Specialized’s Hardrock has been around for a long time. While its glamorous Stumpjumper stablemate is one of the longest-running production bikes in existence, the stalwart Hardrock has been providing Specialized customers with a decent entry-level riding experience for decades.
Redesigned for ’09, the Hardrock Pro Disc seeks to continue the tradition. You’ll have to live with a 24-speed transmission and the compact cockpit won’t suit riders of all sizes, but it boasts a great looking, svelte frame that meshes a forgiving ride quality with sharp handling.
Ride & handling: Feels like it should cost twice as much
The conservative top tube length, short stem and handlebars with a pronounced sweep make for a surprisingly compact cockpit. We’d hesitate to call it cramped, but if you have a long torso or arms you might want to try a larger frame than you’d normally choose. The upside is an upright ride position that gives the front wheel a light, placeable feel and encourages last-minute line changes while retaining high-speed stability.
This lively feel is complemented by the Hardrock’s new-found litheness, courtesy of some unusually slender frame tubes. The Hardrock skips over high-speed stutter bumps and through sections of boulder-strewn trail with the kind of vibration-shrugging grace that we’d normally associate with a bike twice this price.
We’re so used to taking a pounding on mid-range hardtails that it’s a genuine pleasure to ride one that feels like expensive, race-bred machinery. It’s all down to those skinny, thin-walled frame tubes, which makes us wonder why there’s been so much vying to build the stiffest mid-range frame.
If you can live with a 24-speed transmission – and cope with swapping the tyres if you ride a lot in the wet – the ’09 Hardrock Pro Disc is a breath of fresh air in the £500 hardtail market.
Frame: Slender, curved tubes produce a decent weight
Previous Hardrocks have tended towards a chunky, utilitarian build that hinted at strength over comfort – but not any more. The 09 Hardrock has ditched the freeride-inspired burliness of previous incarnations and taken a cue from the slender, curved tube profiles that characterise its more expensive counterparts.
The double curves of the down tube and single, convex curve of the top tube are eerily reminiscent of some of the ’70s clunkers that kick-started mountain biking in California, but the detail is bang up to date. Thin tube walls produce a decent weight, despite the relatively ordinary components and the extra heft of budget discs, while touches such as space for two water bottles and neat, recessed rack mounts at the rear give the Hardrock a dose of all-round versatility. And, because this version comes with disc brakes as standard, there are no brake bosses cluttering up the smooth lines of the seatstays.
Holding up the front of all this curvy elegance is a RockShox Dart 3 fork with coil spring innards, 80mm of travel and adjustable rebound damping. Middle to lightweight riders may find the stock spring on the stiff side, but that’s a swap that your bike shop should be able to make. The Dart 3 is a decent entry-level bump muncher, which is fluid at the expense of some over-enthusiastic bounciness. It’s a tad whippy in the rough stuff, but it’s still reassuringly competent overall.
Equipment: Cost-shaving is clear in budget hardware
Rising manufacturing costs and the perceived need for spec upgrades like hydraulic discs have cut the money available for transmission components in this price bracket. The Hardrock Pro Disc is no exception, offering a functional blend of Shimano’s reliable-but-basic Altus and Alivio component groups. There are two practical results of this cost-shaving.
First, the range of available gears is spread over eight rather than nine sprockets at the rear. And second, budget hardware doesn’t stand up to protracted abuse quite as well as more expensive kit.
Elsewhere, Specialized’s entry level Fast Trak tyres are as fast-rolling as the name suggests, but lack grip in the wet, and the Tektro brakes are a worthy upgrade over the equivalently priced rim brake alternative.