Santa Cruz Heckler Review


Photos by Drew Rohde and Sean Leicht

If you were one of the many Santa Cruz Bicycles fans awaiting their entry into the eMTB market, then you probably caught our Heckler introduction video and feature story a couple months back. If you were still resisting the electric urge back then, give it a click and get learned-up on the details because this review is going to focus a lot more on the ride and specs than the technical details we went over in our first ride feature. After countless hours and two sets of thrashed tires, we’re ready to report our findings on the 160/150mm, Shimano Steps-equipped Heckler.

Santa Cruz offers the Heckler eMTB in four variations, all of which are built with their CC carbon fiber. Pricing starts at $7,399 and goes up to $13,099 for the SRAM AXS RSV model. We tested the X01 RSV model, which retails for $10,599 and comes with a Fox 36 E-Float Performance 160mm fork, Rock Shox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate shock and SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain. Brake spec on the Heckler comes in the form of SRAM Code RSC 200mm with Santa Cruz’s own carbon bars, a Race Face Aeffect R stsem and the incredibly stiff, Santa Cruz Reserve DH carbon wheels. The wheels very much impressed our testers as we pushed this bike hard and tried to see if we could get them to flinch. We were unsuccessful as they kept spinning round after three months and tons of abusive miles.

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

The design of the Santa Cruz Heckler started with the familiar, and wildly popular Bronson. While its silhouette may resemble a portly version of the Bronson, there are a few key differences to the VPP suspension design that differentiate the Santa Cruz eMTB and its human-powered siblings. Compared to the Bronson, the Heckler has less anti-squat. Santa Cruz claims that this adds a bit more support and traction while pedaling over rough terrain while seated and pedaling. The Heckler also provides more mid-stroke and bottom out support.

The frame is made of Santa Cruz’s top end CC carbon, and molded around a 250-watt Shimano Steps E-8000 motor and 504Wh Shimano battery. A hotly contested choice by die-hard ebikers, the choice to reveal an ebike this late in the game with what many consider an outdated and small motor and battery wasn’t a choice Santa Cruz made without much debate. “We could have spec’d a lighter, or larger custom battery, but that presents a problem should our customers develop any issues. Shimano’s Steps system is verified, reliable and there is a robust dealer network should problems arise,” Santa Cruz told us. There are certainly more powerful and longer lasting options on the market, we would have picked the new Bosch system, but we understand that Santa Cruz had to make a decision they believed was the best for them and their customers.

The Heckler’s geometry is solidly in the all mountain category, with a reach of 490mm on our size large. The head tube angle sits at 65.5 degrees with a 76-degree seat tube angle and chainstay length of 445mm, giving the bike a 1,237mm wheelbase and 346mm bottom bracket height.

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

Our testers have been able to spend a significant amount of time on the Heckler over the past few months and we all had similar findings. First off, the bike is very neutral in both geometry and suspension, which allows it to excel in most situations. Just like the pedal bikes from Santa Cruz, the Heckler is a great all-arounder but has some down sides as well.

Climbing performance aboard the Heckler was very solid. The geometry and 27.5” wheels let the bike perform in tight switchbacks, technical chunky climbs, and steep up-and-overs. At 76 degrees, the seat tube angle puts the rider in a nice position to put power down while feeling centered over the bike and keeping it from lifting the front end on steep climbs. In terms of motor power and battery life however, the Heckler’s climbing range and capabilities are lacking, especially when compared to Bosch Performance CX-equipped bikes.

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

We found that the battery consistently dropped bars quicker than most of our other bikes, which makes sense since the battery is 150-200Wh smaller. On the other hand, the Heckler is also a couple pounds lighter, and on 80% of our rides, the range wasn’t an issue. It just meant we needed to charge the bike after every ride instead of getting 2 or three in before recharging.

On the way down, the Heckler is competent in most situations and absolutely excels in some. Once again, the crowd-pleasing geometry allows the bike to thread technical, tight descents with ease. We could speed through tight and technical obstacles without much delay yet the bike still remained stable at higher speeds.

Our absolute favorite place to ride the Heckler was in twisty, turny terrain. It seems that this bike inspired us all to ride like maniacs, trying to drag handlebars and pedals in berms. Santa Cruz somehow made the Heckler feel like it wants to dive into each corner with a smile on its face. We couldn’t help but pedal straight back up hillsides just to session our favorite turns on every downhill trail we rode. If you live in an area with slalom-like trails or you just love blasting corners, this bike is for you.

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

The downside to this bike comes when the trails get rougher. We’ve definitely developed a reputation of not being fanboys of VPP bikes, however Santa Cruz has been making us eat our words as each generation of Bronson, Nomad and 5010 gets better and better at eating up square-edge hits. Our biggest complaint of VPP-equipped bikes.

Sadly, it seems that some of the positive gains made on Santa Cruz’s pedal bikes, didn’t make the jump to the Heckler. Our testers found that the rear wheel hung up a bit on square-edge hits. Four to six-inch tall rocks and roots transferred a bit of feedback to our riders feet and hands. Once the suspension got moving and we were in the rock gardens or landing bigger hits, the suspension opened up and worked very well, but the initial hits are where we had the biggest issues finding a happy medium with suspension tune. It’s possible that if we were on larger 29-inch wheels the hits would also be a bit smoother, but then we’d lose out on the fun, playful and peppy demeanor of the Heckler. Some of our favorite parts about the bike’s performance.

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

The Wolf’s Last Word

If you’re a die-hard Santa Cruz fan, then the Heckler could be the bike you’ve been waiting for. If you are a discerning eMTB rider who loves to climb and venture deep into the wilderness, then you’ll likely find issue with the Shimano Steps system, 27.5” wheels and 504Wh battery. While the Shimano Steps system never gave us any problems, after spending more and more time on Bosch-equipped bikes, it’s harder to go back to the Steps, which hasn’t been revised in a number of years.

Overall, we found the Santa Cruz Heckler to be a solid performer in almost every situation. It climbs very well, and the geometry allows it to remain nimble while putting the power down. You will find it difficult to upset the Heckler on the way down after dialing in the suspension unless your trails have lots of higher speed sections where you’re regularly encountering square-edged hits. If you are looking for an eMTB that instills confidence while you’re literally laying the bike over in corners, slashing berms and ruts alike, then you will fall in love with this bike. Its weaknesses are balanced out by its strengths. While we wouldn’t recommend this bike to everyone as the ideal bike to buy, there is no denying that for riders who live and ride the terrain where this bike excels, you will have a new favorite sled in the garage! Although we normally live for the rockiest of rock gardens, we’ve found ourselves avoiding those trails in favor of sessioning our slalom track up in the woods, and we’re not too bummed about that.

Price: $10,599;

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Frame: Carbon CC; 150mm
Fork: FOX 36-E Float Performance Elite, 160mm
Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate

Battery: Shimano 504Wh Integrated
Drive Unit: Shimano DU-E8000

Brakes: SRAM Code RSC, 200mm
Handlebar: Santa Cruz Di2 Carbon, 25mm rise
Stem: Race Face Aeffect R
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated
Shifter: SRAM X01 Eagle Single Click, 12spd
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Saddle: WTB Silverado Team Saddle

Hubs: DT Swiss 350
Rims: Santa Cruz Reserve 30 V2 27.5 Carbon [F], Reserve Carbon DH 27.5 [R]
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHR II, 27.5×2.6 EXO+ TR

Bottom Bracket: Shimano
Cassette: SRAM XG1295 Eagle 10-50T
Cranks: Shimano M8050 Hollowtech, 165mm
Derailleur: SRAM X01 Eagle

Santa Cruz Heckler Review

We Dig

A Corner Slasher’s Dream!
Well-Rounded and Fun Geometry
Fluro Yellow
Capable Out of the Box
Lighter Than Many eMTBs

We Don’t

Shorter Range Compared to Bikes with Bigger Batteries
Suspension is a bit Rough on Square-Edge Hits
Shimano Steps is Behind the Curve


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