Santa Cruz Bronson
Price: $9,838 (XX1 AM27 kit w/ ENVE wheels)
Weight: 27lbs, 3oz (XL)
Santa Cruz’s new dream bike is living up to the hype. Sweeping the 27.5-inch market (and the whole trail bike market) by storm, the Bronson is worth every last penny from your shattered piggy bank. Bred from a long history of innovative design, the Bronson is yet another head turner from Santa Cruz.
Contrary to hearsay, the Bronson is not a tribute to ’60s actor Charles Bronson, or a rip-off of the WTB tire; the Bronson pays homage to Bronson Street, the former stomping grounds of Santa Cruz Bicycles.
A brand new design in the Santa Cruz lineup, the Bronson is a dedicated 27.5-inch machine. Driven by instinct and foresight, Santa Cruz makes no compromise and did not simply retrofit a 26-inch frame to accommodate 27.5-inch wheels. Successfully designed for the wheel size, this bike encompasses amazing handling and ride quality. Featuring the trail proven VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension system, the Bronson remains incredibly stiff and efficient for the climbs and plush and snappy throughout the roughest descents.
Risking the success of the Bronson, Santa Cruz showed the industry it’s not afraid to let it all hang out with the component spec. Offering the bike in a true competition-ready dream build, the Bronson comes equipped with an XX1 drivetrain, XTR trail brakes, and a Rock Shox Reverb Stealth height adjust seatpost. Selecting each part from a range of manufacturers for their specific advantages and reputable performance, Santa Cruz built this bike exactly the way I would build it. The stock model comes with WTB Frequency Team i23 TCS rims, but for $1,745 you can upgrade to a set of hand-laced ENVE AM rims built on a DT Swiss 240 hub, which is a relatively affordable way to get your hands on a very light and durable all mountain wheel set for 27.5-inch bikes. (Retail on those wheels is $2,500.) Sure, your wallet will take a hit, but it really is a no-brainer when matched up against other $10,000 builds. Along with the top-dollar carbon build, Santa Cruz offers the Bronson in carbon and aluminum with a range of less expensive build options.
Although the new Sram XX1 setup can be utilized without a chainguide, I found it interesting that the Bronson comes set up with one. Santa Cruz obviously thought about the capability of this bike and all the rippers who will inevitably need the insurance of the e*thirteen XCX chainguide. The Bronson also features an integrated rubber swing arm and down tube protector making the already quiet XX1 drivetrain unnoticeable and your carbon frame well-armored. With its tubeless setup and worthy upgrades, this bike is a one-time purchase; off the floor, the Bronson is ready to be put through the paces.
Internal cable routing is the missing piece to the puzzle. Although there is partial internal routing for the Reverb Stealth, this bike deserves full internal routing. For the meticulous and picky bike owners out there, it is a necessity for a sly looking machine. I also couldn’t get on board with the grease ports on the lower link. Although the Zerk-style grease gun fittings on the lower link assembly can make for quick fix to that squeaky link, as a mechanic I am not a big fan. Packing the bearings with grease until it splooges out the sides of the link is messy and almost requires pulling the crank set to properly clean up. With proper maintenance (periodically pulling the bearings and cleaning them or replacing them) the bearing and pivot interface should endure many miles between service.
Climbing aboard this dream machine truly puts it all into perspective. Geared up with 150 mm of Kashima Coat FOX suspension front and rear, the Bronson’s climbing performance is as good as it gets in its travel class. Managing everything from 13,000-foot high-country epics to one-hour rippers, this bike’s efficiency reminded me (at times) of an XC racer. The VPP suspension combined with FOX’s CTD damping system provides a range of compression settings that triumph on varying terrain. On technical ascents, having the suspension fully open never caused me to think twice. The VPP handles pedal input with ease, providing necessary traction and allowing just the right amount of rear wheel travel to maintain forward momentum.
After all the hard work is over and it’s time to point the wheels back down, it’s a pleasant surprise to remember that this uphill battling machine is packing 150 mm of travel. Although it has refreshingly efficient climbing prowess, descending is where the Bronson truly shines. Articulating every calculated move, the Bronson is snappy and highly responsive. The 27.5-inch wheels glide through square-edge features and do not compromise the flickability and playfulness found on 26-inch-wheel rigs. Unlike 29-inch wheels that can make bike-park-esque jumps—with quick transitions and steep lips—a new challenge, the 27.5-inch wheels handle air with ease. The wheel size never once crossed my mind in a negative light, which speaks to the success of this bike. The 67-degree head angle provides the Bronson with a nice balance between handling on steep descents and tackling long climbs. Indicative of the Santa Cruz brand, the longer top tube gave this bike a proper fit, and I never once felt too far over the front. I was able to achieve the fit I desired for my six and half foot frame and have a short stem for snappy handling. This highly capable piece of trail equipment powers through turns with amazing tracking and stiffness, smashes through rowdy rock gardens with ease and pedals smoothly.
All of this adds up to a bike that has become one of the most sought-after enduro racers on the market. Conquering fast wide-open sections, steep loose technical chutes, pedaling sections and the vast variety of terrain at the Big Mountain Enduro and Enduro World Series events, the Bronson has proven itself. For racing enduro, the 27.5-inch wheel provided me with the subtle but noticeable advantages to gain valuable seconds on competitors. The Santa Cruz Bronson is enduro!
This bike is all that I had hoped for out of a dream bike. A worthy player on the climbs, descents and all-day epics, and under the absurd diversity of the enduro race circuit, the praise surrounding this bike is well-deserved. No matter the terrain, the Bronson is a true ripper. –Dylan Stucki