The Hardrock is a longtime stalwart of Specialized’s starter bike stable, and the Pro Disc model is at the top of the range. Superficially, it seems a shame that the brakes are cable rather than hydraulic offerings. Many of the price competitors offer hydraulic brakes now, but these particular Avid cable-pulls have a good reliability reputation and the Hardrock has other attributes that quickly dispel any doubts about its overall appeal. If you’re looking for something lighter, with hydraulic discs, take a look at the entry level Rockhopper.
Frame: well sorted chassis balancing strength and weight
Specialized put lots of R&D time into frame design. Other brands do too, but the Hardrock frame is still one of the best at this price. The A1 Premium alu tubes are double butted and radically shaped for the ideal balance of strength and cautious light weight. The almost box sectioned top and down tubes flare to meet well behind the reinforced head tube and all tubes are shaped for maximum weld strength at contact points. The top tube has loads of standover room, the extended seat tube has a quick release clamp at the front (out of the wheel spray), there’s lots of mud clearance around big tyres and all-rounder appeal is emphasised by luggage rack bosses as well as the two sets of bottle cage bosses.
The SR Suntour fork offers 100mm (3.9in) of remarkably well controlled travel, with a preload dial on top of the left-hand leg and a lockout lever on top of the right leg. Rebound damping is OK but riding out of the saddle with the lockout on is a bit clunky and there’s a top-out thunk when you loft the front end or ride a fast series of bumps.
Equipment: robust and competent
Like most other bikes at this price, the Hardrock has an eight-speed cassette and shifters instead of nine, an Alivio rear gear, with Altus up front. The Octalink splined-axle crankset didn’t suffer from chain skip on the middle ring.
The wheelset is hefty but strong enough to take abuse without any problem, as are the Resolution tyres – they’re bigger in profile than many 2.1in tyres, so offer more shock absorption and comfort, but the tread rolls well and grips in poor conditions. The Avid BB5 brakes are among the best cable-pull discs around, easy to set up and adjust and powerful in use. We’d recommend fitting full outer cable to the rear as cable discs are susceptible to dirt messing up performance. Specialized’s riser bar, stem, grips, saddle and seat post are all quality items that suit the robust character of the bike well.
Ride: confident descender
One of the most instantly distinctive aspects of the Hardrock’s ride feel is the long top tube – on our 19in test bike is was 24.25in. This has allowed Specialized to fit a short stem to create a ride that feels both nimble and remarkably confident and well balanced. This is important when you’ve got a soft 100mm (3.9in) fork that inevitably has a tendency to dive, steepening up the head angle, when you hit stuff hard. And it has to be said, this is a bike that rewards an aggressive riding style. A 73- degree seat angle sits you well over the bottom bracket but the top tube stretch stops you feeling as though your nose is too far over the stem. But enough of the analysis. The Hardrock is lot of fun to ride. Although it’s relatively heavy compared to competitors (a bag of sugar heavier than the equivalent Focus for example), and you can really feel that on the climbs, it makes up for it with a singletrack and descending confidence that rivals can’t match.
We initially felt a little disappointed with the Hardrock’s spec. There will certainly be those who feel it’s worth spending more for 27 gears or hydraulic discs, but bear in mind that Avids are probably the best cable-pulls on the market and that the quality and geometry of the Hardrock frame make upgrades worth considering. On the whole, it’s an excellent deal for £399.