If you’re a fan of black bikes, rejoice – you’re not going to find one much blacker than Specialized’s Rockhopper Comp. Underneath all that the frame, the wheels and the minor finishing parts are superb, but the cost-cutting drivetrain and skinny stanchioned fork are a bit of a letdown. Even the Rockhopper Pro only gets a RockShox XC30 fork – the lower-priced Rockhopper gets a Suntour XCM.
Ride & handling: Excellent, particularly for more experienced riders
The Rockhopper Comp has a long, low ride posture that offers a calm, smooth and incredibly confident ride on all but the roughest terrain. This is where the limits of the skinny legged fork start to become apparent: the seals bind slightly as the legs flex, especially when you’re braking on descents…
Ironically, though, it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as the bottom bracket is pretty low to start with. We experienced quite a few pedal slams on rocks at times when the fork made it further into its travel.
The long top tube reach (24.5in on the 19in bike) makes for very efficient climbing, partly making up for the 13.8kg (30.5lb) heft, and the short stem combines with a 71-degree head angle to create lively steering that relative beginners might find disconcerting compared to the more relaxed feel of some other hardcore hardtails. More experienced riders liked the animated handling.
Specialized rockhopper comp: Russell Burton/Future Publishing
Frame & equipment: Futureproof frame outclassed in component stakes
There’s little room for argument over the highlight of the Specialized – it’s the frame. The light, manipulated tubeset is worthy of a much more costly bike, and bears a tapered head tube ready to take a 1 1/8in to 1 1/2in steerer fork upgrade – one the frame richly deserves.
This XC28 with a reducer cup at the steerer base does the job and keeps your face off the ground with a lockout dial that stiffens rather than locks the spring, good rebound damping and a preload knob. However, the skinny legs flutter and twist under heavy braking and on bumpy descents, and it’s enough to compromise the compression action of the fork as well.
The biggest visual pointer to the downmarket drivetrain is the plastic trouser guard on the Suntour crankset. The gears shift well and the ratios are wide enough to get you up and over any terrain, but the whole setup would be more at home on a cheaper, entry level bike. Disappointing.
We have no complaints about the wheels. They’re well built and shod with a pair of Specialized’s own excellent all-rounder tyres, and while they’re not as fast rolling as some they do grip superbly across loamy or muddy ground.
The Tektro brakes are decent, fairly well modulated stoppers and the rest of the finishing kit is well chosen. We particularly like the Body Geometry grips and the slimline but surprisingly comfy saddle.
If the Rockhopper Comp cost £100 less it might have earned itself half a point more. But as it stands it’s a slightly overpriced basis for a far better bike. The frame, the wheels and the minor finishing kit outshine both the fork and the drivetrain.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.