The Specialized RockHopper 29 is the second bike we would like to introduce as part of our $1,000 bike test. It comes in just under the limit with an MSRP of $960. According to Specialized, the RockHopper 29er is "a time tested xc hard tail built for cruising fire roads and slicing singletrack". They add that, "the RockHopper 29 combines performance with value in a package every rider will appreciate". A tall order for a bike that retails for $960? We'll find out.
The RockHopper 29 has an aluminum, hydroformed frame that uses an alloy that Specialized calls “fully butted m4 alloy”. What we are finding is that each brand uses their own proprietary, specially treated aluminum for their bikes. What does it mean in practical terms? It is aluminium with 4 additional elements similar to 6061 alloy. Add hydoforming and you get what Specialized feels is a durable frame with a ride quality that they feel is right.
The first first thing that stands out on this bike is the Tecktro Draco hydraulic disc brakes. We consider hydraulic brakes to be a mandatory feature for any mountain bike we ride or recommend. With hydraulics you get excellent power, but more importantly they are easy to modulate and take less hand strength to operate. This helps prevent arm pump - when your forearms get over-worked and so sore it is hard to hold on to your bars. In bad cases, your forearm can cramp and can lock up your fingers.
The fork is a SR Suntour with 80 mm of travel, or roughly 3 inches. It is a coil sprung fork and seems to be maxed out in its ability to perform well at about a 180 pound rider without getting a heavier spring. The only adjustment you can make to this fork is pre-load which affects the sag and firmness of the fork. This is done by screwing down the dial on the left hand leg of the fork. While there is is a lock-out (good), there is no rebound adjustment to change the speed at which the fork reacts, which is a real negative. The bad news is the rebound dial is much more necessary for the fork to perform at its best than a lock-out.
Cockpit parts are Specialized branded pieces. They are a bit heavy, but, realistically, at this price point, they are just fine. Aluminium parts that work - not much more you can ask for then that. Something that really separates the Specialized RockHopper 29 from other bikes in this price point is the bars. They are flat bars with 10 degrees of sweep (bend toward the rider) and 4 degrees of flair (slight bend upwards) as opposed to just having sweep back. They are wide; size medium and up are 700 mm wide (small are 680mm). These bars feel comfortable like riser bars but give you the benefits of being low and wide more common to flat bars. Wide bars are especially important because they add leverage which, in turn, increases ease of control.My only gripe with the cockpit is the stem, which has 2 separate parts instead of a solid face plate. It's not really a huge deal, but, for some reason, it bugs me. It is a tank of a part so this design certainly isn't for weight reasons!
The saddle is a very comfortable Specialized RockHopper model with a 143 mm width. The majority of 29erOnline riders are using 143mnm width saddles. Specialized saddles have been a favorite for us for since before this website even started. It is well padded, but fairly streamlined, so it does a nice job of staying out of the way.
The grips are a comfort style that has an extended section where your palms meet the grip. This supports your palm and is a style of grip that many riders like. It is a nice addition to a bike at this price point.
The drive train, made up of Alivio and Acera grade parts, is a 9 speed rear with 3 chain rings up front that provides plenty of gear options for real mountain biking. These are recreational level parts rather than a performance package, but it works well enough and is affordable to replace when necessary. Upgrade as you break or wear out parts.
The tires are Specialized brand Captain Sport front and a FastTrack Sport rear. The sport casing is a heavier casing with a wire bead. While adding weight to the wheels is not the most desirable thing, the durability of these heavier casings is a good thing, especially if you ride in rocky terrain. We are seeing a trend on bikes of all types and price ranges in which companies put a faster tire on the rear and a more aggressive tire on front. I subscribe to this trend; aggressive front tires keep the front from breaking loose and grabs better for steering while faster tires in back make the rear end of a bike easier to accelerate and by the nature of the rear end of a bike, it is easier to correct when traction is broken.
The crank set is an SR Suntour variety. Our test model is white, unlike the black ones pictured on the company website. They are an octalink variety so the bottom bracket is housed inside the bottom bracket shell. It has 8 splines on the bottom bracket spindle, which provides much more surface area for the cranks to hold onto. These systems are reliable, and affordable to replace when the time comes. While not having the brand recognition others may have, the SR Suntour cranks do have all the features needed to make them a contender among our other $1,000 bikes.
The wheels are Alex Rims with 32 holes laced 3 cross to Formula Hubs. This is an easy to maintain reliable wheel spec. The Alex rims are a nice, wide 28mm and are alloy. They are pinned instead of welded. A pinned rim means that the seam of the rim is pressed together using exactly what it sounds like; pins. This is normal for the price point, but, given no budgetary constraints, a welded rim is typically much more durable and reliable. Specialized seems to use a nice wide rim on all the 29 inch wheel mountain bikes they make. This is a plus because the wide rims allow for a more square tire profile which, in turn, makes for a tire that performs better and is less likely to pinch flat. We don’t know much about the hubs but they seem competitive with what other companies are offering.
Overall, the RockHopper 29 is, as expected, a competitively priced bike with all the features that make a bike truly off road capable. Please read our $1,000 29er article for the test set up and objectives. Check back soon to see how it measures up on trail.