The perennial Rockhopper is a name bursting with heritage, but is it still the go to mid-level hardtail?

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 7

Specialized Rockhopper Comp

Pros:

  • Ride quality of the aluminium frame
  • Sensibly specced handlebar width and stem length

Cons:

  • Low level spec for the price
  • Brake and gear shifters difficult to set up perfectly

Product:

Specialized Rockhopper Comp

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£675.00

The Specialized Rockhopper is a name dripping in MTB history. There are not many other bikes boasting a heritage spanning over four decades. For many of us, the Rockhopper was the gateway into mountain biking, renowned for being a capable cross country companion. But as we have all grown up, and as mountain biking has matured and changed direction; the question is, has the Rockhopper grown up and matured? We take a look at Specialized Rockhopper Comp, one step up from the entry point Rockhopper Sp 29.

Specialized has been at pains to keep the Rockhopper’s wheels firmly planted in the broadest sense of XC, mainly to appeal to a broad sector of riders. However there have been a more than a few tweaks to the formula to just about keep it relevant for most of us.

Now the Rockhopper sports Specialized’s own A1 SL aluminium tubing. Butted throughout the tubes to keep weight down and strength up, the Rockhopper frame still features the ORE bent downtube for additional clearance of the wagon wheels. The new frame has been given what Specialized call its Trail Geometry, which equates to a low 311mm BB height, short 440mm chainstays and a longer top tube.

Specialized Rockhopper Comp

The Rockhopper Comp. Out standing in a field.

Suspension

The SR Suntour XCR-Air fork won’t win any prizes for its performance. It does however provide a tunable air spring, which is slightly better than some of the coil sprung forks for dialling the fork in for your weight and preferred riding style. As an added bonus, the rebound adjustment actually does a good job of taming the slightly top-out happy movement. The XCR-Air also benefits from a remote lockout, something that will benefit newer riders as it means you don’t have to take your hands off the bars to lock the fork.

Specialized Rockhopper Comp

Handlebar mounted lockout keeps your hands safely in position.

How to set up mountain bike suspension

Components

Often Specialized are accused of being a little too expensive when you compare the spec sheet against other brands, especially now with so many up and coming brands vying for the same market share. But the Big S sticks to its guns, maintaining the view of providing the best quality frame for the price point. With this in mind, the Pick n Mix drivetrain of Specialized Stout square taper chainset, Shimano Acera shifters, SRAM X5 front mech and Shimano Deore rear mech is eclectic but functional. 36/22 chainrings and 11-36 cassette should help save your lungs on the climbs without sacrificing too much top-end speed.

Specialized chainset, SRAM front derailleur…

Specialized Rockhopper Comp

…plus a Shimano Deore rear derailleur makes for a pretty mixed drivetrain

Brakes are the utilitarian Shimano M315 units. The longer lever blades make setting up the brakes a little tricky. Resin pads give a better initial bite and shorter bedding in times but at the expense of wet weather performance and durability.

Wheels are heavy but durable. Featuring standard spokes and Shimano centre-lock hubs, they should be easy to keep rolling. Specialized’s own grippy Ground Control tyres are fitted, but we would have liked to have seen a wider 2.3″ version fitted to the front. The Henge saddle is exceptionally comfortable for all day riding and thankfully the Rockhopper Comp has been specced with a 720mm width flat bar and 75mm stem (size large).

Watch: Hardtail of the year £500-£1000

Performance

It’s fair to say that the A1 aluminium frame on the Rockhopper Comp has a ride quality better than most. Pitch it around familiar singletrack and it gives a lightning fast response to direction changes, all with a lovely softness to the feedback felt through the rear end. It’s equally sprightly on the climbs, with applications of power being rewarded immensely.

Things do come apart when the confidence it inspires pushes you to try more demanding trails. Here the decidedly old-school angles and dive-happy fork combine to pitch your weight too far forward. This can make challenging trails into an ordeal and can knock confidence more than encouraging it. In this respect the improvements to the Rockhopper’s geometry haven’t quite gone far enough and it lags behind the majority of other similar bikes.

A 2.3″ front tyre would be greatly appreciated.

Bang, crash, wallop

One of my other gripes, albeit small, is the lack of a chainstay protector; the Shimano Deore rear mech lacks the strong spring tension of the more advanced Shadow Plus version.  As a result, any rough ground smashes the chain onto the chainstay. After the first ride it was alarming to see just how chipped the paint had become. A simple solution would be a cheap neoprene protector. Not only would it stop the paint chipping but also quieten the ride considerably.

Chips off the old chainstay…

Introducing the new Specialized Chisel hardtail

The speccing of a sensible 720mm handlebar is to be applauded, as it aids the handling. But the sticking point in the cockpit are the Acera shifters with their in-built gear windows. These make it hard to put the controls in the right position to aid confidence.

Long brake lever blades and wide gear windows make it difficult setting up the cockpit comfortably.

Buy Now: Specialized Rockhopper Comp for just £675 £549 at Hargroves Cycles

As a bike for getting into mountain biking, or for more leisurely rides, the Rockhopper Comp excels. But once you start pushing the limits, there are weak areas in the design and spec that are hard to miss.

Verdict

There’s no doubting the Rockhopper Comp will continue to play a part in many riders' lives. But whilst the geometry tweaks are helping, it’s going to need to address a few other areas if it is to ever become more than just a stepping stone.

Details

Frame:A1 SL Aluminium
Fork:SR Suntour XCR-Air 80/100mm travel (size dependent)
Wheels:Shimano hubs, Stout XC 29 rims, Specialized Ground Control Sport 29x2.1in tyres
Drivetrain:Stout 36/22 chainset, SRAM X5 f mech, Shimano Acera shifters, Shimano Deore r mech
Brakes:Shimano BR-M315, 160mm f+r
Components:Stout 720mm bar, Stout 70mm stem, Specialized Henge Sport saddle, Alloy seatpin
Sizes:S, M, L, XL, XXL
Weight:13.98kg (30.82lb)
Contact:www.specialized.com
Head Angle:70.7°
Seat Angle:72.3°
BB Height:311mm
Chainstay:440mm
Front Centre:675mm
Wheelbase:1115mm
Down Tube:709mm
Top Tube:610mm
Reach:430mm