The Santa Cruz Bantam follows the aggressive, shorter travel lead that started with the Blur 4X, and was carried through the Blur TR and 5010.
Ride and handling: stiff, with low-slung cornering confidence
Riding the Bantam is a refreshingly simple experience. Pedal or brake hard and it lifts and stiffens slightly. Freewheel and lean back and the front comes up nicely for dropping and hopping. It’s not the cleverest way to interact with the trail, but is intuitive and communicative. The frame's character makes it fun and involving.
For a 125mm travel bike, the frame is heavy, and it's stiff, even by linkage bike standards. You can stick the big 650B (27.5in) tyres into corners with fork-crushing force. The frame can be relied on to rail out or stick a line through the sketchiest rock sections. You'll get some rumble through your shoes as a result, but it's usually helpful feedback, rather than distracting kickback. Pedal bob on smoother sections is easily remedied with a flick of the Pro Pedal lever on the Fox shock.
The combination of easy shock sag, an already low bottom bracket and the frame's stiffness makes it a natural turn-and-burn trail ripper. During testing in Nevada's Bootleg Canyon, it left longer travel bikes eating dust on the swerving, rolling narrow gauge trails. There's no reason why it won't be every bit as insolent and engaging when tackling slippery British singletrack.
Santa Cruz haven't sacrificed their high standards of strength or stiffness just because this bike has less travel and is made from alloy. It inevitably makes the Bantam heavy for its category, but it’s still a load of fun.
Frame and equipment: tough with interactive suspension, but heavy
Built in a fun, medium travel, relatively low cost, back-to-basics style, the Bantam is no featherweight. It uses a a modified Heckler single-pivot frame pumping out 125mm of communicative, confident handling swagger.
Santa Cruz have been making single-pivot suspension bikes since their first Tazmon in the early 90s. Hingeing the back end off a pivot level with the middle ring still gives a simple but effective interaction between bike and trail.
The easily serviceable, lifetime warrantied collet bearings on the middle ring-optimised main pivot are the same across all Santa Cruz swingarm bikes.
We're becoming firm fans of the extra rough rolling speed and grip of 650B wheels compared to 26in. The Bantam is definitely one of the better showcases of its advantages in aggression terms.
The Bantam will be available in a range of build kits to complement its affordable price/aspirational brand appeal. Our sample used a Shimano XT kit with a Fox 32 Factory fork upgrade. UK prices and specs are currently unconfirmed but a similar build on Santa Cruz's UK site costs £4,164 – a frame and shock costs £1,349. Complete bikes in the US start from $2,599.
Frame: Custom 6066 alloy
Shock: Fox Float Evolution CTD
Fork: Fox 32 275 CTD TA, 130mm
Headset: Cane Creek 40
Brakes: Shimano XT, 180/160mm rotors
Saddle: WTB Silverado Team
Stem: Truvativ AKA, 70mm
Handlebar: Easton Havoc alloy, 750mm
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Grips: Santa Cruz, locked
Cranks: Shimano XT, 42/32/24T
Bottom Bracket: Shimano XT
Derailleurs: Shimano XT
Shifters: Shimano XT
Cassette: Shimano XT, 11-36T
Rims: WTB Frequency i23 650b
Hubs: WTB.15mm (front), 142x12mm (rear)
Tyres: Maxxis High Roller 2, 2.3in
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.