The Rockhopper is one of Specialized's longest-running models, but the 2007 bike is all-new with clean lines, an impressive spec and a sharp and rapid ride.
The new M4 frame looks as good as any top-line race bike. The curved and gradually tapered ORE (Optimum Radius Engineering) down tube and distinctly large diameter top tube both have a cross-section that runs from square to oval for stiffness. The smoothly tapered seatstays use a curved A-frame brace for decent - if not massive - mud clearance, and the neat forged dropouts are pipe braced on the disc side.
The gear cables run naked under the down tube, which looks exposed but makes them less likely to seize than most other routing options. A forward-facing seatpost slot for the QR collar stops spray seizing the post. The frame has bolted, disc-compatible receivers for a rear rack and three bottle cage mounting points.
While there are lots of curves in the Rockhopper frame, the ride itself is straight down the line. Although the fork, tyres, saddle and frame all only feel slightly sharp, the overall effect is a distinctly direct ride. Kick down the power and the Rockhopper really cracks forward hard, creating a fast, big ring-greedy character. Standing up and stamping out the strokes, rather than gearing down and spinning, is the default setting and, with lightweight tyres and a lockable fork, it's a natural crosscountry race bike.
The flipside is a jerky trail character, with the bike clattering, snapping sideways and spilling traction very easily in the rough. It slams hard over rockeries, steps and drops, and you'll quickly learn to hover over the saddle or get booted hard in the backside.
Although the Rockhopper is naturally poised and balanced on smooth terrain, the stiffness also impacts on the swift handling. On rocky or rooty singletrack, the pronounced snap and skitter of both ends means some nasty jack-knifing moments or sudden complete loss of control. You can't lean the Fast Trak tyres over very much in the wet either, although braking and driving grip is reasonably dependable.
The low bottom bracket helps with extra stability if you end up howling into corners faster than intended, although you've no real excuse for that with brakes this good. Smooth, instant shifts help maximise acceleration too, and the RockShox fork, although not exactly plush, works consistently and controllably to ward off the worst of the big hits and drops. At 95 out of 100mm, it gets close to the claimed full travel.
This sharp, direct-drive lightweight is an uncompromising speed bike
The RockShox Tora 302 SL fork with lockout, rebound adjust and 100mm (4in) travel looks the real deal on paper. Performance is OK rather than outstandingly smooth. However, the Avid Juicy disc brakes, with their proper double-sided hydraulic piston action, are a real boon in terms of power and control.
Hollowtech cranks add stiffness to the smooth-running Shimano mix transmission, and we like the addition of a quick-release KMC Missing Link on the normally awkward-to-split Shimano chain because it makes thorough servicing and cleaning easier.
Shimano rear hubs are a byword for longevity and Specialized front hubs have never disgraced themselves either. The Alex rims under Specialized stickers stayed true and tight, and the dinky-tread Specialized Fast Trak tyres add easy speed and lightweight acceleration. You'll definitely need something grippier in the winter mud though.
There's no urgent need to change any of the Specialized branded finishing kit. Everything from the bar's shape and broad 26in span to the Body Geometry saddle and grips was popular with our testers. The overall bike weight (12.7kg/28lb) is the very light and, typically for Specialized, the value is good too.
You could easily create a more planted, less snappy overall feel just by sticking some heavier, fatter tyres - such as Specialized's own Resolution rubber - on the Rockhopper. Out of the box though, this sharp, direct-drive lightweight is an uncompromising speed bike. Thoughtful detail touches and a cracking frame also make it a great long-term or upgrade prospect if you're more into maximum speed mileage than tackling the techy stuff.