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2011 Rockhopper- The “Budget Thoroughbred Racer”

August 31, 2010

We were fortunate to catch up with Deacon James of Specialized about the arrival of the 2011 Rockhopper Series. Deacon is one of the behind the scenes movers and shakers who design some of the best bikes in the industry. Read along for his take on why the Rockhopper line for 2011 rocks!

Deacon, describe the experience of riding the 2011 Rockhopper in 3 words or less.

(DJ) Budget Thoroughbred Racer

What features are you most excited about this year’s Rockhopper model lineup as compared to last year’s models?

  • Increases in performance via fork, drive train, and brake upgrades
  • More capable Tires that reward you for pushing your limits
  • Deeper offering of 29” models
  • Improved color work and coordination

Who do you picture riding the 2011 Rockhopper?

The typical Rockhopper customer is male, in or just out of college age, serious about getting into the sport of cross-country mountain biking, an outdoor activity oriented enthusiast, enjoys a physical challenge and likely has buddies who are already doing it. For this reason Rockhopper is the perfect fit as you get the best capable bike with performance which can rival the high end bikes of their buddies while keeping the cost of entry to a minimum.

With five 29er models and only two 26″ wheel models in the Specialized 2011 product offering it appears safe to say that the 29er wheel format has taken over this price range. What’s your personal take on the benefits of using the 29″ wheel on the bikes that you develop specifically?

(DJ) Quite the rabbit hole we can go down here, but debating the 26” vs. 29” pro and cons, at least on hard tails is becoming easier through. Our main objective in developing the Rockhopper 29” bikes was to deliver the excitement and benefits of 29”(Maintaining Speed/Momentum, predictable traction, stability, smoothing bumps and delivering rider confidence) while doing our best to preserve what’s best about 26”(acceleration and tight switchback capability). There is certainly an argument for the 29” better serving the needs of the recreational rider as much as the World Cup racer, as well as the proportional fit for larger riders and types of terrain, but our position is one of bring the best balance of benefits from both wheel sizes in our 29” bikes through light weight wheels(acceleration), short wheelbase (nimble) and rear centers (power transfer and front end pick up) with adjusted fork trail dimensions (sharp handling and low turn-in spring rate) and maintaining the handlebar to saddle to BB to ground relationship (center of gravity) from a 26’r. We also worked hard to make the benefits of this combined philosophy in arguably the widest size range available (S(15.5)/M(17.5)/L(19)/XL(21)/XXL(23) so riders get the most dialed fit possible.

Tell us a little bit about the role you play specifically in the development of these Rockhopper bikes.
(DJ) As director of R&D for recreational bikes, it’s my responsibility to deliver the right bike at the right time at the right price. To elaborate a little, define the customer and market strategy, validate with market research, sell that vision internally for resource allocation, guide/manage the resource departments in the execution of that vision, define the supply chain partners and leverage our market position and vendor relationships to negotiate the pricing of each component and complete bike.

Specialized as a brand may be best known for developing some of the most cutting edge road and mountain racing bikes on the market. How do you apply this “Innovate or die” approach to bikes that are much more attainable and affordable for the rest of us? What gets you excited about working on these products?

(DJ) Maybe OCD? Really, in making the product passion and performance of the high end available to a larger audience and in doing so making a difference though the improvement of health and life via cycling on the grandest scale possible. Being the gateway to the sport of cycling where the love and passion for riding is born, is the most rewarding experience imaginable for me. Spreading the love and having a positive impact on people’s lives, this is what I loved when working retail, and what continues to fuel the fires now. Of course stomping a competitor with a bike that cost half a much as theirs never feels bad either.

Tell us a little bit about your history with Bicycle Sport Shop and how you ended up working on new products for one of the biggest bike brands in the world.

(DJ) Funny how life works, but as a washed-up Pro MX’r who sunk his teeth into BMX race and dirt jumping as a way of staying sane, I was asked to ride for BSS’s BMX team. Marty M (my mentor) then asked if I was interested in helping to run the BMX side of the business and guide the buying so BSS could better cater to that market. I then fell in love with selling, working with the customers to improve their riding experiences, and working with legions of kids to improve their racing. We grew sales of BMX over 300%  in the first year, and 150% in the 2nd which caught the eye of Specialized and was written about in bicycle retailer in an article on Mike Sinyard and BMX where Hill Abell was quoted. During a special BSS SBCU (back then SBC product teams hit the road with new product to show key dealers) meeting I had the chance to provide input on the new line. With the intent of being critical so my chances of growing BSS business in the future were most favorable, I leaned into the BMX Product Manager at the time and laid it all out there, every idea and strategy I had on where it could go and how it could improve. 6 months later I got a call from that very same product manager asking if I liked California, and almost 11 years later I’m still here.

What’s the story with Ned Overend riding the singlespeed Rockhopper 29er at Nationals?
(DJ) ‘Twas the product of choice, can you blame him? Ha, all kidding aside, Ned’s son loves the P. bikes I do, and was interested in getting one. I being the negotiator that I am, worked a deal whereby Ned would agree to race an undefined event on a RH in exchange for the P. bike of choice for his son. Ned being the great sport and ultimate ambassador to the brand that he is, cordially agreed. Knowing the nat’s were just over the horizon, I scrambled to get him on a bike asap so he was comfortable on the bike and able to ride at altitude during the weeks at dealer events in Keystone this year. Ned really liked the bike and without hesitation agreed to ride in the SS champs despite not having spent much time on SS prior to getting his Rockhopper SL Single Speed. Ned is a true champion, and super human in so many ways, an in the case of this event certainly lived up to his legend by stomping the competition and taking home the Pro SS Championship. What an achievement, and a perfect reinforcement of the Rockhopper’s position as being the budget thoroughbred racer mentioned above.

In case you missed it. Check out this interview with Ned Overend, post National Single Speed Championship win over at

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeff Welch permalink
    September 1, 2010 5:19 pm

    Niiiice. I’ve been considering a hardtail 29er to replace my 26 full suspension for a while now. Any chance you’ll get one of these in your rental department soon?

    • djcurtin permalink
      September 2, 2010 6:23 pm

      Jeff: I’m not sure about the 2011 Rockhopper in the rental fleet, but we do have some Specialized hardtail 29ers that you can check out.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. September 3, 2012 5:33 pm

    I have been enjoying my Specialized Rockhopper 29er (2011). Just published a quick review (almost 2-years of use) on my blog:

    Overall I like the bike!

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