Santa Cruz Butcher R AM Custom review£3,429.00

Customisable spec on a tough bike

BikeRadar score3.5/5

The Santa Cruz Butcher is actually named after an absolute killer trail in Downieville, California. But it’s also every bit as tough, sharp and well weighted as any professional pig chopper’s cleaver. Add a range of customisable component options and you have a versatile, communicative and enjoyable hardcore ride.

Ride & handling: Unashamedly honest ride character

The no-nonsense look of the Butcher is backed up by an unashamedly honest ride character. The 20mm front axle and 35mm fork legs give clean front wheel feedback that flows straight through the stout front end and premium-quality cockpit into your palms. This means that while it’s not as slack and low as the most slammed all-rounders, you’ll always have plenty of warning if things are starting to tuck under or bulge outwards in corners.

Overall wheelbase isn’t much shorter, with mid-length chainstays adding stability. There’s plenty of leverage in the bars to get the side knobs scrabbling as you strain your neck round to lock onto the exit line. The chunky rear stays are bolstered by the short swing link to create a stiff and usefully precise-feeling rear end that carries the front end communication all the way through to the rear. 

The suspension is similarly talkative and intuitive. Stamp on the pedals and it will stiffen slightly for firmer power delivery, but sit back and it will swing back and up easily. The APP linkage sucks up small bump chatter for plush traction during the initially falling rate, then ramping up to swallow big stuff. 

The overall effect is that while there’s pedal kickback if you’re pedalling through the rough, there’s less bob than from a pure mid-pivot swingarm bike. It lands big drops and carries speed through single square-edge thumps particularly well, too. Upgrading to a thicker-walled tyre is probably a wise move if you’re straight-batting boulders on a regular basis, though.

On flatter or self-propelled sections, the longer top tube of our large sample gave ample breathing space despite the short stem. Add the muscular pedal feel and we managed to grunt the 32T single ring up all steep ride-ups without blowing our O-rings. 

The slightly steeper head angle and higher bottom bracket also make the Santa Cruz quick into flat turns and give good pedal clearance on rough trails. You’ll soon learn to exploit the way that braking and pedalling shoves the front tyre down a bit harder, for maximum steering grip when you need it.

Frame & equipment: Customisable mountain specifics

The frame follows the classic mid-pivot, above-chainline swingarm layout but is fully equipped for modern mountain life. The externally butted tapered head tube takes up to a 170mm fork (although Santa Cruz only recommend up to 160mm).

There are guides for a remote dropper post cable/hose, and ISCG tabs on the conventional bottom bracket. The rear dropouts are conventional quick-release style too, although you do get a bottle opener on the driveside. 

The rear end pivots on a single set of Santa Cruz’s adjustable collet bearings situated just above and ahead of the middle ring where they’ve been putting them for nearly two decades. The APP (Actual Pivot Point) linkages mean the shock is driven through a rate very similar to their VPP bike though.

As well as black or orange, for an extra £250 you can coat this sturdy chassis in a massive range of colour and decal options through the CCCP custom paint programme.

Like many previously frame-only suppliers, Santa Cruz now offer a range of complete bike options, from primarily Deore to XT-based. You can spice these up closer to your own tastes while still saving money over separate parts procurement.

Our bike is based on the Shimano XT/SLX/Deore R AM kit, which comes in at £2,749 with a 150mm (5.9in) travel Sektor fork. We then went through the menu and added the excellent RockShox Lyrik RC2 DH fork (£450 upcharge), Reverb dropper seatpost (£230) and an Easton Havoc bar, Thomson stem and e*thirteen single-ring chainguide. This brings the price up to £3,429 but adds a lot more mountain control than its more trail-oriented default specs.

Syncros wheels are well proven all-rounders, and the High Roller tyres are grippy in most situations, provided you keep the pressures high enough to stop them pinch-flatting when you’re slapping into square edges. 

Avid Elixir brakes are reliably controlled and powerful as long as you don’t drag them down an Alp for too long.

Santa cruz butcher r am custom: santa cruz butcher r am custom
Santa cruz butcher r am custom: santa cruz butcher r am custom

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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