The Bronson is a bike that went through more iterations than most on its way to becoming a production model. Unless you’ve spent the past year living in a cave, you know that 650b (27.5in) wheels are shaking up the mountain bike market in ways that 29ers never did. The Bronson was caught in the middle of the wheel-size maelstrom midway through its development.
Santa Cruz Bicycles found themselves at a crossroads while developing the Bronson – the name refers to 104 Bronson Street, the company’s longtime headquarters, from which they recently relocated. Company engineers set out to create a new 26in model similar to the well-regarded Blur LT, which, according to Santa Cruz, was getting long in the tooth.
The new bike would have 150mm of rear travel (10mm more than the Blur LT); a slacker, 67-degree head angle; a slightly lower bottom bracket (13.6in/345mm); longer top tubes across the four sizes; longer chainstays (17.3in/439mm) to improve high-speed stability; and a steeper, 73 degree seat tube angle.
The nagging question was: what size wheels should it have?
The company experimented with 26in and 650b test mules and, in the end, 650b wheels were deemed the diameter du jour.
Our Bronson test bike leaves nothing to be desired, except a winning lottery ticket to cover the US$10,124 price tag
- Fork: Fox Float 34 CTD
- Shock: Fox Float CTD
- Wheels: ENVE Composites AM rims laced to DT 240S hubs
- Tires: Maxxis High Roller 27.5x2.3in, Tubeless Ready, EXO casing
- Crankset: SRAM XX1 w/34T chainring
- Chainguide: e*thirteen XCX chain guide
- Bottom bracket: SRAM GXP
- Chain: SRAM XX1
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM XX1
- Shifter: SRAM XX1
- Brakes: Shimano XTR Trail, 180mm front, 160mm rear
- Headset: Cane Creek 110
- Stem: Thomson, 70mm
- Handlebar: Easton Havoc Carbon, 750mm
- Grips: Lizard Skin Peaty
- Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
- Saddle: WTB Volt SLT Ti
If money were no object, our dream build would look very similar to what Santa Cruz offers for its top-shelf build. But for most of us, money is finite. Thankfully, there are more affordable builds starting at US$4,150 for the carbon Bronson and US$3,399 for the alloy version.
It should come as no surprise that the Bronson is a remarkable descender - the frame is stiff and the geometry is sorted. But what really surprised us was just how well-rounded the Bronson is; its climbing prowess is equally impressive. Admittedly, the lightweight 26.7lb (12.1kg) build helps in this department, but the Bronson’s geometry and suspension also play a significant role. Save for long fireroad grinders, there's no need to flip the Pro Pedal lever from 'Descend' to 'Trail' or 'Climb'; the Bronson handles climbing and trail riding just fine with the shock wide open.
Pick three: strong, light and expensive. Enve 650b AM rims are a good match for the Bronson
The VPP suspension feels quite refined, with very little pedal feedback. With a properly set up Fox Float CTD shock there is no discernible midstroke wallow – an unfortunate trait of some VPP bikes. The suspension does a commendable job of absorbing trail chatter, but performs better when tackling medium to large hits at high speeds.
The lower of the two VPP links is exposed to the elements; Santa Cruz uses grease ports so owners can easily do a bit of preventive maintenance to keep their pivots smooth and silent
We look forward to putting the Bronson through the ringer at several enduro races this season. Check back soon for a long-term review.