Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bringing 1986 into 2013 - REVIEW of My "Modernized" 1986 Specialized Rockhopper Comp

In early-September, I was itching to build a rigid, steel 26" MTB, and began perusing Craigslist for something in the likes of a Redline MonoCog. I was on a pretty tight budget, so I narrowed my search to a max price of $100.

I already had my On-One Inbred 29'er, but not yet entirely convinced that the 29'er was the ultimate for rigid riding; I thought that a 26" version would be fun. After all, 26" bikes whip around very well and the wheels spin up pretty quickly. And, back in 2007, I had a Redline Monocog (and now regret selling it!). Through the years, I've built up 26" rigid singlespeeds, so this project wouldn't be anything new in terms of approach.

By using the search function on Craigslist, I stumbled upon this ad:

Two 1980's Specialized Bicycle Frames - $60 (Hollister)

Date: 2012-09-04, 1:18PM PDT
Reply to: see below

Two rare Specialized bicycle frames from the 1980's. Both are straight with no dents. All cable and brake holders and are in great condition too. 
The yellow frame is 19.5 inches and the blue frame is 18.0 inches. Each frame comes with a Specialized head set.
Taking the haul down to Hollister from my home in South San Jose, I purchased the yellow frame for $30.

Over the last few months, I've been able to gather parts through what I had in the parts bin, trading with friends and cheap stuff on eBay. What has come together has been one of the most fun, most efficient, most reliable and care-free, go-to bike I've had in awhile. 

The goal was to enjoy the Chromoly frame without dealing with old technology - like a weird quill stem and narrow flat handlebars with noodle'y bar ends. I also wasn't interested in old, crappy cantilever brakes (although I have been riding with Tektro C720's until today), outdated gear ratios with Biopace chainrings, or skinny wheels and gumwall tires.

No... I wanted to modernize it as much as I could. 

The first order of business was to get the steering correct. By using a thread-less stem quill adapter, it gave me a wider variety of stems to choose from. And, since I knew old frames had short top-tubes, I opted for a 110mm 25.4 stem from Performance Bike. 

I have pretty much guzzled the wide handlebar Kool-aid, and with the 30" wide Azonic World Force DH handlebars I had in my parts bin, I concluded they would fit my build nicely. Typically with such a wide handlebar, you'd have to use a short stem (say, 70mm), but the old Rockhopper's top-tube is short enough where the longer stem and wide handlebar work very well together without slowing the steering or making the handling poor.

I had envisioned a single-speed for this frame, and that's what this bike was built up as originally. But - with some afterthought about the convenience of having some gears - I opted for a 1X set-up. At first, a 1X8, and then after digging in the parts bin along with the purchase of an inexpensive Deore 9sp. shifter - I ended up with a 1X9 set-up, naturally.

XT Cassette, XT Rear Derailleur, Deore Shifter, SRAM 9sp chain, and a Truvativ Stylo Crankset with a 32T single chainring make the wheels go round-and-round. The Paul Chain Keeper holds it all together, too. My feet stay planted with traditional Crank Brothers Candy pedals.

For the trails I ride, I typically don't need a granny gear, especially with the 26" wheels. My Inbred is equipped with a granny gear, but that bike is reserved for more challenging climbs. I've found that the 32T X 11-34 gets me up most hills without having to walk.

I really don't know how people used to rail around on skinny, hard, gum wall tires, but that's what this bike probably had in its glory days. I was a little apprehensive about tire selection knowing that this frame was probably designed to be used with skinny tires, but a 2.1 squeezes on the rear and a 2.3 squeezes on the front. The old, steel fork absorbs the bumps surprisingly well, so combined with the 2.3 tire at a lower pressure, I don't feel like I'm chattering down a staircase riding the trails. 

I've reviewed the Forté tires in previous posts, so I will not reiterate the positive things I can say about them.

If you've ever gone back-and-forth between modern disc brakes and old school cantilever brakes, you will find yourself at a handicap with the canti's. Even with high-end cantilevers, they pale in comparison to discs. Modulation is non-existent and brake chatter is common. I've been riding this bike with Tektro C720 cantilever brakes but scored these Shimano XTR v-brakes through my riding buddy, Ken. The C720's worked fine, but the XTR upgrade will pay huge dividends in the braking department. Some claim that the XTR v-brakes work just as well as mechanical disc brakes when set-up properly. I've only had mid-level v-brakes before, and was impressed. I am sure these XTR's will make stopping issues - well - stop.

Lastly, I will need to mention weight since steel bikes are criticized in this department. I am sure an aluminum bike would come in at a few pounds less than this build. But, with nicer wheels, the old Rockhopper could probably squeak under 26lbs. Currently, with the old, cheap, heavy Vuelta Zerolite wheels, my bike weighs in at a respectable 26.86lbs. 

My next upgrade will be wheels, which I think will help in the speed and climbing department. Rim brake wheels are difficult to come by these days, so my choices are limited.

Ride quality and handling of the Chromoly Double Butted tubing is fantastic. Incredible. This bike is buttery smooth and it makes you forget you are riding a 26 (soon to be 27) year old frameset. I am extremely impressed with how well it handles, and I have no problem riding it with people on modern suspension bikes (especially when climbing). 

I wouldn't take this bike on gnarly downhill or freeride trails, but for my local, everyday lunch rides, this old bike proves to be a sure winner.

If you have that old steel bike rotting away on the side yard, don't let it die. With a little creativity, you can revive it to bask again in trail glory.


  1. Heh, this might be a big late, but I too have an old rigid 26er. It's a 1994 Cannondale M300. Not nearly as old as your Rockhopper, but getting there!

    It's been modernized for my daily commuter, with skinny 26x1.5 Panaracer RiBMOs and a Brooks saddle. I'm going to need to get a threadless stem adapter like you have.

  2. why not get a threadless fork or just use a quill stem than use that adaptor? the adaptor looks funky to me and I'm sure it adds weight.

    You could even go suspension and disc brake in the front.