Specialized’s venerable Rockhopper has been around, in one form or another, for very nearly as long as mass-market mountain bikes have been produced. In its current Pro incarnation it’s almost unrecognisable from its illustrious forebears with its cutting-edge aluminium frame technology, air-sprung fork and hydraulic disc brakes.
What’s impressive about the Rockhopper’s character is the way that it segues seamlessly between weekend pocket rocket and weekday commuter. Details like rack mounts and easy-rolling tyres mean it’s pretty much ready for the office run, whereas the tight geometry, lively ride feel and top-notch kit maximise the weekend fun factor. This is a bike that outrides its price, serves equally well in two completely different roles and fully lives up to its illustrious heritage. What more could you possibly ask for?
Ride & handling: Truly versatile and great-handling classic aluminium hardtail
With a relatively steep head angle and a frame geometry that can trace its ancestry through a long line of cross-country race hardtails, the Rockhopper Pro is an eager and lively ride companion from the get-go.
Many mid-range hardtails emphasise easy going handling over sharp reflexes, but not this one. Steering responses are racer-sharp and tamed just enough by the wide bars to make fast singletrack a pleasure rather than a chore, and time-served trail warriors will revel in the sub-£1,000 Rockhopper’s ability to adapt instantly to fast-changing conditions.
The performance theme continues elsewhere. An emphasis on eficient power delivery – visible in the chunky stay design – makes for a rear end that’s undeniably lively in choppy trail conditions, keeping up a constant commentary on what’s going on under the rear wheel.
But generous tyre volumes and the lightweight build keep all that feedback at just the right level, while the chassis’ overall light build helps to soak up some of the background trail buzz.
The air fork’s seamless alacrity in the rough keeps the front wheel planted, so all that’s needed is some guts and a light touch at the rear to keep the speed up and the grin wide.
If we were to nitpick, we’d suggest that a 100mm fork – in place of the 80mm Reba that Specialized has specced – might really let the Rockhopper live up to its off-road potential; the geometry would handle the change. But for mixed road and off-road use there’s a strong case for sticking with the standard unit.
Frame: Despite its svelte looks and low weight, Specialized haven’t forgotten humdrum details
The Rockhopper Pro’s subtly curved and shaped frame tubes wouldn’t have looked out of place on a range-topping bike a few years ago, and contribute to its impressive all-in weight of just a hair over 25lb. The details have been fine-tuned over nearly two decades of aluminium frame building experience.
The top and down tubes’ flared front ends buttress this vulnerable part of the frame against frontal impact damage and chunky, bridgeless chainstays swoop in ankle-clearing fashion between bottom bracket and dropout, leaving enough mud clearance to easily accommodate a 2.3in tyre.
Specialized’s designers haven’t forgotten the practical details, either. Threaded mounting points make fitting a rack easy, although the lack of a chainstay bridge may make rear guard fitting trickier.
Equipment: Top-notch spec for the money, but think about upgrading tyres for off-road use
Kit is solid mid-range stuff from big-name brands or Specialized’s own stable. There are no glaring weak points and there’s plenty to inspire conidence in just about any off-road situation.
The fast-rolling Specialized Fast Trak tyres are the only nod to mixed-use compromise, sacrificing grip in the wet for hardpack and blacktop easy rolling.
The RockShox Reba fork is a real highlight, offering 80mm of easily set up and controllable air-sprung travel, with the option to lock it out if things are getting too bouncy.