Disclaimer: While Santa Cruz does not have specific model years for their bikes, there are some small changes to the Bronson that will be available in 2015 versus the bike we acquired for this test. Though we declined to review a plethora of 2014 bikes for this test in order to focus on 2015 models, since Santa Cruz does not recognize conventional model years, and that the changes were so miniscule, we felt the bike we used for the test was more than sufficient to represent the Bronson that will be on the market when you read this review. The most notable differences are the previous generation of Enve rims and a SRAM X01 crank, as opposed to the Enve M60/40 and Race Face Turbine on the newest build kit option. The paint scheme is also different, but functionally the frame is the same. As I said above, these are not differences we consider to have an impact on our judgment of the newest Bronson offering.
Santa Cruz Bronson C details:
Fork: Fox 34 Talas CTD Factory Kashima, 150mm
Shock: Fox Float CTD Adjust Factory Kashima
Shifters: Sram X01
Rear Derailleur: Sram X01
Cassette: Sram X01
Brakes: Shimano XT w/ ICE TECH 180mm [F], 160mm [R]
Hubs: DT 350s
Rims: Enve AM
Crankset: Sram X1
Tires: Maxxis High Roller II, 27.5×2.30, Tubeless ready, EXO Protection
Handlebar: Easton Havoc
Stem: Truvativ AKA
Saddle: WTB Volt Team
Seatpost: 9.8 Pulse Dropper
Weight: 29.11 lbs (with pedals)
MSRP: $9350 CAN
Santa Cruz is a company that led the way in distinguishing the “all mountain” category from the “enduro” category of bikes. Once they established a solid presence for the 150mm Bronson on the Enduro World Series circuit, they went one step further and re-shaped the renowned Nomad into an extra-aggressive, 165mm travel enduro racing machine. The Nomad is so fixed on its intent as a big mountain enduro racer that it is only offered in a carbon frame, and at no less than a $7,000 MSRP. The Bronson, however, can still be seen under Santa Cruz team riders at E.W.S. races, and can be had in aluminum framed build kits limboing down towards the $3,700 mark. We had access to both of these bikes for the test, but because of the potentially prohibitive price tag of the Nomad options, and because we felt it may be overkill for the total range of terrain we intended to evaluate the bikes for, we decided the Bronson was the appropriate choice.
The 150mm Bronson boasts a conventional 67° head angle, with a longer set of chainstays at 17.3”, and a top tube of 24” on our size large test bike. The build kit was replete with Fox dampers, XO1 drivetrain, and some Enve AM/DT 350 wheels with High Roller 2 tires. Our test bike had the standard issue Reverb seatpost swapped out for a 9.8 Pulse dropper, which gave us a chance to try out something a little different from the dropper post world.
This was the most expensive bike in our test with and MSRP of $9350, and also one of only two that weighed in below the 30lbs mark. Those figures, matched with attractive appearance, had us all eager to cruise some trail time on this bike. Santa Cruz is a company very keen on offering the small things mountain bikers’ want through and through. Many mechanics will preach the benefits of Santa Cruz’s innovative pivot hardware/bearing design, and grease ports for the lower links keeps maintenance from being a burden. Santa Cruz also shows great concern for home mechanics by shunning the maligned press fit bottom bracket standards in favour of the classic B.S.A. threaded option, and sticking with I.S.O. disc brake tabs on the rear end to avoid people stripping threads from the post-mount of their swingarm. Santa Cruz has even gone so far as to stop shipping bikes with tubes. You now get your bike with tubeless tape on the rims, two tubeless valves, and two small bottles of Stan’s sealant.
Having the shortest travel of our test bikes, as well as having amongst the steepest angles, it should be no surprise that this bike impressed us on the climbs and in pedaling sections. It is stiff and snappy all around, can navigate the tight stuff, and was always eager to get whipped around when we wanted it to. The VPP suspension setup does a good job of pleasing everybody by striking a nice balance of pedaling prowess without diminishing the ability to eat up bumps either on the climbs or descents. We also felt the 1×11 X01 drivetrain was a perfect compliment to the overall feel of this ride.
However, we unanimously felt that this bike was a proverbial knife in the gun fight of our test fleet. The finesse in pedaling sections was impeccable, but it certainly suffered on descents. None of us could get a confident approach to the downhill trails on this bike compared to the rest. While the bike was a good fit to sit on, it seems that the short 24” top tube was compensated for by the 90mm stem, which made for a somewhat nervous, top-heavy position on the bike, and the longer chainstays did not help this much. Another widespread critique was that the Enve rims are not worth the exorbitant cost.While we all concede that a direct swap out on our own bikes would likely yield a noticeable difference, nobody could pick up on a performance gain worth anywhere near the $2,200 upgrade cost the Enve’s merit. For that price you can buy a top grade Rock Shox Pike or Fox 36, a Cane Creek Double Barrel, two sets of Schwalbe’s highest end rubber, and a couple cases of beer to reward your local trail builders. And that’s before you get any return from selling your old parts.
This bike undeniably weighed in on the trail-oriented end of the scale. It was a pick for us in slower, tighter, and pedal-heavy trail segments, but couldn’t show the same prowess on the descents, and we ultimately felt it wasn’t the broadest reaching bike of our flock. The being said, a careful assessment of the numbers on this bike and a few parts swaps could bring about a wealth of potential for the Bronson, especially considering its accomplishments in world class enduro racing. The first thing to note is that the top tube was about half an inch shorter than any of our other large test bikes. Even our medium Giant Reign had a top tube that stretched 0.4” longer than the large Bronson. So certainly going up one size from your standard and shrinking the stem down into the 50-70mm zone would make a big difference, and would help match the longer rear end. Pairing that geometry change with a solid 160mm fork and a piggyback rear shock more suited to enduro applications could surely turn this bike in to a solid downhill ripper while giving up little to its proficiency on the ascents.
You read the story about the RFG Fall Test Session and see other bikes reviewed here: https://www.ridingfeelsgood.com/rfg-fall-test-session-2015-enduro-bikes/