This review originally ran in the April 2019 issue of the magazine.

Santa Cruz 5010 | S Aluminum | $4,100

There was a time when 130 millimeters of travel (then called 5 inches) was the only sensible choice when buying a small-wheeled full-suspension bike. Any less, and it was XC. Any more, and it was DH. Today, the median seems to have shifted closer to 150, leaving a vacuum where there once was a horde.

In that vacuum, a new breed of bike is emerging. These are the thrashers, the playthings, the big BMX bikes. Bikes so good at goofing off, it's easy to forget that their ancestors used to dominate the trail category. And really, there's no reason that a 130-millimeter 27.5-inch bike can't have the same wide appeal as the fleet of flagships that killed so many quivers a decade ago. And when I learned that the newly redesigned Santa Cruz 5010 would be available with an alloy frame (an increasingly rare choice in today's high end), I realized it had a far broader audience than any big BMX bike could.

You can get into an alloy 5010 for $2,700 with its D-level build kit, though its fork is well underpowered and you'll be buying your own dropper post. That makes the $3,400 R kit the sweet spot for budget buyers, but knowing myself, I'd splurge for this S build's DPX2 shock, GX Eagle drivetrain and Performance-level Fox 34. All those bits hang on a recently redesigned frame. The seat and chainstays are now buttressed on each side, unlike single-sided support on VPP rear triangles of old. Santa Cruz also overbuilt the area around the alloy 5010's lower pivot just as much as the carbon version, all resulting in outstanding lateral stiffness. Coming from someone who's more attracted to the ride qualities of carbon than to its weight savings, I felt very little lacking in the alloy 5010.

Other significant updates include a lower standover, a geo flip-chip and a more-supportive mid-stroke. All three helped brand the new 5010 as a thrasher bike, and rightly so. Looking down to see the front wheel pitched out in front of me and the toptube barely above my ankles, my body expected this bike to be an enduro-only marshmallow. But the 5010 eagerly snaps to attention. I spent my first rides meandering up and down the flats of a long, mellow but rocky canyon. The trail is punishing enough to merit a long-travel bike, but definitely not steep enough. Lower Gabrielino requires a combination of precise line choice and regular bursts of pedal power to find a flow, but is treacherous enough to require ample confidence once you do. The 5010 is tailor-made to meet those demands. The small wheels mitigated any vagueness caused by the slack angles, and the short travel allowed me to punch up and over the several inconveniently placed granite boulders and outcroppings. For riders who would attempt a trials maneuver before giving up and walking, no bike is better suited than the 5010. It's not a surprise that it's Danny MacAskill's trail weapon of choice.

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On higher-speed terrain where neither short travel nor small wheels are an asset, the 5010 tries its best. Some trails are just better suited for bigger bikes, and those happen to be the trails I like to ride most. There, the 5010's saving grace is its reasonably aggressive geometry and unreasonably stout chassis. The 1,191-millimeter wheelbase and 66.2-degree headtube angle (large frame and low setting) will make everything OK if an EWS stage happens to be part of your ride, it just won't be the fastest part. If you're buying this bike, you're buying it for the situations where it shines. And where it doesn't, it will at least keep you safe.

But if you're determined to huck the 5010 through above-category descents on every ride, a worthy upgrade may be a coil rear shock. Midway through my time on the 5010, I started doing double-duty testing Marzocchi's brand new spring. I won't say it was suddenly a different bike, but it was suddenly a faster one. The compromised small-bump sensitivity of its smaller wheels no longer stood out. But at the same time, it never wallowed underneath me. The 5010's updated leverage curve is perfectly suited for a coil shock. And on a lesser note, its attitude is too. Few things are more punk rock than a short-travel bike with a big-travel shock. This bike deserves it. But it also deserves better stoppers than the Guide R brakes it specs. The RS version of the Guides would have been worth the extra expense, but I compromised with a 200-millimeter front rotor instead.

There wasn't much compromise in climbing, even when I switched to a coil. After all, this bike uses a VPP linkage. Like a good sitcom dad, it's supportive, no matter what you do. That does mean it's not the hoverbike that some DW-link bikes are, especially given its moderate travel and small wheels. If I wanted to mash up a hill, it helped to pay attention to my line choice. But if I wanted to lazily spin up a hill, I could do it quite comfortably. The 74.9-degree seat angle (in low) was efficient enough that I didn't have to slam my saddle forward … though I still did. The cockpit is plenty long, so it never felt cramped.

I've spent time climbing on both a 26.9-pound, $8,000 5010 and this 31.3-pound, $4,100 one. Though it was months apart, the half-priced model was not a boat anchor by comparison. The 5010 already has the makings of a spry climber, so if there is any drawback to buying on budget, you won't feel it on the uphills. It was only in a few outlying moments of foolishness that I felt this bike's extra weight—that is, throwing whips and tables off natural hits far too small to leave enough air time to properly Semenuk the bike around. It still does that stuff better than nearly any other comparably priced bike in this category, but those on the lunatic fringe of trail-style mastery would benefit from digging deeper into their pockets for the $4,900 carbon option.

The rest of us would do well to give the alloy 5010 a closer look. Nearly every corner of the industry (including Bike's) has been infatuated with longer travel recently. But it's not right for everybody. Riders who have moderate terrain or moderate temperament deserve a bike they can keep up with. And riders who have outlandish temperament but not outlandish bank accounts deserve a bike that can keep up with them.

 

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