This is a review of the 2011 Specialized Rockhopper. For the 2013 version, click here.
“It’s been nearly nine months since I tested the Rockhopper, but riding it again felt like a homecoming. I don’t put this down to some sort of photographic bike memory, but to the Spesh’s geometry — perfect for trail riding and more akin to the bikes we usually ride. Built around a fantastic M4 alloy frame, the Rockhopper has a slackish head angle and long wheelbase containing short chainstays and long front-centre: All this mumbo-jumbo means you feel really secure plummeting down the hill.
Suntour’s fork does its job brilliantly too. While there’s only 80mm of travel there it actually works better than some forks with longer travel, and does a good job smoothing the trail. OK, there aren’t really any fork adjustments that actually do anything — turning the preload dial has next to no effect, while there is no rebound adjustment — but it’s perfectly dialled anyway.
Backing all this up is a cleverly thought out component spec. The drivetrain is basic but works a treat, while the bar, stem and saddle put you in exactly the right position. The Shimano brakes are excellent and the stock tyres from Specialized are terrific. All in, it’s one hell of a package that deserves to be thrashed.”
Jamie Darlow, Staff Writer
“Having not ridden a hardtail for ages, I was quite literally shocked at how rough the ride of the Rockhopper was, even on relatively tame trails. I also thought, my back is going to hurt tonight, and I was instantly reminded why suspension seat posts were so popular in the 90s. However, once I’d revised my riding style and blocked out the deafening chain slap the ride quality and geometry of the entry-level Rockhopper started to impress.
In many way the angles and layout of the Rockhopper are more akin to a modern short travel full suspension bike (slackish, long and low), than a traditional hardtail with a steep head angle and ‘cat like agility’: even if the pedalling response and harshness of the Rockhopper are reminiscent of the old Specialized M2 race bike.
Not being a big fan of longer travel forks on hardtails I’m all in favour of the 80mm Suntour fork speced here, as it reduces the variation in dynamic geometry, especially under braking. It’s plush, silent and controlled, and given the simplicity of the fork internals I’m also a fan of the limited external adjustments. Other highlights include the superb Shimano M505 brakes, confidence inspiring Specialized The Captain tyres and a sensible bar and stem combo. In fact, the only chink in the Rockhopper’s armour is the Shimano Octalink three-piece crank. And seeing as full complement of replacement chain rings cost almost as much as a new two-piece crankset (crazy, I know!), this can always be upgraded with the £100 saved over the KHS when the chain rings start to resemble throwing-stars.”
Alan Muldoon, Bike Test Editor
Looking at the geometry of our two top scoring hardtails, it’s incredible that the bottom bracket height, chain stay length and down tube measurements of both bikes are within millimetres of each other…with the only obvious departures being head angle and front centre measurements. With a 1° slacker head angle, and the extra 20mm in the front centre that comes with it, the Rockhopper proved more stable, confident and fun to ride. Granted, the KHS is lighter, but any difference in weight isn’t as noticeable as the performance gains of the Specialized Rockhopper’s improved handling, making it the clear choice for our 2011 Hardtail of the Year. If KHS is reading this, and thinking that all it needs to do is make the Alite 2000 slacker and ditch the Hayes brakes to get back on top…it’d be right.
Tested: October 2011 issue
Frame: M4SL aluminium/ Fork: SR Suntour SF11-XCR/ Groupset: Shimano Alivio/Deore / Chainset: Shimano Octalink/ Brakes: Shimano M505/ Wheels: Formula QR hubs, Alex RHD rims, Specialized The Captain Sport 2.0in tyres / weight: 12.72kg (28lb)
Head angle: 69.3/ seat angle: 72.1/ bottom bracket height: 305mm/ chainstay: 427mm/ Front Centre: 685mm/ Wheelbase: 1,112mm/ Down tube: 673mm
Photos: Roo Fowler