In the words of my friend Sherman, “You want a good bike? Just get a Santa Cruz. They pop those things out like a vending machine.” That may be an oversimplified way of looking at things, but it does carry some truth. It’s taken decades for Santa Cruz to get to this point, but now they’ve reached almost cult like status with the brand carrying as much weight as the actual product. Thanks to their popularity, they sell new bikes seemingly as fast as they can make them, and you can’t get to that point if the product sucks.
Fortunately, just like the rest of the Santa Cruz models we’ve tried recently, the Bronson is an exceptional bike. Is it perfect? No. But things rarely are. However, the Bronson is an awesome bike for a surprising amount of trails from the East Coast to the West Coast, and the spots in between.
The Frame & Suspension
Starting with the basics, the Bronson CC frame features a carbon front and rear triangle with aluminum VPP linkage creating 150mm of rear wheel travel. The CC designation means it’s the ‘high end’ carbon fiber which will generally save you 250-280g per frame over the standard C carbon frames. Santa Cruz is proud of their carbon layup and builds and it shows in the final product which has a great ride feel, but also feels reassuringly stout.
Matching the 150mm of travel out back, Santa Cruz equips Bronson frames with a matching 150mm travel Boost spacing fork, this time a Rock Shox Pike. I’ve ridden enough Pikes to know that it’s an excellent fork – but for this review, I spent almost the entire time on the new Cane Creek Helm Air.
At the tail end of last winter, I found myself down in Fletcher, NC to check out the new fork and get it installed and ready to ride. Just like the Bronson, this fork has been through a full four season riding period, starting in winter, and riding right up until this fall. Overall, I’m quite impressed with the fork. It has remained incredibly supple without loosening up in the bushings. I will say that some lighter riders may benefit from a lighter tune for the high and low speed compression circuits. I’m about 160lbs with gear, and I ran the High Speed Compression setting wide open, and the Low Speed Compression in at four clicks. I also had the air volume adjust set in the lowest setting (technically I still had one more adjustment by removing the piston completely). However, I’m not exactly a trail destroyer so more aggressive, sendy riders should find the extra damping and progressiveness helpful. For me personally, I was quite happy with the final tune that I settled on, and had zero issues through the length of the review.
The Rock Shox Monarch Plus Rc3 complemented the front end quite well, and I did find myself using the compression lever to switch between the Open and Pedal settings for longer climbs. However, the Bronson pedals so well, it wasn’t really necessary to flip the switch. Flipping it to Pedal did increase the mid-stroke support which made it a bit less likely to strike a pedal during techy climbs though.
This year, the same build comes equipped with Fox Suspension which includes the new DPX rear shock which should be just as good if not better than the Monarch Plus based on early rides we’ve had on the Fox Shock.
One of the things that I look for in a long term review is any sort of maintenance that had to be performed – especially on the suspension pivots. The Bronson made me very happy with a flawless performance. All of the bolts stayed tight. Nothing made any sort of noise. And other than lubing the chain every once in a while, the Bronson was nearly maintenance free.
The Only Hiccup
The only real issue I’ve had with the Bronson isn’t a deal breaker, but it does seem like something that could be improved. During the first ride right after building it from the box, I noticed something hitting my right calf every once in a while during big impacts. After I started paying attention I realized it was the rear derailleur cable which would bow out under impact and hit my leg.
The simple answer seemed to be a zip tie around the derailleur cable and brake hose right where the bottle cage sits. The problem with this arrangement was that it made this particular bottle cage nearly impossible to use since the cables would hit the bottom of the bottle and prevent it from seating in the cage. If I wasn’t running a cage, I don’t think this would be an issue at all, but since I was…
My next thought was something around the seat tube, but I realized it should probably be flexible to allow the cables to move as the rear suspension moves through the travel. I grabbed the first thing I saw on my bench while heading out for a ride – a simple rubber band. What was initially intended as a band-aid fix to get me out the door for a ride ended up staying on the bike for half a season. It’s not pretty, but it was pretty effective. I could use the cage, the housing didn’t hit my leg, and with frame protection stickers underneath, the paint was undamaged and the shifting didn’t suffer. Other options would include running longer housing and then zip tying the housing to the bottom of a more standard water bottle cage. If this was my bike, that probably would be my course of action.
While we’re at it, the Bronson could use a tailgate shuttle pad on the downtube like the new Nomad. The Bronson isn’t exactly a shuttle machine, but of course the first time I was on the bike I found myself at Bailey Bike park where the Bronson was more than capable. It was only a few runs before the mud on the down tube (even after drying to brush it off) mixed with the friction of the tailgate pad had scratched the paint to hell. Fortunately, it’s just superficial and the paint on the Bronson seems like it’s super thick and capable of standing up to repeated beatings. In fact, after a fairly nasty crash left a scuff mark on the top tube, it buffed right out and looks almost new.
When it comes to the build, there are essentially two periods in this Bronson’s life – pre and post Race Face. Earlier this year, we found ourselves needing a test platform for the new Next R component group from Race Face, so the Bronson was carted all the way to Santa Cruz to have Next R carbon wheels (with 27.5 x 2.35″ Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires), carbon cranks, carbon bars, and an aluminum stem along with the latest iteration of the Race Face Turbine dropper post and Race Face grips.
Having ridden the bike in both builds, it only highlighted the versatility of the frame. The stock build is certainly more of a “trail” build with a full SRAM X01 Eagle 1×12 group with an Eagle X1 Carbon crank, Guide RSC brakes, a Reverb Stealth dropper, and slightly less burly wheels with Easton AR27 aluminum rims and DT Swiss hubs. Throw on the shredder Next R wheels and it felt less like a trail bike and more like an all mountain monster. From Pisgah and Dupont, to Santa Cruz, Sedona, and trails in between, the Bronson never felt outgunned. Yet, it was more fun for less aggressive, pedally rides than I gave it credit for.
Along with the Race Face additions, I found myself adding a Paradigm Cycle Works bash guide (essential for rocky trails and pricey chainrings), and going back to the Ergon GE1 grips. While the Race Face Next R group took over out of necessity, I have to commend Santa Cruz on some very impressive house branded parts with their 800mm carbon bar and corresponding 35mm stem. The stock bars had a great feel and a proper width meaning riders won’t need to upgrade any time soon.
Also commendable is the newest generation of the Race Face Turbine dropper post. Like many people I know, I had a number of issues with the first generation that left me frustrated and with a post that either wouldn’t stay up or wouldn’t drop. At the Next R event, Race Face detailed all the issues they’ve had and what they did to fix them. By my experience, it seems like they nailed it. The internal brake reset function works as intended, and with that I was able to reset the post after a crash kept it from staying up. It’s definitely a huge improvement over the original.
It’s a similar story for the rest of the Next R group – it’s well built, and probably more burly than I’ll ever need. A few big rim strikes simply resulted in scratched decals, nothing more, and rock strikes to the crank arms were shrugged off even without crank boots. I’m the one to rip pedal inserts out of a carbon crank, but I would assume that the Next R cranks would be the ones for those that do.
While the Race Face additions illustrated what could be done with the frame, they also served to highlight how well the bike is speced from the factory. You can tell that a lot of thought goes into the selection process for the parts not only so they complement the frame, but so that the bike is ready to rip right out of the box. This extends to the included accessories found in the box which we detailed during the first post.
As mentioned in the Just In piece, I was on a medium frame. At 5’8″ on a good day, having plenty of room to run a 150mm dropper on the medium is greatly appreciated (690mm saddle to center of BB measurement for me). With that said, the cockpit is long enough that there’s plenty of room to move around, and the fit felt natural from the beginning.
Like many of the current super bikes in the trail/AM segment, the Bronson really does check a lot of the boxes to be the one bike in your quiver. Obviously, there will be situations on either side of the spectrum that you’ll be over or under gunned, but I was repeatedly reminded that almost regardless of the ride, this bike could hack it. Grind it out on an hours long climb, get to the top, drop the post and get ready to send it. Up or down – the Bronson was easy to love.