Santa Cruz Bronson review

20130721-125642.jpgThis is the first bike review I’ve ever done. Just warning you off the bat. I decided to write this becuase usually when I get a new bike (about every 3 years) its incrementally better than the one I’m coming off of. The Bronson though has been a huge upgrade for me though, and has helped my riding out so much that I decided to give an in depth review on a bike that’s been a game changer for me.

I had a 2009 Specialized Enduro SL Expert I got from the guys at the Village Ski Loft. It was a great bike and the 150mm of travel made it perfect for Tahoe. It was 3 seasons old and getting to the point where I need a new whip. Last summer I tried a couple of 29ers, a Stumpjumper and later an S Works Epic at the Blastathon Event we do every fall. The 29″ wheel bikes made me realize I needed some bigger wheels, at least for climbing. They cruised up the trail, it was remarkably better. However I had some issues with how “tippy” they felt cornering, I felt like my center of gravity was really high up, especially in tight switchbacks and tricky, technical descent situations, specifically when I tomahawked down the “steps” on a section of Incline’s Rim Trail which normally gave me no trouble on my Enduro. Later that fall my interest became piqued when Ben at the Ski Loft (who has been my bike guru) told me about the explosion of the 650B size wheel, or 27.5″ size, that was going to be taking the market by storm in the near future. Sounded like the best of both worlds to me and I spent the winter waiting to see what offerings were available in the spring.
As spring 2013 rolled around I started investigating what options I wanted to get. I was bummed Specialized didn’t offer a 650B wheel size, and their 29″ Enduro offering was only avail in an Alu frame initially in the spring. I really wanted 650B, carbon, 150mm in travel at least, and there weren’t a ton of offerings that I could get that met the criteria I wanted. It seemed like I could get wheel size but not travel, or wheel size, travel but not carbon or the groupo I needed. Then on April 1st Santa Cruz launched the Bronson…
On paper it was exactly whati had been waiting for, and two weeks later on the drive down to the Sea Otter classic I ordered one, size XL, no test ride, sight unseen, going for it. When I got to Sea Otter the hype around that bike was crazy. I got a call from Ben saying the demand for the bronson was crazy, and it would be two months before my XL was available. Which, says something considering two weeks after a bike is launched, and size XL was already backordered? I started waiting patiently and finally in early June I got the call, I was ready to ride!

The Bike:

I ordered the Bronson Carbon with the SPX AM kit, which came with the Fox Float 34 fork, RockShox Reverb Adjustable seat post and the full Shimano Deore XT component setup. I ordered the XL frame too- a first for me. Im 6’2″ and have always ridden size L. The Santa Cruz frames run a little on the smaller size so I went up, which turned out perfect. The seat tube is 20″, vs normal XL are 20.5″ usually. I’ve always erred on going down in size because I’ve always been on the bubble size wise. XL always felt huge, some Ls felt cramped. The Bronson fit perfect. The guys at the Village Ski Loft as usual did an unreal job of setting the bike up. It’s ridiculous how well they did, shocks were dialed upon pick up with perfect sag, and cables pre stretched. It came stock with WTB rims and tubeless Maxxis High Roller tires. They insisted too that I swap the stock 710mm Easton bars for the 780mm Cromag bars and I’m really glad I did. Huge difference…

The Ride:

My first ride I took on it was interesting, I had been bikeless for about a month because I had sold my Specialized. So that being said I wasn’t able to compare apples to apples right away jumping from a 26″ wheel to the 27.5″. The difference was subtle, I didn’t feel like I was on an awkwardly larger wheel size and the bike still felt flicky and nimble in the corners. I rode Whites in Reno, which is pretty mellow technically but initially the set up felt great.
With the first ride out of the way, I was pretty stoked on my choice. However, over the the next few weeks is where I really felt this bike turn on for me. The next day I rode the Tahoe Rim Trail in Incline and this was the first place that was a real eye opener for me with this bike. I was riding with a couple friends and I was able to keep pace with my buddy on the 29er up the longer climbs, but what was awesome was the bike just flashed tricky, technical uphill moves that had been giving me fits for the last 4 years since moving to Tahoe. The larger wheel size allowed me to roll up squared off rocks/steps/roots, and the geometry and lower BB and VPP suspension of the Bronson kept the traction up incredibly. I really was riding better, right off the bat, with this equipment change. On the descents it was awesome, the wheels smoothed out baby heads and the travel was great for the bigger hits. Around corners the bike was really quick and agile and didn’t have that “tippy” awkwardness I initially felt when riding a 29er on the same trail. I Finished that ride extremely happy- I was psyched what I was able to do even on my second ride of the season.
Over the next few weeks I’ve been getting more and more impressed with this bike. I’ve been ticking off the best trails around Tahoe from Toads to Hole in the Ground, and even had a killer trip to Downieville. Every time I get blown away with the way this bike is making me a better rider. Flying around the corner on 2nd Divide in Downieville into a steep, tricky uphill move I found myself handling it smoother and better than ever before- in fact several of the moves I had never made before anyway! A place like D-ville too which I ride maybe once or twice a year it’s not like I have the trail memorized and had a lot of time/anticipation going into the tricky sections. Even on trails with air sections on them (I’m not a big air guy at all) I feel like the bike is really smooth and balanced in the air. The wider bars have been key too in comfort, and getting power to the outside of the bike which has added to its cornering and maneuverability. The Reverb post has been awesome too, the infinite adjustment comes in handy on every ride. I probably use the seat post as often if not more than changing the gears. If you don’t have an adjustable post yet…get involved.
The bike probably has 350 hard miles on it now and I’m even more stoked on it now than I was when I picked it up. I can’t go anywhere without someone asking me about it. I’m like Bill Lumberg in Office Space when he’s checking out his own Porsche after he parks it! The bike rides as good as it looks, and I haven’t touched the drive train since the initial build at the Ski Loft. Shifting on the XT stuff has been awesome, and there has been zero cable stretch or derailleur issues since the set up. Every time I go out on this bike I have at least one “wow” or breakthrough moment on this thing.
Mountain biking is what we do in between ski seasons in Tahoe. For me I work in the Ski Industry as a rep, and I’m by no means a pro rider or review scores of bikes, nor did I spend a ton of time demoing 30 different options. The Santa Cruz Bronson had exactly what I was looking for, and the results are beyond my expectations. Like I said earlier every bike I’ve had previous to this one had been Incrementally better than the previous. 2 Rocky Mountain ETSX-70s, Specialized Enduro, were all great bikes. The Bronson however is in an entirely different league, and the benefits of this bike have been far beyond simply due to an upgrade in frame material, or components. I cant really pin the excellent performance to just one factor, like wheel size, or frame material. I feel the combo of the new 650B wheel size, VPP, Geometry, travel and set up has given my riding a wholesale change for the better. Occasionally you get a piece of gear that’s a breakthrough game changer for you- be it that magic surfboard, or a pair skis or boots. For me this bike has been that piece of gear. Riding better with more control, and its really helped me in places that I needed improvement. I’ve broken a lot of bones when I was younger and so downhill, air etc, I’m only gonna push it so far, but the tricky uphill climbs/technical moves are where Ive really needed to get better at and I’ve really noticed the instant improvement with this bike. I’m really grateful that I got mine as early as I did, its made a huge difference this summer. If you’re thinking about pulling the trigger and can actually find one then go for it. The hype is what it is for good reasons. The more you ride it the better and better it gets. Thanks for reading.

***its for sale now, comment if you’re interested and I’ll send you an email. 

-Clem

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3 Responses to Santa Cruz Bronson review

  1. George says:

    Superb review! I am waiting for my unit to come! I was worried whether 650b wheels look fine or not on XL frames, but at per these photos, I would say so, isnt?

    It would be nice if you could send me a side photo of your bike, just to see the machine proportions!

  2. jun kina says:

    Hi, Like you, I´ve just upgraded from an Specialized Enduro to the Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon, but with lower spec components. After buying it, I went to Mammoth Bike Park and tried the black diamond trails, where this bike was really awesome. After returning to my hometown and hitting the trails I was used to, I had to adjust my riding position on tight curves and the speed on some jumps, it seems to get more speed than the 26 Enduro on the same piece of trail. I just feel that the enduro had some more high speed stability than the Bronson.

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