backyard beyond Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper What Is The Best Hardtail Mountain Bike?
Advertiser Disclosure

Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper: What Is The Best Hardtail Mountain Bike?

Regardless of whether you are looking for an entry-level bike, ready to up your game as a weekend warrior, or looking for a competitive bike, comparing Trek Marlin to Specialized Rockhopper is the best place to start when researching performance hardtail mountain bikes.

🏕️Backyard & Beyond

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Some products we try first-hand, while other products we review based on detailed research, without trying them first-hand. Of the products we try first-hand, some products we receive for free in exchange for an honest review, and other products we pay for. Given the range of products we review, research is essential to every review we share.

Here's how we make money.

See our high-level takeaways below, or skip to our full review!

Our Take:
Trek Logo
Trek Product Image
4.7

thumb_upPROS


thumb_downCONS

  • check Most affordable starting price
  • close Sometimes out-of-stock
  • check Multiple Marlin price points
  • check Works for commuting and trails
  • check American company
The Bottom Line:The Trek Marlin is an affordable hardtail mountain bike that is great for beginner and intermediate riders. The Marlin is available at multiple price points, and the bike is versatile enough to work for a commuter on weekdays and on rugged trails when Saturday and Sunday roll around. Our only recommendation is rinsing your new Trek Marlin off before riding it to the office.
Jump to: Full Review

Specialized Logo
Specialized Product Image
4.5

thumb_upPROS


thumb_downCONS

  • check Advanced technology
  • close Expensive top-end prices
  • check Popular with race die-hards
  • check Streamlined geometric frame
  • check American company
The Bottom Line: Specialized bikes are often ridden by hard-core race fanatics, whether they are professionals or weekend warriors. If a Specialized bike is good enough for them, then it is good enough for you as well. A hardtail rockhopper offers the torque and performance you need to leave a trail of dust behind you, as you conquer new trails ahead.
Jump to: Full Review



Full Review:
Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper

Both the Rockhopper and Marlin bikes offer riders entry-level bikes intended for new mountain bikers. Still, both hardtails are plenty capable, so you feel confident riding either on technical terrain. They have durable suspension and cushioning where you need it most. Both bikes have an aluminum frame making them lighter but stronger and stiffer. If you are considering Specialized Rockhopper vs Trek Marlin, continue reading to find out more information about their differences.

Rockhopper vs Marlin: Mountain Biking At Its Best

Whether you are new to mountain bikes, or an experienced pro, you probably already know that Specialized and Trek are two of the best bike brands in the game. In comparing Specialized vs Trek, you will find two very capable brands. Trek offers a wider range of bikes, from front entry-level cruisers to the most advanced mountain bikes and road bikes you can find. Specialized offers a wide variety too, but Specialized is better known for their high-end performance bikes than a bike you might find a local pre-teen rolling around the neighborhood on.

That’s no knock on either, as I would happily recommend the

Specialized Rockhopper or Trek Marlin, and both brands make reliable bikes, often with the most technical features on the market. So what do you need to know in comparing a Rockhopper vs Marlin? Well, the first is that they are both hard-tail bikes, and if you are familiar with the differences between a hardtail and full-suspension bikes, it’s worth spending a moment to understand the differences.

Hardtail bikes feature suspension on the front-end of the bike, while full-suspension bikes offer suspension on both the front-end of the bike and the back-end of the bike. In practical terms, a full-suspension bike will offer fewer jarring bumps along the trail, as the hardtail bike without rear-end suspension may bounce along the trail a bit more as you hit rocks, roots, and other difficult terrains.

While full-suspension bikes are more advanced from the viewpoint that they have more moving parts and components, this also means that they are heavier, and require more maintenance than hardtail bikes. And while it would be easy to assume that hardtail bikes represent more of an entry-level bike, the reality is that hardtail bikes enable the rider to apply more torque to the bike frame. The additional torque enables riders to climb faster and sprint harder.

All-considered, this makes both the Rockhopper and the Marlin fantastic bikes to develop skill with and grow into more advanced riding techniques. The good thing is that it is much more comfortable to learn more about the differences online than walking into your local bike shop, so we are glad to help along the way.

try-specialized-rockhopper

Is The Specialized Rockhopper A Good Bike?

The Specialized Rockhopper is a budget trail bike in price but not in capability. It provides you with innovative technology without breaking the bank. This ride tends to be the first real mountain bike for many riders. Specialized has 30 years of experience behind every bike it manufactures, which is evident in the way small details are considered and shine, even on one of the brand’s more entry-level bikes such as the Rockhopper.

This is among the best hardtail bikes in this category. The Specialized Rockhopper is not built for a specific gender but for individual heights and rider preferences. If you are new to bikes, it is helpful to understand that there are more differences between riders of varying heights than there are between genders. As a result, the Specialized Rockhopper is sized proportionally for height, not gender. When you decide on your ride of choice, be sure to pick the frame size that most clearly aligns with your height. Fortunately, Specialized makes this easy by offering a guide, and there is a wide range of sizes to choose from.

For example, I am 5’ 11”, and the L 29 would be the best size for me, based on Specialized’s guidance. It’s already intimidating enough to buy a new bike. The last thing you need to worry about is picking the right frame size. Here is a related note worth considering: The wheel size needs to match the frame size, but Specialized ensures that each bike is paired with the optimal wheel size to ensure top-end performance.

The Specialized Rockhopper has an aluminum frame made of premium material. This, along with the suspension, provides an excellent blend of comfort and weight, making it ideal for mountain and cross country biking. The butted A1 aluminum tubes are lightweight, but also very strong. There is a reason plans have long been made from versions of aluminum.

Plus, while the trail may have unexpected twists, turns, and obstacles, your bike will offer plenty of braking confidence, as it features Tektro hydraulic disk brakes. Not sure the implications of that? Consider reading up on the differences of mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes as part of your research in making a decision on your next bicycle.

The other big component for consideration, aside from the brakes, is the shifters. Shimano makes the best shifters in the industry and can be found on many advanced bikes. The same is true here, as the Rockhopper features Shimano Altus shifters. The Rockhopper then pairs a slick internal cable routing system with dropper post compatibility for an advanced machine.

The Specialized Rockhopper provides you confidence no matter what trail in which you ride. It gives you the optimal balance between quality and performance to give you the most reliable and comfortable ride. This hardtail mountain bike is safe, efficient, and provides optimal performance. It uses a turnkey shock to provide sensitive air suspension to travel across any terrain. Even though the Specialized Rockhopper is ideal for new mountain bikers, it is also great for experienced riders. Professional riders are able to do more and push harder with this bike while enjoying the fantastic performance. New bike riders can challenge themselves while maintaining balance and comfort as they get used to mountain biking.

explore-specialized-rockhopper

Is the Specialized Rockhopper Worth It?

The Specialized Rockhopper has a relatively low starting point making it affordable and a great value. You can find the bike starting at around $700, which is quite the value considering the bike’s aptitude and stellar reputation. From there the mid-priced Rockhopper Comp and Rockhopper Elite offer a little more functionality such as an upgraded fork with a custom two-way damping circuit.

The modern geometry of the Specialized Rockhopper bike frame is particularly pleasing to the eyes, but don’t lose sight of the fact the frame design was painstakingly built to maximize efficiency. While there are cheaper bikes available, few brands consistently build quality bikes like Specialized. And by the way, if you want a good road bicycle, that is no exception. More cyclists win road races on Specialized bikes than any other type of bike.

If you are looking for an affordable mountain bike that still provides you confidence as you conquer dirt trails, the Rockhopper offers a great ride quality, even on rough terrain. And if you upgrade to the most advanced Rockhopper, the Rockhopper Expert, you can access an advanced suspension system and tubeless tires that are ready for the most rugged terrain you can find. Plus, the hydraulic brakes are designed to provide quick response, without aggressive abruptness.

You might be able to find a more high-end mountain bike, even among Specialized bikes, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better value that perfectly balances affordability and function.

Marlin vs Rockhopper

Is The Trek Marlin A Good Bike?

While you might be hard-pressed to find a better combination of affordability and function than what Specialized offers with the Rockhopper, Trek gives them quite a run for their money with the Marlin. There is a reason mountain bike enthusiasts often compare Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper. While the Trek Marlin is usually a tad more affordable, the performance is very competitive with the Rockhopper.

The Trek Marlin is also a lightweight aluminum hardtail mountain bike. This bike is an excellent workhorse for everyday rides through your neighborhood or on your local trails, but those looking for something more competitive will also be please with the various Marlin options. The Trek Marlin is an affordable bike that works well for both beginners and experienced riders.

The design and geometry of the Trek Marlin make it comfortable for anyone to ride. The cables have an internal routing system to give your bike a sleek look while protecting the cables. It comes in many different sizes, making it easy to find the perfect fit. The fork of the bike includes a coil spring. This makes it feel heavy, but the preload function is a nice touch.

The Trek Marlin has hydraulic disc brakes that give you optimal performance across all terrains in any weather. The brakes on this mountain bike give it power and precision. On the smallest framed (XS and S) Trek Marlin, you will find short-reach levers. Depending on your height, the frame you need will change, as will the wheels. The larger framed Trek has bigger wheels and tires. For example, the large-sized Marlin 5 features 29-inch wheels, while the small version features 27.5-inch wheels, and the tiniest extra small bike features 26-inch wheels. Providing options that match bike size to tire size optimizes performance on light trails and technical trails alike.

The Trek Marlin offers an optimized drivetrain, and a setup gives the rider a combination of Shimano Altus shifters and Shimano front and rear derailleurs. Most of the shifting for this setup is done with significant dependency on the rear derailleur, so it has an extra boost from an upgraded derailleur. The optimized drivetrain on the Marlin gives you the ability to move uphill fast and effectively. No matter how hard you ride, the Marlin will be responsive due to its aggressive design. It tracks well, even on the sharpest turns. Shifting between gears is easy due to the small jumps between the gears. This makes the Trek Marlin great for those who are new to mountain biking.

And of course, while an experienced rider might not be worried about such features, a casual rider will be happy to know that the Marlin has a kickstand mount. Small details such as this reflect how well the Trek Marlin balances basic functionality a noobie may be looking for, with the streamlined design and performance that a more experienced rider might be looking for. This is a bike that works well as a stable commuter that can easily handle the transition from asphalt to rugged trails.

Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper

Is the Trek Marlin Bike Worth It?

The Trek brand has been a well-known naming is being for generations. It is trusted and respected. In general, Trek bikes can get expensive quickly. However, Trek has a huge price range for the cost of their bikes. They start with an affordable price tag. You can then add features to the bike depending on your needs. The same is true for the Trek Marlin. It is well worth the price. Not only does the Marlin come with a good amount of features with an affordable price tag, but it also provides the ability to be a multi-faceted bike. The Marlin is not a one-trick pony that can only be used for rougher terrain. It is a great all-around bike.

This is the ideal bike for a new or moderate-level mountain bike rider. However, it may not meet the needs of an experienced pro that wants to take on the roughest terrain. The same is true of the Specialized Rockhopper, as noted above. The Marlin 5 and Marlin 6 offer entry-level prices, with basic features and aptitude, while the Marlin 7 and Marlin 8 offer advanced performance for those that aren’t ready to break the bank but are looking to step up their game. In this regard, Trek has options that make the Marlin a great investment for your exact needs.

Which is Better: Rockhopper or Marlin?

In comparing the Trek Marlin vs Specialized Rockhopper, the two bikes are

VERY comparable; however, the Trek Marlin is slightly more affordable and provides greater value overall. The Trek Marlin provides the versatility you may be looking for in an entry-level bike, as it would be fine to use as a commuter, but also hits the trails hard. The 1x drivetrain offers precision capability, with all the gears you need to tackle a variety of conditions.

Plus, you will find the Marlin offers suspension lockout, rack mounts, internal cable routing, and a rear kickstand mount. The flat handlebar makes the bike easy to control, and hydraulic brakes make allow for quick stops as needed.

Still, even among road bikes, Trek and Specialized are often compared. Road cyclists often make their final decision after comparing Trek Doman vs Specialized Roubaix and then gladly communicate pride as a member of their chosen pride. Trail bikes are much the same way.

Hardtail Bikes For Tough Terrain And Any Trails

Our fondness for the Trek Marlin series shouldn’t be taken as slight against the Specialized Rockhopper, as it is a great bike, and only a little more expensive than the Trek Marlin. If you’ve made it as far as narrowing your decision down to comparing Trek vs Specialized, worrying too much about the gear ratio of one bike vs the other probably is necessary at this entry-level. Specialized makes great bikes, just as Trek makes great bikes.

Pick whichever bike feels right to you, based on your completed research, and then invest your time in finding whichever trail you want to master first. Of course, finding the right trail for your new mountain biking adventures isn’t as simple as just going to the local park and unloading your bike. Taking time to research the right trails will also be a worthy investment, and we are hoping after reading this article you are more comfortable investing your time there.

Did you know there are both single-track trails and double-track trails? While purists prefer single-track trails, double-track tracks can be incredibly scenic, and greater for beginner to intermediate riders you might find on a Specialized Rockhopper or Trek Marlin.

Of course, some prefer slick-rock trails or jeep trails. Again here, purists prefer the slick-rock trails to jeep trails, but slick-rock trails are sometimes too challenging and less accessible or prevalent than their jeep trail counterparts. Once you advanced to the point that you comparing full suspension bikes such as the Stumpjumper vs Fuel EX, perhaps it makes more sense to fret over every difference, as some of those bikes cost as much as 10X what the entry-level Marlin and Rockhopper costs. Regardless, the point is to put equal consideration into your mountain bike and your bike paths of choice, and know that in choosing between the Rockhopper and the Marlin, you are choosing among the best hardtail bikes available.


The Marlin 8 is our favorite hardtail mountain bike, and the bike we would invest in if we were purchasing a hardtail mountain bike today. While the

Trek Marlin 8 is race-worthy, it still is significantly more affordable than full-suspension bikes sold by either Trek or Specialized. If you are looking for a bike that will punch above its weight against more expensive bikes, then you’ve come to the right place in considering the Trek Marlin 8.

If the Marlin 8 is at the top end of your price range, and you are looking for a bike fit in the most affordable of categories, then a Marlin 6 makes sense; however, it would also be worth considering a Specialized Rockhopper Sport, which features everything you need in a performance trail bike, and nothing you don’t. Happy mountain biking. Here is to happy trails and front-suspension-smoothed rough roads.

Subscribe to Moonlight Reviews

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox!