The Specialized Hardrock is a great entry level budget bike. We take it for a spin this week.
A few weeks back we took a look at a 1988 Specialized Hardrock in relation to budget bikes. While an extreme and dated option I wanted to follow up with something a bit more modern and practical. This is a 2013 Specialized Hardrock Disc. At $500 new, you can now pick one of these up for less than $300, and it’s a pretty great starting platform. With a strong aluminum frame, decent low end components, front suspension, mechanical disc brakes, and a comfortable seating position, this bike has basically everything you need to hit some trails. But a lot has changed in the 5 years since this bike was made. It has 26” wheels, 3 front chainrings paired to a 7 speed cassette, relatively steep head angle to today’s standard, and it’s a hardtail. All pretty uncommon these days, but that doesn’t make it worthless…just different. After looking at the stock tires and pedals, I decided to swap those parts with something a little grippier. I suggest upgrading these things first as they are the contact point between you and the bike as well as the bike to the ground. With these upgrades complete, let’s get on our helmets and head to the trail.
Almost immediately you can feel how nimble this bike is. With the smaller 26” wheels and short handlebars it’s quite easy to handle tight situations. This is a great combo on smooth twisty switchbacks, but once the terrain gets rougher, you better have a great line because things are about to get squirrely. While on the subject of the front end I must address the fork. It’s awful! It has 80mm of travel, provides no real cushion, and rebounds faster than a pogo stick. I’d feel more confident with a pogo stick as my fork than this thing. It has a preload adjustment that I would fiddle with, but could never tell a difference. If you buy a bike like this and want to hit harder stuff…please consider a fork upgrade.
While the brakes on this bike are decent, they feel like XT’s compared to the rim brakes on the 1988 hardrock. I only had one instance where I went into panic mode on a downhill, and thought I was going to get well acquainted with some bushes. Always test out your brakes before sending it downhill.
I don’t really care too much about shifters and derailleurs. As long as they shift when I push the button I’m happy…and these did. It was kind of cool going back to a 3X drivetrain. It provides a true variety of gearing options, but I nearly forgot about the left trigger until I came to Caliche Hill. I figured why am I approaching this like a total maniac…Much Better
Enough about components and what this bike lacks. Let’s talk about what it does well. As you’d expect from a hardtail, it is responsive as hell. I always feel slightly faster on a hardtail because they typically are. After spending a few hours on it, you even adjust to the lack of rear suspension over the technical stuff because the sheer fun factor overshadows any comfort issues. I really thought I would hate the geometry on this bike after riding the slacked out Jeffsy for so long, but it honestly wasn’t bad. Obviously pointing it down a steep descent was soul crushing, but for almost everything else, it was fun. I even found it easier to maneuver on these death defying ledge rides. Also as you’d expect from a hardtail, it climbed really well. While I still couldn’t defeat my arch nemesis caliche hill, it was incredibly rewarding to sprint up smaller climbs with relative ease. The wheels on this bike have a smaller internal width than those on the 88 Hardrock, and while that doesn’t help the jittery front end, they felt fairly tough sandwiched between rough rocks and my weight. Speaking of weight…This bike is pretty heavy. I didn’t get the chance to weigh it, but it felt about the same if not heavier than my Jeffsy. For $300 or less though you can’t expect a lot of time or money was put into weight saving research and development.
The Specialized Hardrock is a humble hero in the mountain bike world. I’m willing to bet a lot of you have had experiences on this bike or one similar to it. Let me know in the comments what budget bikes you started on or currently ride!
With any budget purchase you get what you pay for. This bike is clearly a more viable option over a vintage mountain bike, or any bike from WalMart, and would be a great platform for beginners or someone looking to upgrade parts over time. However, always ride within your abilities, wear safety gear, and have realistic expectations. If you live in Whistler…this isn’t the bike for you.
Thanks to my brother Alex for letting me borrow his bike. I truly appreciate you allowing me to potentially destroy your bike.
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