Santa Cruz’s all-mountain model, the Bronson, isn't exactly long in the tooth–the original model rolled out just three seasons ago. A lot, however, has happened in the world of mountain bikes since then, which is why Santa Cruz recently unveiled this new Bronson. It gains a longer toptube, shorter chainstays, a Boost 148 rear end and slightly slacker geometry. Make no mistake: The Bronson is still Santa Cruz's most-versatile bike, but in addition to being light and efficient enough to handle all-day slogs, the new Bronson is more capable on both technical climbs and descents.
We reviewed the original Bronson in our 2014 Bible of Bike Tests and received no shortage of flak when we didn't crown it the Best Bike Ever. We were impressed with that bike's absolutely bomber feel and the way it surged forward with the slightest coaxing at the cranks. Our testers, however, felt the original Bronson didn't offer as much traction on rocky climbs as the best all-mountain rigs. Well, no more. Santa Cruz changed the kinematics on this new Bronson, giving it a more supple rear suspension while under power. The Bronson still rips up climbs, but the traction is noticeably improved.
Some of our testers admitted to never having felt entirely comfortable on past Santa Cruz bikes, but even those riders had nothing but praise for the geometry tweaks made here. "The bike just felt right–right off the bat," said gear editor Ryan Palmer. "Very neutral, very confident … just dialed."
Many of the all-mountain models in this year's gear guide are mini-downhill bikes–the Bronson has a lighter, more nimble feel to it, but as another tester put it: "Then you start hitting stupid shit at speed and it just eats that right up too."
There's not a weak widget in Santa Cruz's XO1 build kit. Testers praised the single-ring drivetrain, RockShox Pike fork, SRAM Guide RSC brakes and Fox Float X Factory EVOL rear shock.
If you are cursing the asking price, Santa Cruz offers several build options including a base-level Bronson C that sells for $3,600. That grade of carbon frame is a half-pound heavier and the components included in its kit are nowhere near as Gucci as what you see here, but still, hot damn.
Q&A with Don Palermini
Before this year's test bikes rolled into our barn, we had questions about them–some of the same questions that you might be asking yourself when you start poking around at a new bike. Santa Cruz's popular Bronson wasn't what most of us would call long in the tooth, but the company performed a serious re-boot of their popular all-mountain model. Here's the nitty gritty on all that (and more) from Santa Cruz's North American Marketing Manager, Don Palermini. –Vernon Felton, Bible of Bike Tests Moderator
Vernon Felton: If someone is considering the new Bronson, they are probably looking at the Nomad too. Which rider/riding conditions are better suited to the Bronson?
Don Palermini: We see the Nomad as our Enduro World Series slayer…it’s pretty much a very pedalable mini DH bike, especially if you throw a coil shock on it. The Bronson is a little quicker handing and more agile–it loves to carve. It also tends to take to catch air easier, while the Nomad is happy just charging through everything, wheels on the ground. If you want to point-and-shoot, you might be better suited to the Nomad. If you’re really active on the bike and like to carve and pop, the Bronson is your huckleberry.
VF: So, we're looking at a re-design here–what changed with this iteration of the Bronson?
DP: There’s a myriad of geometric changes–longer reach/top tube, shorter chainstays, a slacker headtube angle and steeper seat tube angle–that come together to make this bike more shredable. It's got this really sure-footed, cat-like feel to its handling that’s supplemented by a revised suspension tune that’s more linear and consistent through the entire range of travel. All together, the bike really glides over the rough stuff and carves on a dime.
VF: Who is the ideal rider for the Bronson?
DP: The Bronson is probably the most versatile bike in our entire line and we see it as the do-it-all trail bike. Back before the sport got hyper-segmented, we would say this bike was ideal for the “mountain biker.”
VF: Are there any aspects of the frame design that you guys are particularly proud of? If so, what are they and why?
DP: It may seem like a small thing, but we really worked hard to shorten the seat tube on the new Bronson…it’s about a half-inch shorter in each size than the prior version. This does a couple of things–first, it lets people select a bike more on reach than on standover, which we think is a better way of sizing mountain bikes. Secondly, it lets us spec 150-millimeter droppers on frames down to size medium (we put a 125 on the small). Ultimately, it makes the bike more maneuverable and improves handling.
VF: What were you guys aiming for with the component spec on this bike and how did you achieve it?
DP: No matter which build-level we’re offering, our product manager is always trying to spec a bike as if he was building it up for himself, even if it means mixing brands a bit. So the suspension mix is killer–a Rock Shox Pike RCT3 150 Solo Air up front and the Fox Float X Factory EVOL shock in back. It’s all SRAM on drivetrain and brakes with an XO 1×11 drivetrain and Guide RSC brakes. On wheels we went with Easton’s nicely wide Arc 27 rims laced to DT Swiss 350s. Even our tire spec is pragmatically curated with a pair of Maxxis Minion DHR2s in two different compounds–their 3C compound for better cornering grip in front, and a longer lasting EXO compound in the rear.
VF: Are there any details/features on this bike that are important, but easily overlooked?
DP: While this particular build is spec’d as a 1x, you can run 2x on it using a direct mount Side Swing front derailleur from Shimano. We run the cable internally, in-tandem with the rear shifter cable, and it cleanly and directly veers off to the front mech. The Side Swing design shifts more precisely and crisply than any mechanical front derailleur we’ve ever ridden.