Specialized’s biggest children’s bike looks like a miniature version of the now-defunct Hardrock XC, a model we praised as a benchmark entry-level hardtail. And the US company is keen to draw parallels, saying, “We outﬁt our Hotrocks with the same quality components as our big bikes.” This is a lightweight, do-it-all bike for children aged nine to 12 that won’t break the bank.
Ride & handling: Capable off-roader that suffers on technical descents
Our tester soon pegged this as a bike at the cheaper end of the scale, but said, “It still feels like a proper mountain bike, not a bike that just looks like one.” It’s capable off-road, just not ideal for ragging around red routes.
Overlong 160mm cranks and the merely adequate fork mean technical descents on the Hotrock aren’t that secure. However, Specialized’s website promises 152mm cranks for the 2009 Hotrock A1 FS boys’ model (we tested the ‘08 variant).
Frame: Just as good as its bigger brothers
It’s true that the frame is just as good as the adult models. It’s made from the same aluminium alloy as the Hardrock, using tubing that’s butted at both ends. It also has Specialized’s hockey-stick shaped down tube for front end strengthening, rather than using more metal for reinforcement, which keeps things light.
The steeply sloping top tube allows for plenty of standover clearance and the handlebar height that kids favour. The frame and fork have disc mounts as well as V-brakes, and you can ﬁt a carrier rack and/or mudguards for street use.
Equipment: Adequate kit, but seven-speed cassette is a disappointment
The RST fork is a short coil/elastomer model that’s sprung lightly enough for a kid to get most of its travel. Preload adjustment helps as your child grows, while the lockout is good for road use. However, there’s no damping or rebound adjustment.
Twist-grip shifters are intuitive for younger children, but they can become stiff if neglected, making shifts awkward. However, the main weakness in the spec is the threaded hub with a seven-speed, screw-on freewheel.
We’d expect a £300 hardtail to have an eight-speed cassette hub, whether it’s for an adult or a child. They’re stronger because the drive-side bearings are closer to the end of the axle. Plus, eight-speed equipment is better quality, gives smaller steps between gears and often provides a wider overall range.