Santa Cruz’s Heckler celebrates its 18th birthday with a totally new chassis, rolling on a totally new wheel size. The result is a faster and smoother – but still entertaining – all-rounder, at an affordable price for a boutique brand.
Ride and handling
The obvious competitor to the Heckler in terms of design and cost is the Orange Five, so we spent a lot of the test blitzing back-to-back laps of the same sections to get the differences between the two bikes nailed. Given that the pivot point, handling angles, wheelbase, bottom bracket height and other key metrics are almost identical, it should be no surprise that both bikes are very close in terms of overall character.
The mid-height, slightly forward pivot position of the swingarm gives a noticeably pedal- and brake-responsive suspension feel. If you’re on the gas, the chain torque drags the wheel down onto the trail for a more powerful, potentially traction-increasing action at the rear axle.
Keep pedalling smoothly and the way it lifts up will do the same for your morale when sprinting and climbing, compared with a softer-feeling low pivot or neutral linkage set-up. If you learn to work with it, the significant change in suspension feel between pedalling/braking and freewheeling can also help you pop the front wheel up off drops or up steps or deliberately nail it into the ground for extra front wheel traction.
This inevitably has downsides though, and there’s a noticeable loss of impact absorbtion and a thump through your feet if you’re heavy on the pedals or brakes through rock gardens. You’ll have to be prepared to throttle your effort carefully as the wheel humps up and over roots and rocks or threatens to spin rather than dig in on climbs. There’s no shortage of communication from tyre to rider though, and it doesn’t take long for this interaction to become instinctive.
While both bikes use an Evolution spec Float CTD shock, the Heckler has a damper with a significantly longer overall length (215 vs 190mm) and stroke (57 vs 51mm). In other words, the shock is working with a higher volume at a lower compression ratio with 10mm more wheel travel.
This means the Heckler hangs up noticeably less on big square-edge hits and swallows big slams better too. A lighter compression tune means it’s a little more active under pedalling or G-out compressions than the Orange unless you flick it into trail mode.
Overall we were happier to run it in descend mode most of the time though, because the shock had more room to breathe and respond consistently rather than feeling like it was drowning when the trail got properly rough.
Frame and equipment
The new Heckler's frame features only minor modifications from that of its predecessor
The frame layout is barely changed from the Mk6 Heckler apart from a stiffer solid tube swingarm above the pivot and a DT Swiss 142x12mm rear axle. Its travel and 3kg (6.7lb) frame weight stay the same despite the bigger wheels, as are the tapered head-tube, ISCG05 mount, conventional bottom bracket and lifetime-warranty, user-serviceable bearings.
The top-tube and wheelbase are longer though, and the fork angle and bottom bracket height are reduced for a more planted stance on the trail.
Even the most basic ‘D AM’ kit is a really good balance of Deore drive and Avid stop performance for price and the RockShox Sektor fork, mid-width i23 WTB tubeless ready rims and new High Roller II tyres are firm favourites. At £2,829, with a £230 Reverb dropper post hop-up, it’s well priced for a boutique brand offering.
Various fork, headset and bottom bracket upgrades are also available, as well as Shimano SLX, XT, SRAM X01 and ENVE carbon wheel options.
The Heckler frame is stiffer than that of the Five, particularly through the swingarm. The suspension action occasionally threw it high and wide under brake or power, but overall the rear wheel follows the front end obediently and it flicks from turn to turn with proper commitment and responsiveness on tight, fast trails.
The Sektor fork impressed us with its accuracy and consistent control in all but serious staccato step/rock/root situations, and the High Roller IIs are rapidly establishing themselves as our favourite rubber from the latest generation of Maxxis tyres. The extra circumference of the wheels also adds lumpy terrain speed sustain and cornering grip without significantly compromising agility or acceleration.
Add the confidence-inspiring geometry that naturally firms and steepens in response to power on climbs and the new Heckler is an immediately fun, friendly, enthusiastically interactive yet still bravery-boosting all-rounder.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.