The Santa Cruz Heckler has been around the block a few times. While its curvaceous appearance is a relatively recent innovation, its basic premise - solid, reliable and no-nonsense single-pivot performance – has remained unchanged since its ﬁrst incarnation in the late ’90s.
While Santa Cruz has successfully evolved more complex suspension designs, the fact that the new, six-inch travel Heckler is thriving speaks volumes about its enduring appeal.
Our test Heckler arrived outﬁtted in ‘Mountain’ trim, blending a selection of mid-range componentry with chunky 2.3in WTB treads and the stiff, reliable RockShox Pike fork.
Ride & handling: single-pivot still has the stuff
With a middling-length top tube and airtime-friendly stubby stem, our medium-sized test machine felt a little short and cramped for day-long rides.
A slightly longer stem would help restore the balance at the expense of some front-end ﬂickability.
If your main interest is covering the distance you may want to consider sticking with the shorter stem, but going up a frame size to gain extra cockpit reach.
With six inches of travel at the rear and just shy of that at the front, the question everyone’s asking is: can a long-travel single-pivot bike still hack it? The answer is a resounding yes.
It’d be unrealistic to expect the Heckler’s simple suspension geometry and fixed compression damping to deliver the kind of magic-carpet ride of some of the cleverly linkaged competition.
Sure enough, there’s a trace of pedal-induced bob. An £80 upgrade would buy adjustable compression damping in the form of a Fox RP23 shock, but it’s not worth losing sleep over.
The suspension remains supple over the smallest of bumps, keeping the grippy WTB tyres glued to the ground and endowing the Heckler with the kind of climbing ability that a bike of this weight really shouldn’t have.
However, it’s when you point the Heckler downhill that the stiff frame, rigid fork and six inches of rear wheel travel really start to make sense.
You’ll breeze over ledges and drops that would have you reaching for the brakes on whippier, shorter-travel bikes, and steer an unswerving straight line through rock gardens that’d push the limits of lighter forks.
The Heckler certainly lives up to its ‘all mountain’ tag.
Chassis: newly swoopy, still built for strength
Single pivot does what it says on the tin. A simple rear swingarm attaches to the main frame via one pivot which, in the Heckler’s case, is cunningly installed right through the down tube at a point forward of and roughly in line with the middle chainring.
The shock connects to a mount slung beneath the top tube and is driven by a second mount attached to the top of the swingarm’s forward section.
It’s simple, reliable and easy to maintain. Its Achilles heel has always been a tendency to react to pedal-induced bob, but decent shock compression damping has made even longer-travel single pivot designs like this one a viable option.
Our test Heckler’s Fox Float R shock featured fairly light compression damping with no scope for adjustment.
It’s true that the Heckler’s rear end moves more under pedalling than some more recent designs, but it’s barely noticeable in practice. Pedal feedback is negligible even when grinding away in the granny ring on technical climbs.
In its revamped clothes the Heckler replaces the square-edged design of its predecessor with swoopy curves. Everywhere you look there’s a smooth radius, although chunky welds give it an overall appearance that’s more functional than beautiful.
Hefty belt-and-braces gussetry at the head tube junction implies a strength-over-weight design ethos. The solitary bottle mount languishes in the position of last resort, under the down tube.
Our test bike’s RockShox Pike fork sets this bike apart from much of the all-mountain competition, combining 140mm of travel with beefy 32mm diameter stanchions and the 20mm diameter through-axle Maxle quick-release.
In practice it matches the lighter competition for plushness and adjustability, but trumps it for steering accuracy and lack of ‘twang’ under hard braking.
Equipment: slightly down to accommodate the frame cost, but good
You pay a small premium for a Santa Cruz frame, so some of the kit – SRAM X.9 rear mech and Avid Juicy 5 brakes, for example – looks a little low-rent next to the competition at around two grand. But it all works well and you can, wallet permitting, spec your Heckler with a range of upgrade options.
Summary: still a force to be reckoned with
It may not be pretty, it may not be particularly light, it may not sport the latest multi-pivoted suspension system, but the Heckler is still a force to be reckoned with.
Riders concerned about weight may be better off with a lighter frame, but the extra rigidity and strength is worth the small weight penalty for a reliable, sharp-handling and evergreen design that’s huge fun on big days out.
The single-pivot design is alive and kicking – and it doesn’t come in any better form than the Heckler.