On the surface, gravel grinding and cross racing don’t have much in common. The cross riders’ emphasis on fast and twitchy bikes runs antithetical to the more stable platform offered by a gravel-specific rig. Bikes are often an ‘either-or’ sort of thing and threading this fine needle is an oft-elusive task. The Santa Cruz Stigmata, however, accomplishes this task with seeming ease. I’ll admit, as a relative youngin’ to the cycling game, my preferences are shaped by the technology that surrounds me – I haven’t endured the trials and tribulations that the preceding generation had to deal with in terms of bike technology and geometry. Luckily, the folks at Santa Cruz endured, and learned, from these hardships. The result of this is a bike that is surprisingly capable on the both the road and gravel, as well as being an adept navigator of singletrack and cyclocross tracks.
The ride characteristics of a bike are, intuitively, shaped by the parts that are put on the bike. The Stigmata I rode was equipped with a Sram Force groupset and Enve Wheels, paired with the higher end Stigmata ‘CC’ carbon frame. Its build screamed high-end – and the ride quality definitely reflected this. While these features are the ‘heavy–hitters,’ so to speak, a more detailed build kit analysis is outlined below as well.
Santa Cruz Stigmata CC Build Details:
- Frame: Stigmata Carbon CC
- Size: 60cm
- Fork: Stigmata CC Cyclocross Fork, 15×100 thru-axle
- Rear Derailleur: Sram Force CX1
- Shifters: Sram Force CX1
- Cassette: Sram PG 1170, 11-36t
- Brakes: Sram Force
- Headset: Integrated Cane Creek 40
- Bars: Zipp Service Course SL
- Stem: Zipp Service Course SL
- Wheels: ENVE m50/50, with DT Swiss 350 hubs
- Tires: Maxxis Mud Wrestler, 700x33c
- Saddle: WTB Silverado Road
Weight: 17.5lbs (with Crankbrothers Candy 2 pedals)
Clearly, this build was meant to slay cyclocross tracks, being equipped with hydraulic disc brakes and 33c Mud Wrestler tires. Perhaps Sram’s CX1 cyclocross specific drivetrain is another dead giveaway. One thing is clear: the Stigmata is a purpose built machine, being equipped with the right gear for a specific job. That being said, I mentioned earlier that the Stigmata skirts a very thin line and creates a great platform for many cycling disciplines. So while it certainly excels at CX, it also seems to excel in other areas too. I, as the responsible rider that I am, decided to ride the Stigmata in rather varied terrain for the duration of its testing period: from gravel roads, to singletrack, to pavement, and even quite a few commutes and rides mixing all three. The ostensibly purpose built machine shows that modern bikes are incredibly capable and versatile and, simply put, handle whatever is thrown at them.
Riding the Stigmata
The ride quality of the Stigmata is unparalleled amongst its compatriots. The Stigmata frame is engineered to provide incredible lateral stiffness and vertical compliance in simultaneity. Power output goes directly where it needs to, while the imperfections in the road or trail are absorbed. Coupled with the Enve m50 wheelset, set up tubeless, the Stigmata proves incredibly comfortable and confident on the road, gravel, and trail. For me, I changed only around 5 to 10 psi between road riding and trail riding on the Enve wheelset, and felt comfortable with those modest changes. The difference a few psi can have on the feel of a bike are remarkable, and I found myself running dangerously low pressures on my other road bike to try and get the same feel – a feat which I was unable to achieve. The interplay between the carbon layup, the stiff Enve wheels, and the tubeless set-up provided me with the most comfortable and forgiving ride I’ve experienced out of a drop-bar road/gravel-style bike, but remained imperceptibly fast. That is to say that, because the jarring bumps were eliminated, it was hard to tell that I was consistently hitting speeds that were 3-5kph faster than on my other drop-bar road/gravel bike. This is definitely a big advantage for those of us (myself included) who often ride and race gravel grinding events!
On a more technical note, the relatively steep head tube angle makes the bike responsive in turns and the ultra-short chainstays make the bike playful and maneuverable for the more technical aspects of a cyclocross track or mountain bike trail. The stack for the 60cm frame that I rode was 613mm, while the reach was a whopping 408mm. This is quite interesting because the reach on the 60cm Stigmata is the exact same as the reach on my 62cm gravel-grinder, while the stack on the Stigmata is more similar to the measurement of a much smaller bike. This is likely due to the BB drop on the Stigmata, which rings in at 69mm. Combined, this means that the bike has a low center of gravity, which allows the rider more confidence in increasingly gnarly terrain – like a CX track. Its long reach stretches even the tallest riders out, putting them into an aerodynamic position that is meant for racing and, above all else, going fast. Unfortunately then, fit can be a bit of a challenge if you’re not used to a stretched out torso. But since this bike is meant as a racing machine, this is completely understandable, and I would hazard that most prospective customers are ready for the physical demands of a race bike anyways.
This stretched out position was a bit daunting to me at first because most of my training rides done on the road are quite a bit longer – often reaching out past six hours. Before my first big endurance ride aboard the Stigmata, I made sure that my entire set-up was dialed in on several shorter rides beforehand – just in case. With this done, I started pushing my training rides longer and longer, jumping quickly from 30km intervals to 70km tempo rides, to 160km solo gravel epics. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that, on my first century aboard the Stigmata, my lower back had little pain at all – something that once seemed impossible. Perhaps instead of attempting to sit more upright, I ought to focus on getting down lower and lower! Surely, the vertical compliance of the Stigmata carbon helps in this regard by smoothing out the bigger bumps and absorbing some of the vibrations that would have otherwise gone to my back. Whatever my specific case may be, the comfort of the Stigmata is not compromised by its aggressive positions, and provides a lightweight and viable alternative for endurance and ultra-endurance racing. The fact that the Stigmata is meant to crush cyclocross tracks, which are generally less than an hour in length, is still comfortable out past six hours of saddle time is incredible. This gives credence to the ‘do-it-all’ nature of the Stigmata and suggests that, perhaps, the supposition that one needs a stable of bikes is wrong. As bike technology continues being refined, the bikes are obviously becoming better and better, but moreover, we may need fewer and fewer bikes to get the job done. In this sense, the Stigmata may prove to be ahead of its time, providing a unique take on the road, gravel, cyclocross mix.
To me, the real test of a bike’s worth is its speed. I know I am not alone in this measure, although there will inevitably be some who don’t purchase a bike based on this fact whatsoever. Nevertheless, I think the Stigmata was built for those concerned about speed: its lightweight and responsive feel make it particularly quick in all disciplines I attempted. To test this, I kept an eye on the Strava segments that I ride frequently. On my very first ride, I set multiple PR’s and even snagged a couple top-10 trophies. Immediately, I could tell that this was a much faster ride than what I was currently running. In a more strict test, I went to one of the biggest hills in my hometown (which is in a relatively flat area, mind you) and tried to see if I could take the Strava KOM and best my previous time. This is a relatively controlled and protected climb, so the results are somewhat fair and provide a good testing ground for both my fitness and the performance of a bike. My tests here were by no means scientific, but they were indicative of something. On my first sprint, I bested by previous time by 8 seconds and subsequently took the KOM by 4 seconds. While this may not seem like much, it is worth noting that the segment is less than 2 minutes long. An 8 second difference is substantial for such a short segment! I wasn’t any fitter between my differing attempts (it’s a common feature of my training plan, so I ride it often), which means that those 8 seconds were garnered solely through the bike’s performance. Frankly, I was shocked by this result because the segment was under construction, with a couple spots of gravel on an otherwise paved surface. The other contenders had full-on road bikes, while I was equipped with 33c Mud Wrestlers. I know several of the other leaders, and they all have dauntingly light bikes as well – even lighter than the Stigmata. Whatever the case, the Stigmata prevailed and I was incredibly stoked. Each subsequent run thereafter garnered me a 2nd and 3rd place trophy, and on down the line. My average times jumped up noticeably, and I was ecstatic. Thanks to the Stigmata, I finally took the KOM – a goal that I had been eyeing for quite some time!
The only concerns I had with the Stigmata basically came down to the build kit I was riding. Unfortunately, I was not able to test ride the Stigmata during cyclocross season, which means that the CX1 groupset was a little out of place. The Sram CX1 drivetrain certainly worked well, however, its configuration as a 1x drivetrain proved somewhat problematic on the road and gravel. I often spun out the 42×11 gear at around 45kph-47kph and since I rode mostly gravel and road, this was a recurring issue. It would have been nice to see what the Ultegra groupset build-kit may have offered in terms of performance advantages. Moreover, I found the Sram Double-Tap to be slightly non-intuitive, especially when pushing my hardest gear. I would often push the lever in looking for another gear, only to accidentally downshift. Because the haptic feedback from the clicks is relatively innocuous, it was too easy to push through the final gear and slip back a cog – a fact that could ruin a sprint finish or a segment KOM! These were the only real concerns I had with the bike, and even then, they are pretty darn solvable.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata checks all the boxes – lightweight, responsive, fast, and fun. When deciding which bike I’d like to train on, or hit the group ride with, or throw a leg over for a race, the Stigmata invariably came to the fore. Its mix of quickness and comfort is truly remarkable and, in my opinion, is the major selling point to this bike. Sure, many bikes can be ultra-light and ultra-fast, but can they be as comfortable as the Stigmata? In this regard, the Stigmata is a leader in the field. Moreover, its applicability for multiple disciplines may actually provide the elusive ‘quiver killer’ bike. Perhaps in the future, cross-racers and gravel racers will show up to the start line with the same bike. For a group road ride, this bike would not feel out of place, although the disc brakes may be. Whether it be a road group ride, a gravel epic, or an adventure ride including singletrack, the Stigmata can do it all – and it does it all very well.
For more details please visit: www.santacruzbicycles.com