- Specialized Hardrock Pro Disc
- 01372 840800
The Hardrocks are Specialized’s entry level mountain bikes, running from the £249.95 Hardrock Rigid (see how ‘Rigid’ is a USP these days…) up to this, the £499.99 Pro Disc.
The 2002 model year saw the new-look hardcore Hardrock make its debut, all flared square-section tubes and hugely-sloped top tube. It’s an arresting look that’s carried through largely unchanged into 2003. Specialized have trimmed a bit of weight from the frame, but this is still a 30lb bike. The Pro Disc model has a disc specific frame with no brake bosses, a neat touch that contributes to a clean look.
Specialized’s A1 aluminium tubing is formed into Easton RAD-style flared main tubes, with a squarish section at the front end. There’s plenty of metal up front, so the gusset under the down tube is possibly superfluous. Out the back, the seat and chainstays have a cross section somewhere between rectangular and oval. It’s either a rounded-off rectangle or a squared-off oval, you choose. Unlike higher-end frames, they don’t do much in the way of swooping between seat cluster and dropout, and mud clearance isn’t massive. The tyres specced are pretty fat, though, so you’ve got the option of going thinner.
An international standard disc mount lives on the left dropout, a replaceable derailleur hanger on the right and there’s two sets of bottle bosses. The frame even has rear rack mounts, a feature that perhaps doesn’t quite fit the image but broadens the appeal of the bike. Everything’s tidily put together and the titanium-like paint finish makes for a classy look. The Pro looks worth more than its half-grand price tag.
The bit of the Spec’s spec that first catches your eye is the disc brakes. Discs are still a fairly unusual feature at this price point, and it’s good to see Shimano cable discs rather than some of the anonymous jobs that crop up from time to time. These are the latest variant of the Deore cable disc, with a slightly longer actuation arm for more power at the expense of a squooshier lever feel. That’s fine by use, we like a bit of squoosh. Braking is also helped by the quite long blades of the Alivio brake levers.
Alivio? Well, something has to give to make budget room for the discs. Sure, cable discs are inexpensive but they’re still costlier than Vs. The shifter/brake lever units and front mech are Alivio, with a Deore rear mech. Respectable Truvativ cranks carry heavy but durable steel chainrings and drive an eight-speed cassette out back. Hubs are basic but solid Shimano disc models laced to beefy black Alex rims and shod with high-volume Enduro Sport tyres. The wheels needed a bit of spoke key attention out of the box, but your bike shop should sort that out before you take the bike away.
Performing springing duties is a 100mm travel RockShox Judy TT fork. Not unusually for a £500 bike, it’s a basic but useful unit. There’s no hydraulic damping, but the combined coil spring and elastomer are reasonably controlled over most things. With simple internals and chromed steel stanchions they should prove durable. Specialized’s own stem, bar and seatpost do the job, and there’s a comfy Body Geometry saddle.
Chuck a leg over the Hardrock and the first thing that strikes you is a fairly upright riding position. Thanks to the 100mm fork, fairly long head tube and high bars, the bike ends up being quite tall at the front. This is no accident, being fairly user-friendly for the relative novice at whom the bike is aimed. But it does lead to a couple of drawbacks. On steep climbs, it’s tricky to keep the front wheel down and hold a line. The compact frame puts the power down a treat and there’s no shortage of grip from the Enduro tyres (except on wet limestone, but not much grips on that…), so it’s a bit of a handicap. It can be worked around, though. Scooch forward on the saddle and bend your arms and things get a lot better.
The other drawback is fast, steep downhills on rocky surfaces. The frame has quite a steep, forward-set feel to it and combined with the short stem we occasionally found ourselves in mild tank-slapper situations as the front end got deflected off line. In both cases, though, we’re talking about pretty steep trails that we’d expect most potential buyers of a bike like this would tackle at a sensible speed.
The flipside is that on more moderate gradients, the Hardrock is a hoot. It particularly loves twisty singletrack, the short stem, wide bars and fairly steep, attacking frame all falling together to make a bike that changes direction instantly, responds to pedal inputs with a sprightliness that belies its weight and generally flatters you. It’s possible to argue that it’s a little too immediate for the novice, but it’s not ill-mannered. Slow down and it slows down with you. And as you get faster it’ll get faster too. At no point did we feel like the bike was letting us down.
There are limitations, though. The fork can get bouncy (especially when the bushings have broken in bit) on big hits or quickly-repeated middling ones. These are usually the same situations that see the bike getting a bit nervous anyway, which is worth watching out for. The frame would certainly bear a fork upgrade at some point in the future, but it’s far from essential. Then there’s the brakes. As is often the case with discs, they were largely ineffective out of the box, but broke in fairly quickly to achieve power comparable to good Vs. That may not sound too impressive, but there are distinct advantages to discs, especially at this time of year. We’ve often encountered cable discs that aren’t even as good as Vs, and we didn’t feel like we’d rather have Vs than these. Specwise Specialized don’t seem to have made too many sacrifices to get the discs on there, with all the key components at least as good as you’ll find elsewhere.
The only other niggle is that the bike’s loud on rough ground, with plenty of mech and chainslap that rattles around the big frame tubes. It’s worth putting on a decent soft chainstay protector to calm things down.
So, is it any good? Yes, it is. When we think back to what £500 used to get you, the Hardrock looks like a steal. Of course, everyone’s bikes have come on in leaps and bounds, but the Spec’ packs a distinctive frame and a component package at least as good as anyone elses’. We had a real blast riding it, although we can’t help thinking that a relatively inexperienced rider could find themselves getting into trouble if the bike has one of its occasional nervy turns. Don’t push too hard too soon, grow with the bike and it’ll be a worthy ally for quite some time…