Photos by Gary Perkin
Santa Cruz Bicycles scrapped plans to update its Tallboy 29er this year, and instead chose to focus on redesigning four of its 27.5-inch-wheeled top sellers: the Bronson 6-inch trail bike, the 5010 short-travel adventure bike and the two corresponding women's bikes under the Juliana brand, the Roubion and the Furtado.
Santa Cruz showed the bikes to the media and select dealers this week in Downieville, California, a tiny Gold Rush-era town in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains that hosts the popular Downieville Classic all-mountain race each summer.
Both frames-Santa Cruz and Juliana bikes share frames-underwent significant changes for model year 2016, most notably the new upper and lower links, slacker geometry with shorter chainstays and longer toptubes, 148×12 rear axle spacing, internal cable routing and a shorter seat tube to allow compatibility with 150-mil dropper posts (bikes are now all using 31.6-millimeter droppers).
The Roubion 6-inch-travel all-mountain rig-the bike the Juliana-SRAM pro team races on the Enduro World Series circuit-now sports a more aggressive 66-degree headtube angle, 23.4-inch toptube (in size medium), 17.1-inch chainstays-6 millimeters shorter than the previous version-and a lowered 13.4-inch bottom bracket height. The new geometry also allows a water bottle to fit in the frame with the Fox Float X piggyback shock that comes on the top four models.
Engineers shifted the Virtual Pivot Point upper link up and forward for improved standover, and the lower link was raised to allow for those shorter chainstays. The links also look tidier, especially the lower link, which is now tucked into the frame. The suspension tune was revamped, resulting in a higher initial leverage to increase small-bump sensitivity and traction. The flatter overall shock-rate curve theoretically creates a more consistent feel throughout the travel and reduces wallow when paired with the new Fox Evol air can.
I logged a fair number of miles on the original Roubion last year, and could immediately feel the geometry changes when I hopped on the new version at the top of the Downieville Downhill course, a 14-mile run that starts at 7,100 feet and descends nearly 5,000 feet through a mixed bag of fast, flowing sections, loose moondust corners, jagged rocks, creek crossings and features like the 'Waterfall,' a mess of rocks where watching your riding pals' creative line choices from the bottom is the reward for dropping in early. The trail allowed for the bike's performance to be tested in a wide variety of terrain-chunky, technical sections, all-out ripping-fast smooth singletrack and punchy, steep climbs-and the updated VPP suspension reacted well in every situation. Although a longer term test is definitely necessary to draw broader conclusion, on my initial rides, it felt deep and supportive in the rough, but didn't sacrifice efficiency on the climbs.
This version of the Roubion also feels much livelier than its predecessor, probably due to shorter stays, and it absolutely ruled on descents thanks to the one-degree slacker headtube angle. The ride was stable and predictable-I felt comfortable and confident on a pretty demanding trail almost right from the first pedal aboard the Roubion. These are some of the first non-plus-sized bikes on the market using the wider 148×12 rear axle spacing, and hopefully others will follow suit-the added stiffness and ability to build a shorter rear end greatly improves ride quality. Juliana chose to spec a narrower, lighter rim than the corresponding Bronson-opting for the Easton AR 24 instead of the Easton AR 27. I'm a big fan of wide rims and normally would balk at such a change, but the AR 24 paired with the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHR2 TR tires provided plenty of traction on the dry, blown-out conditions.
Juliana has also smartened up the spec on the Roubion with a 760-mil-wide Santa Cruz-branded carbon bar on the top four models and the RaceFace Ride 760 on the 'R' and 'S' builds. Both have the beefier 35-mil diameter for increased stiffness and control. Dropping Juliana-branded handlebars is one of several small touches Juliana added to its bikes to makes its affiliation with Santa Cruz more obvious, after dealers reported that some consumers were still confused about the relation between the two brands. It also uses a Santa Cruz front derailleur cover on the one-by models and all Juliana bikes have a small 'Designed by Santa Cruz' decal on the frame.
"If someone walks in and sees a Juliana, it's apparent that it's affiliated with Santa Cruz, which we're pretty proud of," said Katie Zaffke, Juliana brand manager.
Santa Cruz continues to invest in the Juliana brand internally. It recently promoted Andrea Turner from a factory demo role to a product management role spec'ing Juliana bikes, the first time it's staffed such a position. Previously, product management was handled by Josh Kissner, who specs Santa Cruz bikes.
The new Roubion will be available in more builds than last year-including two models that use Santa Cruz's 'C' carbon, a slightly heavier carbon fiber that helps keeps prices down. Completes start at $3,600 and go to $8,100 with a range of SRAM and Shimano builds, while a top-level carbon frame with Fox Float X shock runs $3,000.
The bikes will be available immediately next week at retail. Oh, and if you're antsy for that new Tallboy, be patient-it's likely to be on deck for next year.