The Rockhopper has been around for nearly two decades. But this year's model is as bang up to date as you'd want it to be.
A box-section down tube - curved where it meets the head tube to help disperse stress - gives the Rockhopper its backbone. The top tube has some nifty external butting where it joins the seat tube, while tidy dropouts and bridgeless, mud-friendly chainstays complete a relatively minimalist rear end.
It looks like there's enough space between seatpost and stem to string up a hammock and take a nap. But don't fret - you won't need basketball player proportions to fit, because the stubby stem brings the bars back to where they should be. The wide bars and short stem deliver beginner-friendly stability with just enough instantaneous flickability to keep more trail-hardened riders happy in the tight and twisty stuff.
The frame and fork package works pretty well together, most of the time. The RockShox J3 fork performs well for its price, giving a firmish but fluid feel that suits the taut responses of this bike's frame. Combined with a very fair all-up weight and grippy, big-volume tyres, it'll fly through most trail scenarios with a panache that belies its price tag. A low-slung bottom bracket contributes to the stable feel, but also stuffs the pedals into raised trail obstacles that other bikes clear with ease. Technical trails can quickly become pedal-gouging frustration...
The unbranded bars, stem and seatpost give the Rockhopper a slightly low-rent appearance, but all of the kit's entirely functional. The saddle's a tad squishy for daylong epics, but the shape's good and newbie backsides will find it comfortable. The V brakes will drop Brownie points in some potential buyers' eyes, but they work well in all but the wettest of conditions - and the hubs are disc-ready.
If the low bottom bracket doesn't bother you, there's plenty of potential in the Rockhopper's frame. Many riders will upgrade basic parts like stem and bars, but that's something Specialized should have got right anyway.