The STATE Thunderbird is a sleek looking ride right out of the box and whether you were in the market for a single speed or not this bike will cause you to consider the option. If you find yourself falling for this simple steed yet experience turmoil over the lack of gearing don’t fret, this bike can handle a rear derailleur. Most noticeable about the appeal of this bike is the unique yet very SSCX color schemes. I found myself connecting with the army-green and burnt-orange pairing as the two tones complement each other and the bike clearly has eye-pleasing lines with angles that are normally only seen on a custom build.
With a price tag of $999, I initially asked myself where the investment could be found in this bike as all true cyclists see their ride as something that increases in value with age. The Thunderbird builds upon a sturdy 6061 aluminum CX frame with a thick blade carbon fork(QR) and eccentric bottom bracket. The inexpensive single speed drivetrain helps reduce the overall cost associated with a new bike. To many avid riders it would seem that STATE skimped on the other complimentary components such as the brakes (mechanical and not hydraulic) and the cranks, wheels, stem, bars, and post (all low level alloy components that are have a significant weight). On the other hand this basic yet durable build is capable of daily rides on the road, trail and most importantly, track. From a 23c to a 40c with room for more, you can ride a plethora of tire sizes with the Thunderbird.
Considering the lack of any suspension and shifting components, and the fact that I want to receive more “bang for the buck” with the consumer-direct sales model of STATE Bicycle, I would expect a slightly higher end and lighter build package for track use. Granted, this is simply just the bargain consumer in me as less than $1,000 for a true bike these days is almost unheard of. It’s nice to see that they chose well known and highly respected brands for the components such as Ritchey cockpit and Sram brakes. When considering this bike for your needs you can rest assure that it will take a serious beating and still keep you spinning day after day.
With all of that being said, I whole heartedly admit that the bike looks sleek and fun to ride immediately out of the box. One inclusion of the build that is very much appreciated is the derailleur hanger. Should you ever want to go with a multi-geared drivetrain, you don’t have to scramble to find and order the proprietary hanger. If you are purchasing this bike for its true durability and instant ride-ability you won’t be disappointed.
Riding the Thunderbird:
CX bikes like the Thunderbird often blur the lines between riding categories and offers a lot of versatility. The one downside of such a versatile bike is it tends to perform pretty well for the various categories but never excels or stands out in one specific style of riding. After a short time aboard the Thunderbird, I consider it to be a very viable option for a novice or new rider who is venturing into the sport on a budget. It’s this ability to ride multiple disciplines that will put a massive smile on your face. For most, the sport of cycling involves big budgets and lots of overtime to acquire the latest technology. This is everything that STATE isn’t and they have made sure to make this point clear. Remain simple, add reliability through trustworthy parts and you are left with a super fun bike that won’t tempt upgrades tomorrow.
To truly test the diversity of this bike I focused my first few rides on mostly trails scattered with gravel and pavement in the local canyon. The Thunderbird was impressive right out of the gate with a smoothness in its ride quality and comfortable geometry. The carbon fork definitely helped to dampen road feedback and vibration which only heightened my comfort level as my rides continued to increase in length. The Kenda Small Block Eight tires also never felt too slow or aggressively knobbed for the mixed surface and quickly identified themselves as an asset to this build. You can tell a great deal about a bike by its rubber. Rest assured that this Kenda staple will excel on hardpack, grass and even wet pavement. If your local track tends to get a bit sloppy then you can easily switch out for a more aggressive set of clinchers.
The single speed gearing wasn’t a disappointment for road cruising and I found myself adjusting my cadence in order to maintain speeds associated with commuting on the flats and, inversely, adjusting to pedal up any hills that were more than a slight grade. As long as your topography is relatively flat, the Thunderbird can be a very practical commuter/road-assault bike that can take the pounding of daily city riding such as hopping up and down curbs without grimacing like you would on a carbon road bike. If you live in an incline prone area, you can always upgrade the drivetrain to a multi-geared setup or simply man up and work on that leg strength a bit more seriously. All in all there is something refreshing about purchasing a quality bike and not having to worry about it while actually riding it with feeling. The Thunderbird provides you with confidence on multiple surfaces and adds a fun factor to cycling that can be lost with more expensive builds.
Once I finally introduced the Thunderbird onto some dirt, the bike started to feel more at home and not quite as heavy as it did on the road. The gearing also started to feel more appropriate as I pedaled on dirt flats and up and down gradual grade dirt hills with complete comfort. I was a little concerned about grip and traction with the Small Block Eight tires in the looser dirt and sand but I was pleasantly surprised at how will they held their line and did not spin out as I torqued heavily into the cranks on some of the more grueling climbs. I started off on wider, gravel covered dirt paths that stayed relatively smooth… the bike excelled on this terrain and I felt like I could have ridden like that for countless miles with a huge smile on my face. I wanted to up the ante and push the bike’s off-road limits so I hit up some local single-tracks that I usually roll on with my 29er hardtail mountain bike. I’m not quite sure if I reached the bike’s limit or my own body’s limit but I definitely proved this bikes versatility and therefore true value. The single track started off relatively smooth and flowy, the bike handled this fine and I was able to get into a groove at speed… pumping through turns and rollers while mashing through the smaller chatter. I even aired off some rocks and lips with no issues and the bike was not harmed at all. Once the terrain got more rocky and rough, I was able to continue pushing the bike through its paces even though the effort needed to do so, along with the bone-jarring feedback, became a bit much for me to endure. I wouldn’t say this is a knock on the bike itself, after all, it is a CX bike and not a full on trail bike.
With the character and smoothness of a road bike and the durability of a gravel bike you might already be able to guess where this bike felt most at home… that’s right, the track. For the privateer that enjoys the wild and crazy single speed world the Thunderbird will get down in the pig pen. All of the benefits in design and build that we spoke of previously allow for this bike to be stiff and stable off the starting line. Even if you are purely in the sport for weekend fun the Thunderbird will have you riding confidently with very little investment.
For the novice cyclist and/or rider on a realistic budget, the Thunderbird is a pretty slick, versatile package. It’d be nice to see slightly lighter parts and hydraulic breaks but the provided components all function refreshingly well and are dependable for the long-haul. I can confidently recommend the Thunderbird as a city commuter for relatively flat areas and, of course, as a good starter CX bike for every interested rider. If you end up falling in love with cycling after your purchase of the Thunderbird, the fork/frame combo are of high enough quality that a full new bike would not be needed, rather you can upgrade parts and components on the existing frame. The addition of the derailleur hanger coming stock with the bike almost begs the rider to do so. The single speed drivetrain is very nice for its simplicity in function and upkeep, the mechanical breaks are also easier to adjust for novice riders who are not mechanically inclined. Finally a price tag of $999 is very, very hard to beat.