FIRST RIDE & RELEASE
THE NEW SANTA CRUZ 5010
Photos & Words by Dario DiGiulio
As bike culture continues its cycle from trend to trend, there are always some models that get cast in the shadows of their more popular siblings in a lineup. For a little while, the Santa Cruz 5010 has been one of those less talked about bikes, maybe due to its travel numbers, maybe due to its wheel size, maybe just due to marketing decisions. All of that is sure to be left in the past though, as the newest 5010 aims to make a serious splash in the market. Santa Cruz has made some significant updates that modernize the platform, while hopefully keeping it true to the fun-loving characteristics that have kept it a niche favorite for some time now. With a goal of keeping the bike lively, but increasing its capability and utility, Santa Cruz has set some high goals for this little bike. Have they hit the mark, or tried to kill too many birds with one stone? We’ve been putting it to the test over the last couple weeks before its release for this extended First Ride review.
The 5010 has always been a unique bike in the Santa Cruz lineup. For a brand with a bit more of a racing and performance focus, it has always been the play bike, and as a result it’s occasionally been overshadowed by more popular models. For the newest iteration though, Santa Cruz is pushing the 5010 forward as “more than just the little bike,” with design and spec that reflect this expanded capability.
The most major update to the bike is the switch over to the MX wheel setup. Santa Cruz has opted to replace the dual 27.5” wheels with a 29” front, 27.5” rear “mullet” combination. Much like the recently released Nomad, this change gives their engineers’ more latitude to tweak the VPP suspension, thanks to the extra clearance of the small wheel compared with a 29er, and has the other knock-on benefits that come with the mullet setup. This should add rough terrain capability and traction to that front end, at the expense of a little agility in the tightest and most tech terrain. Speaking of that rear suspension, the kinematics of the 5010 have seen quite a change as well, in particular around the anti-squat numbers. They’ve been reduced for the new bike from a very high number to something a little more average, which may hinder the ultimate pedaling efficiency, but should do wonders for its pedaling character in rough terrain and seated comfort.
The other frame updates are the changes we’ve come to expect from Santa Cruz in 2022, with chainstay length, seat tube angle, and frame stiffness all based on size now. Of course, there’s also the downtube storage “Glovebox”, which is a real treat to let you leave the pack at home when you’re only going out for a couple hours of riding.
Geometry-wise, things are in keeping with the 5010 lineage: stack is nice and high on larger sizes thanks to size-specific head tube lengths; the head tube angle is pretty neutral; the bottom bracket is low, and the chainstays are relatively short to keep things spunky. The reach on my XL is on the longer end of the spectrum for a jumpy trail bike, at 496mm in the Low position, but the balanced chainstay length makes for a good neutral feel when you’re up and on the pedals.
Build kits come in a very wide range for this model, from NX to AXS and RockShox 35 Gold up to the brand new Pike Ultimate. Amongst the 8 options, there are even two that are built around an aluminum frame, which should make for a far better budget build than the highest-end carbon build I have in for the test. I’ve been riding the XO1 AXS RSV model, which has every high end part one could want – and surely a price to match. (Pricing not yet released.)
There’s no use beating around the bush and trying to come up with some clever way to say this: the new 5010 is really fun to ride. I’ve been testing the bike around my home trails in Bellingham, WA, and have loved riding it on familiar and new terrain alike. My very first impression when riding the new whip is just how perfect the handling feels. It never felt like I had to learn the quirks of a new bike, change my cornering habits, or find the right balance point. Immediately I was pushing hard through corners and gapping trail features like it was my daily driver. With time, this feeling has only gotten better, as I dial in the setup and spend more time on it. I’m not entirely convinced that you can ascribe playfulness to any one bike in particular, as you can really set up most frames to ride in a wide variety of ways, but the new 5010 certainly streamlines that process and makes good times the priority, over all-out charging. All that being said, it still feels impressively capable for a 130mm bike, thanks in large part to the roomy geometry and the refined suspension kinematic.
The only downside to that improved suspension feel is on the climbs, where you do notice that lower anti-squat, especially on fire roads and steeper sections of trail. The bike climbs through technical sections very well, thanks to the improved grip and easy handling, but can feel a little bit soggy when you’re just trying to motor up to a descent. Luckily there’s a climb switch, and the ever-useful human trait of adaptation, which is sure to kick in sooner or later as you get used to a new bike. For me, I really like an upright pedaling position, so the relatively slack actual seat tube angle has been a bit frustrating, but with the saddle slammed forward things feel pretty comfortable.
Tire spec on this bike is decent, but leaves some room to be desired. I don’t love that it comes with EXO casing front and rear for my personal terrain and ride style, but I am happy to see a MaxxGrip front tread. The DHRII works great as a front and rear, contrary to the name, but a meatier casing in the rear is definitely needed if you’re pushing the bike anywhere near it’s capability level.
I’ll be the first to say that I think SRAM’s new G2 brakes are pretty disappointing, and my first couple weeks on this bike really reinforced that. They feel fine in brief stopping moments, but on anything sustained and steep where you’re on the levers for a while, the power disappears surprisingly quickly. After recently upgrading to the new HS2 rotors (my bike came with Centerlines, not sure if that’s standard), things did improve – likely due to better heat dissipation in the system. I think a bike this good deserves Codes at the very least, but even then I’d like to see Santa Cruz explore some of the many fantastic options outside the SRAM family.
The new RockShox suspension is mint, and matches this bike quite well. If I were building it up from a frame, I’d even consider a Lyrik or a 36 – just given how capable the bike feels – but the Pike is by no means a slouch. Because the rear suspension on this bike feels so good, I struggled to get the fork to match at first, but after playing around with pressure and damping I found a sweet spot where the bike feels balanced and comfortable at speed.
THE WOLF’S FIRST IMPRESSION
After the initial testing period, it’s safe to say that I could happily own this as my only bike. It’s capable enough to handle gnarly sections of trail, but is still well-rounded so to keep chiller rides interesting and exciting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s intuitive and it’s fun. We’re excited to keep on enjoying this thing over the long haul for the long-term review.