Since receiving the Santa Cruz Heckler SL for review, we’ve taken it to some of our favorite test trails here in Bend, Oregon and took it back to our favorite test trails and home turf in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, California. We also made some stops inbetween to truly give the Heckler SL a variety of conditions and trail types to see where it shines.
Here in Bend, the trails are smoother, have more flow and feature plenty of lips for air miles. It was here that the Heckler SL proved to be a force of fun! The stiff chassis was great for either pushing into corners and snapping out, or if you wanted to keep the bike upright and push the back end into a choppy drift. Fun, engaging and active are adjectives we’d use to describe the bike here. The geometry is lively, the VPP platform is great for pedaling, allows you to maintain speed in flats and accelerate when pumping rollers or in big berms. Smiles all round.
During our initial testing in Central Oregon – and in our First Ride Report – we commented on some improvements we were hoping to get out of the rear end by spending more time tuning in the rear shock. For those who haven’t read many of our other reviews, we believe all suspension platforms have their pros and cons. Like everything in life, certain things work better in certain areas or for certain people, and most of us are not huge fans of VPP bikes as we like supple and sensitive suspension platforms. VPP bikes offer all the pros listed above for trail areas like Bend: they pedal great; offer a ton of platform for pumping and jumping, and are just a ton of fun overall. However, as a life-long desert rider who loves finding chunky, rough and often-times loose terrain, traction and sensitivity are very important for me.
While I did make some notable improvements the longer I had the bike, once I got it on the chunky hometown trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, I still struggled with the same VPP feelings I’ve grown to expect. Santa Cruz definitely do a great job with the VPP-style suspension and we find that longer-travel versions – especially coil-sprung ones – further mitigate the feedback and stiffness off the top, but depending on some other tuned in factors like anti-squat and anti-rise, the platform can stiffen up on certain models more than others. The Heckler SL isn’t as stiff as the full-power Heckler, but nowhere near as smooth as the V-10 or Nomad even.
So, what am I getting at? Well, what I’m trying to say is that once I got the bike on SoCal chunk where traction is low and rocks are plentiful, the Heckler SL’s rear end was a bit rougher and more tiring than I would have liked. This was not complimented by the need to run extra PSI in the rear tire thanks to the EXO+ casing. Also to note, the dry, loose sandstone does not offer a ton of traction, so the firmer MaxxTerrra rubber on the rear tire didn’t help either.
What I found was that the bike did a great job linking up corners, popping in and out of micro-berms, airing into and out of features. On the flip side, when it came time to ground-and-pound extended descents where traction, comfort and control mattered most, I was getting tired, going slower and sliding more.
The Wolf’s Last Word
So where does the Santa Cruz Heckler SL sit overall? That’s a really tough question because as much as I loved it, and I mean love it, it’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde scenario. In the PNW on 45-foot jumps, mega berms, loamers and flowy trails it is an incredibly fun all-arounder! It climbs well, corners effortlessly and plays with the best of them. However, if I still lived in Los Angeles and was riding the chunky, embedded rocky trails of Rocky Peak and the Santa Monica Mountains, I’d likely be searching for a suspension platform that offered me a more composed, comfortable and faster overall ride.
As it goes in life; whether it’s tools, vehicles, cameras or anything else you chose, things will have pros, cons and areas they excel. I look at it as a blessing because there are riders all over the world who all prefer and ride different types of trails, and so want different things from their ride experience. If you’re looking for a lightweight eMTB that is a ton of fun, can be jumped, slid, pumped and pedaled on trails with ease, the Heckler SL is a blast. If you prioritize smooth, supple suspension and live for rough and chunky downhills, perhaps another option with a bit smoother of a suspension platform and a more compliant frame would serve you better. Or….tell me I’m crazy, buy this and put a coil-shock on it and have fun, either way, the choice is yours! Have fun.