Specialized and Cannondale each have their own offerings in the realm of entry-level mountain bikes. The Specialized Rockhopper has been a mainstay of its mountain biking line since 1986. Cannondale first offered the F-series in 1994. Cannondale has, however, discontinued the F-series in favor of its newer trail series, so any comparison of Specialized and Cannondale will have to be of slightly older model years.
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Entry-Level Mountain Bike Basics
Specialized and Cannondale offer the Rockhopper and the F-series at several price points. The Cannondale F-5 is roughly equivalent to the Rockhopper Expert Disc. The main difference between the different price points lie in the components, such as the brakes, shifters and derailers. The higher the price point, the more durable, lighter and responsive the components will be. Entry-level lines often run caliper or v-brakes on their lower-price models and disc brakes on the more expensive offerings. The Rockhopper Expert Disc and the F-5 both have disc brakes.
Specialized Rockhopper and Components
The Specialized Rockhopper Expert Disc is offered at the second-highest price point of the Rockhopper line. Specialized offers the Stumpjumper as an entirely distinct higher-end mountain bike line. The Expert Disc model of the Rockhopper is mounted with mechanical disc brakes and Shimano Deore-level components, which are based on the previous model-years high-end XT and LX lines. The front shock is the Rock Shox Tora S Lite, with 100 mm of travel, able to absorb impact from most of the obstacles a cross-country rider will encounter.
Cannondale F5 and Components
Cannondale's F5 is in the middle price point of its F-series, which encompasses Cannondale's full cross-country mountain bike range. The F5 boasts disc brakes, front suspension and components from the Sram X5 and X7 range. Sram's X7 and older X5 lines are their mid-range components. They provide quality similar to the current Shimano Deore lines. The fork included with the F5 is the Rock Shox Dart 3, with the same 100 mm of travel as the Rockhopper's Tora.
Choosing the Proper Fit
The main factor in deciding which entry-level mountain bike is best for you is its fit. The components and quality of the frame's construction are both roughly equivalent regardless of the manufacturer. The slightly different frame geometries and differing possibilities for setup, however, affect the way each bike fits you. Comparing components and prices will give you a general idea of what you need, but the true test is how the different bikes feel during a ride.