PINKBIKE FIELD TEST
Santa Cruz Blur TR
Words by Henry Quinney, photography by Tom Richards
Santa Cruz doesn’t tend to have bikes that come and go. Instead, once established in their lineup they often hang around for a while. The Blur is no different - it was first launched two decades ago, although that’s not to say it hasn’t seen rolling changes over the years.
The idea of bolting on two letters or numbers to the end of a model name isn’t new. In fact, there was once a time where there was even the Blur 4X. This, however, is the Blur TR but, as Santa Cruz are at pains to point out, this isn’t a downcountry bike. Then what the hell is it doing here?!
Blur TR X01 AXS Details
• Travel: 115mm rear / 120mm front
• Wheel size: 29"
• Head angle: 67.1°
• Seat tube angle: 74.9°
• Size tested: large
• Reach: 457 mm
• Chainstay length: 436 mm
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Weight: 23 lb 12 oz (10.8 kg)
• Price: $9449 USD
Well, it’s got the right amount of travel and a long dropper post, but it also has features that harken back to its XC intentions, including the small brakes, the flat bar, as well as the suspension layout itself. Santa Cruz’s new Superlight design might look similar to previous versions of VPP but it is very different. It uses a flex pivot in the rear and this means it can go without the associated weight gain that comes with a standard pivot.
The consequence is that, in terms of all-out seat grip, Santa Cruz may have just played a masterstroke. Whereas every new bike release seems to include claims of an increase in anti-squat, Santa Cruz has actually reduced this value on the Blur, as well as tuning the linkage to require a lower spring rate. We’ll come back to this and its ramifications later in the climbing section, but in short, it delivers on its promise.
So, if it’s not a downcountry bike, then what is it? Well, I would contend the increase in travel is very welcome, and not only for descending performance. It’s a very comfortable bike to ride, especially when seated, and manages to mute or deaden a lot of the small vibrations that might normally come through the saddle.
It’s also the lightest bike on the test. If you compare it to other bikes, it is nearly six pounds lighter than the heaviest. No surprisingly, it rides like a very light and dynamic bike. To call it unstable would be unfair, but its steeper head angle, flat bar, and slightly longer stem, when combined with this low weight, do make it feel slightly more flighty than the more aggressive, longer bikes on test. This is something Mike Levy commented on and really enjoyed. I, however, am somebody that probably leans more towards more stable feeling bikes than playful ones.
I would also say this bike, and its relatively conservative geometry is given a large helping hand from Fox with the simply excellent Fox 34. The Stepcast version on this bike, pound for pound, has to be one of the best forks I’ve ever ridden. The fact that something so lightweight can be treated so appallingly and still come up smiling is a testament to Fox’s expertise. I think if you had a fork that was more prone to diving, not dissimilar to the XC forks of only a few years ago, then it would lay the drawbacks of the steeper geometry of this bike bare for all to see. However, thanks to its superb tracking and ample support, that isn’t the case.
The spec elsewhere is similarly XC-inspired. The SRAM Level 2 pot brakes prioritise lightweight but it’s nice to see them with 180mm rotors. There is also routing for a remote lockout, should you want one.
The bike can fit two water bottles inside the front triangle, and has a universal derailleur hanger, along with internally guided routing.Climbing
The Blur is a great climbing bike, that becomes apparent very quickly, as one would hope. It’s clear from the geometry chart that this isn’t the most downhill focused bike but it does what it intends to do very well. When compared to the similarly focused Canyon Lux Trail, which is also an XC race bike that’s been trail-o-fied, I think the Blur TR is a far better execution of the concept. It climbs better, its geometry may be conservative but it’s got things such as the long drop-post to help quell any nerves when pointing the bike towards the descent. It’s also far more comfortable.
But how does this compare to the more aggro bikes on our test? Well, when riding the Santa Cruz, it feels like your center of gravity sits closer to the front axle than other bikes and the front wheel does feel a shade more loaded on climbs. Compare this to something like the longer Trek Top Fuel, and the Blur takes far less manhandling up the tight stuff.
It also, thanks to the high level of rear-wheel grip, means you can control your pacing up technical features. It has enough grip that it isn’t about hitting everything at pace - it offers large amounts of traction even when climbing stepped roots or rough ground at a slower pace. I would put it down to the changes Santa Cruz made when making the Blur TR, and the already mentioned reduction in anti-squat.
This might seem slightly counterintuitive for a bike's pedaling performance, but it depends on how you characterise efficiency. It certainly is active when you’re putting the power down, but it also achieves a level of grip some other bikes could only dream of. It’s completely different to something like the Niner, which offers an almost hardtail-like feeling, but doesn’t hug itself to the ground like the Blur TR can. The Blue offers a sensation not totally different from the way a coil-sprung bike just sucks itself to the ground. The interesting bit is that Santa Cruz managed to include this feeling on an air-sprung, short travel, and very light bike.
Much like the Canyon, the bike comes equipped with a 34T chainring and 175mm cranks. For a bike with TR in the name, its gearing does leave you going mandatory fast up steep climbs. I don't like this approach, it's not a race bike, after all, but at least it can rely on that low weight, comfort in the saddle and grip. People will tell me I'm wrong for this, most notably my colleagues, but I don't think it would be any worse of a bike for a 32T, and it certainly wouldn't be any slower, yet you would have more options when climbing.
In terms of timing, this was the fastest climber on technical singletrack. However, it was only the third fastest in our absolutely watertight and scientific
efficiency test. I think this reinforces my previous point. If you spend most of your time on singletrack climbs and want something to make your life easier as your search for all-out climbing grip, this is a bike worthy of your consideration.
So how does the XC friendly Blur TR cope when on the descents? Well, it’s an interesting bike, and I think it’s largely based on your perspective and what you want from a short travel bike.
It’s not a bad descender, but I would say it’s a bike that descends well considering that it clearly has its priorities elsewhere, rather than a bike that imposes its capabilities on you like the Trek or Rocky Mountain Element. Mike Levy really liked the alive and twitchy feeling the Santa Cruz gave. In fact, "liked" would be too soft of a word - he loved it. Personally, I did not enjoy that aspect so much.
It depends what you’re after. If you want a bike to open up terrain that perhaps is outside the typical XC remit or have you pushing harder than ever in your hunt for all out descending speed, then this might not be the answer. It’s very good at being a comfortable place to be. It’s going to get you to the top very quickly and really suits long days of pedaling. I don’t think, however, it suits people who have a downcountry bike because they want to absolutely shred - instead, it probably is better suited to those who want something lighter and more efficient on longer days.
What the Santa Cruz manages to do, and why perhaps they insist it isn’t a downcountry bike, is that it manages to keep all the great climbing characteristics without then having a massive blindspot on the descents. It’s not fatiguing to ride, which is important on a short travel bike, and once you train your eye in, doesn’t give you any nasty surprises. The long drop seatpost is a big part of this.
Where the Rocky Mountain and the Trek are bikes that climb incredibly well for how capable they are at descending, the Santa Cruz is probably the other way around. It’s an incredible climber, and it descends well considering that fact.
For me, this would make a great, and I mean simply fantastic all-day marathon bike. It’s comfortable, it’s fast, and its extra travel would provide a safety net for when you’re tired or riding fast on trails that you don’t know particularly well.