Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM review£3,099.00

Trademark Santa Cruz trail excellence at a more attainable price

BikeRadar score4/5

Santa Cruz refined its Bronson all-rounder with the premium Carbon CC version, dangled it at a temptingly lower price with the 190g heavier Carbon C, and has now taken a little more off the price of the Carbon C ticket, for roughly 350g extra on the scales, with a full alloy frameset — the Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM.

Besides the weight and welds, using metal rather than carbon has also made some fundamental differences to how the Bronson is put together. Specifically the ‘pizza oven’ hollow that embeds the lower linkage deep into the base of the seat tube of the carbon bikes, which is replaced by two curved ‘reach around’ linkages that pivot on a spine hydraulically formed into the base of the down tube. 

You’re also getting double sealed cartridge bearings rather than grease injected user-serviceable bearings, but there are more long-life features elsewhere than a carton of UHT milk. 

Santa Cruz has resolutely stuck to screw-in bottom brackets on MTBs because it doubted the durability and alignment accuracy of Press Fit options.

These linkages give the reach around
These linkages give the reach around

Santa Cruz should rightly feel smug as more manufacturers are now abandoning their fling with the initial build convenience of push in bearings, and you’ll likely feel the same a year or so into ownership when the Race Face bottom bracket is still going strong.

The BB shell is tabbed for a chain device if you’re extra rowdy, there's room in the mainframe to fit a bottle, even if you fit a piggy back shock, and there are Direct Mount options for both the front and rear mechs if you go the Shimano transmission route on a bare frame (£1,599) build up.

The R1 AM build I tested here provides pretty compelling evidence for SRAM gears and a standard inline damper. The NX mech and shifters are yet again consistently positive without being hard work and Santa Cruz dodges the major weight gain of the group by upgrading to a 150g lighter XG-1150 XD driver-style cassette. 

On the Race Face Aeffect chainset, steel cassette cogs and a steel ring and external bearing cups mean it will be a long time before you need to worry about wear and replacement, even in the UK, too.

The welding and cable routing is tidy
The welding and cable routing is tidy

The RockShox Monarch RT shock gets a DebonAir sleeve for more supple small bump response but better mid-stroke support. This is the perfect antidote to the tendency of VPP set ups to wallow into the travel and then wallop when power extension and impact compression combine deeper in the stroke. 

It’s actually got better oil flow than the more complicated RT3 dampers in some situations too and the pedal influence and spring curve meant I never missed an intermediate ‘pedal’ setting. 

I definitely missed the extra power and feel of SRAM’s 4-pot Guide brakes compared to the two piston Level Ts here though, but at least they’re reliable. 

Novatec hubs on the bike I rode are being replaced with SRAM units on current builds, and the 23mm wide WTB rims are narrow by the latest tyre supporting standards if you’re likely to go larger with rubber. They work okay with the excellent Maxxis Minion EXO DHF/DHR 27.5x2.3in combo though and come set up tubeless as standard, which is a very useful, practical touch.

‘My bike’ is possibly the best way to describe how the Bronson felt as soon as we took hold of the Santa Cruz Palmdale grips

The Rhythm version of the Fox 34 fork is one of my favourite cost effective components and punches way above its pay grade. The use of a 6000 rather than 7000 series alloy chassis seems to have removed the braking and cornering related flex and choke that we often suffer on 34s, leaving the Grip damper free to show its excellent stable control potential. 

Its supple subtlety is even more impressive because you’re feeling it through a seriously stiff 35mm diameter Race Face Chester bar and Ride stem, which don’t normally take prisoners when you’re pinned. 

While the bike I tested had a KS Lev Integra post as an optional upcharge, Bronson R builds now come with a Race Face Aeffect dropper post as standard issue. 

Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM ride impression

No longer do you need to remortgage your house
No longer do you need to remortgage your house

‘My bike’ is possibly the best way to describe how the Bronson felt as soon as I took hold of the Santa Cruz Palmdale grips and felt it settle into its travel. 

While a lot of twin linkage bikes can have a very narrow bandwidth in terms of pressure and damping tune, a basic 30 percent sag set up was all that was needed to drop me right into the sweet spot.

That’s mainly because Santa Cruz and RockShox have dialled the basic damper set up superbly, but also because there’s an inherent amount of intuitive rider interaction in the suspension. 

Press on the pedals and the chain tension lifts the bike up and braces against the shock slightly for a firmer drive feel. Drop your heels and bend your knees and the chain tension releases, combining with the up and back wheel arc, to let it suck up serious hits without slap or slow down. 

As with any pronounced suspension character there are moments when torque and terrain collide and the back end gets kicked around. There’s no doubt that the Monarch shock does a brilliant job of minimising the effects and keeps the Bronson both poised and planted over ripples and rubble, as well as proper boulders. In fact, I’ve ridden bikes twice the price, with what look like identical suspensions on paper, but don’t even come close to the same composure on the trail. 

The Bronson Alloy R1 AM is an impressively sorted and aggro all-rounder
The Bronson Alloy R1 AM is an impressively sorted and aggro all-rounder

As I’ve said, the front end of the bike is locked down far better than I expected from the new budget Fox fork. The 66-degree head angle, 340mm bottom bracket height and 445mm reach combine with the suspension and Boost frame stiffness for surefooted stability and drama-free drift composure when the classic Maxxis tyre combo eventually reaches its limit. 

Unlike the increasing number of numb gravity ploughs in the longer travel trail category it mixes silly moments of security without killing the bike’s dynamic urge to rip out of corners on the back wheel or pop any lip or hip you can find. Even the chunky 14.28kg weight manages to get swept under the carpet most of the time because it sustains speed so well and feels so positive under power. 

The result is an infectiously involving yet consistently user friendly, skill multiplying multi-purpose trail weapon that’s well worthy of the Santa Cruz badge and the price that commands.  

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: 45
  • 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 than 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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