Once the acronym of highest repute, all M4 actually refers to is the extra ‘manipulation’ in the form of metallic elements thrown in to the aluminium mix to shrug off trail feedback, improving on conventional aluminium alloy as well as trimming weight. The tubeset, once the reserve of top-end Stumpjumper race rigs, features Specialized’s latest signature curved down tube and offers masses of tyre clearance to cope with the almost non-existent British summers.
One of just three RockShox Tora fork specifications within this year’s dozen, Specialized plumps for the aluminium steerer version of the Solo Air-sprung 302 SL for further weight savings. Utilising the same TurnKey damping as the Dart 2, the Toras have the addition of a short-throw rebound adjuster at the bottom of the fork to help control bump feedback. Initially rather stiff feeling, at speed the Toras come to life, with the stiffness of their fat 32mm stanchions ensuring positive steering thanks to low torsional flex.
Fast Track LK tyres in 2in guise provide swift acceleration with no unwanted drag to detract from the thrill of that maiden off-road voyage, thanks to their low-knobble tread. Weaknesses show up most on very technical rockery, but the tread pattern at least allows room to acquaint yourself with the limits of their traction as you step up to such tricky terrain. Specialized’s disc-ready ‘Hi Lo’ in-house hubs laced to Alex rims complete the package.
Speccing Shimano across the board, as ever Specialized has eked out as high a drivetrain spec as possible, with highlights being an LX rear derailleur with Deore up front for tackling shifts. A Shimano crankset completes a highly serviceable specification. Avid Single Digit V-brakes are an obvious let-down for all but complete Luddites, but unlike Lapiere’s oversight (the only other V-brake-equipped rig here) the Rockhopper at least comes geared up for the discs.
Specialized budget BG (Body Geometry) saddles are often a better bet than their less-forgiving high-end cradles and the Indie XC is no exception to this rule.
While the stem length was perfect at 90mm for the 19-inch test bike, the over-generous rearward sweep of the bar was the only thing holding it back from going full bore at any feature the trail might throw up.
The stout Tora forks act as a psychological bolster, and once the bike’s up to speed the suspension action tempts you to continually push your boundaries. The bike’s as at home on leisurely seated romps along meandering trails as it is attacking a stretch of singletrack full-tilt. A wider bar with less pronounced sweep would undoubtedly improve handling, as the average rider will realise as his skills progress. With a light and agile ride feel that belies its actual weight, you do need to be aware that V-brakes are all that’s slowing you, even though you just can’t help being lulled into false sense of security by the ride.
The Rockhopper simply oozes class — that’s not bad going for a bike priced at just 500 sniffs. Last year it was marked down for its disc-less spec and that’s the case here, but now it’s £50 cheaper and has the necessary braze-ons in place to enable a seamless brake upgrade down the line. This makes the Rockhopper a tough act to follow. There aren’t many times when we can put our hand on our hearts and say that we’d personally upgrade a £500 bike. However, the Rockhopper’s M4 frame and fork is the exception to the rule. All the other test bikes have room for improvement, but none start out with a better backbone than this.
MBR RATING: 9/10