Santa Cruz Bronson

Words & Photos by Chili Dog

Have you ever noticed that we always want what we can’t have? We are almost guaranteed to lust after excess or the unattainable—guacamole at Chipotle, bigger tires on the truck, a flashy toy or some gleaming carbon bicycle. Why this happens is something that’s probably best discussed with your therapist and not in a bike review, but the phenomenon is real.

Like clockwork, anytime I took the Bronson CC out for a test ride, at least one person would ask me about the bike, beg me to ride it or just stare as a little puddle of drool started to form below them. The bike has a sex factor that is undeniable. Those kinds of things happen when you’re aboard a flashy bike with a $9,999 sticker price.

The Lab

Let’s just address the elephant in the room straight away: this bike costs the better part of $10,000 as tested, yes that’s a shitload of dollars. To put it in perspective, for another $2,855 more, you could be driving away from the dealership in a brand new 2017 Nissan Versa, but we’ve never seen anyone drool over a Nissan Versa. With the hefty price tag comes ENVE’s M60 carbon wheels laced to Industry Nine Torch hubs, a Rock Shox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork, and a Rock Shox Monarch Plus RC3 rear shock. SRAM supplies the drivetrain with an XX1 Eagle set up, Rock Shox Reverb post and Avid Guide Ultimate brakes. All were top notch performers, although I couldn’t help but see the Guide Ultimate brakes as the weak link. They lack the modulation, power and lever feel of their Shimano counterparts, especially for the steep, technical riding in my area. I swapped them out for a tried and true set of Shimano XTR trail brakes and haven’t looked back since.

Aside from that one gripe, the frame and spec are all very well thought out. Small details like cable routing, dust seals and high quality contact bearings in the pivots make the Bronson a supreme machine. Removing the rear triangle also reveals a well-engineered linkage design that protects the pivots from debris and grime out on the trail and the revised VPP linkage is tightly packaged above the bottom bracket while still retaining a grease port for easy maintenance. We also love that the front triangle has more than enough room for a water bottle cage, even despite the piggyback rear shock.

For everyone that isn’t able to spend $10,000 on a top of the line Bronson CC, Santa Cruz also offers more budget friendly builds, like those found on the Bronson C, which is a more affordable (but 280 grams heavier) carbon frame and starts at just $3,599 and still retains the same geometry and well engineered design. While the price tag of the fully loaded CC model gives me some sticker shock, I have to give Santa Cruz due credit for offering a wide range of Bronson models to suit almost any budget, including the aluminum version that’s just $2,999.

The Geo

Santa Cruz absolutely nailed the geometry of the Bronson. It feels instantly comfortable, familiar and is nothing but fun to ride. During climbing, pedal bob is minimal even with the shock wide open, and the 17.25 inch reach on the size large frame leaves plenty of room to shift your weight when climbing, descending or flying. With a 66-degree head tube angle and 13.43-inch bottom bracket height, the Bronson feels like a precision weapon in corners. Given that the BB height is on the lower end of the spectrum at 13.43 inches, riders climbing around tall rocks and roots will have to be mindful, but it makes for a lot of fun on the way down. The 17.01-inch chain stays of the asymmetrical rear triangle give the bike a feeling of stiffness and precision all of our testers thoroughly enjoyed,

 

The Suspension

The new Bronson CC features the latest (and best) version of the VPP suspension system. This iteration is visibly different from the old design and now features a lower link located above the BB. The upper link is mounted to the top tube just forward of the seat tube. Santa Cruz also changed the shock tuning to address issues with previous designs lacking the small bump sensitivity that is so vital to cornering and climbing grip, while also improving the progressiveness of the rear shock.

The Bronson makes no apologies for its identity. It’s a bike that just wants to play, which makes it ridiculously fun regardless of the terrain.

The Dirt

The Bronson is the Nomad’s playful little sibling, and it is seriously hard to not have a good time aboard this bike. It isn’t as supple and monster truck like as it’s bigger brother, but that makes it much more nimble and poppy on the trail. Its six inches of travel are best suited for flowy trails that aren’t overly technical. If you attempt to plow through a long jagged rock garden at speed and you’ll find the limitations of the rear end, which has a slight tendency to hang up on big holes or rocks, but ride it on a smoother trail with plenty of turns and you’ll be hard pressed to wipe the smile off your face. Given my more aggressive riding style and the leverage curve of the Bronson’s VPP suspension, I found it a bit difficult to pinpoint the happy medium between small bump sensitivity and big hit absorption, though some volume spacers in the rear shock would absolutely make for the more aggressive ramp up I was craving, it wasn’t without a compromise on the chatter. While I fully understand that Rock Shox was intending to simplify suspension set up, I also wouldn’t complain if the fork and shock had more on the fly tuning ability. High and low speed compression and rebound adjustments for the fork and shock would be ideal, especially given the bike’s premium price tag. Thanks to the pedal friendly geo and rear suspension design I rarely needed to fully lock out the rear shock or fork on long climbs, which meant that I could reserve that off the top sensitivity for better traction on loose, steep pitches. The Bronson is also very willing to accelerate, and just a quick mash of the pedals out of a corner will translate to some serious speed. The Bronson is poised and graceful in the skies. If getting airborne isn’t your strong suit, this bike is your ticket to some airtime. It’s poppy feel and stable handling encourage even the most timid rider to try gapping a section of trail or lofting a good sender.

The Wolf’s Last Word

The Bronson may not be the best bike for swallowing big rock gardens and dropping bomb hole filled chutes, but I never really cared. Many bikes in this segment have begun to lose their agility in an effort to feel like a miniature downhill bike, but the Bronson makes no apologies for its identity. It’s a bike that just wants to play, which makes it ridiculously fun regardless of the terrain. I never stopped smiling on the Bronson. It’s nimble and flickable personality makes it almost impossible to have a bad time. Many riders will find themselves choosing between the Bronson and the Nomad, but unless your only goal is keeping up with your friends on downhill bikes, the Bronson is going to be the steed of choice.

Price: $9,999

Weight: 27 lbs

Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL

Website: santacruzbicycles.com

We Dig

Low Weight

Cozy Geo

Playful Personality

Damn Good Looks

We Don’t

Price Tag

Brakes

Rear Suspension in the Rough Stuff

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