Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon C R AM review£3,299.00

New carbon all-rounder drives a hard bargain

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A full carbon Bronson bike for fractionally more than a flagship carbon Bronson frame sounds too good to be true. But the only obvious corner cutting on display here is its appetite for flat out enduro line choices.

Frame and equipment: impressively low on compromise

According to Santa Cruz its new, cheaper carbon frames (confusingly called Carbon in the UK and Carbon C in the US) are made in the same premium composite factory as its top end carbon frames (now called Carbon C in the UK and Carbon CC in the US) using the same casts but a lower grade of carbon. That means makers need to use more carbon to get the same stiffness, yet weights only increase by 250-280g depending on frame size. Seeing as the Bronson Carbon C is super light, that means the Carbon is still impressively light for a 150mm (5.9in) travel bike.

The two carbon bikes are geometrically and visually identical, and even the black/magenta or dark/lime green livery choices are the same. Apart from two alloy (rather than carbon) linkages, the grease injected, DIY serviceable VPP suspension is the same too. As significant as the new carbon option is the fact that all Bronsons now get a new shock tune, whether it’s on the Evolution series Fox Float CTD unit here or the premium Kashima coated Factory series version.

Santa cruz uses its twin linkage vpp suspension everywhere from the 216mm (8.5in) travel v10 dh bike to the 100mm (3.9in) tallboy: santa cruz uses its twin linkage vpp suspension everywhere from the 216mm (8.5in) travel v10 dh bike to the 100mm (3.9in) tallboy
Santa cruz uses its twin linkage vpp suspension everywhere from the 216mm (8.5in) travel v10 dh bike to the 100mm (3.9in) tallboy: santa cruz uses its twin linkage vpp suspension everywhere from the 216mm (8.5in) travel v10 dh bike to the 100mm (3.9in) tallboy

Santa Cruz uses its twin linkage VPP suspension everywhere from the 216mm (8.5in) travel V10 DH bike to the 100mm (3.9in) Tallboy

Another reason why Santa Cruz can drive such an aggressive bargain is that the new Bronson Carbon is only available in two complete bike formats – the R AM tested here (with KS LEV Integra seatpost upgrade, rather than the standard Race Face Ride) and the S AM with RockShox Pike RC fork and upgraded transmission.

Despite its 32mm legs and simple internals, the RockShox Sektor is more than capable of holding its own. We didn’t feel any pressing need to upgrade the Evolution series Fox shock to one of the Fox Factory or Cane Creek options either. The top quality, already tubeless Maxxis EXO Protection tyres deserve credit for adding subtle, controlled damping (as well as excellent grip) between bike and ground. The SRAM hubs have proved impressively durable too and the WTB rims are decent kit. The Race Face cockpit kit is well proportioned, you get Santa Cruz’s own grips and don’t underestimate the consistent control levels of the Shimano Deore brakes either.

RockShox’s sektor fork is a cracking performer for the price and the quality maxxis 3c rubber comes set up tubeless from the start: rockshox’s sektor fork is a cracking performer for the price and the quality maxxis 3c rubber comes set up tubeless from the start
RockShox’s sektor fork is a cracking performer for the price and the quality maxxis 3c rubber comes set up tubeless from the start: rockshox’s sektor fork is a cracking performer for the price and the quality maxxis 3c rubber comes set up tubeless from the start

RockShox’s Sektor fork is a cracking performer for the price and the quality Maxxis 3C rubber comes set up tubeless from the start

VPP bikes never feel great in the granny ring though and the Bronson is light enough to muscle a single-ring setup with a standard cassette. That makes ditching the left-hand shifter, front derailleur and twin rings in favour of a narrow/wide ring a very tempting idea.

Ride and handling:an unforgiving but rewarding experience

It’s not just the low weight (13.58kg/29.94lb) and fast rolling Ardent out back that make the Bronson big-gear ready. It’s obvious straight away that Santa Cruz’s stiffness claims aren’t false because this is a serious powerhouse by any standards. The muscular monocoque (rather than tube bonded to tube) mainframe and rock solid, thick set rear stays have no hint of flex or softness whether you’re stamping the pedals or straining on the bar.

The rear shock needs careful tuning: the rear shock needs careful tuning
The rear shock needs careful tuning: the rear shock needs careful tuning

The rear shock needs careful tuning

The VPP suspension naturally stiffens under power to launch the Bronson forward whether you’re sprinting out of a corner or grunting out the crux move on a technical climb. Even with the Sektor fork it’s equally precise and unflinching under steering or side loads too so you can make maximum use of the triple-compound rubber grip. It loves being flicked or flung from corner to berm to kicker to lip to downslope at trail centres or kicking up roost and launching boulder drops off piste. The punchy power delivery means maximum speed into every feature and the low weight helps you get the most airtime out of every situation. In other words, if you ride your mountain bike like a big BMX you’re going to love the Bronson.

Playful riders will love the bronson, though its short wheelbase and high stiffness make it less stable in wide open corners or random rubble heaps: playful riders will love the bronson, though its short wheelbase and high stiffness make it less stable in wide open corners or random rubble heaps
Playful riders will love the bronson, though its short wheelbase and high stiffness make it less stable in wide open corners or random rubble heaps: playful riders will love the bronson, though its short wheelbase and high stiffness make it less stable in wide open corners or random rubble heaps

Playful riders will love the Bronson, though its basic shock and sheer stiffness make it less stable in wide open corners or random rubble heaps

Relatively basic shock and frame stiffness mean it does get rattled around more on big, rough sweeping turns – and it’s a bike that demands constant attention. The VPP suspension carries speed well through big high-speed/flat-faced hits as long as you’re off the power and the new shock tune removes the choke and clatter of the original damping, but careful pressure setting is needed to stop it blowing straight through its travel without being too chattery off the top. ‘Trail’ mode is properly race firm, not just slightly stiffer, too. But the Bronson's Strava figures – both on climbs and descents – prove it’ll reward you with blisteringly fast all-round speed if you get it tuned right.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 44
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster tfhan the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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