Steel frame and 29-inch wheels are a combination that doesn’t happen too often these days. Back when I started mountain biking, steel frames were the only option, but now there are a myriad of other frame materials–titanium, scandium, aluminum, carbon fiber or whatever else comes along. But, the old saying “steel is real” lives on with cult-like fervor among those who know.
Apparently, Rocky Mountain Bicycles has been a closet “steel is real” groupie all these years… who knew? What with all those handmade aluminum framesets all these years, they sure did a great Jedi mind trick on us, didn’t they. A 29er, steel-framed Rocky Mountain bike? This I had to test.
About the Rocky Mountain Hammer 29
In its first season, the Rocky Mountain Hammer 29 has a lot to offer in an economical package. Boasting old-school Reynolds 725 chromoly steel tubing, a compact frame design and the Eccentric bottom-bracket for simple single-speed conversions if you’re into that kind of pain.
The compact frame design provides shorter tube spans and Rocky-esque standover clearance. The pedestrian component spec provides good value but isn’t flashy by any means.
Hammer 29 Specs
- Tubing: Custom-drawn Reynolds 725 steel tubeset
- Fork: Fox 32 F29 RL w/100mm travel
- Drivetrain: Primarily Shimano Deore with XT deraileur and RaceFace Evolve cranks
- Wheels: Shimano M525 hubs laced to WTB Speed Disc rims
- Brakes: Avid Juicy 3 discs (160mm f/r)
- MSRP: $1999
Real steel with big wheels
My first glimpse of the Hammer 29 was at Interbike Outdoor demo as legendary freerider, Wade Simmons carved out the Bootleg Canyon singletrack aboard this orange beauty. If he could rally on a steel hardtail with a smile on his face–given the fact that he typically rides a super-squishy Rocky Mountain Flatline–then there must be something about this bike, I thought to myself.
I didn’t have a chance to ride the Hammer until early this Summer, but it’s been a ton of fun once I got past the hardtail transition.
That hardtail transition is a reality for me and anyone who has exclusively ridden a full-suspension bike for many years. For me, it’s been 10 years since I rode a hardtail for any real length of time. So, needless to say, the first two rides were a lesson in mountain biking 101, which kind of threw me for a loop. Pretty funny, I know.
Lets talk about the spec for a bit and then return to the trail. For the money, this is a solid deal for a unique bike. Starting out with the Reynolds steel tubing for a compliant ride, the rest of the bike is rounded out with a solid wheelset, a worthy Fox 32 F29 RL fork, a workman-like drivetrain and solid components throughout. If you’re looking for an easy way into the 29er or singlespeed fray, this is a great option.
The frame design is compact for a variety of reasons: 1) to keep the center-of-gravity low, 2) to minimize the tube lengths to control the flex, 3) to expose more seatpost for extra compliance and 3) increase standover. While I typically purchase a mountain bike purely based off the top-tube measurement (23.25-23.75″ for me), the Medium-sized Hammer 29 is right on the edge of fit for me due to the seatpost extension. I’ve got about 1/4″ of extension left in the seatpost at climbing height with the 23.74″ top-tube found on the Medium. If my legs were a titch longer, I’d have to step up to the next size frame, which would create an elongated cockpit.
Hopping aboard, I’m convinced that the only hardtails for me are of the big-hoop variety and the steel frame on top of that is gravy.
The Hammer 29 is a 29er that’s built Rocky-style. I’ve found it to be a capable, but not outstanding climber. It holds its own and did propel me to my best time yet up the Clark’s Trail Time Trial, but it still felt a tad sluggish. Standing climbs are efficient with no energy-robbing rear suspension, but it is a balancing act to keep the rear wheel in contact with the dirt–too much weight forward and you’ll spin out the rear tire. Once I figured out that balance, I was able to stand and maintain precious momentum on long climbs.
29er wheels are excellent at rolling over and through rough terrain and the steel hardtail adds to the softening of harsh bumps, but this is no full-suspension or even a soft tail. Riding down rocky, technical singletrack will quickly bring you back to reality as you bounce around rock gardens. While you will get bounced around in rocky downhills, this bike remains a super-capable descender on fast, rolling singletrack. The angles are well-suited for technical, twisty dirt ribbons.
One thing to keep in mind is that with the larger contact patch, there’s no need, or ability to lean the bike and angulate into corners like you do on a 26er. That extra 3-inches in diameter makes a huge difference in cornering traction and the Hammer 29 hooks up well.
While the Hammer 29 is an excellent value, it does leave a bit to be desired in the fork and drivetrain. The OEM Fox F29 RL isn’t as plush and doesn’t offer the adjustability of the aftermarket F29 RLC or a RockShox Reba 29er and the mostly-Deore drivetrain shows its limitations under load, but it does the job.
Good Hammer 29
- Inexpensive entry into 29er market
- Steel is real… compliant and soft to take the edge off
- Rocky-esque handling… capable descender on smooth and fast trails
- Climbs well once you get the right balance for standing climbs
- Can easily turn it into a singlespeed, if you like that type of punishment
- Solid WTB/Shimano M525/DT Swiss wheelset tracks very well
- Frame design offers low center-of-gravity
- Tons of standover clearance
Bad Hammer 29
- So-so parts spec, but good for the money
- Rocky descents remind you that it is a hardtail afterall
- Avid Juicy 3’s are OK, but I’d prefer a 185mm front rotor for a little more power
- Entry-level fork gets the job done, but would be on my upgrade shortlist
- Be careful not to extend the seatpost too far
The Bottom Line: Rocky Mountain Hammer 29
Looking for a unique 29er hardtail? The Rocky Hammer 29 is a solid performer as a single-bike quiver or as a 29er playbike. The steel frame is lively and the wheels are solid. Everything else performs well, but could be upgraded over time.
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