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Weight: 33.2 lb. (L)
Groupset: Shimano Altus
Fork: Suntour XCM 34 Boost 120mm
Tire clearance: 27.5×3 in.
The right bike for: New mountain bikers who want to learn to love trail riding
The Growler 20 is not flashy, or extra light, or super fast, but it is an aluminum hardtail with a 120mm-travel Suntour fork, 27.5×2.8-inch WTB Ranger tires, and a 1×9 Shimano drivetrain that outperforms its price. That’s largely due to its trail-oriented geometry, which is rare to find on models in this price range because some similarly priced options have geometries that make them feel more like hybrids than mountain bikes.
All of that tech and design comes together to offer a forgiving ride, allowing newbies to develop on-trail confidence and seasoned riders to feel right at home. During my testing of this bike on rocky Pennsylvania singletrack, gravel paths, and dirt fire roads, I most enjoyed spinning uphill and powering over rolling sections of trail because the frame was reliably stiff and the larger tires allowed me to make small mistakes (i.e. slightly miss my line) without major consequences.
With the Rocky Mountain Growler 20, you’ll get the benefit of a 1x chainring, a 120mm coil fork that ably reacts to the trail, beefy tires that forgive minor handling errors, and a beautiful aluminum frame that’s sturdy enough to withstand inevitable crashes. So, if you want a new mountain bike and don’t want to feel like you paid for a semester worth of tuition at a local community college for it, the Rocky Mountain Growler 20 might be a perfect, affordable way for you to start seeing the world a little differently; it’s the best, most capable, and most pleasing-to-ride sub-$1,000 mountain bike that we’ve ever tested.
A 1x Drivetrain
Marco Champagne, a Product Manager at Rocky Mountain, knows the value of a 1x drivetrain at any price, but he was especially stoked to bring that superior setup to a sub-$900 mountain bike.
Marco said that one of his favorite things about the Growler 20, along with its geometry and mid-fat tires, is the single, 28-tooth chainring and the 11-40-t00th, 9-speed cassette, which simplifies shifting and gives riders ample gears for climbing. In his eyes, it was the only option for this model.
“Because of the Growler 20’s intended use, a 1x drivetrain is the only thing that made sense to us,” Champagne said. “The accessibility of wider-range cassettes in 8 and 9 speed helped us to make the final call on its gearing.”
Champagne also pointed out that Rocky Mountain doesn’t have front derailleurs on any of its current mountain, gravel, or kids’ bikes. He said this setup is especially beneficial because it simplifies shifting. However, that explanation doesn’t reveal that it’s exceptionally rare on a model at this price. Along with simplified shifting, a 1x drivetrain also reduces the likelihood of dropping your chain—creating a host of benefits that are made even greater because of the Growler 20’s price.
Coil Fork & Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The Suntour coil fork impressed me when climbing and cruising through rolling sections of trail, working well when locked out as I spun uphill and when open as I rode over small rock gardens. The fork reliably absorbed small to moderate trail obstructions, like rocks, fallen tree limbs, and roots, but when the on-trail debris or obstacles took more than a few seconds to traverse, the coil fork began to compact linearly and reduce the amount of travel available. Essentially, the spring in the bike I tested felt a bit soft, leaving me toward the bottom of the travel at times. If you do buy this bike, be sure to check with your local shop to make sure the proper spring is in place to deliver you the maximum ride quality.
This is a setup that would likely outperform any air fork that Rocky Mountain could have paired with this model for the same price. Yes, a nice air fork is usually better than a nice coil fork, but if forced to choose between a low-end air option versus a high-end coil option, I’d take the better coil option every time.
The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes warrant almost the exact same level of praise: they performed capably on fast descents and on tricky sections that demanded careful feathering of the brakes, but they lack the stopping power experienced riders may have felt with higher-end brakes.
Growler Family and Components
The Growler 20 represents the lowest tier in the Growler family, with sibling models in the Growler 40 ($1,359) and Growler 50 ($1,849). The 40 comes stock with a Shimano Deore groupset, a Suntour Raidon 34 LOR Air 130mm fork, and Shimano MT400 hydraulic disc brakes. The 50 is available with a Shimano SLX groupset, Shimano MT400 hydraulic disc brakes, and a FSA Gamma Pro 30T crankset.
The Growler 20 is significantly less expensive than these two models and still features a host of reliable, high-performing components, including a Suntour XCM 34 Boost 120mm fork; a Rocky Mountain XC 740mm handlebar; Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes; Shimano Altus shifters and rear derailleur; Rocky Mountain Microdrive 28t; and WTB Volt saddle.
Test Editor Gabriel Lodge is a Test Editor for Bicycling and Runner’s World, where he tests and reviews everything from mountain bikes to treadmills.