BIKE TEST // SANTA CRUZ BRONSON
WHEN THE FIRST-generation Santa Cruz Bronson hit the market in 2013 it was hailed as the all-mountain bike. Its combination of tough frame, just-right geometry, long-lauded Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension with 150mm of travel, saw the Bronson hailed as that mythical “do-it-all” bike.
In the same year, I bought a Santa Cruz 5010 – often tagged the ‘mini Bronson’ as it shared the same VPP system, but with less travel (130mm). These first-gen bikes were, however, slightly shorter in the top-tube and reach department, so even though I morphed my body to fit the 5010 while I owned it, I secretly wished for the same bike but with a longer reach and stretched out frame.
So when Santa Cruz released Version 2 (V2) of both the Bronson and the 5010 I was both happy and a bit stuck; the geometry had been revised on both bikes to reflect the new ‘long and slack’ designs of the MTB industry, so a Large frame would finally fit me as it should. But, most of my riding is around Sydney’s Northern Beaches where the terrain is dominated by sandstone formations and is steep and rocky, with numerous sharp-edged dropoffs, steep chutes and sharp climbs. I was still looking for a bit more suspension travel and slacker front-end to remove that feeling of going over the handlebars when rolling down the steep stuff. The end result: I stumped up for a V2 Bronson frame.
Go for the frame-only option and you get a frame made using Santa Cruz’s top-end ‘CC’ carbon, which is lighter (by 280g) but as strong as its standard ‘C’ carbon (Santa Cruz backs the strength of its carbon frames with a lifetime warranty). The team at Lusty Industries (the Aus distributor of Santa Cruz) sent me the frame with its included FOX Float X shock, and I then had the lads at Summit Cycles in Sydney swap over all the other components from my 5010 frame. I did have to make a few alterations; the new Bronson frame features the wider ‘Boost’ axle standard, so Summit’s Joe Dodd rebuilt my rear wheel with a Boost-compatible hub. I also fit a 160mm RockShox Pike fork.
The end result has been - compared to the more trail-oriented alloy 5010 – a deceptively beefier bike; it weighs around the same as my old 5010 but offers more travel and slacker geometry, as well as that famously tough carbon frame. On the trails, the most noticeable thing with the Bronson has been the front wheel now being further out in front of me due to the slacker head angle. I initially thought it would mean the wheel ‘flopped around’ when climbing but with the improved VPP, the FOX Float X set to ‘Climb’ mode, and improved saddle position due to the revised seat angle (now a steeper 74 degrees), it has not been an issue. The bike is super-maneuverable, making it ideal for the tight Northern Beaches trails and the frame’s strength offers a forgiving ride in terms of taking the right line – it just bombs on through.
I am still dialing in the Float X but the rest of the bike has performed with aplomb; the improvements to the VPP’s small-bump performance are noticeable, while the longer reach has meant I am more comfortable, and feel more centred, rather than over the front of the bike. The big Pike up front has handled big hits without issue, and the carryover wheelset – Easton ARC 27s, shod with Maxxis rubber front and rear – has just kept going. In terms of any further modifications, I am looking at going to a slightly wider bar than the 740mm Renthal Fatbar, and – maybe – a wider wheelset.
The asking price for the frame is high but you get a life-long warranty and a highly regarded brand. Even better news is the Bronson is now available in two well-specced alloy models, making for a cheaper entry into what is one of the best allmountain bike experiences on the planet.