Santa Cruz Bicycles is a brand known for its cutting edge roster of full-suspension mountain bikes. They have produced industry-leading bikes in nearly every category they’ve set their sights on. Sitting at the fringe of that lineup is the Stigmata. The ‘Stig’ is a purebred cyclocross bike that, beyond its success within that circuit, has long been the choice of commuters and ‘groad’ riders who may never race cross. A favourite shop-rat ride which has no doubt been a bar-bike for many. While previous models lacked fundamentals such as fender mounts, the quality and versatility of the Stigmata proved to be its greatest asset. This new Stigmata now checks all the boxes and offers even more for those looking to explore mixed surface rides or embark on fully-loaded, multi-day hauls.
Santa Cruz Stigmata CC Details
Frame: Carbon CC
Fork: Santa Cruz composite
R. Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle AXS, 12spd
F. Derailleur: N/A
Shifters: SRAM Force eTap AXS
Cassette: SRAM XG1295 Eagle, 12spd, 10-50t
Chain: SRAM XX1 Eagle, 12spd
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB BB
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated Headset
Rear Tire: WTB Ranger TCS, 27.5×2.0
Front Tire: WTB Ranger TCS, 27.5×2.0
Sealant: Stans Sealant
Front Hub: DT Swiss 350, 12×100, Centerlock, 28h
Rims: RaceFace ARC Offset 25 27.5″ Rims
Spokes: DT Competition Race
Rear Hub: DT Swiss 350, 12×142, XD, Centerlock, 28h
Front Rotor: SRAM CLX R Center Lock 160mm
Rear Rotor: SRAM CLX R Center Lock 160mm
Brakes: SRAM Force
Crankset: SRAM Force 1 42t – 170mm (52), 172.5mm (54-56), 175mm (58-60)
Handlebar: Easton EA70 AX flare bar
Stem: Easton EA90 Stem
Saddle: WTB Silverado Team Saddle
Seatpost: Easton EC70, 27.2, Zero Offset, 350mm
Grips/Bar Tape: Velo Bar Tape
Weight: 18.10lbs (no pedals, gobs of mud)
MSRP: Complete $9,399.00 – Frame only $3,149.00
I’m relatively new to the curly-bar game. My furry legs and baggy shorts are a pretty good tell that racing cross isn’t in my future. It’s been just over a decade since I recognized that this species of bike was an absolute must-have here. Our trails in Ontario are predominantly clay-based and are a complete disaster for many months of the year. In order to get out and ride, I needed something that was decent on the road but could handle the mixed surfaces I encountered on my adventures. The sole purpose of my rides was to link up as many off-road segments as possible. Door prizes, or worse, are all this town holds for those who choose to mix it up on the streets of the 6ix. This city is heavy-handed laying salt in the winter so my precious mountain bikes were off the table.
I went through several bikes during my drop bar awakening, the first being a Kona Jake the Snake. Like the Stigmata, this is a go-to bike for those looking to ride skinny tires, but who don’t want a dedicated road bike. I continued to stretch out my rides, even doing various gravel races and bikepacking trips. Purpose-built gravel bikes were coming of age and it was time for something more suited to my newly realized requirements. This was the first time the Stigmata made my short list, along with the Salsa Warbird and OPEN U.P (Unbeaten Path). At the time, the OPEN was one of the only bikes expressly promoting its ability to fit the new 650b wheels. My mountain bikes still employed 142mm rear wheel spacing and I liked the idea of a drop bar dirt bike. The multiple wheel options and the three water bottle cage mounts were the reasons I chose the OPEN over the Stigmata at the time. Despite being an early adopter of the 650b wheel setup, I have come to prefer 700c x 40mm tires for most of my gravel rides. For more serious terrain and bikepacking, I have a Salsa Fargo. Having this style of bike has easily doubled my yearly rides and I’d never go without one. So how does the Stigmata stack up against these two bikes?
Fit and Function
Santa Cruz has long been at the forefront of composite engineering and has called upon that extensive knowledge when realizing the Stigmata. Santa Cruz has its own in-house composite lab where engineer Nicolas McCrae and his group developed the new Reserve wheels as well as a custom frame and fork for trials legend, Danny MacAskill.
When I toured their California factory a few years ago, and again last spring, I was struck by the hive-like methodology by which the entire team approaches new projects. There isn’t a Stigmata department; anyone who has something to bring to the table has a seat at the table. In the case of the Stigmata, lessons learned shaping the carbon layup on the Highball and Blur are what delivers the Stigmata’s ultimate compliance. The supple ride on the Highball is largely due to its bridgeless seat stays combined with the insertion point below the top tube/seat tube junction. This parallel design was something I noted the first time I laid eyes on the new Stigmata.
Santa Cruz builds bikes they want to ride. The Stigmata is a mountain biker’s road bike. A new-school cross bike that is as capable off-road as it is on. Its revised geometry is closer to an up-to-date gravel bike but legacy fixtures such as a flat top tube, for shouldering the bike, have remained. This is also a great asset for bikepacking.
Santa Cruz has manufactured its own fork for the Stigmata. Let’s be clear: this is a mountain bike-worthy fork. There is no fore and aft flex, yet it responds precisely with a very graceful feel over rough terrain. It feels heavy (solid) but rides light (dampened). The fork has a custom look, sitting flush in to the base of the headtube. To avoid toe overlap, smaller frames now come stock with a 50mm offset fork.
The principal feedback Santa Cruz received around previous versions of the Stigmata was that riders wanted fender mounts. Santa Cruz has acted by adding fender mounts all-round. What’s most impressive here is how clean and elegant they kept the bike while incorporating them. The execution of the mounts is so subtle, I didn’t even notice them on my first few rides.
The frame still uses their older, port-style system for internal cable routing. This is a bit surprising given that most of the new bikes now come with co-molded tubes and lead-ins. With the advent of wireless shifting, such as the SRAM AXS equipped bike I received, it’s a non-issue. This port system provides the best options for cable routing, including an internal dropper should you choose to run one.
Perhaps the biggest change is the additional tire clearance. To achieve this, Santa Cruz engineers dropped the drive-side chain stay. The new Stigmata now accepts up to 700c x 45mm or 650b x 2.1” tires.
Much to everyone’s delight, the new Stigmata is now fitted with a threaded, 68mm bottom bracket. One of the brand’s mantras is to not limit riders’ component options. The previous model was a victim of the times and the decision to go the press-fit route was to ensure riders had as many choices as possible. With more possibilities available today, such as SRAM’s DUB system, Santa Cruz was all too happy to spec a threaded BB on the Stigmata. This is a standard found across their entire lineup.
Last but not least, the frame now has three water bottle cage mounts. Ensuring riders can carry enough water for those dusk ‘til dawn days. For bikepackers, this also means the ability to carry a bottle beneath the down tube while using a full-size frame bag in the main triangle. The new Stigmata is also fitted with a custom-molded drive side chain stay protector. Another bit of mountain bike tech developed by Santa Cruz, now adapted to the Stigmata. I wager they even had discussions about putting a down tube protector ‘down there’. Given the chunk this bike can handle, it wouldn’t be out of place.
Riding the Stigmata
The bike being reviewed here is a Mustard Yellow, 54cm Stigmata CC frame equipped with Reserve 25 Carbon wheels and SRAM Force AXS 12sp wireless drivetrain. I received the bike a few weeks ahead of the launch and have been riding it ever since. I only have roughly 700km on it thus far but feel that I have gained a feel for what this bike has to offer in that time.
Straight out of the gate, the first thing I noticed was the lateral stiffness of the frame. The bike wants to thrust ahead with the mere force of clipping-in applied to the pedals. I pushed this bike as though it was my hardtail mountain bike and it never flinched. The bottom bracket area in particular feels incredibly solid. Combined with the SRAM DUB bottom bracket and carbon Force cranks, there simply isn’t any lost momentum. The steering is also ultra precise. I found it a bit twitchy for the first few turns but I had just come off a week in Sedona on my Bronson. Once I stopped riding it like an idiot, I found it quite stable. Then rode it like an idiot some more. Cornering is intuitive when setting up for a turn and finding the correct apex. The 72mm bottom bracket drop really helped the Stig hold a line, particularly when weighed down with a full complement of bags.
The Reserve 25 carbon wheels round out the ride characteristic of the Stigmata nicely. Delivering precision cornering and acceleration with some welcomed thud relief. The Reserve rims came laced to i9 hubs, which further amplified that instant propulsion sensation.
As I suggested above, I haven’t been riding my OPEN with the 650b setup much these days; instead opting for 700c x 40mm WTB Nanoraptor. I don’t think there is a right or wrong wheel size. Like in the MTB world, it’s all about horses for courses. Having the option was what I was after and I’m glad to see Santa Cruz implement this feature. There are appreciable differences between the two setups. The smaller wheels spin up much quicker and offer a more stable, comfortable ride. On rides with others rolling on 700c wheels, I find I need to grab a bigger gear to maintain a comparable speed. For those who like to duck into singletrack along their routes, 650b is the ticket. The smaller wheels are more nimble and sure-footed on tight, technical trails. This is also my preferred wheel size for bikepacking trips. For the first time, Santa Cruz have released a Juliana version of the Stigmata: the Quincy. Women and smaller riders will also appreciate the 650b wheels.
The Reserve 25 wheels were perfectly matched with the WTB Ranger 2.1” tires. They have a more aggressive thread pattern than the Schwalbe Thunderburts I’ve been riding on my OPEN. I didn’t find they rolled appreciably slower however and the added grip was welcomed off-road. The tire profile on these 25mm internal rims was on-point and I had no squirm or rim strikes with the tires inflated between 23-25psi. I found this to be an ideal pressure for a mix of tarmac and dirt. Even with some tight switchbacks to navigate, I had no tire buzz. I didn’t feel the need to time my pedal strokes to avoid overlap. That’s impressive considering I am clipped in to 20 year old Shimano 747 pedals combined with MTB shoes, which have the cleat slammed all the way back in descent mode.
Beyond training and getting the kilometers in, this bike is very much about exploring nature. Finding new trails and putting big rides together are what gets me out the door. There is no finish line, only the journey and finding joy in getting completely lost in the woods. Riding my current Shimano Ultegra equipped bike through the forest sounds like I am towing ‘just got married’ cans behind me. It’s a total buzz kill and completely takes away from the experience. Chain slap and bouncing derailleurs have also hammered the heck out of my frame. The AXS drivetrain delivers precision shifting with virtually no noise. Matched with the dampened ride quality of the Stigmata and finishing touches such as the rubber chain stay protector, all you’re left with is the pleasure of riding.
The SRAM AXS 12 speed drivetrain performed flawlessly. The 42t chainring combined with 10-50t cassette offered an excellent range for the terrain and topography I rode. Pairing the shifters and rear derailleur was effortless. There are several options within the accompanying app to configure the shifting parameters. The levers have a solid feel that provides composure on jarring terrain. They offer a solid contact point when on the hoods. I was able to get the brake reach and throw just right for hand position on or off the hoods. The short pitch of the shift levers allowed a more relaxed grip and neutral position. Essentially, less hand and finger gymnastics are required to shift. It was also a good match when adding a handlebar bag as levers often get hung-up in the gear. Each lever controls an up or down shift, which can be customized to shift in a variety of single or multiple increments. I chose to have each lever shift once for a single tap and twice if held. It truly feels like F1 paddle shifters. Fine-tuning and trim is accomplished by holding the small button on the inside of the blade while pushing the lever. This can be done on the fly.
Santa Cruz has knocked it out of the park with this new Stigmata. I honestly can’t speak to how this bike will perform in a road or cross race but I’m sure it will hold its own. For my needs, this bike delivered exactly what I was looking for. A solid, reliable ride that won’t rattle my fillings loose. I found the Stigmata to be just as eager to deliver power on demand as it was to persevere when asked. Whether on short, rowdy rides or multi-day adventures, the Stig is the rig.