Hold onto your hate: Santa Cruz has entered the world of eMTBs with their all-new Heckler, a 150mm-travel all-mountain machine that's powered by Shimano's 250-watt Steps E-8000 motor and rolling on 27.5" wheels. Their first e-bike is modelled after like the non-motorized Bronson
, which we loved when we tested it last year.
Santa Cruz will offer the Heckler in four different configurations, ranging from $7,399 to $12,599 USD, with all of them based on their top-tier CC carbon frames; there's no less expensive C or alloy Hecklers in the pipeline... Yet. There's also no frame-only option at this point.
• Intended use: All-mountain
• Wheel size: 27.5"
• Rear-wheel travel: 150mm
• Fork travel: 160mm
• Shimano Steps E-8000 drive system
• Head angle: 65.5-degrees
• Sizes: S - XXL
• Weight: 46lb (as pictured)
• MSRP: $7,399 - $12,599 USD (X01 RSV $10,899 pictured & ridden)
• More info: www.santacruzbicycles.com
The Heckler that I rode (and the one shown here) is the CC X01 RSV model that's one step down from the top-dog CC XX1 AXS RSV bike. If you don't suffer from acronym envy, or just don't want to spend that kinda coin, there are models with slightly less letters and slightly less dollar signs.
The 150mm-travel Heckler uses Shimano's E-8000 Steps motor, a 160mm e-fork, and is on 27.5" wheels.
All of the complete bikes get four-piston brakes with big boy 200mm rotors, single-click Eagle drivetrains from SRAM, and a RockShox Super Deluxe shock. On the front, you'll find 160mm-travel e-ready forks from RockShox and Fox. Want more carbon? The X01 and XX1 versions come stock with Reserve carbon e-bike wheels (32h DH rear rim, 28h front), but you can also get them on less expensive models if you want to make them, you know, more expensive.
We also sat down with Rob Roskopp and Aaron Foley, the Heckler's lead engineer, to chat about its development and Santa Cruz's future with e-bikes. The Heckler name
If you've been around for a while, the Heckler name might ring a bell. I was a smelly sixteen-year-old kid reading Mountain Bike Action magazines cover to cover when the original Heckler was released back in 1996 as a beefy (for the time) trail bike with 100mm of travel. The single-pivot Heckler was, much like the Tazmon when it debuted in 1994, seen as a relatively burly machine next to its NORBA-inspired competitors that weighed less but were also less capable.
The original Heckler took its name from a type of beer that Rob Roskopp, one of the three founders of Santa Cruz, was a fan of, and there have been a few different versions of the bike since. It also happens to be a fitting name for a bike that might see a bit of heckling. Or maybe it's those who're riding it that'll be doing the heckling?
A 12-speed Eagle drivetrain (with XT cranks, of course) is paired with a Shimano motor.Shimano Steps E-8000 system
Shimano's 250-watt e-bike ecosystem is widely used, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion that Santa Cruz would go with the Japanese giant's motor, especially as they wanted to make a relatively light machine that rides like a normal bike but on the juice. So why not use something like Fazua's lightweight drive system? Or go with a less powerful drive unit to save weight like on Specialized's new 38lb Turbo Levo SL
"We looked across the board,'' Aaron Foley, the lead engineer on the Heckler project told me. ''We had competitor's bikes, and we obviously talked to a number of motor manufacturers. At the end of the day, the Steps system is very seamless and gave it a ride characteristic much closer to a pedal bike as far as the reward for what you put in.''
When considering the motor, they also had to take into account how it'd mount and if it'd play nice with the bike's lower-link driven VPP suspension layout: ''We looked at the full package and how we could do kinematics. We looked at other motors and what the kinematics would be.'' After all, what if one of the motor mounts was where a pivot needed to be? Shimano's Steps was deemed to be the most compatible.
Another checkmark in Shimano's favor is how wide their support coverage extends. Forget to pack your charger? Maybe you were juicing too hard, crashed, and broke the remote or display? You can probably get some support and bits sent to you just about anywhere in the world.
The battery is protected by a carbon cover (left), and the whole thing pops off with a half-turn of a 4mm hex key. The display unit (right) tells you which of the three modes you're in, battery life, and cadence.
Foley also said that integration was a big part of the Heckler's development, with their goal being to offer an e-bike that still looks like a mountain bike. Sure, the downtube has that 'I'm carrying triplets' thing going on, but the whole package is sleeker than a lot of other rolling disasters out there.
Santa Cruz employed some tricks to do it, including a carbon shield over the 504wh battery, a battery that can be removed with just a half-turn of a single 4mm hex key.
Nope, this ain't SWAT. The Shimano battery clips into place inside of the downtube, and cables are zip-tied in place.
Cables run internally and are still easy to deal with.
Also in the name of integration, the 800mm wide house-brand handlebar has channels and ports molded into it for cables (it'll work well with Di2, too), and the E-8000 display is small and easy to read. They've also used the smaller E-7000 remote rather than the larger E-8000 unit because the former won't get in the way of your dropper post lever. The two-button remote isn't exactly invisible or that nice looking, but it does tuck right up against the grip.
The Heckler's VPP system delivers 150mm of travel and is tailored to work with the Shimano motor.Revised lower-link VPP suspension
The 150mm-travel e-bike was always going to use the VPP system that you'll also see on most of their traditional rigs, but that was easier said than done with a motor included in the design. Foley needed to keep the same basic silhouette as the Bronson, including the low-mounted shock that passes through a carbon tunnel at the bottom of the seat tube and the lower link that compresses it, while also not adding too much length to the back of the bike.
''I was allowed a ton of time and got a ton of help from other engineers here on how to situate everything, fit the links over the motor and, at the end of the day, maintaining the same seatpost insertion on this bike as the Bronson,'' he said of the challenge.
In fact, the Bronson showed up in 2018, a year after Santa Cruz's e-bike project had begun in secrecy, and the two bikes share the same shock size, stroke, and essentially the same tune. The non-motorized bike gets a sealed bearing in the rearward shock eyelet that the Heckler skips for clearance reasons, and the Heckler's shock tunnel is a bit lower, but they appear to be closely related brothers otherwise.
Brothers or not, suspension kinematics is a game of millimeters and Foley knew that a motor-assist would require less anti-squat than the Bronson uses: "You have added load on the chain because the motor's driving it as well as you, so we didn't need as much anti-squat because it gets amplified by the motor to still keep it riding like our pedal bikes.'' What's the number? I don't know - Santa Cruz didn't want to share that - but I was told that the Heckler delivers a more active, forgiving ride that's intended to work well with the electric assistance. Bronson-ish geometry
With Santa Cruz's goal of making it ride like the Bronson, it's no surprise to see that the Heckler's geometry is close to its more traditional brother.
The head angle sits a 65.5-degrees (the Bronson's is 65.4 in the 'Hi' setting), while a size-large gets a 465mm reach (6mm longer than the Hi Bronson). The new bike's 135mm headtube is 5mm longer and, because of that pesky motor, the 445mm chainstay length is 15mm longer. That adds up to a 1,237mm wheelbase for a large.
So, why didn't they add more length and subtract more head angle to make their first e-bike even more of a speed machine, as some other brands are doing? Again, that wouldn't be very Bronson-y, of course. "The big thing was making this bike ultra-playful,'' Foley reiterated.
''We wanted it to be nimble like a Bronson and just super fun to ride," which meant 27.5" rather than 29" wheels and the longer rear-end that would have come along with them.
It ain't pretty, but it got the job done. The aluminum Heckler mule was a big factor in the bike's development.The Heckler prototype
Back in early 2018, before anyone had even seen the Bronson outside of the company, lead engineer Aaron Foley and other Santa Cruz employees traveled to Scotland with a very important bike box. Inside was the original Heckler e-bike mule, aluminum front to back and not looking much like the relatively sleek carbon production version shown here.
The idea was to put time on it without needing to worry about who might snap a photo (I suggested they do future prototype testing in Squamish, BC, close to my house), and that trip also convinced any doubters left in the team.
Packaging the lower-link VPP system with a motor in the frame wasn't easy.
The blacked-out prototype had its Shimano battery bolted to the top of the downtube (pictured below in a photo supplied by Santa Cruz), and it was so early in the bike's development that they hadn't locked down the exact amount of travel yet. Different shock sizes were being tested, too, hence the bolt-on forward mount. What's it like to ride?
I was all too happy to get a break from the Pacific Northwest's non-stop winter rains and head south to Santa Cruz HQ to spend a day learning about the new Heckler and a day riding it on their local trails while wondering what poison oak looks like. I didn't find any, but I did find that the Heckler feels a lot like a normal, albeit chubby mountain bike that's powered by a bottle of electric NOS.
Santa Cruz isn't quite as out-there with their geometry as some brands, but their numbers do tend to suit me, especially the 465mm reach that feels oh so right. If they had decided to add more length to the bike, I suspect that its size would, in combination with the 46lb weight, result in the Heckler feeling like a bit of a land yacht. The weight isn't invisible, of course, but the handling is very much Santa Cruz in that it's not going to be too floppy or too pointy; they do well when it comes to middle-of-the-road steering that simply works well in a lot of places for a lot of people. The Heckler seems to be no different.
Onto the e-stuff. Shimano's Steps system has very little lag and gets spinning quickly when you load the pedals, but it isn't exactly quiet. You can hear the motor's whine over everything else that's happening, but that's the case with every e-bike. A silent drive system would be nice, but it's probably a way off still. A few tech details to note about the cockpit: The smaller E-7000 remote uses two buttons to toggle between Eco, Trail, and Boost, and it's easy to reach while not interfering with the dropper post lever. Also, the view from the driver's seat looks relatively normal thanks to the small display and no rat's nest of wires.
One thing's for sure: It feels like a very capable e-bike, and I'm not talking about the climbs. The 46lb weight, with most of it low between the axles, makes for a 150mm-travel bike that holds a line like it has an extra 20mm and the stickiest of rubber. Edges from roots and rocks that might make a traditional bike shimmy a bit do next to nothing to the Heckler, and the suspension delivers a relatively deep feeling ride that helps that cause. As with any e-bike, staying seating and spinning will get you farther than big out-of-the-saddle efforts. Instead, save those efforts and let the motor do more of the work for you.
A single, two-hour test ride on foreign trails doesn't cut it, though, so we'll be getting a Heckler in for a long-term review.