LOW-BUCK, HIGH-PERFORMANCE TRAILBIKES

LOW-BUCK, HIGH-PERFORMANCE TRAILBIKES


In our dreams, we all receive lucrative salaries; ride custom-made, dual-suspension trailbikes; and take time off whenever we so desire. In reality, however, most of us mountain bike enthusiasts are crunched for time and money. We are weekend warriors who would love to own a $4000 superbike?providing that it could be purchased for under a grand. Impossible? Maybe not.
It’s no secret that anyone can make a great dual-suspension mountain bike if cost is no object. The real challenge is to build in all the performance of a big-buck custom machine for a price that the average Joe and Jane can afford. This is exactly what the Specialized Rockhopper FSR and Haro Extreme EX-1 are all about. For a bit more than 800 bucks, you can own one of these impressive dual-suspension trailbikes.
If you are a hard-core mountain biker on a budget, or even a first-timer who decided to pedal into the back country on a whim, you?ll appreciate the comfort and enhanced handling of these dual-suspension machines. These are real trailbikes, not hashed-up ?comfort? bikes with fat saddles
and funny handlebars. Haro and Specialized have sent notice to the rest of the big brands that you don?t have to be a millionaire to be a core mountain biker. Here’s the scoop on two superbikes that won?t break the bank. o
Simplicity is what has made the Haro Extreme’s dual-suspension design popular for almost a decade. Each year, Haro has dropped the price of its EX-1 while pumping up the bike’s features. It’s no surprise that MBA chose the latest version to demonstrate how much bang a mountain biker can get for a mere $899.
Most of Haro’s staff are avid mountain bikers who ride what they sell. The EX-1’s component selection is a product of their devotion to fat tires and BMX roots?it’s both flashy and functional.

WHAT MAKES THE HARO A BARGAIN


Haro’s signature is the curved top tube that affords more stand-over clearance and separates its diamond front section from the masses. This year, an ovalized down tube was added that doubles as a sturdy location for its swingarm pivot. Like all Extremes, the rear suspension is a simple high-pivot monoshock item. Haro’s designers saved some cash by choosing throwaway toe-clip pedals, inexpensive rims and bargain-basement brake levers?then squandered it on a fashionable front disc brake and some WTB designer accessories. Here are some of the Extreme’s highlights.
Frame: 7005 V-Bar front section; high-pivot monoshock suspension; D-shaped 7005 alloy seat and chainstays; available in 13.5, 15.5, 17.5 and 19.5-inches.
Drivetrain: Suntour alloy crankset; Shimano Deore trigger shifters and rear derailleur; LX front derailleur; LX nine-speed cogset; and generic toe clip pedals.
Suspension: Front?Manitou Magnum coil-spring/elastomer fork (80mm-stroke); rear?RockShox Deluxe coil-over/hydraulic shock (4-inch travel).
Cockpit: Haro TIG welded alloy stem (120mm/5-degree rise); two-inch riser handlebar; WTB saddle; and Haro single-bolt seatpost.
Brakes: Shimano LX V-Brake (rear); Diatech Spiral Stop cable-actuated disc brake (front); and Diatech MX-2 levers.
Wheels: WTB Velociraptor front and rear tires (2.0-inch); Speed Master rims; Haro hubs; and black, 14-gauge spokes.
Haro by the numbers: Our mid-sized frame had a 23.5-inch top tube; a 12.5-inch bottom bracket; 17.25-inch chainstays; a 73-degree seat angle; and a 71-degree head angle. Our complete bike weighed 32 pounds. Available in black or mustard.

RIDING THE HARO EXTREME EX-1

Haro caters to the more daring segment of the sport, so in anticipation of a rough life, the EX-1’s frame is beefed up with gussets and thicker frame tubing. Extra strength translates into additional weight. You can sense that the bike weighs 32 pounds the moment you begin a steep ascent. The trade-off, however, is that the EX-1 feels like it’s on rails at speed?especially when you are traversing rutted or rocky sections. Haro retained the hoot-a-minute handling that has made the Extreme series one of MBA’s favorite rides in the affordable class of mountain bikes. These are the highlights of MBA’s Extreme EX-1 test sessions.
Getting it ready: Set the spring preload of the shock and fork with about one half inch of sag and go. There are no other damping options. Before you get serious, though, take the time to break in the Diatech disc brake. You?ll need at least an hour of riding to ?bed-in? the brake pads with the rotor so that the caliper runs relatively drag free and stops securely. It is suggested that you run the disc brake side lever in its lower cable position to maximize the stopping power of the cable-actuated caliper. The EX-1’s handlebar is very tall, so run the stem and spacers in a configuration that puts the bar about level with the saddle.
Roomy cockpit: There’s plenty of distance between the handlebar and saddle. The Haro’s modern 23.5-inch top tube makes the bike feel secure on steep descents and keeps the front wheel glued to the ground up steep singletrack climbs.
Not a climbing fool: Don?t buy the Haro for competition hill climbs; it feels a bit sluggish in the middle chainring because of its weight. But, in its defense, the high-pivot swingarm cancels out most of the EX-1’s suspension bobbing, so you don?t need any special climbing style to get it moving. This, and the Haro’s ultra low gearing, are its salvation. As long as you are willing to sit down and spin in a low gear, you can tackle the tallest peak without undue suffering.
Singletrack, anyone?: If you can slam it, you can get over any obstacle in your way. The Haro seems immune to punishment. Its steering is sharp enough to keep it on line on dicey off-camber trails without feeling so quick that it takes away from its high-speed and downhill stability. The EX-1 makes you feel like you can tackle anything the trails have to offer.
Dancing downhill: A long front-center and secure steering geometry make tricky descending a cake walk. You can thread your way down between the boulders and roots?or tempt fate and bomb over them. When the downhill gets really intense, the front disc brake gives you a slight advantage over a vee-brake (an advantage that may be erased, however, by its tendency to drag slightly almost all the time).

MBA RATES THE HARO EXTREME EX-1
By now you probably agree with MBA’s test riders that the EX-1 is a bike that is better suited for moderate treks into the back country than long grueling epics. But don?t forget that Haro’s handling and stronger-than-dirt chassis are tailor made for aggressive riding. This is the perfect machine for somebody who lives for the descent?and isn?t afraid to get to the top under his own power. You can take it out for a long ride (we did) and have fun, but you?ll need some leg and lung development to enjoy the last half of the ride. If you are on a budget and need a reliable trailbike/freerider, Haro designed the Extreme EX-1 just for you.
Want to know more? Call Haro at (760) 599-0544.

SPECIALIZED ROCKHOPPER FSR COMP

If looks could kill, the Rockhopper FSR would be an atomic bomb. Its curvaceous aluminum monocoque frame is a refreshing break from the present rash of Tinker-Toy dual-suspension chassis. Our bike was painted runway red?with black and white stripes. This is no hot-house rose, either. Happily, the Rockhopper has big fat knobbies; reliable, coil-spring/hydraulic suspension; a long, low handlebar layout; and a very roomy cockpit. Specialized’s affordable dream machine is elegant looking and very capable.

WHAT YOU GET FOR $899


By cleverly mixing generic componentry with hard-core hardware, Specialized didn?t compromise the Rockhopper’s performance in key areas like its suspension, drivetrain and chassis. Of course, keeping its price tag below 900 bucks precludes the use of any pro-level componentry. If you are status-conscious, you may wish to upgrade to more recognizable accessories later. However, if you are performance-minded, there is little to gain by parts-swapping. Even for a seasoned veteran, the bike’s well-thought-out parts ensemble leaves little to be desired.
Frame: 7005 monocoque front section; four-bar-link rear suspension (four-inch travel); available in 17, 18, 19, and 20 inches.
Drivetrain: Specialized crankset; Shimano 9-speed transmission with a Deore XT rear derailleur, Deore LX front derailleur and LX trigger-shifters; Specialized clip-in pedals.
Suspension: Front?Manitou Magnum-R coil-spring fork with a TPC hydraulic damping cartridge (80mm-stroke); rear?Fox Vanilla coil-over/hydraulic shock.
Cockpit: Specialized forged alloy stem (120mm/5-degree rise), low-profile riser handlebar, saddle and generic single-bolt seatpost.
Brakes: Tektro Quartz vee-brakes and levers.
Wheels: Specialized Team Master (1.9-inch) and Team Control (2.0-inch) Comp knobbies; Ritchey OCR Comp rims; Specialized hubs and black, 15-gauge spokes.
Good numbers: Our 19-inch frame had a 22.5-inch top tube; an 11.5-inch bottom bracket; 17-inch chainstays; a 70-degree seat angle (72-degree effective angle); and a 71-degree head angle. Our complete bike weighed 29 pounds. Colors are red on black and black on red.

RIDING THE ROCKHOPPER FSR COMP

Like every dirt bike that Specialized has made, the Rockhopper FSR Comp steers sharply and has the type of feel that requires no learning curve. The moment it hits the dirt, the bike comes alive. Here’s how our test rides went down:
Setting it up: There are no damping adjustments available on the Rockhopper’s fork or shock beyond simple spring preload. Use the left knob on the Manitou Magnum’s fork crown and twist the shock spring to dial in the suspension sag so that the Specialized settles about one fourth of the way into its travel with you aboard. Compression damping is on the stiff side for dual-suspension purists, but it is a good compromise between a firm climber and plush-riding descender. Set the stem lower than you?d think?the Rockhopper’s bottom bracket is low in the frame and you?ll need to compensate for it in the cockpit.
Short cockpit: Looks can be deceiving. The seat mast of the Rockhopper is angled back so that raising the saddle extends the effective length of its top tube. The 22.5-inch top tube on our 19-inch frame was an inch shorter than the top tubes on most similar sized frames. If you have a long torso or are on the tall side, order your frame one size larger than usual.
Steady climber: Low gearing and firm suspension make the Rockhopper FSR a capable climber. Its active rear suspension keeps the rear tire biting, making short work of technical ascents. On long fire road climbs, the Rockhopper feels a little heavy, partially because it is equipped with aggressive knobby tires, and partially due to its 29-pound weight. Serious cross-country folks will want to trade its riser handlebar for a lower climbing position, but most weekend warriors will put up with the taller bar on the climbs to reap its performance benefits on the descents.
Singletrack star: Like its siblings, the Rockhopper FSR is at home in the woods. You?ll feel invincible dodging trees and banking off berms. It changes direction like a dragonfly and corners like a cheetah. However, if your part of the woods has a lot of log crossings, you won?t like its low bottom bracket. We ground the chainring over relatively small drop-ins and logs. On the plus side, the low center of gravity makes the Specialized cruise over rocky terrain and descend steep chutes more easily.
MBA RATES THE ROCKHOPPER
The Rockhopper FSR is what mountain biking is all about, banking through the forest singletracks, bombing over rocks, blasting through streams, and busting an artery to make it to the summit of a peak?only to coast down to the bottom and try the next one. The Rockhopper FSR Comp isn?t a pro racing sled. It’s far more capable than a spindly hardtail with bald tires. This is a true trailbike that can handle any type of terrain?the kind of mountain bike that is designed to be ridden hard and washed when you can?t see the frame decals anymore. If you want to experience the essence of mountain biking, choose the Rockhopper FSR Comp and you can have it all for $899.
Need more information? Call Specialized at (408) 779-6229.

 

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