Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM first ride review£2,999.00

Trademark Santa Cruz trail excellence at a more attainable price

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

Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM spec overview

  • Fork: Fox Rhythm 150 - 27.5"
  • Shock: RockShox Monarch RT
  • Rear derailleur: SRAM NX 11-speed
  • Brakes: SRAM Level T
  • Rotors: Avid Centerline
  • Crankset: Race Face Aeffect Steel
  • Cassette: SRAM XG1150
  • Chain: SRAM PC1110
  • Handlebar: Race Face Chester, 35x785mm
  • Stem: 35mm Race Face Ride
  • Grips: Santa Cruz Palmdale
  • Headset: Cane Creek 10 IS
  • Seatpost: Race Face Ride
  • Saddle: WTB Volt Race
  • Front hub: Novatec D711
  • Rear hub: Novatec D712
  • Rims: WTB STP i23 TCS
  • Front tyre: Maxxis Minion DHF EXO TR
  • Rear tyre: Maxxis Minion DHR2 TR

Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM frame and equipment

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

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the ‘pizza oven’ hollow that embeds the lower linkage deep into the base of the seat tube of the carbon bikes has been replaced by two curved ‘reach around’ linkages, pivoting on a spine hydraulically formed into the base of the downtube.

You’re also getting double sealed cartridge bearings rather than grease injected user-serviceable bearings, but there’s more long life features elsewhere than a carton of UHT milk. Santa Cruz has resolutely stuck to screw-in bottom brackets on MTBs and it should rightly feel smug as more manufacturers abandon their fling with the initial build convenience of Press Fit.

The BB shell is tabbed for a chain device if you’re extra rowdy, you can fit a bottle in the mainframe 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 build up.

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

The R1 AM build here provides compelling evidence for SRAM gears and a standard inline damper. The NX mech and shifters are 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. Steel cassette cogs and a steel ring and external bearing cups on the RaceFace Aeffect chainset mean you won’t need to replace them any time soon.

‘Our 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 RockShox Monarch RT shock gets a DebonAir sleeve for more supple small bump response but better mid-stroke support. 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 we never missed an intermediate ‘pedal’ setting. But we missed the extra power and feel of SRAM’s four-pot Guide brakes compared to the two-piston Level Ts here, and the 23mm-wide WTB rims are narrow by the latest standards.

Our first experience of Fox’s new cheap Rhythm version of the 34 fork was a positive surprise. The grey stanchions seemingly had way less stiction than typical black ‘Performance’ grade legs. The use of a 6000 rather than 7000 series alloy chassis also seems to have removed the braking and cornering related flex and choke we often suffer on 34s, leaving the Grip damper free to show its excellent stable control potential.

Its subtlety is even more impressive as you’re feeling it through a seriously stiff 35mm diameter RaceFace Chester bar and Ride stem that don’t normally take prisoners when you’re pinned. The Bronson Alloy will take an external dropper post, but we’d opt for the internally routed KS Lev Si upgrade.

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

‘Our bike’ is possibly the best way to describe how the Bronson felt as soon as we 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 us right into the sweet spot.

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 keeping the Bronson both poised and planted.

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

Unlike the increasing number of numb gravity ploughs in the longer travel trail category it mixes silly moment 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.

In a crowded market segment containing some super aggressive pricing we can’t go too crazy, but if Santa Cruz kudos is worth a bit extra to you this is an infectiously involving yet consistently user-friendly, skill-multiplying multi-purpose trail weapon.

Santa Cruz Bronson Alloy R1 AM early verdict

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

Tough, practical, surefootedly poised yet surprisingly lively, interactive and impressively sorted aggro all-rounder.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

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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