The Blur LT (Long Travel) is Santa Cruz’s best-selling and arguably best loved bike, so designing an even better BLT has been a prolonged and painstaking process. Has all that effort been worth it?
In a word: yes. The BLT has pretty much become the only bike I want to ride when I’m in the mood for a flat-out, dirty, push-my-limits blast.
This is no fancy school-run ‘soft roader’. This is the real hardworking ‘Hi Lux’ deal.
It feels tough, it rides tough and — however mid-life crisis this sounds — it makes me ride tough, too.
Ride & handling: flawless
We could start with an explanation of numbers and new suspension kinematics, but “absolutely flawless for aggressive, maximum grin riding” is the key ride statement we need to make.
In terms of geometry, Santa Cruz was one of the first companies to hit on what have become the classic angles and lengths for 5-6in travel bikes. There’s just enough stability and auto-correct to keep you off the brakes and gunning it on long, loose descents, but the Blur LT will still dive round the back of trees and bury itself into successive switchbacks without you having to swing wide like a bus driver.
The new tubeset, linkage and bearing changes make up one of the stiffest front/ rear connections of any suspension bike we’ve tested, making anything we’ve ridden since feel decidedly sloppy. Every move is clinically accurate, with no slur,
yaw or softness in trail feedback or control delivery – just outstanding instantaneous ‘real time’ reactions. The fact the bike weighs under 30lb keeps it feeling agile and reactive even on the last climb or singletrack of a long day.
Significant changes to the VPP suspension (reducing its more radical leverage and chain growth character) produce a more neutral, rounded ride.
It still kicks hard under power for real launch out of corners or crux climbing moves, and it’s no wet blanket, but it’s definitely softer over the small stuff. There’s a more fluid and consistent rear wheel connection to the trail.
While it still gobbles up rocks, roots and other square-edged momentum-sappers without pausing, there’s no hint of excess wallow or over-travel in the centre of the stroke. It also feels fine in the granny ring – a previous no-go area for VPP bikes.
Where the Blur LT continues to blow us away, though, is on the bigger stuff. Despite having ‘only’ 140mm of rear-wheel travel and a sub-30lb weight, this bike will launch absolutely anything this side of suicide and land it like the proverbial cat with Blu Tack paws.
There’s stuff on our craggy test loop that we normally only fly on a fearless day on a full-blown freeride bike, but the Blur LT just rolled in, picked its nose up, sucked up the landing and snaked through the chicane and off down the steps with complete and utter contempt.
It’s not just the total end stroke control of the long-stroke Fox shock and new VPP action that give it this total trail insolence, either. The accuracy of feedback from the super-tight frame and fork means you’re constantly aware of your speed and the actual ‘danger level’ of the trail. It’s got just enough travel to keep you in perfect control without too much wallow, dive or mush lulling you into a false sense of security.
As a result you tend to hit sections faster, smoother and more confidently, rather than coming in too fast, braking too hard and then just lurching all over the place as often happens on a six-inch travel bike. When this is happening with every corner, drop and rock garden, you can soon see why we’ve spent a lot of time waiting for other people since we started riding the Blur LT.
Basically, the Santa Cruz ignores all the marketing clichés about climbing like an cross-country bike and descending like a downhill bike; it just feels like the right bike all the time.
Frame: attention to detail brings rigidity and promises durability
Enlarged main tubes and a pronounced drooped top tube profile give the Blur LT a more ‘nomadic’ look and create a rock-solid front end. The asymmetric back end gets an extra brace ahead of the driveside dropout, letting the designers remove the seatstay bridge for serious mud clearance (it’ll take a 2.4in tyre with plenty of room to spare).
It’s in the detail where Joe Graney and his Santa Cruz design team have really shown their dedication and hard-nosed practicality, though. The upper bearings are now angular contact bearings behind proprietary labyrinth seals, while the shock mount and bearing axis are kept separate so they can be sideloaded. The upper link is a big single-piece carbon fibre knuckle, instead of two flexy separate plates.
However, the lower bearings are not so much space-age as steam-age. Side-loaded bearings with locking washers are used for maximum stiffness, but while the external faces of the bearings are buried behind metal covers and labyrinth seals, the internal faces are completely open. This means they can be pumped full of fresh grease via the big grease nipples and supplied ‘Dirty Harry Magnum’ grease gun, keeping air out and the bearings sweet enough to get a lifetime warranty.
Multiple cable routing options allow personal preferences to be accommodated, and the replaceable gear hanger even has a bottle opener on it. Paint processes have also been completely revised for a much tougher finish (in white, black, orange, liquid blue, gangrene, sand and lime) with two anodized colours (black and skidmark) also available for £1,549.
Equipment: take your pick
Santa Cruz will be offering the Blur LT in frame-only form, or as complete bikes in various ‘extra value’ build kits. The 140mm (5.5in) travel Pike fork is perfect for the new Blur LT in terms of point-and-shoot precision and ‘ballsy cross-country’ character terms, though. You can run it with up to 160mm forks, but when we’ve tried that, the slacker angles (67.5° head) just don’t feel as agile and enthusiastic.
The Crank Brothers Joplin height-adjustable seatpost is another perfect sync for the bike’s superb blend of ‘fly everything’ confidence and tenacious climbing prowess. After that, just treat it to the best kit you can afford.
Verdict: straight to the pool room
The geometry, dimensions, balance and precision of the frame are perfect for all those sections of trail your mind labels ‘serious fun’. The new suspension lets you hit every one of them faster, smoother and with more control than you’d believe for a 140mm bike.
Mud room, grease-injected bearings with a lifetime warranty, toughness and simple get-on-and-go performance complete the engineering picture. In emotional terms, though, we just plain love it, and the Blur LT goes straight onto our all-time favourites shortlist.
Santa Cruz designer Joe Graney on the Blur LT
Joe Graney is as down-to-earth as the Blur LT he has designed. Here’s his from-the-hip take on why the bike is the way it is.
BikeRadar: How long has the Blur LT project taken?
Joe Graney: We’ve been working on the new VPP suspension since 2004, but that was just general research. In terms of the actual BLT project, we just wrote a huge wishlist on a whiteboard and worked from that. It has taken a couple of intense years of good old-fashioned designing and engineering and building and revising and building again to get to the BLT you’re riding now.
BikeRadar: Do you prefer to take the computer approach or the practical approach?
Joe Graney: Computers are a vital part of design, but you can’t beat on-trail feedback from real riders. We went through a whole string of development ‘mule’ frames on the new VPP, right through to a seven-pivot single pivot swingarm, just to isolate some specific shock action aspects.
We then built another five to optimise the suspension for BLT. Some we only rode for maybe an hour, they were so shit, but the best ones became the BLT — you can’t get that kind of feedback from a computer.
BikeRadar: What was your overriding goal with the BLT?
Joe Graney: Basically we wanted the BLT to be like your best friend, a bike you could totally rely on. We could have made it lighter in the downtube and chainstays, but then it would have dented when you dropped it or threw it in the back of a truck.
It’s why we spent so much time on the bearings, mud clearance and big bolts. It’s also why we didn’t go with the extra complexity of something like completely replaceable Maxle dropouts just for the five percent of people who might want them.
BikeRadar: Are you happy with the result?
Joe Graney: We’re pretty stoked on this bike — we’re very proud that we’ve made the bike we all wanted and we’ve made it right.