Santa Cruz Bicycles have had a pretty amazing 12 months, with the launch of new carbon fibre versions of some old favourites (V-10, Nomad and Blur LT), a new suspension platform (APP – found on the Nickel and Butcher bikes) and their first 29er (the Tallboy).
Plus there's the huge success of the Syndicate downhill squad, with Steve Peat winning last year's World Championship and his team-mate Greg Minnaar taking second place overall in the 2009 World Cup and leading this year's series by 73 points after the first three rounds.
We grabbed a couple of minutes with Santa Cruz owner Rob Roskopp at this year's UCI World Cup round in Fort William, Scotland to get the latest news – including the fact that the new carbon V-10.4 frame, which many had expected to be prohibitively expensive, will actually cost "pretty much the same" as the current £2,600/US$2,850 alloy model.
BikeRadar: You've had a really busy year, with lots of new bikes coming out – what’s the reception been like for the new machines?
Rob Roskopp: Pretty incredible, to be honest. The [carbon] Nomad took us a bit by surprise – we knew there’d be a lot of response but as far as sales go, it exceeded our expectations substantially.
As for the APP ['Actual Pivot Point'] bikes, the new platform, we had the journos over after Sea Otter and no-one knew what it was going to be like. After they rode it, everyone was kinda blown away. That’s been really well received.
I think we get the first shipment in next week. Once that goes we’re going to really get some interested generated. We're really excited about those bikes because you get a lot of bang for your buck.
The Nickel uses Santa Cruz's new Actual Pivot Point suspension design
In terms of your move towards making bikes out of carbon fibre, for cross-country it isn’t a big deal …
Yeah, everyone’s accepted carbon.
But it’s somewhat different producing a carbon V-10 downhill bike ...
Even the carbon Nomad, for that matter. Scott did it [a long-travel carbon bike] three years ago, I think it was, but to be honest, I think it took us to do it to say, 'yes, it’s safe', because we don’t really jump into anything. Like we didn’t jump in with carbon [straight away] – we jumped in when we felt we could do it right and do it better.
I guess if someone the size of Steve Peat can come down a track like
Yeah, it’s been great because it’s something I wanted to have those guys [the Santa Cruz Syndicate] racing on last year but we were flat out developing the other carbon bikes at that point – the Blur LT and the Tallboy – and also we were working on the new APP platform. We only have three engineers designing the bikes and getting the prototypes in and doing all the testing, because we do a lot of our own in-house testing. So yeah, we were pretty busy.
This year we got our first V-10 samples and put them on a test machine, and it’s the first time we were unable to break them. That and the Nomad are the first two bikes we’ve not been able to break. So, in order for us to break them we’re going to have to reconfigure the machine. The standard [of Santa Cruz's in-house testing] is so much higher than … the CEN [European Committee for Standardization tests], It’s pathetic. We know how people ride so we’re going to set the machine to that and then multiply it up considerably from that.
It’s been pretty exciting. We wanted those tests done first before we could get these guys onto the bikes just to make sure we don’t put them at risk. It’s been good. The bike's strong and working well. Everyone’s really happy
Steve Peat's mechanic Rick 'Ricky Bobby' Clarkson hands him his carbon V-10.4
Is the carbon V-10 noticeably stiffer to ride?
Yeah. With all our carbon bikes, the carbon allows you to make it stiffer. Granted we’re going to get it lighter – that kind of goes without saying – but for us the ride quality is number one. The Nomad and Blur LT we do in aluminium too, and if you ride them back-to-back [with the carbon versions], they're totally different bikes. They've got the same suspension, the geometry’s the same but they ride totally different. The carbon offers a really neat feel.
Are you going to be using it for every World Cup round this year?
Yes. First, we’ve dropped over a pound just from the front. The rear swingarm is aluminium still – we went back and forth [considering whether to change to carbon] but the chain abrasion in downhill is pretty serious and we couldn’t necessarily make it lighter so we didn’t really want to go that way. I won’t say we won’t ever, because down the road you don’t know. But at this point the bike is considerably lighter than the old one, stiffer and better performing.
We went for a longer eye-to-eye shock – 9.5 x 3in stroke – and performance-wise that’s made a huge difference. We’ve changed the shock rate a bit but geometry is really the big one that we’ve been playing around with. You can run the bike at 8.5in or 10in travel. Basically, it gives you the option to run it how you want.
People were saying ‘we need adjustability’ – it’s set in everyone’s mind – but [until now] we always built the bike how we thought it rode best. On this one, we went and did it so that people would have an option and there’s nothing they can bitch about! If you want a shorter-travel bike, say when it’s not a high-speed or rough course and you don’t need as much suspension, you’ve got the 8.5in setting and that lowers the bottom bracket down to 14in.
So, if you can have an 8.5in-travel V-10, when would you use the 8in-travel Driver 8?
The Driver 8 was built for [bike] parks primarily, so we made the shock rate more lively so it’s easier to jump. We put eight bearings in the lower link with our new collet [pivot axle] system and seal system, so basically you set it and forget it. You can take a jet blaster and go crazy. It’s got grease ports so you can just pump grease in whenever you need to. The Drive 8 is a bike that can take abuse all year. If you’re riding the park every day … the bike that you’re going to ride a lot, that’s what the Driver 8 is for. The V-10 obviously is more of a race bike.
As well as the new carbon V.10.4 frame, you’ve got the new RockShox Vivid Air shock this year ...
Yeah. They’re riding coils today but they’ve ridden airs and they like them on certain courses. It’s a neat shock. Fox were working on it for years and they didn’t figure it out. RockShox have definitely done an excellent job and they’ve got the closest of anybody. I’ll try riding one on my bike because I’m the weight weenie! The guys say it’s really smooth and there’s not a huge difference between the coil and the air, so that says a lot right there.
The Syndicate are impressed with the new RockShox Vivid Air shock
And the Edge carbon rims as well. It’s quite a brave move changing the wheels and the frame and the shock all in the same year …
Well, I like taking risks, but for me it wasn’t a really big risk because when we were in the off-season we did testing of these rims and they were incredible. Every little advantage you can get in racing now ... [is important because of] how tight the times are getting.
Do you know how much lighter overall the new V-10.4 is?
Last year the stock aluminium bike we were racing was about 39lb. The first carbon bike we built up, Greg’s, with the air shock, was 34.5lb – so it’s substantial. With the coil it’s 35.5lb. They’re probably running a little heavier today just because it’s such a fast track and you’ve got a lot of square-edged drops and you want a thicker tube. They’re probably running around 36-36.5lb tops today.
Will the alloy V-10 be phased out and replaced with the carbon, or will you continue to offer both?
We have no plans to make an alloy V-10. The V-10 is the flagship race bike and there’s no reason to make a ‘normal’ one when the price of the carbon one is going to be pretty much the same as the current alloy one, so I think people are going to be pretty happy about that.
It must be a really exciting time for you – all these new bikes ...
Yeah, we’ve been really busy developing a lot of bikes for the last two-and-half years and this year was fun because it’s the biggest launch, the most bikes we’ve ever launched, and the feedback’s been awesome.
And you've had lots of success on the race circuit, too. The Syndicate seem to work really well as a team. You’ve got two of the best riders in the world, Peat and Minnaar, plus Josh Bryceland, who’s exceptionally talented …
Josh is the future and the chemistry we have now is the best we’ve ever had, with those three.
From outside it almost seems more like a family rather than just a bunch of racers …
That’s how we like it. It’s a tight group.
When do you think we’ll see a first World Cup podium from Josh?
To be honest, I thought it was going to be
I think he’s got there, Champery and Val di Sole – two more shots, but the certainty of him getting on the podium is really high. He could even do it here actually [he didn't ed]. And of course there’s Cedric [Gracia] too. He’s in the best shape of his life right now. He’s worked hard to get back into shape after his knee surgery, and he’s entertaining as hell!
Cedric Gracia entertains the punters at Fort William