In The Simpsons’ 6th season, a new student arrives in Lisa’s class. Lisa is head and shoulders above her classmates – head, shoulders, arms, waist, and legs above Ralph Wiggum – but Allison (voiced by Winona Ryder) proves to be as smart, if not smarter than Lisa. And she’s younger too, having skipped a grade.
At one point, Lisa accepts her new fate as second best, and imagines herself in The Second Best Band in America with Art Garfunkel, Jim Messina, and John Oates, performing their #2 Hit “Born to Runner Up.”
Which brings us to the perennial second steel bike in Rocky’s lineup, the Rocky Mountain Hammer. It wasn’t always second in the lineup – it was sometimes lower – but it was always behind the Blizzard. But this certainly doesn’t make it any less of a bike.
According to the catalogs, the Hammer debuted in 1988 as a mid-level steel bike (of course everything was steel in ’88, apart from the aluminium Stratos which also debuted that year) below the Tantalus, Thunderbolt, Avalanche, and Blizzard. It seems to be above the Fusion though. The Fusion was for total control on the trails, whereas the Hammer could be trusted in the toughest conditions.
This established the pattern of the Hammer being below the Blizzard and above the Fusion in the Rocky lineup. It never got the best frame tubes available, or the best components, but it always got stuff just a bit nicer than the Fusion. And sometimes Rocky experimented with it; the ’91 featured SunTour parts, and I think one of the first OEM appearances of the new-fangled SRAM Grip Shifts.
It’s very hard to find a picture of a stock Hammer from ’91. Most of them seem to get rebuilt with Shimano DX parts, which is perfect of course given that DX was always second fiddle to XT.
I think too that this may have been the last year that you could find a set of SunTour parts on a decent bike. The speed and precision of Shimano’s Rapidfire shifters even in 1991 was clobbering SunTour in the market.
I’ve said repeatedly that 1991 was the best year for mountain bikes. Every company’s ’91 bikes were knock-outs. But it may be that the ’96 Hammer was it’s nadir. It won the Bike of The Year title from Mountain Biking magazine, which maybe doesn’t mean anything, but it was a beauty. Black Shimano LX hubs and brakes, colour-matched fork, grips, and decals, and just a general sense of Rocky picking every part to maximize its mission of budget performance.
1998 was the year that the Hammer truly cemented its second place standing as the Altitude bowed out in ’96, and the Equipe’s last year was 1997. This left the Blizzard and Hammer to soldier on as Rocky’s steel trail bikes. The Hammer proudly sported this second place badge for just over ten years, when, after a couple years of being a 29er, it was retired from the lineup after the ’09 model year.
One more weird outlier for the Hammer though. In 2008 it was a 29er singlespeed, in a very nice robin’s egg blue. However, the Internet has shown me a black Hammer with funky yellow or gold decals that looked nothing like the rest of the lineup. This image is from the “international” catalog, so this was a Europe-only thing I guess. I’m not sure why the Hammer was now the sheriff, but that’s how they explained the weird font they used. I can’t find a picture of one outside of the catalog, so please EuroTeamCow readers – send me a pic of yours, if you have one.
I really wanted the Hammer to return to Rocky’s lineup as a steel 27+ bike. Something like the Kona Explosif maybe, but a bit cheaper. Rocky instead called their plus bike Growler, and made it out of aluminium.
It’s a perfectly nice bike the Growler, but a pretty anonymous one. It really feels like there are people that want to buy steel now – Chromag is a perfect example – so it’s sad to me that Rocky doesn’t make a steel bike at all anymore.
I do have three steel Rockys, so I shouldn’t be too sad I suppose.