Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 review

Santa Cruz Tallboy X01 Carbon Cc 29

The Rockhopper Elite 29 (which uses 29in wheels, as the name suggests) and its 27.5in counterpart represent the second tier in the Rockhopper line-up. A short-travel suspension fork, fast-rolling tyres and an impressive 13kg weight (size small) all add up to create a bike that’s certainly not worried ticking off the miles quickly. It helps that it has a zippy, direct feel when you apply the power, meaning you’ll be in for a treat every time you hit the trail, even when pointed uphill. Considering the spec, it’s somewhat of a bargain, too.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite frame and specification

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The wide-range cassette means the Rockhopper gives you few excuses on the climbs. The frame is made from Specialized’s A1 premium butted alloy, featuring hydroformed top and down tubes. The rear brake hose and gear cables are hidden in the down tube before exiting the frame and running neatly along the underside of the chainstays. A full-length chainstay protector – something often overlooked on budget mountain bikes – is massively appreciated and helps to quieten down unwanted chain slap.

In keeping with the brand’s sleek aesthetics, rear mudguard mounts have been placed discreetly on the seatstays, while the cross brace behind the bottom bracket shell doubles as a kickstand mount should you want to fit one. Up front is the RockShox Judy TK fork. On the size-small bike, it delivers 90mm of travel (the extra-small size gets 80mm, while medium frames and above feature 100mm of travel). The Judy offers a lockout, rebound-damping adjustment and an air spring, which can be altered easily to suit rider weight.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Shimano’s MT200 brakes are great performers on a bike at this price point. Shimano supplies its MT200 brakes and Deore 11-speed gearing with a single chainring at the front to help keep things nice and simple. The cassette offers a wide range, with sprockets ranging from 11-51t paired with a 30t chainring. Own-brand rims (with a 25mm internal width) are wrapped in rapid-rolling Fast Trak tyres, both of which are 2.35in wide, using Specialized’s T5 rubber compound and its light Control casing.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The Bridge saddle proved comfortable during testing. There’s also a host of other Specialized kit bolted to the Rockhopper Elite 29, including the comfy Bridge saddle and lock-on grips. Smaller frame sizes get one set of bottle bosses located on the down tube (fitting a second set on the seat tube would limit how far the seatpost can drop in the frame), while sizes M-XL get additional bosses on the seat tube.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite geometry

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The Rockhopper shares a shape with the XC-focused Epic HT, so expect a snappy ride.

SMLXLXXL
Seat angle (degrees)73.573.573.573.573.5
Head angle (degrees)68.568.568.568.568.5
Chainstay (mm)440440440440440
Seat tube (mm)360400450500560
Top tube (mm)586608630654679
Head tube (mm)9595105120135
Fork offset (mm)4646464646
Trail (mm)9797979797
Bottom bracket drop (mm)6262626262
Bottom bracket height (mm)310310310310310
Wheelbase (mm)1,1051,1281,1521,1731,203
Standover (mm)732754781820853
Stack (mm)607616626640654
Reach (mm)405425445465485

Specialized Rockhopper Elite ride impressions

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The bike’s whippy and agile ride helps you make the most out of mellow trails.

I tested the 29er version of the Rockhopper Elite throughout the Glentress trail centre, including the jump park, and on sections of trail used in cross-country racing. I also used the bike for commuting.

The Rockhopper shares a very similar geometry with the Specialized Epic hardtail so, unsurprisingly, feels equally fun and whippy on the trail.

While the Rockhopper Elite 29 has a relatively steep 68.5-degree head angle (though very similar to many others in the Budget Bike of the Year test), the steering doesn’t feel twitchy, and its low front end makes it easy to keep the front wheel weighted and pointed where you want it.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Specialized’s own Fast Trak tyres roll fast.

I did have an issue with the fork getting sucked down into its travel, though, which meant I had to run a higher pressure than recommended to keep it propped up. However, that meant I could only regularly achieve 60 per cent of the full 90mm of travel on mellower trails.

If you were to buy the bike, this would be something the shop could fix easily enough.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The Rockhopper is a great climber, with fast rubber and a steep seat angle.

If it’s climbs you love, the Rockhopper Elite 29 will put a smile on your face thanks to its lightweight frame, fast-rolling tyres and steep seat tube angle. I measured it to be 74.5 degrees, one degree steeper than the quoted figure on the geometry chart – which helps to sit you in a very strong pedalling position.

There are 15mm of spacers fitted to the fork steerer, giving you the option to raise (for a more upright position) or lower (to create a more stretched, cross-country focused position when seated) the bar height as you see fit.

Add the wide-range cassette and 30t chainring combination, and the bike has a way of making you want to pedal harder for the reward of speed. It will rarely leave you struggling up hills.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Fork travel varies with bike size, between 80 and 100mm.

With its 90mm-travel fork, our small size was less forgiving over rough ground than its closest rivals, the Jamis Highpoint A1 and Cannondale Trail SE 4. This made tackling technical blue and red trails a little more fatiguing.

However, of all our Budget Bike of the Year contenders, the Rockhopper Elite 29 felt the most efficient and comfortable to spin along the flats and up the climbs on.

This makes it a perfect choice for riders who plan on long days out in the saddle on mellow graded trails.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite bottom line

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

Limited fork travel on smaller sizes may hamper performance over the rockiest of trails.

Specialized has managed to pack some serious clout into the cross-country orientated Rockhopper Elite 29.

The RockShox fork, reliable Shimano gearing and some quality own-brand kit help it to feel like a safe bet from the first pedal stroke.

Specialized Rockhopper Elite 29 Hardtail Mountain Bike

The low front end helped keep the front tyre gripping the trail securely.

It’s eagerness on the climbs and all-round capabilities make it an appealing proposition for the money.

While it’ll handle more technical trails, the short-travel fork up front means it’ll be down to you, the rider, to soak up the heavier hits should you venture off the green and blue trails where the Rockhopper Elite 29 excels.

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