Santa Cruz announced the Bronson on April Fools' Day, but the first mid-size-wheel trailbike from the Coastal California bike maker was no joke. We traveled to the new SC factory, situated at the foot of some of the area's choice riding, to get a first-hand impression of how the bike performs. Those who have ridden in the coastal mountains of Santa Cruz will verify that the dirt, trails and average temperature are near-perfect 260 days out of the year - and the other 105 days it's fisherman-cold and pissing rain. We were fortunate to enjoy one of the 260 - shredding between shaded redwood forest and oak woodlands for a most enjoyable day of riding on the trails where the Bronson was born and raised. Bronson C Walk-Around
Bronsons have six inches of rear-wheel travel (5.9"/150mm)
and can be configured with a number of forks ranging in travel from 150 to 180 millimeters, although a 150mm fork is preferred. Frames are available in welded-aluminum or carbon and in a number of builds. Both the alloy and carbon frame are built on separate tooling from any other Santa Cruz model, but the family resemblance with the Blur LTc and Tallboy is nearly identical. Bronsons are built much tougher than what is required for an XC trailbike and are advertised as all-mountain and enduro-specific. Our test Bronson was the carbon version, set up with a SRAM XXI drivetrain, Shimano XTR Trail Brakes and a Fox Float CTD fork and shock. Topping off the high-end build was a matched pair of Enve's newest AM wheels in 650B. Santa Cruz's website pegs the retail cost
of our test Bronson just beyond the $10,000 mark. We tried to ignore that detail and revel in the knowledge that Santa Cruz's claimed weight for our test Bronson was 26.21 pounds - pretty sweet for an AM sled. (Santa Cruz Bronson C builds start at $4150.)
Medium-sized Bronson C frames are said to weigh 5.3 pounds and with a Fox float CTD shock, cost $2,699. Color options are natural carbon with blue or yellow graphics, or Tennis Green. Suspension Notes:
Bronsons rely on Santa Cruz's generation-2 VPP rear suspension for firm pedaling response paired with smooth suspension action, but those who insist on pedaling performance that comes close to a hardtail can fuss with the Fox CTD controls to obtain satisfaction. We questioned why the Enduro-specific Bronson does not have an option for the Float-X CTD reservoir damper and the answer seemed to be that the new shock was not yet forthcoming to OEMs. It seems like a perfect match, but as we discovered, the standard Float CTD shock was aptly suited for the Bronson's hard-charging style. Both the upper and lower rocker links are forged aluminum and both use SC's adjustable angular-contact bearing system. In keeping with SC's recent tradition, grease fittings are tucked into the lower link to encourage preventative bearing maintenance. Key Numbers:
Quickly scanning the Bronson's frame numbers
backs up its mission statement - with a low, 13.6-inch bottom bracket height, a reasonably slack, 67-degree head angle, and a moderately short, 17.3-inch chainstay length the Bronson should handle brightly enough to dodge and weave through the trees, and still possess a shovel-full of courage-enhancing stability for high-speed forays down technical trails that should be the realm of a big bike. Previous experience with 650B wheels suggests that, shod with 2.35-inch tires, the Bronson will breeze over the rocks and deadfall which are the signatures of the Santa Cruz trail network.
|Every berm, every twist and turn through this forest, can be executed at speeds that exceed a normal rider's imagination - and the locals use this to their advantage - tempting us with each new section of trail and then crushing us once again. This is the dark soul of Bronson.|
With the best part of the day ahead of us and three honch riders from Santa Cruz Bikes, eager to show us every nuance of the local trail network, we throw a leg over the first 650B design to emerge from the iconic bike brand, find a wheel and hang on for dear life. They call it 'hero dirt' and the local mountains above the brand's namesake city are made of it. The divine mixture of loam, clay and sand, kept moist by the eternal shade of coastal redwood trees, grips tires better than baby monkeys hold onto their mothers. Every berm, every twist and turn through this forest, can be executed at speeds that exceed a normal rider's imagination - and the locals use this to their advantage - tempting us with each new section of trail and then crushing us once again. This is the dark soul of Bronson.
Granted, we are riding on the exact trails that Santa Cruz used to hone the handling of the Bronson, but the ease and agility with which the bike moves through the forest is remarkable. It has a beautiful front/rear balance that requires very little attention at the handlebar to keep the bike on line. It is a rare moment when the front tire won't follow orders and the Bronson's rear tire tends to track the front unless its pilot calls for a drift. There is a surety to its steering that encourages the rider to ignore minor obstacles and choose the flow lines. The Bronson front wheel seems eager to drive over almost anything in its way. Santa Cruz offers Maxxis High Rollers as standard rubber on the Bronson, but our test bike was outfitted with Maxxis Ardent tires, which roll faster, but give up a lot of grip in the turns to their DH-oriented kin. Tearing into the hero dirt, we imagine that a High Roller-equipped Bronson would corner and climb like it were geared directly to the earth.
Descending proved that, for Santa Cruz Bikes at least, Fox has implemented changes in its 34 Float CTD fork's damping and spring rates to eliminate the mushy feel in compression and brake dive that the original model often suffered from. The Bronson dove fearlessly down rock chutes and leveled roots like a dedicated enduro chassis must. Under braking, aided by its Shimano XTR Trail stoppers, the Bronson feels sure and controllable in nearly all situations. Drops and jumps are non-issues, with the very stiff-feeling chassis feeling instantly composed upon landings, ready to negotiate the next feature. This agility seems to stem from a combination of a slightly steeper head angle than current fashion dictates that is paired with a rigid, balanced-feeling chassis, and this is an emerging theme from Santa Cruz. The Bronson's ability to react to situations in a quick, decisive manner may trump bikes that employ excessively slack steering geometry and favor a plow-through-everything strategy. At any rate, it makes for a fun ride.
Speaking of rear suspension, the feel of the Bronson's VPP rear end is very much like the Tallboy LTc, with a supple feel of the bottom and through the mid stroke, with a gradual rising rate at the end-stroke to soften hard landings. Climbing traction is abundant and there is enough pedaling firmness in the suspension to minimize the need to switch the CTD shock to Trail or Climb modes. While 150-millimeters of travel is quite common in this category, the second-gen VPP's mid-stroke performance is as good as it gets, and in fast trail situations the system really shines. There is no sense that the larger wheels are a travel-booster like one often experiences from 29-inch wheel designs, but like a big-wheel bike, the Bronson feels quite capable of charging nasty sections that a 26er rider might shy from. Excellent performance at the suspension's end-stroke, aided by a laterally rigid chassis, keeps the bike in control after hard landings and even if the Bronson lands out of shape, it recovers quickly. Over trail chatter, on the opposite side of the suspension's spectrum, the tires feel well grounded, which removes much of the anxiety from fast, sweeping turns. The only possible negative suspension trait we noticed was that the rear wheel would catch momentarily before popping over a tall root or deadfall limb at slow speeds. This was not the case once the wheels were rolling at a proper clip. Whether this was a setup issue or inherent to the VPP suspension will be explored in a future test.
Mechanically, what is not to like about Enve Carbon AM wheels
, Shimano's best disc brakes and SRAM's eleven-speed one-by drivetrain? We would be hard pressed to find a quieter running bike. Only the click click of its SRAM XXI transmission and the sound of its tires scrubbing the soil break the silence of the Bronson's ride. If there was any chain slap, Santa Cruz's molded rubber chainstay protector would mask any hint of it. Double points to SC for integrating a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post into the Bronson's frame design. The port for the actuator hose is further protected by a rubber boot, and the lack of a front derailleur allows the remote button to be placed under the left handlebar where it lines up perfectly with the thumb. For those who feel the need for a front mech, Santa Cruz includes the necessary housing stops and direct mount face-plate to do the job right. ISCG tabs are also standard fare. About the only aspect of the bike we'd change is to go to a wider, 750-millimeter handlebar - which is supposedly a running change for production Bronsons.
|Glowing as this text has been about Santa Cruz's first 650B design, riding the Bronson on its home trails for a day cannot provide the range of experiences required for a conclusive bike review. What we can say for sure is that we like the Bronson - it's a ripper. Comparisons can be made between its lookalike cousins - the 26-inch Blur LTc and the 29er Tallboy LTc - but with all due respect, the Bronson is a cut above both in a number of ways. The Bronson has much more high-speed stability than both of its predecessors, and it feels better balanced than the Blur in the corners. While the Tallboy and the Bronson share a similar flow when negotiating rough trails, the Tallboy likes to cruise effortlessly down the trail at about the same cadence, while the Bronson is a charger with a more energetic feel, and it pushes its rider to carve more creative lines and search for features to boost that may escape riders mounted on lesser machinery. It will be interesting to see how well the Bronson lives up to its purpose on the World Enduro Circuit. While you are watching, look for the complete test later this year. - RC|