Mountain bikes are, perhaps, the most difficult to choose when putting together our hire fleet. The variety is so overwhelming and the uses folk put them to so broad. However, what we’ve found is that most customers want something they can ride from Inverness and, with a few exceptions, aren’t looking to ride something overly tough. That being the case, we stick to hardtails and have, for a few years now, opted for 29ers for their greater ability to carry a bit of speed and to roll over small obstacles. Having said that, we also find that the larger wheels make smaller sizes cumbersome and difficult and so our Small and Extra Small bikes have use the 27.5” wheel size.
This year, most of our mountain bikes are Specialized Rockhopper Comp. At first glance, they appear to be identical to the 2017 model. However, very little has been carried across. There’s still a lightweight alloy frame, but the geometry has been tweaked a little, following the fashion for a longer top tube, shorter stem and more relaxed steering angle. They still have a full complement of 3 x 9 gears though. That’s 44/32/22 on the front and a 11-34T cassette. This gives a huge range with a lowest gearing of 18 inches (that’s forward movement for one rotation of the pedals). That’s quite a bit lower than, for instance, our hybrid bikes at 25 inches. That low gearing makes going up steep hills that much easier and is especially appreciated when carrying luggage.
The suspension forks have also changed for 2018. Coil forks have been making a bit of a comeback recently, even at the very top end. While the Suntours fitted to these Rockhoppers are now a bit heavier than last years air-sprung model, the coil spring does mean that they are likely to remain more reliable and, if the worst comes to the worst, will continue to function without losing air pressure etc. I noticed a little “clunking” coming from the fork on rougher descents but a little turn of the preload knob took this away. This is less likely to be a problem with heavier riders as the fork sag will take care of it. Any added weight from the spring fork isn’t noticeable in use and I was easily able to pop the front wheel over fallen trees and rocks on the trails. There’s still a suspension lock-out lever for when the added “bounce” is wasteful but this year it’s simply mounted at the fork crown rather than by remote cable. Again, it’s something less to go wrong.
Braking is once again taken care of by a full set of Shimano Hydraulic stoppers. There’s a 180mm rotor on the front for when things get a bit steep too
The Specialized tyres are pretty good all-rounders. There has been a trend towards a narrower, less knobbly, rear but Specialized have retained a decent tread at both ends with the Ground Control tyres. This might introduce a little more tyre drag but the traction and grip is welcome when the ground gets softer.
I found the saddle perfect. It’s relatively narrow so easy to slide off the back when things get a bit steep but still a comfortable perch for longer days riding. Of course, we’re all different shapes so opinions like these can be a bit subjective. One issue is that the seatposts are quite long and the bottle cage mounts on the seat tube can make lowering the saddle for steep descents a problem. Cutting down the seat post can help resolve this if need be, though care then has to be taken with minimum insertion levels.
Crucially for us, the Rockhoppers still come with rack mounts on the frame. This is a feature mostly missing from higher-end mountain bikes these days but offers a flexibility of use for folk wanting to do trips like the Great Glen Way and not suffer the discomfort of carrying a big rucksack. Our current racks also have a small platform that acts as a simple mudguard and for 2018 we’ve added a small fork-mounted mudguard to reduce trail splatter. I’ve been using similar models on my own bikes for a few years and they work really well.
Overall, it’s difficult to fault the Rockhopper Comp for a simple no-frills, yet competent mountain bike – especially if it’s for a bit off off-road touring.
May 30, 2018 8:17 pm
Tags: mtb, review, specialized
Categorised in: Bikes