The Specialized Hardrock is a bike that’s introduced hundreds of thousands of people to mountain biking over the years. It is, in many ways, the bike equivalent of the Volkswagen Golf – affordable, capable and all you really need.
Sadly, the 2012 Hardrock SE doesn’t live up to its illustrious heritage. It shares its cheap, ineffective fork with some of its competitors but its screw-on freewheel wrecks its chances of ever being a useable off-roader. Luckily just £30 more buys you the Specialized Hardrock, which shares the same (actually rather good) frame but adds a useable fork and transmission.
Ride & handling: Good on smooth trails but poor fork and freewheel count it out for proper off-roading
Specialized’s designers know what they’re doing, so the fact that the Hardrock SE has decent handling comes as no surprise. The well thought out frame contributes to low – for the price bracket – weight and a relatively lively ride character.
That’s the good news. The bad news includes the fact that Suntour’s M3010 fork ruins the ride on anything other than middling pace, fairly smooth trails. But the clattery, crude fork pales into insignificance next to the frustration of using the ill thought out gears.
Shimano’s ‘MegaRange’ freewheel features six closely-spaced gears and a huge jump to the 34T sprocket. While this endows the bike with a lower – read easier – lowest gear than most of the competition, it simply doesn’t offer the gear ratios needed for riding off-road.
Huge ratio gaps are a hindrance rather than a help, slowing forward progress and making trail riding on the Hardrock SE a chore rather than a pleasure. Odd sprocket sizes make for exact duplicate gear ratios in the small and middle chainrings – not a good thing
The frame’s good. The handling’s good. But without a better fork and a more capable transmission, this is a bike best left on the showroom floor. Buy the £370 Hardrock instead.
Frame & equipment: Well thought out chassis is light and upgrade-worthy
The subtle twin curves of the Hardrock SE’s variable cross-section down tube hint at the attention to detail that’s gone into the frame. Specialized call it
Plugged into the front is Suntour’s ubiquitous (in this price range) M3010 fork. Specialized spec different springs according to frame size – a neat touch – and there’s a preload adjuster, too. We’d prefer the better built and far more accomplished Suntour XCT, though, as featured on the £370 Hardrock.
Specialized list the Hardrock SE as having a rear cassette mechanism. It doesn’t – it has a screw-on freewheel. That means no sealing against water or grit ingress and a considerably weaker rear wheel (a freehub has widely spaced hub bearings for better strength and durability) – a massive backwards step and a big no-no on a bike that claims to be off-road worthy.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine.