The Rockhoppers have always been Specialized’s ‘recreational cross-country’ hardtail workhorses, but a friendlier frame feel than the race bred Stumpjumper and excellent speccing and frame make the Pro a true trail thoroughbred.
Ride: confident and flattering
With outstanding weight for the money, a long stretch on our 19in sample and easy-accelerating, fast-rolling tyres, this bike has your mind surging forward to summer race tracks. It leaves other bikes in its price range standing on any smooth incline, and flatters your ego whatever your fitness level.
We could say that about a lot of bikes – especially the newer continental bred ones – around this price, though. What really impressed us about the ’Hopper is that it doesn’t feel as jumpy as a horror movie heroine as soon as you dive past the first trees onto a dark, technical singletrack.
It’s still a very fast handling bike, in true cross-country style, but steering is a half a degree slacker than ‘traditional’ race angles. This, combined with the fast reacting, shorter stemmed cockpit, gives you easy mid-corner correction and sideslip saving.
That’s something you won’t get on longer stemmed, narrower barred bikes, and it meant we were confident pushing hard even with summery tyres in slippery autumn conditions. A relatively long wheelbase meant we occasionally had to run a little wide round turns, and it doesn’t flick the back end round well at first. You’ll get used to it though, and the extra stability at speed will be welcome when you’re too tired to control a twitchier bike. There’s plenty of room in the top tube too, so don’t think you’re losing out on speed stretch and breathing space on the straight sections in between.
There are no miracles in metallurgy and frame design, but by keeping stiffness bearable not brutal the frame shrugs off sharp strikes and sucks some sting out of the trail. The double bonus is that our spines didn’t suffer after long days out and we always had enough control to pre-judge situations, pick lines and hop rocks.
You’ll still get speed kicked out of you on long rocky sections where the high impact frequency and low bottom bracket mean you can’t get a pedal stroke in, but we never got knocked out of control. The low weight means it’s easy to ‘ride light’ on rough sections and we never pinch punctured, even on particularly evil moorland descents. And let’s not forget we’re saying all this ‘not a bad descender’ stuff about a £900, 25lb hardtail.
Frame: subtle but strong
The Rockhopper frame is shared throughout the £500 upwards price range but it still stands up to scrutiny at this level. The highly evolved M4 aluminium frame gets a curved downtube and various other subtle shaping touches to keep it strong and stiff without excess weight or bruising stiffness.
Useful practical touches include rack mounts on the rear stays, reasonable mud room for the rear tyre and tough forged dropouts to keep the wheels secure. The old school ‘open cable under downtube’ routing is less prone to seizing and sticking too.
Components: specced for speed and comfort
The clear advantage on hardtails compared to the full suspension bikes in this price range are top quality forks. Rock Shox’s Reba SL is light, tough and impressively tuneable via positive and negative spring adjustment and Motion Control damping. It’s not quite as controlled on long, rough descents as the latest Foxes, but long-term reliability is legendary.
The Shimano Deore XT rear mech upgrade is a great ride quietener – and lightener – for the money, with dependable Deore making up the rest of the transmission. Kevlar reinforced Jagwire cables are a nice touch. The own brand hubs probably won’t last as long as Shimano but the 28 front, 32 rear spoked wheels are impressively light.
The Fast Track tyres help keep speed up and weight down, and they’re tubeless-ready if you do a rim strip conversion. The Juicy 3 SL brakes save a few more grams to help Spesh hit an impressively low overall weight. The ’Hopper’s more rounded character is shown by the shorter stem and stiff, mid-width riser bars for extra confidence and technical control. The chunky saddle is a day-long comforter not a short track race weight saver.