Santa Cruz Bronson II C S AM review£3,999.00

Rowdy and rabid all-rounder now redesigned to harness its temperament

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For 2016, Santa Cruz has radically overhauled its Bronson all-rounder to create an addictively aggressive, adrenaline-pumping trail weapon that we couldn’t get enough of.

Yep, it's longer, lower and slacker

It’s obvious at first glance that the revamped frame is longer, lower and slacker. The VPP linkages have been repositioned too, so the suspension doesn’t stiffen as much under power, and the rear end has the latest extra-wide Boost spacing.

Related: Santa Cruz gives 5010 and Bronson new angles

The top-end CC carbon frame is available on its own or as a full build, while the cheaper C-level version tested here only comes on complete bikes. It’s heavy for carbon at 3.16kg (6.95lb) but is equally stiff and strong as the premium version.

The lower suspension link has been moved up above the bb to avoid rock strikes. the upper link now pivots in the ‘armpit’ of the front end to increase stiffness:
The lower suspension link has been moved up above the bb to avoid rock strikes. the upper link now pivots in the ‘armpit’ of the front end to increase stiffness:

The lower suspension link has been moved up above the BB to avoid rock strikes

Santa Cruz has added a well-matched component collection to wring maximum trail-ripping fun out of this relatively affordable and competitively priced bike. The mid-range RockShox Pike fork and Fox shock take everything you’d hope in their stride without stumbling and surprised us with how well they coped when the addictively aggressive character of the Bronson put us the wrong side of the sensible/saveable line.

The frame reach is now long enough to fit a properly short stem without compromising breathing space too, though we found the standard-issue 70mm stem placed the front really well, particularly when we were powering up techy climbs ready to rip back down.

Though there's enough cockpit room to run a really short stem, we got on well with the 70mm one spec:
Though there's enough cockpit room to run a really short stem, we got on well with the 70mm one spec:

Though there's enough cockpit room to run a really short stem, we got on well with the 70mm one specced

The only thing we’d definitely change is the Maxxis Minion DHR II rubber out back, which regularly spat its traction dummy well before we expected if we pressed the pedals hard on climbs or leaned on it too heavily through corners. Switching to a Maxxis Ardent semi-slick (standard spec on Santa Cruz’s shorter-travel 5010) didn’t reduce grip noticeably but put an extra gear into our legs whenever we had the chance to light it up.

Related: Santa Cruz 5010 C

Interestingly, despite an almost identical spec (minus piggyback shock and chain device), the Bronson C S AM comes out cheaper than the equivalent Santa Cruz Nomad.

Positively different

Despite only 200g and 15mm of travel separating the Nomad and Bronson, the ride feel is significantly different. If you’re an aggressive rider who likes to exploit every possible trail feature to breed speed it’s a very positive difference too.

Related: Santa Cruz Nomad C X1 AM

The Bronson has always been a tight-feeling, naturally dynamic bike that loves to pump and drive forwards and rip treads sideways through corners, and despite being significantly longer the mainframe feels just as stiff – if not stiffer – than before. Whether it’s the repackaged linkage, a stiffer swingarm layup, the wider Boost wheel or a combination of all three, the back end is equally unyielding.

The S AM has all the kit you need to make the most of the Bronson’s aggressively dynamic ride

While the suspension-stiffening effect of pedalling is lessened by the new VPP layout, you can still feel the bike brace and the rear tyre bite with muscular intent as soon as you stamp on the pedals. This all creates a ferocious trail character that’s gagging to be slid through every corner on the edge of its vividly communicated traction and then punched towards the next thrill section as hard as possible.

The old Bronson was similarly rabid in feel. The big difference with the new bike is that it’s much better equipped to deal with the consequences of flinging yourself down the trail at full gas.

The slacker head angle and extra length in the front end make it much more surefooted and stable, whether you’re fighting to keep the front wheel straight through a rock garden or trying to grind the ends off the Santa Cruz grips through a slingshot berm.

The mid-range fox shock took everything in its stride, as did the pike up front:
The mid-range fox shock took everything in its stride, as did the pike up front:

The mid-range Fox shock took everything in its stride

The reconfigured suspension also has a much more forgiving response to the mid-sized or flat-faced hits that used to choke the old bike. That doesn’t mean it’s now a wallowy mess though – it’s still a bike that definitely prefers to skim tops and pump downsides than just mow through stuff lazily.

The difference is that if you do get out of rhythm with the trail or blindsided by one impact too many, it’ll provide the correct speed sustaining, balance maintaining answer for you rather than teaching you a lesson.

Because it’s naturally firmer in feel under power and progressive enough to stay relatively high and predictably poised in corners, you can run less pressure and more sag than you’d expect without introducing wallow. The EVOL shock doesn’t need muting with the compression damping lever just to get decent pedal response either. That means the soft/medium/firm modes are now what they should be – a tool for tuning dynamic bike feel rather than a crutch to prop up poor pedalling performance. The downside of the firmer suspension feel is noticeably more slide in corners, but if you value punchy power and playful pop it’s certainly worth it.

Also consider:

Transition Patrol 2

A DH-slack front end adds supreme confidence, plus loads of grip, corner-hooking traction, and quality rear suspension makes for a surefooted bike that nullifies chatter and swallows big hits. See our full Transition Patrol 2 review.

Commencal Meta AM V4 Race 650b RockShox Red

Here's a big-hit bike that excels from the get-go and will climb with commitment before gobbling up the most limit-pushing descents. Read our full Commencal Meta AM V4 Race 650b review.

Felt Decree 2.0

Impressive rear suspension equates to plenty of speed and all-day comfort making it a joy to ride over long distances. See our full Felt Decree 2.0 review.

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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