I’ve been on the new Santa Cruz Bronson for a couple of months now; sloshing through a soggy northwest winter, getting to know the magenta wonderbike. It’s been a happy-making machine; time to have an in-depth look at how it worked for me. If you’re looking for specifications, geometry, and detailed bike pictures, have a gander at the First Impressions article.
The build is fairly dialed out of the box; impressively, there’s not a thing I felt compelled to change. Here’s the component rundown:
Creature comforts: The Santa Cruz carbon bar is a proper 800mm wide – one size fits all (with application of hacksaw if need be), and I liked the bend. Grips are also house brand – they’re single clamp, with a small diameter knurled pattern that feel good to these hands. The 50mm Easton Haven stem was spot on for the moderately long reach (450mm on the large frame). The WTB Silverado saddle fits my posterior physiology well, and the attached Rockshox Reverb Stealth did its uppy-downy routine reliably.
Brakes: I really like the new Guide Ultimate stoppers. The shorty lever is similar to the Shimano shape (which I love). The lever reach and pad throw adjustments are easy to use and effective. The engagement bite isn’t quite as aggressive as said Shimanos, lending easy modulation. Power is quite good – though I’d prefer a 200mm front rotor over the stock 180mm unit. Braking was fade-free, and lever reach remained consistent on long continual applications. Good stuff.
Drivetrain: Until this year, I’ve been a loyal Shimano customer. I’m now sold on the efficacy of SRAM 1x with one minor gripe – I miss the Shimano trigger upshift capability (SRAM is push-push only). That said, the XX1 drivetrain shifted flawlessly up and down the 10-42 block for the entire test period with nary an adjustment. Solid. The 32T Raceface narrow-wide ring also did its chain retaining duties diligently. The Next SL carbon cranks are stiff and silly light but are looking a bit haggard from shoe scuffing. Applying a bit of frame protector might be in order if you’re concerned about such things.
Wheels: The Enve-rimmed Industry Nine-hubbed wheelset is trick indeed. They’re certainly light, noticeably stiff, and make really cool sounds – I9 subscribes to the more is better school of engagement points. The 26mm internal width HV (“High Volume”) rim offers good support for the Maxxis Minion DHR EXO 2.4 tires – set up tubeless; I was running pressures around 22F / 25R with no burping. I’m not fond of the internal nipple design, despite the argument that the smaller holes create a stronger rim. Peeling off a tire and rim strip to tighten a nipple? No thanks. That said, the wheels did hold their tension throughout the test, requiring nary a twiddle, which is impressive.
I did, however, have an issue with the bearings in the I9 hubs. After a couple months of Wetcoast riding, the front hub is feeling a little rough, but the rear feels like it’s full of gravel. A bad set of bearings, perhaps – they’re Enduro (the company, not the overused marketing term), which I assumed to be decent quality. I’ve never had a high-end hub give up its guts in such short order, though.
These are the first Enve wheels I’ve ridden and I was excited to experience the juju. I’ve run aluminum wheelsets of similar weight, so acceleration was not different – they’re definitely quick to spin up. The increase in stiffness was notable, however – they seemed to ping off impacts with a bit more energy and deflect less in hard corners. I’m not totally sold on the stiffer is better school of thought, so I’ll just leave it at “discernibly different”. Rim durability seems quite good; I’m not a wheel crusher by any means, but do pick up dents in aluminum rims on a semi-regular basis. These saw a few hard pings without damage. So; worth a $2k upgrade over the standard aluminum rimmed wheelset? Not in my world, but if you have the disposable income, and bling is your thing, they certainly get the job done (questionable bearing durability notwithstanding).
Frame details: I’ll take a moment to commend the ability to run a large size water bottle in a properly accessible location; cheers, designer guy. Frame protection – downtube and chainstay – is well integrated and effective. Cable routing is rattle free and clean though there is a brake line wear point on the seat tube. Again, if such things worry you, break out that roll of frame saver. I didn’t have to replace any lines, but the fully guided internal routing is a nice touch; great not having to fish for cables in the dark depths of a down tube.
The swingarm sports copious tire clearance; no mud issues there. The newly relocated bottom link (that tucks into a pocket above the BB) does accumulate mud, but there seemed to be no ill effects to the pivot bearings. Nearly every ride these days is a wet one, and that mud shelf gets hosed out each time. I recently pulled the pivot apart to have a look, and things are clean & running smoothly. No play or sign of bearing wear. Very nicely designed, well-sealed hardware. For what it’s worth, SC offers a lifetime warranty on said bearings – an impressive testament to the confidence they have in these bits.
Dampers: The boingy bits were surprisingly easy to get sorted to my liking. I run a Pike on my daily driver, so was already familiar with twiddling this device, and had it in my sweet spot in short order. I like the fork; supple, yet well supported, and a decently stiff chassis for the weight. The Fox Float X Factory shock – with Evol air can & Kashima coated shaft – was new to me, but was similarly easy to get into my happy place. We’ll talk a bit more about the shock later.
Now, on to the riding!
Going up: At 27.7lbs (size large with pedals) it’s certainly svelte, and the response to pedal input was impressive – no doubt owing in large part to the carbon hooped Enve wheelset. Also noticeable was the improvement in the pedaling platform over the previous Bronson. Nice support at the sag point and minimal pedal induced bob (ie, decent anti-squat) meant I ended up leaving the 3-position compression adjustment lever on the Fox shock at full open all the time.
I managed to achieve a spot on climbing position with the caveat that I’m near the maximum forward range of adjustability on the Reverb seatpost. I like a relatively steep seat tube angle, and this approaches the slack end of personal preference. For what’s it’s worth, I have a 33″ inseam, at 6′-0″ tall. Results may vary depending on your physiology.
The bike is an adept technical climber, with well-balanced weight distribution; a planted front wheel, and decent rear grip over gnarly terrain. It’s perhaps not quite as supple under power as some bikes I’ve ridden, but a reasonable trade-off for less monkey motion. Not a significant detriment in my experience.
Going down: I’d describe the descending character as well balanced. Treading a nebulous region between trail bike and enduro racer, it juggles stability & agility well. The 66° head angle is what I’d call ‘versatile’ – slack enough to tame most steeps & high speeds, without sacrificing slower speed handling and quick maneuverability. I ran a bit of a rear sag bias (ie, about 25% front / 35% rear), which does effectively slack things out a little. The bike favors a centered riding position, affording easy traction management at both ends.
I’ve owned a couple previous model VPP bikes; they weren’t what I’d call overly poppy platforms, with a bit of a dead zone in the mid stroke. The new iteration is well improved in the playful department. It sports a plusher beginning stroke (owing in part to the fox EVOL air can, with a large negative chamber), a better supported mid stroke, and a nicely tuned end ramp – with my preferred softer rear tune (Aaron Gwin I am not). I’m using full travel on big hits but never feel a hard bottom. It’s what I’d call a “quality” 150mm of rear travel – the chassis is well composed in the chunk, and I seldom felt wanting for more.
The new Bronson sports a tightened up chainstay (at 17” even), which aids in the manual-ability and fun factor, and the BB height (measured 13 ¼”) is spot on. That composed chassis also translates well to pinning it on flatter flow trails and putting the power down. It rails corners nicely with decent exit pop, is happy being flogged aggressively, and generally inspires confidence. No handling quirks. I think I like it.
Final thoughts: I’ll take a moment to talk price ($10099USD / $12649CAD). Though there’s no shortage of stratospherically priced bikes these days, I’ve yet to become price desensitized, and still have a hard time coming to grips with 5 figure price tags. The bike is really good, but is it $12k good? I’m challenged to make the rationalization. Fortunately for we of miserly dispositions, there are less expensive alternatives – like the C model Bronson. The frame is visually identical (albeit with a slightly heavier carbon layup) and can be had with the same fork & shock, an aluminum wheelset, and more economical build kit, for nearly half the price of this bike. That I can wrap my head around. That said, if you have cash to burn, this is a fine steed, and Santa Cruz are good people – there are worse places you could throw your money.
So. For the type of riding I typically do – aggressive / technical trail with some fun-centric enduro racing thrown in, this bike is well dialed out of the box. It’s a versatile beast that’s pedal friendly on the climbing & rolling bits, yet comfortable hauling fast, and confident dropping into the steep chunder. Though our egos tend to drive us towards wanting the biggest gun in the arsenal (ie, the Nomad), methinks many of us would be better served on something like this. It’d do me well as a one bike quiver, which is no easy feat. It’s an impressive bit of work.
Perry’s tickled pink. How about you?