The Up Side
Some testers felt climbing efficiency has declined with this iteration of the Bronson, while others felt that it was still satisfactory for a bike of its travel and weight. The slackened head tube certainly prefers to be slammed downhill more than it likes to pick through tricky climbs, but quick power to the pedals will be rewarded with a nimble response.
This bike lives to descend, and comes into its own the more you push it. With consistent tracking, composure in the air and a dangerously forgiving suspension platform, the Bronson is equally happy in the bike park and the backcountry. We served up the spiciest trials we could find in southwest Utah, and it didn't even break a sweat.
Dollar for Dollar
With Santa Cruz, you get what you pay for, which can be quite a lot. Frames are sturdy, well thought out and will carry you confidently through your rowdiest days. In other words, the adventures you'll have on this bike will most likely outweigh any sticker shock. It's also worth noting that Santa Cruz overall tends to hold good resale value when it's time to upgrade.
Between shuttles, the word we kept using to describe the Santa Cruz Bronson was "brawler," or sometimes "[expletive] brawler!" It's the sort of bike that comes alive the harder you push it, and gave us absolutely consistent performance through the roughest test tracks we could dish up. While some testers felt that it lacked some of the versatility (i.e. climbability) of older models, it certainly remains a bike that will serve riders hoping to go big while also occasionally going long.
The main update with the new Bronson is a lower-link-mounted shock, following after the Nomad and the V10. Santa Cruz says this helps improve mid-stroke support, addressing a common complaint about the linear feel of Santa Cruz's signature VPP suspension.
The new Bronson also has a slacker headtube, steeper seat tube and shorter stays, in line with modern trail-bike trends. We couldn't help but compare the trajectory of this bike's geometry with its burlier cousin, the Nomad. In their initial versions, these were two very different bikes; the Nomad was downhill-lite, while the Bronson had a decidedly more trail-y flavor. Now they're separated by less than half a degree in the headtube, less than a degree in the seat tube and have the same length chainstays.
Of course, on the Nomad you get significantly more travel (170/170 versus the Bronson's 150/160) but the similarities between these two bikes speak to the versatility of modern geometry and the expectations of modern riders: Trail bikes need to get sendy, and sendy bikes need to pedal.
Testers felt that the new Bronson pedaled best when standing. Applying quick power helps keep the VPP linkage stiff, giving the most-efficient performance in that position. But when fully open and pedaling seated, the bike felt a bit unwieldy, especially on St. George's ledgy, steppy climbs. On smoother, more consistent terrain we could find a little more of that magical rollability we felt in older Bronson models.
Of course, most people don't buy a Bronson to do hill repeats. This is a bike meant for rowdy descents, and that's where it shines. One of the benefits of testing a bunch of bikes on the same track is that you can see how different bikes handle the same situations—and we quickly found that the Bronson opened up lines that felt like the limit on comparable bikes.
It punches well above its weight in terms of travel, and gives you rock-solid handling when things get squirrely. Some testers felt the Bronson was still lacking in mid-stroke support, but those who like a linear feel were satisfied with its performance. All agreed that it tracks well on landings, carves intuitively and balances playful pop with just enough damping in the rattly stuff.
The new mounting point for the shock hides the stanchion inside the linkage, which made it a little awkward to calibrate sag. Otherwise, we found the design of this bike to be consistent with Santa Cruz standards: It's quiet, stout, and well thought-out—it even includes a shuttle pad to protect the frame from grinding on tailgates. With clearance for up to 2.8-inch tires, you can also play with the bike's character significantly depending on your local terrain and riding style.
Outfitted with a RockShox Super Deluxe Air RCT shock and Fox 36 Float Performance Elite fork with the lauded GRIP2 damper, along with a SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain and Santa Cruz's carbon Reserve wheels, the model we tested retails for $8,200. But you can get into the aluminum entry-level model for $3,500.
A brawler finds joy in chaos, and that's where the Bronson thrives. It's a bike that will never stop opening up possibilities, whether you're testing new bike park lines or just going big in the backcountry. Built to take whatever you can dish out, the new Bronson edges more into the Nomad's territory than ever before.
Q&A With Josh Kissner, product manager, Santa Cruz Bicycles
The geometries for the Bronson and the Nomad appear to be converging. Does that mean one of these bikes will eventually absorb the other?
We don’t have any plans to do that. While they’re not drastically different bikes, they are sufficiently different enough that we think there’s a place for both. The Bronson is a great all-around bike that’s snappy on mellower trails but can be ridden down pretty much any steep gnar that you’d consider. Perfect to take on a road trip where you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Having that bike in the line allows us the freedom to make the Nomad as aggressive as we want without having to compromise. The result of that is the ultimate bike for really steep and technical terrain. It won’t be as playful or agile as the Bronson, but you get additional confidence instead. Plus another 20 millimeters of travel. Since we pretty much only make mountain bikes, we might as well make exactly what we want.
Why did you decide to migrate the lower-link mounted shock from the Nomad and V10 to the Bronson? Will we see it on the 5010 next?
Mounting the shock to the lower link gives us a different leverage curve and suspension feel than the upper link-driven bikes like the 5010. It’s quite beneficial on longer-travel bikes, where mid-stroke support is paramount. It’s easy to make a 150-170-millimeter bike feel too mushy and floaty, but this style of VPP provides a supportive progression so you feel like you’re riding the bike, instead of vice versa. Shorter-travel bikes have a different set of challenges, as they’re inherently firmer and less prone to wallow. Will we see a 5010 with a lower link-driven shock someday? We only just released it six months ago, we feel it's great as it is and will be for a few more years.