Santa Cruz Nickel D review£2,588.00

Singletrack ripper

BikeRadar score3.5/5

Santa Cruz's APP suspension design adds a linkage for stable pedalling and stiffness but still keeps things relatively affordable for a premium brand. The mid-travel Nickel is a tough, tight tracking and purposeful pedalling machine. Overall weight and confident geometry focus its natural hunting ground onto down slopes and more technical trails than climbs though.

Ride & handling: Rock-solid pedalling manners and characterful confident performance

Even in standard 'D' level trim it’s clear that the Nickel isn’t going to take any nonsense. The geometry is slack enough to inject some real swagger and high-speed stability into the steering. The short chainstays mean the back end whips through really quickly once it snaps free with a shove of the hips or tap of the rear brake.

The frame stiffness means plenty of feedback for pushing the tyres to the edge and back even with a quick-release fork up front. There’s more space under the bottom bracket than on Santa Cruz's similarly angled Blur TRc too, so while it’s not as insanely surefooted through fast sweeping corners there’s much less chance of stubbing your cranks/toes when pedalling through broken ground.

The modified shock rate compared to the lighter, non-linkage Superlight means the Nickel takes fair sized knocks without wincing either and it’s not a bike that naturally backs down in the face of fierce geology. The APP pedalling manners are excellent, with a much more stable, purposeful feel and less bounce than a simple swingarm bike. The chunky frame weight and relatively basic kit does mean there’s some mass to get moving, particularly on climbs.

Frame & equipment: Tight feeling, tough and user-serviceable chassis with workhorse kit list

At over 7lb for the frame with shock the Nickel is certainly no featherweight for a 125mm-travel bike, and its 150mm Butcher brother isn’t actually any heavier. Tapered head tube, collet pivot bearings – which are easy to dismantle, clean and regrease – and chunky tubes throughout mean it’s an impressively tough and tight chassis though. The conventional bottom bracket keeps things simple, and there’s generous standover height and reasonable tyre room. 

While the frame alone costs £1,399 (US$1,350) with a Fox Float RL shock, Santa Cruz also offer a selection of complete bike builds. The D kit featured here is based around a super-reliable and smooth Shimano SLX/Deore transmission and hubset that suits the tough, no-nonsense ride well. 

Maxxis Crossmark tyres add speed to the Mavic XM 199 rims, although we'd be tempted to go chunkier to maximise the hard hitting potential of the bike. We can also see a lot of Nickels getting short stem, wide bar cockpits to really bring them to life (as stock, the bike comes with a 685mm bar and 90mm stem).

This bike was tested as part of What Mountain Bike magazine's Bike of the Year shootout. You can read the full feature in this month's mag, in shops now, and available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Trail Bike of the Year preview

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The testers reflect on this year's crop of bikes

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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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