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Specialized Riprock (Hotrock) 12 Review

Small, yet mighty, the Specialized Riprock 12, previously called the Hotrock 12, is a fun and well-designed little machine capable of getting the youngest and tiniest kids off and riding.

In addition to being lightweight and nimble, the bike has some unique features up its sleeve that help set it apart from the wide array of poorly designed 12 inch bikes on the market.

child riding the specialized riprock bike

QUICK LOOK

Specialized RipRock 12

RATING: Highly Recommended

MSRP$230

BEST FOR: 2.5 to 4 year-olds riding on various surfaces. Not ideal for kids with small frames.

SEAT HEIGHT: 15.5″ – 18.5″

WEIGHT: 17 lb.

BRAKES: Coaster only

ADDITIONAL SPECS

GAIN RATIO: 4
WHEELBASE: 622
FRAME: Aluminum Alloy

PROS:

  • Lightweight and nimble
  • Pushed forward bottom bracket for easier pedaling
  • Quality training wheels included
  • Thick cushioning tires

CONS:

  • No handbrake
  • Coaster brake can be challenging for balance bike graduates

Specialized Riprock Review – Results of our Test Rides

4 year old boy riding Specialized Hotrock 12 down the sidewalk.

**Although updated to include the features and specs of the current 12 inch Riprock, the pictures in this review are actually of the older Hotrock 12.  The bikes are very similar, however. The main differences are a slightly lower top tube and larger tires on the Riprock as compared to the orange Hotrock shown.**

Size

Whether your child will be using training wheels or not, selecting the right size bike for them is essential.  Many parents often think their child needs to start out with the smallest bike size available, which is a 12 inch bike, but many parents don’t realize just how small a 12 inch bike is!   

The Riprock 12 is so small that our 2-year-old tester in 3T clothes can fit on the bike with her feet fully touching the ground!  On the flip side, it was way too small for our 4-year-old tester! If you’re familiar with the older Specialized Hotrock 12, the Riprock 12 is actually a bit smaller.

SIZING TIPS: The best way to guarantee a proper fit with a kid’s bike is to compare your child’s inseam (crotch to floor) with a bike’s seat height.

For beginning riders NOT using training wheels, the seat height should be set equal to the child’s inseam (to allow kids to stop with their feet).

For kids using training wheels, the seat height can be set 1 to 2″ above the child’s inseam (so they can stand over the seat with their tippy-toes touching).  For more details on sizing see our Kids Bikes Sizes Guide.

Specialized Riprock Size Guide

FeatureHotwalkRiprock 12Riprock 16
ModelHotwalk Balance BikeRiprock 12Riprock 16
Seat Height13.5" to 17.5"15.5" to 18.5"18.25" - 22.75"
Weight~10 lb.17 lb.20.25 lb.
Age Reco2 to 32 to 3 (with training wheels)4 to 6 (with or without training wheels)

So unless your 2 or 3-year-old tiny grom is ready to rip without training wheels (if so, please send us some pics!), Specialized’s Hotwalk balance bike is likely a better option for you.

If your little one is in-between sizes (too tall for the 12 inch to provide room for growth, but too timid to ride a larger 16″), we recommend checking out the 14 inch Pello Romper.  With a seat height range of 17.25″ – 21.25″, it is perfectly sized right between the Riprock 12 and Riprock 16.

If you do plan on using training wheels, be sure to check out our Balance Bike vs. Training Wheels article to learn about the many benefits of balance bikes over training wheels.

Weight

The weight of a bike plays a large role in the overall rideability of the bike, especially for the littlest riders on 12 inch bikes!  Can you imagine attempting to ride a bike that’s over half of your body weight? Not only would it be hard to pick up, keeping it steady long enough to mount it and then get started pedaling would be extremely difficult.

Sadly, kids’ bikes often weigh close to 50% of a child’s weight. Ideally, a bike should weigh no more than 30% of a child’s weight, but that can be hard to come by for young, or lightweight riders.  The Specialized Riprock 12 weighs just over 17 lb. with training wheels. This weight isn’t ideal but is still MUCH lighter than many other 12 inch kids bikes.

Ironically, the cheap (and not recommended!) Huffy Rock It is actually lighter than the Riprock 12, but upon comparing the bikes it’s easy to see why. The Huffy is a MUCH smaller bike.  The frame of the Rock It is actually several inches shorter than the Riprock 12.

side by side comparison of Specialized Riprock vs Huffy Rock it. The Riprock is a few inches longer.

Geometry

The differences in frame design pointed out above also play a major role in the child’s ability to balance and maneuver the bike.  As first-time riders, these little groms need all the help they can get, but all too often poorly designed bikes greatly inhibit a child’s ability to ride the bike.

One of the major effects of frame design is how it alters the bike’s, and thus the rider’s, center of gravity.  Bikes with a low center of gravity are much easier to balance at lower speeds and are therefore greatly beneficial to beginning riders.  Like the Hotrock 12 before it, the Specialized Riprock is one of the only 12 inch bikes on the market that has a low center of gravity design!

To create a lower center-of-gravity for the rider, a bike needs a longer wheelbase (the distance between where the two tires touch the ground), which allows the rider to sit lower on the frame and closer to the tires.

Although the three bikes shown below have similar seat heights and are marketed to essentially the same age group, the position of the rider on the bike is vastly different due to the difference in the wheelbases of the bikes.

The high-end Islabikes’ wheelbase is 6″ longer than the Huffy, yet the minimum seat heights on the two bikes only differ by 0.5″. The Specialized Riprock’s (labeled Hotrock below) wheelbase is 2″ shorter than Islabikes’, but is still able to provide a good body position for the rider.

Longer Wheelbase Generally Means Better Body Position and Balance

Same rider, three bikes. Huffy Rock it has a short wheelbase and high handlebars, leading to a high center of gravity and poor body position. Specialized Hotrock 12 has a longer wheelbase and lower handlebars which leads to a lower center of gravity and a good body position. The Islabikes CNO 14" has the best body position with the longest wheelbase, mid-range handlebars, and the lowest center of gravity.

Like cars, the longer the wheelbase of a bike (within reason), the more stable the bike is. As a result, a kid’s bike with a longer wheelbase is going to be easier to maneuver and handle.

Handlebars

The shape of the handlebars can have a huge effect on the body position of a rider.  The low and wide handlebar of the Specialized Riprock 12 provides a much better riding experience than the high and narrow handlebars found on most big-box store bikes.

Most handlebars on cheap 12″ and 16″ bikes (like the Huffy below) position a child’s hands well above the child’s waist while riding. This positioning doesn’t allow for proper arm extension, which minimizes a child’s overall control of the bike and creates twitchy steering. Handlebars placed lower on the body help to lower the center-of-gravity as well as provide for proper arm extension, leading to better overall control of the bike.

In the images below, both the Specialized Hotrock (Riprock) 12 and the CNOC 14″ have low and wide handlebars that allow a child to properly extend their arms and maintain better control of the bike.

High and Narrow Handlebars Make for Twitchy Handling

Huffy Rock It has high and narrow handlebars. Specialized Hotrock has low and wide handlebars. Islabikes CNOC 14 has low and wide handlebars.

Ease of Pedaling

For young kids, how easy it is to pedal a bike goes beyond the gearing of the bike.  With little real estate to work with on small 12 inch bike frames, the placement of the bike’s crank arms can make it challenging for a child to learn how to pedal a bike.  With the pedals positioned directly below the seat of the Huffy Rock It, pedaling requires kids to push directly down on the pedals.  Timing when to push down can be hard for little ones, which is why they often get the timing wrong and pedal backwards.

To help make their bikes easier to ride, when Specialized designed the original Hotrock 12, they moved the bottom bracket (and hence the pedals) slightly forward on the bike, so they are positioned a little bit in front of the seat versus directly below.  This allows kids to push more “forward” on the pedals instead of straight down, making it easy for kids to learn to correctly pedal the bike.  This design remained with the Riprock 12,  and as a result, pedaling is much easier and more efficient for little riders on the Riprock than on most cheap big-box-store bikes.

Pushed Forward Bottom Bracket on Riprock

Side by side comparison of Specialized Hotwalk and Next Rocket. The pedals on the Hotwalk are placed farther forward on the bike than the Next's, where the pedals are directly below the seat.

Brakes

The Riprock 12 comes with coaster brakes and no handbrakes.  The coaster brake is simple and effective but can be problematic for young riders learning to pedal.  As mentioned previously, when learning to pedal kids often accidentally pedal backward.  Upon doing so, the coaster brake of the bike quickly and unexpectedly stops the bike, which usually leads to a fall.

With the Riprock, the pushed forward bottom bracket helps to reduce the likelihood of backpedaling, so the issue isn’t as prominent as it is on other 12 inch bikes. Be aware however, that almost every 12 inch bike has a coaster brake. At this price point and below, you’re most likely going to end up with a coaster brake. Higher-end bikes (like the woom 2) often have options to remove the coaster brake, however.

Training Wheels

Over the years, one of our favorite “cherry on top” benefits of the Hotrock 12 was its training wheels compared to other 12 inch bikes. Like the Hotrock, the Riprock 12 has very rigid, high-quality training wheels. Unlike traditional training wheels, Riprock’s are built to last.  They won’t bend or warp with use, helping to minimize some of the unnecessary wobble and noisy chatter than often comes along with training wheels.

As an added bonus, the training wheels can be removed and installed without the use of tools! The mounting bolt on each training wheel is attached to a large cylindrical knob that can quickly and easily be screwed into place.

In addition to their tool-free mounting system, the arms are made of rigid metal that won’t bend or shift out of place like traditional training wheels.

Bottom Line

Like its predecessor the Specialized Hotrock 12, the updated Specialized Riprock 12 is our favorite bike-shop bike for young pedalers in no larger than size 4T clothes.  With great geometry and a pushed forward bottom bracket, the Riprock is easy to ride and easier to pedal than the standard 12 inch bike.

FTC Disclosure:

All opinions in this review are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC. Please do not reuse any of the pictures without linking back to this page. In order to help facilitate this review, Islabikes provided their Beinn 14″ and Hanger 15 Bicycles (an awesome shop in the greater Salt Lake City, Utah area with three locations) provided a loaner Specialized Hotrock 12″ (THANK YOU!). We purchased the Huffy Rock It at Walmart. Two Wheeling Tots is not an affiliate of Islabikes, Specialized, Hanger 15 Bicycles or Huffy, but is an affiliate of Amazon and WOOM.

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