Getting the new V4 Bronson out the box for the first time, the look of the new angular edges on the frame and that Paydirt Gold color had us very stoked to get it onto the trail and put it to work. Santa Cruz makes it simple to get the suspension in the ballpark with their setup guide, giving suggested settings for each bike model and rider weight, so we were quickly ready to hit the trails with the 30% rear shock and 20% fork sag we usually aim for.
The recent geometry progressions across the industry have made significant improvements to the climbing manners of full suspension mountain bikes, and the new Bronson is no exception. The 76.9-degree seat angle on our size Large put our team in a good place on the bike when ascending, avoiding that dreaded off the back feeling and helping to minimize effects on the rear suspension caused by pedaling and slight weight transfer when seated. On steeper pitches, there was seldom any issue with front wheel wandering that can sometimes plague the slacked-out machines of the present day, making technical climbing pleasant.
Santa Cruz opted not to go extremely upright with this seat angle though, avoiding discomfort on longer days in the saddle and generally giving a happy medium for the vast majority of riding. The VPP rear end has just enough pedaling support to keep us from ever feeling the need to flick on the climb switch, letting us focus on the ride and avoiding any lock-out induced ruined descents. Avoiding the use of this lockout lever lets the rear end conform better to the trail, offering some extra grip when climbing over root clusters and rock steps. At 31-pounds, the Bronson comes in at a very reasonable weight given its intentions and sturdy feeling, helping to aid its agility and snappiness. The soft, knobby tire spec does remove a little bit of rolling speed compared to a faster spec on many other 150mm rigs, but it’s a compromise we welcome for the majority of aggressive riding both up and down the hill, although we’d love to see a slightly stiffer casing for the rear tire since this bike is more than willing to throw down.
Our team was unanimous when it came to feeling comfortable aboard the Santa Cruz Bronson during our review period. The 475mm reach being a preferred figure for our 5’11”-6’1” riders and the remainder of the geometry offer a relatively well-balanced ride. When it came to riding our local trails in Bend the Bronson absolutely annihilated them, encouraging us to push harder and harder on the slightly flatter and tighter tracks, yet still ironing out the rough rocky jank admirably and avoiding our VPP sensitivity qualms of the past.
Getting the Bronson stuck into some lift-accessed riding at Mt. Bachelor, it excelled on the Green and Blue trails, still kept up on some Black trails and was a blast on Black Diamond jump lines like Redline. There’s enough progression to keep that 150mm travel from being blown through until some decent sized hucks, and it gives enough pop on lips to have a great deal of fun. However we began to find the drawbacks to its playful character when compared with a full 29-equipped brawler when hitting the big braking bumps in technical black diamond and double black diamond trails, where it’s capabilities were pushed to the absolute limits and the confidence levels subsequently dropped as its 150mm travel became overwhelmed. This is not to say it’s not capable of riding in this terrain, simply that a longer travel and dual-29 equipped machine maintains composure better in these situations and won’t tire the rider out as much.
The initial setup had the Bronson feeling a little back wheel heavy as we’ve felt with other mullet-wheeled machines, perhaps due to the axle height differences and the high bar rise. Adding a touch of extra pressure to the rear shock and dropping the bar down a spacer helped to address this feeling to an extent, however the Bronson maintained its “loves back wheel” mantra throughout. This leads to a lot of fun on the trail, popping manuals easily and feeling composed on the steep sections, if not making for the ultimate speed machine.
This new gen-4 Santa Cruz Bronson represents a significant improvement over their last design which sported dual 27.5” wheels. Opting for the Mullet or mixed wheel arrangement is a move that we think makes a huge amount of sense for a bike with the Bronson’s intentions, obtaining the front wheel traction and control of a 29er and being less phased by mid-corner blown out holes. If you’re looking for a rig to ride as fast as possible then you’d likely be served better by a full 29’er like the Hightower or Megatower, but the Bronson manages to capture a great deal of this speed-seeking capability, whilst maintaining a level of 5010 inspired playfulness that means the Bronson is just a straight up terrorist on all but the gnarliest of trails.
In typical Santa Cruz style, the Bronson has been a quiet and dialed ride throughout the review period. The suspension collet hardware does a great job at holding firm, the cable routing is dialed, and the frame protection keeps chain noise to a minimum. The paint finish has held up well to failed jibs and loose rocks, and the bearings are smooth as day one however some brake lever scratches on the top tube from a bumpy shuttle road have caused our heart some pain.