Specialized Rockhopper SL Expert review£949.00

A real all-rounder

BikeRadar score3.5/5

It’s a subtle looker with colour matched components and detailing but the Rockhopper SL Expert rides really well from the first ride to the final mile of an epic. Naturally fast, agile and enthusiastic, it's a cracking all-rounder and good value too. The fork is the only weak link in the package, but it doesn’t manage to dampen the fast and exciting ride.

Ride & handling: Sweetly balanced, always enjoyable and naturally rapid all-rounder

It’s the overall balance of the bike that really stands out rather than anything specific. Low weight and easy rolling tyres make it quick to pick up speed, and it whipped down the cinder path to the singletrack double-quick on every ride.

It’s also slow to shed its speed, even when the trail points up steeply, and the enthusiastic pedal response amplifies fitness all day long. Handling balance is equally enthusiastic, with enough control and feedback to stay on top of the ‘summer’ tyres even when the snow was falling thick and fast.

The slidy rubber does have its limits in dirtier conditions though, so something chunkier will be needed for natural riding in winter. The compact dimensions make it a natural ‘flick and flare’ bike off every lip or line change you can get some air off too.

Even in the smoother coil format you’ll soon outrun the TurnKey damped RockShox Recon fork’s consistent control limits on stepped or rocky runs, but the ease with which it ‘rides light’ and a generous carcass size on the nominal 2.0in tyres takes some heat off the fork. If you have an extra £150, the RockShox Reba SL-equipped Rockhopper Pro is a tempting option.

Frame & equipment: Lightweight and mostly well specced, but deserves a better fork if you can afford it

The frame is based around time-proven M4 tubing and Specialized were one of the first manufacturers to introduce curved and hydroformed shapes on their chassis. There are some neat touches on the SL Expert like the asymmetric wishbone seatstay design with rack mounts on the shoulders.

Tyre space is plentiful, and the forward facing seat slot keeps rear wheel spray out. Check fit before you buy though as Specialized bikes generally come up small for a given size.  The comfort of the Body Geometry saddle was widely commented on and the thumbwheel-and-bolt seatpost makes correct angling a cinch.

Specialized always do a good job of making really attractive complete bikes and the Rockhopper is right on the money. Fork, saddle and grips are colour matched to the frame while red anodised nipples pick up details on the fork adjusters and other pieces.

Low tread tyres add easy speed and there’s a lockout for smooth climbs. The coil fork is smoother than the air equivalent and the overall weight is impressive despite the extra mass. Avid Elixir brakes, a Shimano XT rear mech and Octalink splined cranks all sharpen up the stop/go feel too.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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