Rewind, for a moment, to the early 1980s. Thatcher and Reagan rule the world, legwarmers are in, the Rubik’s cube holds us in its puzzling thrall, and a small American bicycle company called Specialized is making the first production mountain bike.
Strange as it may seem, the Rockhopper Pro SL is probably the closest descendant in the current line-up to that early machine. Reasonably light, fairly affordable, built with components designed to withstand the rigours of off-road riding… we could be talking about either bike.
There are differences, of course. The Rockhopper features cutting-edge aluminium frame technology, 100mm of air sprung travel up front and niceties like hydraulic discs. The question is, are all these design nuances enough to see off the challenge from its fully sprung FSR XC Comp stablemate?
The Rockhopper’s down tube morphs subtly from a vertically orientated rectangular cross-section up front, through a square-ish section midway down its length, to a horizontal rectangular section at the bottom bracket. It’s all in the name of providing a stiff backbone, of course, but it’s done in a particularly unshowy way on the 2010 Rockhopper.
The teardrop proile top tube is also gently curved, although much less so than the latest incarnation of the Stumpjumper,which looks distinctly like it’s admiring itself in a fairground hall of mirrors.
Funky wishbone-style seatstays and bridgeless chainstays are particularly neat, giving this bike enough mud clearance to fit a tractor tyre (well, almost). At the very least, it should enable Rockhopper riders to keep the rear wheel turning in the kind of claggy conditions that will bring less generously mud-shedding designs to a gloopy halt. A small point, but a sign of impressive attention to detail from a southern Californian company.
The RockShox Reba fork’s brace can’t, unfortunately, match the rear end’s huge clearances. But the air spring is easy to set up and adjust, and gives the kind of invisible on-trail performance that deines the best forks. Wide bars and reliable Avid stoppers give added conidence when things get squirrelly, but the fast-rolling tyres give up the ghost too easily at the irst sign of damp on the trail. The stem’s rearward facing clamp bolts give the front end a clean look, but the rider is left staring at the bolt heads – and the stem hinders adjustment.
When the bumps are coming hard and fast, the Rockhopper rider is going to be working harder to hold a line than their counterpart aboard the FSR XC Comp. But that’s not the whole story, because the Rockhopper has a couple of aces up its sleeve.
First, it’s got a significant weight advantage over its fully sprung stablemate, which translates into lively pedalling responses, giving the Rockhopper an acceleration advantage that’s obvious on the trail. Put the boot in and this bike flies, limited only by the rider’s power and ability to keep the rear tyre planted and gripping.
Second, that light frame structure is pretty good at filtering out high-frequency trail buzz, leaving the rider to concentrate on navigating a smooth path down the trail. This, in turn, is made easier by the supple and willing fork, wide bars and sorted geometry.
Careful weight-forward riding makes the fork earn its keep to the limit of its 100mm travel, allowing the rear end to skip through rougher trail sections without slowing forward progress. This is a bike that wants to go faster and makes it surprisingly easy to get there for any rider.
It says a lot for the Rockhopper’s ability that it competes closely with the much more expensive Kona Kula Deluxe, at just less than two-thirds of the price. Light, fun and versatile, it also feels less compromised than its FSR XC Comp stablemate.