Specialized Rockhopper £650

Entry-level hardtail that's worthy of upgrades

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

The standard Rockhopper is the base model of Specialized's Rockhopper bikes. 

The frame is a huge upgrade over the cheaper Specialized Hardrock, and is worthy of upgrading as your riding improves. The fork is supple despite basic damping, although the bike is a little heavy for a hardtail.

Frame and equipment: Suntour and Shimano componentry

The swoopy, curvy frame is made from A1 Premium aluminium. The tube walls vary in thickness for low weight and high strength where it's needed, as well as increased compliance.

The Rockhopper has a tapered head tube, which is good news for anyone who wants to upgrade the slightly disappointing SR Suntour XCM fork fitted to the front of the bike. The 100mm XCM fork is not bad for the money, despite being undersprung. Instead of the lockout being on/off, it ramps up compression damping gradually – and slows the rebound at the same time. There’s no separate rebound adjuster, but the combined effect is enough to stop it thrashing too hard on rough trails. It’s hiding a straight steel steerer inside that tapered head tube, and the QR axle and 30mm legs mean it’s still fairly flexy.

The wheels are 32-spoke numbers, shod in Specialized’s 2.1in Ground Control Sport rubber. Shifting is taken care of by a Shimano cassette and Acera shifters. The cranks are SR Suntour XCR, on a splined axle, and the brakes are the Tektro M330s. The cockpit comprises an 80mm stem and 700mm bars in a 31.6mm diameter.

Ride and handling: well-balanced, with a few niggles

The Rockhopper is long and low enough to handle steep and rough trails, and the geometry numbers add up to result is well-balanced rider weight, good traction and stability. The frame shines, despite the average kit that's fitted to it.

The wheels roll quickly and the tyres' tall lugs and rounded profile dig in for good grip. With a 70a compound they’re a little slippery on smooth, wet obstacles, but the compliant carcass means feedback is good. Just upgrading these to the folding-bead, 60a Ground Controls would drop 200g of rotating weight.

The bars feel like an odd shape with their 10-degree backsweep – we’d prefer a stem shorter than the 80mm one fitted here, as well as straighter bars for a less ‘steering wheel’ feel. Another niggle is that the seatpost is simply too long. Thanks to the bottle bolts on the seat tube, we could only drop ours 20mm from pedalling height. It needs a trim, though there’s nothing to be done about the limited standover.

Overall though, this is a tough, capable bike that you can upgrade over years of XC use.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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