There are four bikes in the 2011 Hardrock range. This is the top model, and it’s the only one to get the custom-tuned version of SR Suntour’s XCR fork. Other bikes may theoretically offer more suspension travel, but the 80mm provided here is so well controlled that it gives the bike a major advantage over most of its price rivals when the going gets rough.
Ride & handling: Comfort is key
After half a dozen frustrating mis-shifts and chain jumps, thanks to a stiff link in the chain, the Hardrock’s Shimano Alivio drivetrain performed perfectly throughout the rest of the test period.
The Shimano brakes took longer than most to bed in to produce their best performance. However, most riders found them more than adequate for normal trails.
The wheels are well built, shod with Specialized’s appropriately named Fast Trak treads. These roll fast and grip surprisingly well in both wet and dry conditions. Bigger-profile treads would add a little more comfort, but with a decent fork and comfy saddle this isn’t really an issue on the Pro.
Everyone found the saddle really comfy. In fact, the Specialized finishing kit is all pretty decent. The seatpost is a sturdy twin-bolted offering and the handlebar is a better-than-average butted low-rise model with a generous 27in width, ideal for control on challenging terrain.
The handling of the Hardrock Pro is neutral in the best possible way. It gives you confidence to tackle the sort of ground that’s often too much of a handful for lesser £600 bikes.
The low (11.75in) bottom bracket keeps everything stable at speed, but you’ll need to be aware of possible pedal strikes as you power through bumpy bends.
Frame: Simple and practical
The Hardrock frame is a pretty special offering. The relatively slim tubes give a noticeably more forgiving ride than those on the chunkier Hardrocks from a few years back, but the clever shape-shifting of the top tube and down tube, plus internal butting in the right places, boosts strength and keeps the weight reasonable.
This is definitely a frame that’s worth a few parts upgrades as stuff wears out. However, like most others on bikes of this price, it’s also thoroughly practical. There are rack eyelets on the seatstays, two sets of bottle bosses, a forward-facing seat clamp slot and a long, neutral handling geometry that should please both relative novices and riders looking for more performance at speed.
The biggest compliment we can pay to the rest of the bike is that it simply lets you get on with enjoying the ride. The saddle-to-handlebar reach is generous enough (with a 23.5in top tube onthe 19in model) to create a powerful flat-backed posture on climbs, to the point where you hardly ever feel aware of the 13kg (28.7lb) weight.
Equipment: Reliable travel and solid kit
A decent fork on a £600 bike makes a massive difference to ride confidence, simply because it makes the bike far easier to control when trails get rough.
SR Suntour’s XCR appears in different forms on different bikes, and its performance varies enormously. Specialized’s custom-tuned version simply gets decent damping, something that’s sorely lacking on most other rides in this price bracket.
Its 80mm of travel is a genuine 80mm, not exactly plush but always active unless you flick the lockout lever or tighten the preload. The lockout lever on top of the right leg is very effective too. It’s amazing how much influence a fork can have on the overall ride character of a bike around this price.
You won’t be choosing this particular model if you’re not a fan of Specialized’s bright red-and-white colour schemes. Fortunately, it comes in black and grey too.
To sum up, we simply couldn’t find anything about the Hardrock Pro to moan about in terms of trail performance. We’ve seen better finishing parts on £600 bikes but the fork performance and frame quality more than make up for that.