SANTA CRUZ BUTCHER
BY Richard Cunningham
Chris Powell takes the Santa Cruz Butcher down the boulders at Ted Williams. Powell said he felt at home on the bike on his first DH run - a sentiment that was mirrored by all who rode it. Ian Hylands photo
The Santa Cruz Butcher is like the inconspicuous neighborhood kid who rarely speaks a word and probably would never have shown up on your radar until you saw him killing it on your home DH trail. The six-inch-travel all-mountain Butcher is the first single-pivot suspension design to emerge from a five-year research and development cycle that resulted in a reconfiguration of that company’s dual-link VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension, and ultimately, the invention of APP.
The APP acronym is a jibe that means ‘Actual Pivot Point’ - a single-pivot suspension that utilizes a compound linkage to reproduce nearly the exact spring rate and shock curve of Santa Cruz’s second-gen VPP. What that means in ride-speak is that the Butcher’s suspension is less expensive and a much simpler mech than the VPP, and it still delivers the VPP’s magic on the trail. Simple, however, is often a hard sell. Read the spec sheet and the Butcher seems quite ordinary, but point it down a technical trail and you will soon discover that the best-kept secret at Santa Cruz is anything but ordinary. Santa Cruz sells the Butcher in three builds from $2299 To $4099. Our test bike, with the mid-priced AM-R kit retails for $2799.
Up front, the Butcher’s aluminum frame mirrors the profile of the Santa Cruz Blur, with a tapered head tube, a deeply bent top tube to ensure proper stand-over clearance and a beefy down tube that is manipulated with a rectangular profile. The bottom bracket incorporates ISCG-05 chain-guide tabs, while the seat tube is straight as an arrow to allow the 30.9-millimeter seat post to drop its full length for DH runs and jump sessions.
Move towards the rear of the frame and in place of the Blur’s dual-link VPP suspension, the Butcher uses an elevated, single-pivot swingarm, which means that chain slap is almost nonexistent and that there is copious room for big tires with no mud buildup issues. The swingarm pivot, as well as the main link pivot, share the same collet-adjustable bearings and 15-millimeter aluminum shaft system that has been time-proven on the Blur, Nomad and V-10 frames.
Santa Cruz chose a conventional dropout for the Butcher’s frame, claiming that the beefy aluminum forgings have proven to equal the stiffness of a 12-millimeter through-axle, wile offering potential frame buyers the option to use existing wheels. While that may be the case, we’d vote for a 142/12mm through-axle system for every bike in the AM/trail category. The Butcher’s replaceable derailleur hanger is one of the best made and it incorporates a bottle opener for festive emergencies. The medium frame with the Fox RP32 shock weighs 7.4 pounds.APP Suspension
The key to the Butcher’s APP suspension is that its swingarm pivot is positioned well forward of and slightly higher than the centerline of the bottom bracket. The location releases most rear braking forces from affecting the suspension action, and it also creates some beneficial pedaling firmness when cranking in the lower gear ranges. The advantages of a forward pivot are not new. Brent Foes popularized the concept decades earlier, but what is new is that Santa Cruz developed a compound linkage that functions to eliminate lateral flex from the rear end, while providing the gentle bowl-shaped shock curve that its designers recently developed for its showcase VPP suspension.
The ‘curve’ begins with a slightly falling rate, that makes it easier for the suspension to get moving over small bumps, and which gradually transitions into a rising rate near the end of the suspension’s travel. The rising rate gives the bike an extra measure of bottoming resistance for big landings or full-travel events. Fox customized the Kashima-coated RP 23 shock’s damping curves and air-spring volume to maximize the Butcher’s all-mountain capabilities.Component Check
Santa Cruz mixed and matched the Butcher’s suspension components, paring its custom tuned Fox RP 32 shock with the very capable 150-millimeter-stroke RockShox Revelation Dual-Air RL fork. The Butcher’s 3 X 10 drivetrain was all Shimano, with XT derailleurs with a Deore crankset. Brakes were Avid Elixir 5 hydraulics with a 160-millimeter rear rotor and a 180 up front. Nice wheels based upon Mavic 321 rims were skinned with 2.35-inch Maxxis High Roller tires. The cockpit was also a bit of a salad, with a Truvativ 680-millimeter Stylo Team handlebar and a 70-millimeter AKA stem, while the seatpost was an Easton EA30. The saddle was a comfortable, WTB Volt Race. Missing and terribly so on such a technically capable machine, was a dropper seatpost.Santa Cruz Butcher Trail Test
Rolling out on the Butcher and it feels familiar, as if you have ridden it for a year, and solid under saddle like a top food-chain predator stepping out for a hunt. Weighing just under 30 pounds, we questioned whether the Butcher was going to be a bit of a dog during the test’s climbing and acceleration trials, but happily, the reverse turned out to be true. The medium-sized frame has a 22.5-inch top tube, which is a half-inch shorter than most bikes in its class. This makes it a better jumper and tends to keep the front tire hooked up while turning. The Butcher rolls silently over choppy terrain and instills a level of confidence that encourages riders to push past their comfort levels. Set-up notes:
The suppleness of the Butcher’s rear suspension in the initial stroke requires some attention when setting up the fork. We set the shock at 25-percent sag for trail riding and near 30 percent for gravity runs. Up front, the suggested air-spring pressures printed on the fork’s left slider were too high for most riders and would overdrive the shock. Dropping the values 10 psi produced a more balanced feel with both fork and shock registering full travel on the descents.Pedaling/Acceleration:
Maxxis High Rollers were once considered to be fast on the flats, but not so by modern standards. Over hard pack and pavement, the toothy Maxxis tires inhibit the Butcher’s efficiency slightly. Get onto real dirt, however, and the bike wakes up. The grippy side tread maintains speed through the turns and its angled tread blocks keep the tire riding on top of the soil. With the shock and fork opened up, the bike rolls smoothly without wallowing deep into its travel when the Butcher is pedaled hard. In short, the Butcher feels faster and more energetic as the terrain becomes increasingly technical. Climbing:
The Butcher’s top tube runs about a half inch (13mm) shorter than average, which makes it a champion over jumps and around corners, but its cockpit can feel a bit cramped for riders with long torsos or who are on the taller side of its recommended sizing. On the plus side, the Butcher eats technical climbs for lunch. With gobs of traction provided by its Maxxis tires and APP suspension, excellent balance between the wheels and low enough gears to muscle its way up ugly steeps, it leaves few excuses for pushing. On smooth, lengthily ascents, the Butcher gets the job done efficiently with the shock opened up, but there is enough suspension movement, especially when standing, to encourage the use of the shock’s ProPedal lever. We only used the Revelation’s low-speed compression/lockout dial to boost pedaling firmness on the road.Technical handling:
The Butcher is best ridden from the center of the chassis, and this gives its pilot equal command of each wheel when ascending or descending technical problems. The front end can easily be lofted while descending, which is a great help down rocky or rutted chutes. In the turns, the Butcher has ample handling in reserve, so riders can change lines by steering or sliding as needed. Under hard braking, the chassis remains quite level, making it less stressful to pick a line down drops. Although I did crash the bike trying, I discovered that, as long as I kept the front wheel pointed down the fall line, I could ride out almost any mistake. The Butcher is more trustworthy than its 67.5-degree head angle would suggest down the steeps. Downhill:
“The Butcher feels like a mini downhill bike,” was the test-rider quote that summed up the bike’s performance best. While the Butcher would need a slacker head angle and some upgrades to make good on that claim in the literal sense, it absolutely rips the descents. In the turns, it feels like a gate racer, it is stable in the air, and its suspension remains level and balanced feeling down the rock gardens. The suspension feels deeper than its published numbers and there is rarely if ever a sense that the fork or shock has bottomed (although the O-rings certainly indicated we had). One rider mentioned that, although the Butcher was not as efficient a climber than his personal bike, he ascended faster on the Santa Cruz because he was rushing get another downhill run in. Suspension action:
Perhaps it was due to the Fox RP23 shock’s slippery Kashima coating, but the Butcher’s RockShox Revelation RL fork never attained the level of bump-eating performance that we had experienced from it in prior tests (a soft shock creates a harsh fork). Applying synthetic chain lube on the dust wipers woke up the sliders and aided small-bump compliance, but that did little to ease the over-progressive feel that the fork had when impacts reached full travel. On the plus side, the Butcher’s rear suspension feels (dare I say it?) better than the Blur LT with its VPP linkage. And that stands for the entire range of suspension performance from small chatter, through the ugliest landings. The difference was observable, as those aboard the Santa Cruz floated rock gardens and both the take-offs and landings of jumps that kicked other riders around. Component report:
Starting from worst to best, the loser component on the Butcher was an apparently overfilled Avid Elixir 5 master cylinder that refused to allow the brake pads to retract beyond the minimum distance required to keep the rear wheel spinning freely. The lever’s contact point remained at the extreme outward end of its stroke throughout the test. The second nagger was that the chain often slipped off the inside of the crankset, lodging in the grips of the ISCG-05 chain guide tabs and making a mess of things. The culprit seemed to be that the chain line was one click too far outboard, which encouraged the chain to leap towards the bottom bracket with too much enthusiasm. A double chainring would have moved the crankset inboard and should have been on the bike from the get-go, as we rarely used the 42-tooth chainring.
On the brighter side, the Butcher’s 680-millimeter bars were too narrow for us, but the bend was quite good, which mitigated (nearly eliminated) test rider’s, complaints there. In lieu of a dropper post, Santa Cruz specs one of the best quick-release seatpost clamps in the business, and the Easton post was a beautiful slide fit. Both helped to facilitate quick height adjustments. Top honors go to the Butcher’s Fox-driven rear suspension, its uber-capable wheel and tire combination, and the precise-feeling Shimano XT rear shifting.Pinkbike's Take:
|Santa Cruz's Butcher is a keeper. It has gobs of handling in reserve, with which a rider can use on trail to deal with most unknown situations as they appear. The bike climbs like goat, descends with conviction, and is easy to manage when pushed to its limits - and the Butcher is as capable under a rider who executes every move with precision, as it is for someone who has more luck and courage than skill. At its core, the Butcher is a beautifully handling all-mountain chassis with a top-drawer suspension system, and it is built like the proverbial brick 'outhouse.' The frame should easily outlast its OEM components and when it does, it will be worthy of any elite-level upgrade. As tested, the Santa Cruz Butcher is an impressive technical trailbike that could put in a good performance at any bike park. Add a dropper post, a more capable fork and a two-by-ten drivetrain, and it would be outstanding. - RC|
Five-Bike $3000 AM Tests:
1 - Cannondale Jekyll 4
2 - Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp
3 - Giant Reign 1
4 - Santa Cruz Butcher
5 - Norco Range 3