Not only does the quality tubing and shaping have a positive effect on the ride of the Rockhopper, but the material itself is a little bit special. It now boasts the same tubing that Specialized’s top-end race bikes used in the not-so-distant past. As well as being lighter than ‘standard’ aluminium tubing, M4 is an alloy that uses metallic elements to reduce vibration transmission. This results in less ‘trail buzz’ being fed to the rider. The strength of the alloy also allows the frame to be constructed without any additional gussets. A curved ‘hockey stick’ shaped down tube looks good and allows it to be welded to the top tube well behind the head tube, strengthening and stiffening the front end of the frame.
Tora 302 SLs use an optional aluminium steerer tube to save weight. A hollow crown and 32mm-diameter upper stanchion tubes help stiffness and keep the front wheel pointing in the same direction as the handlebars. Internally, the TurnKey damping’s compression circuit makes for a very progressive fork that resists diving under braking. It also bobs around less than other, more simple forks. Finally, a small dial at the bottom of the leg allows you to adjust the speed at which the fork rebounds.
The own-branded front hub has odd sized flanges, with a higher flange on the disc mount side. Similar to the offset Bontrager rims on the Trek, the idea is to even out spoke tension for a stronger wheel.
Sadly, the Shimano freehub body gave up the ghost on the fourth ride. Although it would be covered by the warranty, it’s still a worry.
Octalink is Shimano’s splined interface for cranks and bottom brackets, stiffening up this vital point and making it more resistant to damage from jumping and general trail abuse. A Shimano LX rear mech is a nice upgrade. While it works no better than the Deore mechs found on other bikes, it will give accurate shifting for longer.
V-brakes, however, are completely out of place.
While not flashy, the finishing kit ensures that all the contact points are in the correct place. A 70mm oversize stem holds the full-width bars solid, and the sweep of the bar places your hands and arms in the perfect position for hacking about. The saddle itself is comfortable enough but the seatpost needs more layback.
Specialized makes no bones about the brakes on the Rockhopper. It feels that a platform aimed at the serious rider needs a top fork and great chassis. This leaves no money for the stoppers. The Avid V-brakes work well enough in the dry, but after an hour or so in the wet the performance drops as dirty rims and pad wear hugely reduce available power. Your forearms can also cramp.
When seated, the bike feels short, but frame measurements belie this. The good length top tube is evident when stood up. A short rear end, combined with the lengthy front ensures stability and makes it an excellent climber. The stiff front end also means uphills are as pleasant as possible, with none of your energy wasted. Riders around 5ft 11 can fall right between the 17 and 19in sizes. An 18in model is long overdue.
While we applaud Specialized’s reasoning behind the Rockhopper’s specification, we can’t help but feel that V-brakes are getting less and less appropriate on a bike that is priced at over £500. The new M4 frameset is a welcome upgrade, and offers performance previously unheralded at this price point, while the fork continues that same theme of core product quality.
The Rockhopper is extremely well balanced, with everything placed in the perfect position. Even experienced riders cannot fail to be impressed with the impeccable trail manners of this perennial trail favourite.
MBR RATING: 9/10