The heart of the Rockhound is its air hardened steel frameset: Reynolds 853 main triangle and True Temper OX Platinum stays. Both of these air hardened steels have higher strength-to-weight ratios than conventional chromoly..
By Karl Rosengarth
Since the most frequently asked question during this bike test was: "Is that Gunnar Shogren’s bike company?" I thought I’d answer that question right way. No, it’s not. It so happens that Gunnar bicycles are produced by Waterford Precision Cycles, a company run by two men with rich cycling histories: Richard Schwinn and Marc Muller. In case those names don’t ring a bell, I’ve included a sidebar on Waterford and the men behind the company to enlighten you. Oh, Gunnar is the name of Richard’s pet Labrador.
On to the bike. The heart of the Rockhound is its air hardened steel frameset: Reynolds 853 main triangle and True Temper OX Platinum stays. Both of these air hardened steels have higher strength-to-weight ratios than conventional chromoly steels, making it possible to use thinner and lighter tubes without sacrificing the frame’s strength. The top and down tubes are flared where they meet the head tube, which increases the frame’s strength in the critical head tube area.
And the good stuff doesn’t stop with the tubes. The Rockhound sports sweet Ritchey forged vertical dropouts. Top-tube cable routing keeps your cables away from the muck down under. The bottom line is the very reasonable $675 price tag for this cleanly welded, air hardened steel frame (in your choice of Ruff Red, True Blue, Labrador Black and Snow Yellow). The Rockhound is available in 15, 16, 17.5, 19 and 20.5 inch frames. Clydesdales rejoice: the 20.5 inch frame has beefier tubes for added strength and stiffness.
If the frameset is the heart, then the Rock-It™ geometry is the soul of the Rockhound. Rock-It™ geometry in a nutshell: longer top tube, short rear end, shorter stem and lower bottom bracket. The relatively short 16.25" chainstays are designed to improve both climbing and general traction. The longer top tube (23.5" theoretical on my 17.5" frame) is designed to distribute rider weight properly between front and rear wheels for better handling. A low bottom bracket aids stability by lowering the center of gravity (I measured a 11 7/8" bb height). A 71.5° head angle combined with a shorter stem result in quicker than average handling.
How does she ride? Well, the Rockhound rocks. It didn’t take me long to feel in sync with the Rockhound. I felt that the Rock-It™ geometry delivered on its claim: it properly distributed my weight over the bike’s wheels for solid stability and great handling. The Rockhound felt nimble, and I liked the feeling.
The Rockhound loves to go out and play in the twisty singletrack, leap over tall logs and run through technical rock gardens. I know she loves it, because I’ve been there with her. And not just on my local trails, the ones I can ride blindfolded, at top speed, on just about anything with two wheels. No sir. I took the Rockhound with me on a few road trips, one to Jim Thorpe, PA and another to the Bald Eagle State Forest in central Pennsylvania. Both of these places are much more mountainous, rugged and rocky than are my local trails. Add to the uncertainty of new trails (covered with leaves), the challenge of trying to keep up with Griz, my fit, young guide… and what would normally be a cake ride tuns into a completely different scenario: hammer hard trying to keep up, fade into oxygen debt and fall behind, just point her nose in there and hope I make it through the section upright so I don’t fall further behind. Fortunately, old Rockhound was as loyal as any old hound could be; she never pitched me over the bars, no matter how badly I abused her with my blind forays into rock gardens and rutted downhills. Somehow I managed to keep up with Griz—a lot of that having to do with his frequent stops to gather GPS way point data (ain’t technology wonderful?).
So, have you guessed that I really enjoyed riding the Rockhound? Congratulations, you figured it out before I started gushing about how "steel is real." How the "ride" is supple and lively, yet the frame doesn’t feel flexy when I crank hard. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now.
My Shimano XT and RockShox Judy Race equipped Rockhound retails for about $1850. LX, XTR and frame-only options are also available. With my Time Atac pedals, my test rig weighed in at 24.5 lbs. I could go on about the other components bolted to the frame, but that’s not he point. The point is that this Rockhound has the heart and soul to carry you deep into the woods, or to help you go fast on the race course, if that’s your bag.
I’ve thought long and hard, and I really don’t have a nit to pick with this bike. What’s not to like? For the price $675, you’d be hard-pressed to find a made in America, air hardened steel, nimble handling cross-country frame with more to offer than the Rockhound. Contact: Gunnar Cycles, 816 West Bakke Avenue, Waterford, WI 53185; 262.534.4190; www.waterfordbikes.com.