Riders in California know their Santa Cruz mountain bikes. So deep is the web-forum mojo among our western tribe, several of the people I encountered on the trails recognized the Bronson by name, even though it’s official debut was still weeks away.
“Is that the April 1st bike?” “That’s the Bronson, isn’t it?”
Those who couldn’t name it were nonetheless well-informed enough to sense something special after only glancing at its wheels, its drivetrain, and its design.
“Hey, what model is that?” “Did you get a decal kit, or did your bike come like that?”
The full-carbon Bronson ($10,623 as tested) does stand out, and it’s not just because Santa Cruz is a local brand out here. It’s a unique bike for the company — its first with both a 1×11 drivetrain and 650b wheels. Santa Cruz has been keeping it a secret (poorly, maybe) both to feed the anticipation and so that it can continue to work out the kinks with the new specs. It’s a bold move for SC, so the company is trying really hard to deliver a polished product.
Did I say trying? Consider it done. The Bronson is not perfect, but it makes a real go at the Sisyphean ideal of one bike you can ride in every situation. The all-mountain category has been blooming across the industry, with bikes getting lighter and climbing better while retaining their descending chops. Specialists will still want their XC bikes or their downhill bikes, but if you’re not trying to break any records, or if your races are enduro-style, all-mountain bikes like the Bronson have a lot to offer. And when the Santa Cruz guys build something to be all-mountain, they mean it; this thing devours trails like they’re Shot Bloks — squishy, full of energy, and impossible to stop after one.
The 650b wheels (27.5 inches) were chosen because they blend the traction of 29ers with the handling of a pair of 26-inchers. That was a good choice. The 27.5-inch wheel size feels like it has more in common with 26s than 29s, though I preferred it to either. Weaving through narrow trees was easier on this bike, and it managed to roll up the technical stuff with aplomb. But the Bronson really rocked on the descents. The wheel size enabled Santa Cruz to build a taller bike with more travel — 150mm of Fox Float shocks in the front and back — in a geometry that still handles great.