The Hitch Report – Thunderbolt & Pipeline

Product Review by Scott Darling

scott_darling_headshot_200pxI am President and CEO of Rearden Well Servicing, a CAODC Member company, and subsidiary of Performance Energy Service. I ride a fair bit around Canada and the U.S. For me, Tuesdays are road rides (indoor during the winter), and Thursdays and Sunday mornings I reserve for mountain biking. For the rest of the week, I commute to downtown Calgary.

John Bayko, VP of Communications at the CAODC, called me and asked if I could find someone who would ride a mountain bike and critique it for The Hitch. I have to admit I was a bit selfish about the idea as soon as I heard it. I thought it sounded like a great way for me to figure out what bike I would want for next year. My sidekick on this great adventure was my son Jesse Darling. Jessie is a fourth-year petroleum engineering student and former Elite level downhill racer.

John told me to call Ryan Probert who is the manager of The Bike Shop at their 801–11th Ave SW location. What can you say about that? The friendly, accommodating service that the Bike Shop guys showed was second to none. Just over email when I told Ryan where we were going and how we want to ride it, Ryan came up with the two perfect choices of bikes for us. Thank you Ryan and the Bike Shop for really hooking us up.

To get started, we ventured to the new “up track” at Swansea Mountain in Invermere, BC. Well known for its gnarly downhill and heady road gaps, it has long been a favourite of the old school shuttle trails. Just last year they put in an up trial to bring you to the top parking lot for a total of 745 metres of elevation gain in just over 10 km (yes, the up track is steep with a long, soul-sucking, granny-gear climb!). From there, we had seven advanced downhill trails to choose from. I had done this climb last week and was looking forward to doing it again to see the difference on different bikes.

Ryan really knew what we wanted; the bikes he picked were perfect. The Bike Shop really knows their business. The first bike was a brand new Rocky Mountain “Thunderbolt.” 650 (27.5”) wheels with an equivalent of a Shimano XT component group (shifters, derailleurs, and brakes). Once I took off the price tag and put my own peddles on it, we were ready to go. The geometry was set up very well for an aggressive XC bike. My little (and inaccurate) scale had it coming in at a very svelte 26 lbs. It was a medium sized frame, and Jesse, being taller than I am, started out on this bike. The other bike was a prototype, or 2017 Rocky Mountain “Pipeline.” This bike with its XT component group, 1×11 shifting, and very fat 3-inch tires was a real head-turner. It is touted as an “aggressive trail bike,” and it just looks mean in a beautiful way. And weighing in at 28 lbs is not that bad for all that rubber.

Jesse Darling gets airborne…gains speed…and goes for the Booty Call!

We headed out and as I was saying earlier I anticipated over an hour of granny-gear climbing. Jesse heads out fast as he is sure this “aggressive bike is going to be real slow on the uphill.” He is also sure the big wheels are “going to be a pain on the way down,” so stay tuned. Jesse finally comes to an intersection and waits for me. This doesn’t happen on his regular bike. His Pipeline climbs like a goat. With the 30 tooth front sprocket and a 42 on the back and big fat “stabilizing” tires, he is actually climbing like never before. He loves the feel on the uphill but at this point is still convinced they are going to roll off the rim when he rails a corner on the downhill. We switched bikes back and forth quite a few times on the way up and both were very good climbers. The stability of the Pipeline made the sharp switch backs very easy. With the Thunderbolt, my back wheel was spinning on the uphills , and if you have ever seen my legs you would know that is not because of the massive power I put out! I stopped and let out a bunch of tire pressure and this all-but-stopped the problem. The stock model doesn’t come with them, but the bike could use a set of high volume low pressure tubeless tires to deal with the tire slip when climbing. This upgrade would cost a fair amount, but the price tag on the bike sure didn’t so I think if you’re looking to get the most out of the bike this little modification would be worth the benefit.

Both were a pleasure to spend a long time in the saddle on as we endured our uphill grind. After about an hour and a half of climbing, taking pictures and switching bikes we finally arrived in the parking lot breathing heavily. Great ride up, and now the fun begins!

We chose “Booty Call” as our route down. This is because we have done it many times and really wanted to feel the difference in bikes. I am sporting a bit of an injury right now (I hate excuses too…) but it was fun to watch Jesse get more excited by this Pipeline with every corner. We stopped and did some corners twice so we could film, and really the Thunderbolt was more than a pleasure. Tight corners and steeps were a breeze. On the way down there are a few buff turning sections. And a few stunts. And even some little rock jumps.

It was one of the most fun trips down I have been on. We stopped and tried many jumps with both bikes — apparently I was the only one with a camera, because someone else I know wasn’t getting pried off the bike to take any footage! When we got to the bottom we had to go back for a couple of solo shuttle laps. Upon doing this I jokingly asked Jesse if he liked that Pipeline so much he would take a “Trail” bike off the road gap. I dropped him off and didn’t think anything of it. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye. Got him back up and got it for the camera. (Hopefully The Bike Shop doesn’t mind. After all, they do call it an “aggressive” Trail bike!)

I think the pictures and video speak for themselves. What a great way to spend about five hours of your life. Sweating it out with the heart and adrenalin pumping. Finished off with refreshments at the Arrowhead brewery looking at videos and pictures. Couldn’t be better.

Thanks again to the Bike Shop and CAODC for setting this up. Jesse put it perfectly when he said, “I am going to be really sad to see that bike go.” Keep working in the patch son and maybe you can get one. Till the next ride!