and spinning vs the latter. Especially for a skinny 8 year old that loves to jump!  

Yep... 2018 colours were a little better, but the kid is deep into black everything right now so he loves it, haha. 

And yes, already threw some "Crank Brothers Stamp 1- Small" pedals on there... just so happens the "Citron" colour perfectly matches the yellow highlights on the bike. Best kids pedals per dollar I've found so far. Ya, if they made those Radar's in a plastic version, would have gone that way. 

Also the Suntour XCR LO Air fork at 65mm of travel can be bumped to 85mm (which I'll probably do soon). Only concern is slacking the seat angle more than it's already slack 72 degrees. Which leads me to my one gripe about the bike... the saddle and seatpost are of the BMX/dirt jump variety. The saddle isn't on rails so I can't just slide it forward to help offset the slack seat angle. Which of course started to lead me down the wallet busting path of a dropper... hard to find a low rise (100mm or less) dropper in 27.2 that doesn't cost half or more of what the bike did! Used market is pretty bare for such a thing! PNW makes a nice option....

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 19, 2019, 7:27 a.m.

Lots of Gravity dropper posts kicking around used - too much stack thought maybe with post and exit cable?

Riding rigid 29+ bikes and playing with tires I know exactly what you mean. I think it’s always going to be a know your kid | know your budget scenario.

Those Suntour forks are easy to pull apart and they do stand by their products really well.

Funny re. Black. Good point re. It’s his bike.

Reply

zigak
0
ZigaK  - July 1, 2019, 11:28 p.m.

Norco Fluid 4.3+

Reply

gdharries
0
Geof Harries  - June 19, 2019, 7:38 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

r1Gel
0
r1Gel  - June 25, 2019, 7:06 a.m.

The Growler has a 135-mm rear? Not even 141 mm?

Would be interesting to see a comparo between this and the Norco Fluid HT.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - June 25, 2019, 7:13 a.m.

It’s 135mm. There are an increasing number of 141mm (QR Boost) bikes out there but still very limited hub/wheel options and the Growler has plenty of tire clearance as is... 

I’d personally rather have 135mm and the option to pick up a higher quality replacement hub inexpensively (buy & sell).

Reply

r1Gel
0
r1Gel  - June 25, 2019, 7:14 a.m.

Good point

Reply

bfk
0
Brian Keats  - July 17, 2019, 10:12 a.m.

I'm interested in picking one of these up at the end of the season (hopefully at a discount). An thoughts on the 50 vs the 40? My current bike is over 10 years old, so I'm not sufficiently up to speed on components to form an opinion.

Reply

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