As we’ve come to expect from Shimano EP8-equipped eMTB’s, pedaling performance is solid on Santa Cruz’s Heckler. Assistive power is delivered in a controlled manner and has enough grunt to get up just about anything so long as you keep that front tire down and your body weight centered. That said, in its stock tune, the Heckler was not as punchy as some of the Bosch-equipped competition, requiring a bit more rider input when climbing up mid-steepness terrain or on technical trail features. The flip side to Shimano’s EP8 drive unit is that it feels a lot more natural in its assistance, which can result in less accidental wheelies or surges of power that take you off-line. The VPP configuration on the Heckler CC eMTB provides a firm pedaling platform which makes the bike feel faster and more efficient, especially when pedaling across traversing terrain.
The relatively compact geometry doesn’t produce a great deal of natural front wheel weighting when seated, meaning the Heckler requires a more engaged rider when trying to climb up steep and technical terrain. Shifting body weight, standing forward over the bars are two techniques we readily employed to get the Heckler up some of the more challenging climbs. The crank and pedal clearance is pretty good in the high position, thanks in part to the firm pedaling platform and the combination of mid-height BB and 165mm cranks, keeping one less thing on your mind as you ride.
Unfortunately when it came to rough terrain – especially washboard rocks and roots – the noise of the Heckler CC began to ring louder and louder. We stopped to check and ensure the battery and battery latch hardware was still tight at least a handful of times. The rattle of the EP8 motor when disengaged is present on near enough every Shimano-equipped bike, but the volume at which it emits varies based on the frame construction and sound deadening. We believe the noise on our Heckler may have come more from the battery than the clutch, but it’s tough to really isolate the exact culprit. Either way, our new, but hard-ridden Heckler, was a very loud bike and the clacking began to detract from the ride a touch on the highest frequency bumps. If you can tune it out, which is no easy task, the noise doesn’t produce any other negative ride characteristics, but it’s worth mentioning as a problem with no simple solution that you may have to deal with.
At over $13k, the top-spec Santa Cruz Heckler CC XO1 AXS RSV MX’s price tag is as painful to read as the number of acronyms in its name, but for those who want to enjoy all the advancements and technology from top of the line components, this bike has them all. The Reserve wheels were some of the only on test that went without a single turn of the spoke key or so much as a “ping” of the spokes yet provided a snappy acceleration and acceptably comfortable ride – they truly are at the highest level of wheel durability. The SRAM AXS gearing cleans up the cockpit nicely and provided dependable gear changing throughout, and the mismatched suspension package performed wonderfully. Though we’d likely save the dollars by purchasing a cheaper spec and invest in a new shuttle rig or ride holiday instead, those with the deepest pockets can rest assured that their money is going into excellent components worthy of some serious abuse.