2018 Santa Cruz Bronson
We tested the 2017 Carbon CC X01 Bronson, pictured at left. Santa Cruz since released a 2018 version, below at right. As you can see, the colors went from gloss blue to gloss olive and black. There is also a hipster-appropriate gloss carbon and sriracha option.
The only substantial shift in the bike's build kit is to move from a RockShox based suspension to a Fox setup. The fork goes from a RockShox Pike RCT3 to a Fox 36 F150 Performance Elite and the rear shock from a RockShox Monarch RC3 to a Fox Float Performance Elite DPX. This takes the price from $6,599 to $6,799 for pretty comparable performance. Not awesome. If you're a Fox fan you're stoked.
The Santa Cruz Bronson is also available in a women's version called the Juliana Roubion. The Roubion features identical frame geometry to the Bronson with a lighter suspension tune and women's specific contact points. This frame is only available in carbon fiber and wears multiple build kits from SRAM NX drivetrain and Level brakes to the top-end XX1 Eagle build.
No giggles here, the Bronson seems to inspire more of a quiet satisfaction.
The Bronson has many talents. It rips through the rough stuff with a nice and even feel, and it's never harsh. On the side jumps or table tops, the bike pops off the lip and floats nicely. It's stable and easy to maneuver in the air. It's also an efficient climber, striking a nice balance of good climbing and descending efficiency. This increases fun levels overall.
At slower speeds, it's nimble and comfortable nature keep things playful. If you aren't worried about racing to a finish line, you'll have a really good time. When the going gets fast, your focus needs to keep up, and the fun falls away. As one tester put it, "its got a small dog yip for a large dog bike."
The Bronson brought home a solid, slightly above average score for its fun-levels. The extraordinarily nimble, short-travel Ibis Ripley ran away with the fun category.
The Bronson's big suspension takes all the hits, but you've got to get aggressive to keep it inline at speed.
A smooth and quiet descender, the Bronson is nimble and precise, and it can still plow through chunder when you need to. After airing the Bronson over his favorite testing section one tester was elated: "#@$! huzzah! What a boss." He followed that statement with a less flattering one: "I can't believe I did that with that wimpy tire." That kind of sums up the Santa Cruz — a confident descender, with a side of doubt.
Direct-steering makes the Bronson easy to pilot. Its front wheel keeps to your course with minimal adjustment, and the backend tracks nicely. But, the Bronson's rock solid handling isn't as laser sharp as some shorter suspension bikes. The Bronson has a long bike feel. (We measured wheelbase at 1164mm.) When coming up to a corner at speed, the Bronson won't give you a hall pass for tired or lazy riding or whip around at the slightest suggestion like the Ibis Ripley LS. The wide and low cockpit makes it easy to toss the bike over to the cornering knobs, so it behaves in the berms. But the Bronson requires some manhandling in the flat corners. If you aren't ready to shift back on the bike, hit the brakes, or rip and rail every turn, it's not going to corner very controllably for you. It's manageable, but not that enjoyable.
It compensates for its slightly slower steering with a bump-eating suspension. The boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork and Monarch Plus RC3 rear shock create a smooth and balanced ride that is ghostly quiet through rock gardens. It never feels bucky or loose and holds your line very well. The rear suspension is fun and feels like it holds travel in reserve on moderate trails, handling like a 140mm bike but tackling emergencies like a 160mm ride.
The Bronson's burly 150mm suspension stands up in technical terrain.
The Pike fork and Monarch shock are both supple early in their stroke, providing great small bump compliance, and helping maintain traction. That's where the Bronson outshines the Intense Recluse, while they both absorb the bigger hits pretty well. Overall it's a far cushier ride than the Recluse and the tires provided more traction. However, while the Bronson is never abrupt, it's not exceedingly comfortable either. It hammers through obstacles. It doesn't bottom out on the bigger hits, but it comes close. We ran through all of the travel on our test trails. We wouldn't tap it for a day at the bike park.
Given the Bronson's stable steering and a supple suspension, you don't often end up offline. If you do, it's easy to recover. Especially if you leave those wrangle-ready 800mm bars in place. Often the wide bars are an asset, offering up "delicious" handling and opening up your lungs. Everything works exceedingly well at slow speeds, where the Bronson's playful but steady nature is predictable, smooth and even. You just sit there and guide it through.
The Bronson has enough confidence to take it anywhere but not enough to stay off the brakes when you hit higher RPMs on the descents.
When you dial up the speed, the bike requires aggressive steering, but it's also easy to oversteer when you're crouching over those wide handlebars. These two characteristics caused testers to hit the brakes, get aggressive or move back off the bike when the going got intense. You have to move around more to maintain control. The centered cockpit doesn't set you up over the back, so you've got to get there on your own. With your arms wingspan wide to grip the bars, straightening them doesn't send you as far back as you'd like.
This heads-up nature keeps you from totally relaxing. Having to slide those super wide bars through narrow gaps doesn't help. In contrast, our lead tester felt that he could relax at moments and maintain speed on bikes like the Yeti SB5.5, Ibis Ripley, and Santa Cruz Hightower and Hightower LT. These bikes are all more confidence inspiring when you're pushing for time on the descent. This is disappointing as the 160mm rear shock can also deadens the trail too much at times. That burlier suspension keeps it from having the cheeky attitude and lively trail feel of the Ibis Ripley LS.
That leaves the Bronson in an odd space between more confident and more playful descenders. It's good everywhere, but great nowhere. In this broad field of mountain bikes, that's good enough for well above average downhill performance score.
The Bronson flies up the smooth climbs and suits whatever rock-crawling climbing style you prefer. It'll definitely get you to the mountain top.
With comfortable pedaling, supple suspension, and a comfortable cockpit for the uphill, the Bronson comes together to work as a whole. It can skillfully acquit itself on any climb. The Bronson's suspension offers a smoother, but less inspiring uphill experience than lighter, shorter-travel bikes. A light pedaling feel is pleasant, but the Santa Cruz can't match the snappy acceleration or speed holding capabilities of the racey 29ers we tested.
The Bronson sets you up to pedal by putting you right over the cranks with a slack head tube/steep seat tube sweet spot that keeps you very balanced. There's no need to rock back to keep traction on the climb. The upright, centered cockpit makes it easy to get over the front end and engage the tire, allowing you to pull momentum between trail sections. The Bronson never makes us feel like we are climbing off the front of the bike on the hills or have to shift back to make it around the turns. Guiding it around at slower speeds is straightforward, if somewhat cumbersome. On the smoother climbs, it's easy to get into the turns but it's not explosive to get back out. You have to work to keep it climbing.
It's easy to get the Bronson into the turns on the climbs, but it's not explosive on the way out.
The bike's combination of killer suspension and nimble handling allows you to pilot it however you'd like on rougher climbs — pick up speed and plow through. Wheelies can be challenging for smaller riders as the very balanced Bronson wants to keep both wheels on the ground. Either way, the suspension plows. The front tire can get a bit floppy at slow speeds, but when you're flying it's a fighter plane.
It climbs well in both trail and open modes, making for a stiff pedaling platform that still absorbs hits. The suspension allows for comfortable bump compliance on the way up. This is nice when you're sitting down and powering up a slope, but when you're out of the saddle, it subtly bogs down right at the bottom of the pedal stroke. As a result, it's easier on the body but harder on the legs.
Pleasant to pedal the Bronson just can keep up with the zippy acceleration of the Ibis Ripley LS or Pivot Mach 429 or the endless momentum of the Yeti SB5.5.
The Bronson feels grounded on the climbs. The Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR2 2.3"/27.5" tires are solid and provide plenty of traction. You can stay seated, put the power down and let the suspension worry about the bumps. It all feels efficient, giving you plenty of comfort and traction. When climbing rocky terrain, it works best if you open the suspension, keep the gears low and the cadence high, and stay in the seat. Still, it's not too squishy when you get out of the seat.
On test days, we often described these capabilities as "remarkably average". In retrospect, it's more accurate to say that the bike performed perfectly, but without personality. It just doesn't inspire our collective devotion. The most lauded aspect of its handling is the bike's comfort factor, driven by its geometry.
The Bronson earns a score on the lower end of average in this broad field of excellent climbing bikes.
The Bronson came in fourth on our technical climb, which took an average of 2:07 minutes:seconds to complete.
The Bronson outpaces the other 27.5 bike in the test, the last place Intense Recluse, by 6.3 seconds on our technical climb. It also beats one of the light and agile 29ers, the Ibis Ripley LS, but only by 0.5 seconds. Unsurprisingly, the Bronson felt faster than the Intense. Very surprisingly, it felt faster than the Stumpjumper 6Fattie. In fact, all the top five bikes did, but the 6Fattie crushed the timed results, beating the Bronson by 4.7 seconds.
The Bronson wins our tech-less climbing time trials on a course that took an average of 3:24 minutes:seconds to complete.
We were surprised to see the Bronson win the smooth uphill time trial. It didn't feel like the fastest bike on this climb, partially because it's so comfortable. Busting the Bronson uphill didn't hurt as much. Maybe that's the secret. Combined, these results put the Bronson in the middle of the overall climbing pack, showing once again that the Bronson has a relatively balanced skill set.
The SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain worked great, but the chain broke three times on three different bikes and the master link on the Bronson gave us some trouble.
Ease of Maintenance
It is important to take maintenance costs into consideration when purchasing a bike. Suspension pivots, shocks, drivetrains, and dropper posts all require regular maintenance. Using a shop that is familiar with your brand can be helpful. We rank the Bronson's ease of maintneance based on methods described in our trail review.
The Santa Cruz's Virtual Point Pivot (VPP) suspension has a collet axle system. It's relatively easy to service but the stock bearings in the lower link wear quickly. Many folks replace those with longer lasting bearings during the first service to avoid future issues. The internal cable routing system on these bikes is some of the easiest to work with. RockShox recommends servicing the Bronson's suspension more frequently than Fox alternatives. We score it a bit lower as a result. SRAM brakes also require more challenging bleeds than Shimano does, lowering the bike's score.
Here's the Bronson's geometry as measured by OutdoorGearLab. Find out our methods in the How We Test article.
Frame Design and Measurements
Santa Cruz's VPP suspension design has two compact links that rotate in opposite directions. As with all suspension designs, it works to isolate pedaling and braking forces, allowing the suspension to respond more to the trail than to the ride. We found this works well when seated on the Bronson. We didn't run into any issues with our Bronson.
Cockpit and Fit — This cockpit sets you up right. All six testers, ranging from 5'7" to nearly 5'10" found the Bronson's cockpit comfortable, though a few did feel the need to shift further off the back then they'd like on the descents. The cockpit gives the ride a laidback feel, giving you plenty of room to spread out without feeling overextended. It also positions your body weight well, putting you in the center of the bike and giving you a neutral feeling.
Santa Cruz's Sizing suggestions: S (5'0" — 5'5"), M (5'5" — 5'10"), L (5'10" — 6'1")
XL (6'1" — 6'6")
The Bronson's boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork is our favorite in the test.
"It's great. It just isn't flashy," says one of our testers of the Bronson's
build. Still, among it's racing cohort, the Santa Cruz
did the best job of specing a bike. It's ready to rumble right out of the box. The only real complaints we had are its heavy wheelset and passé tires.
Fork and Shock — The boosted 150mm RockShox Pike RCT3 Solo Air fork is among the best in the test, offering subtle sensitivity and bomber security.
The RockShox Monarch Plus RC3 rear shock is among our top suspension picks. It works with the recently updated VPP linkage arrangement, delivering excellent small bump compliance and ramping up quickly to catch you on hard landings.
Groupset — We're a fan of threaded bottom brackets and like that the Bronson has one. The SRAM Eagle drivetrain worked flawlessly, with crisp shifting. IWe did have some trouble with the chain's master link and could have gone with a higher quality chain. The 175mm carbon cranks are nice ones.
The SRAM Guide RSC brakes with 180mm centerline rotors performed perfectly, though several of our testers prefer the more precise feel of the Shimano Deore XT setup on the Pivot Mach 429 Trail.
The rear tire, a Maxxis Minion DHR2 holds traction and tracks the front end, but it doesn't inspire confidence that the fatter tires on fatter rims we rode on the Ibis Ripley LS or Yeti SB5.5.
Wheels and Tires — The wheels and tires rate more of a "meh". The Race Face ARC 27 are heavier than they need to be. The 2.3" Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR2 tire on 27mm rims set felt equally dated. They're good all-around tires, and work for climbing in and out of the saddle, but aren't enough for super confident descending. As one tester puts it, "those tires are so six months ago." They are unremarkable and, in the inspiring and unforgiving cycling innovation machine, feel dated. We'd like to see more volume.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — We liked the high-quality carbon handlebar. It helped with handling but just felt too big for the bike. They are flirting with the line of diminishing control returns. It's an easy enough fix. Go grab a hacksaw. We'd shave it down to 780 or 760mm. The grips are good too.
Those majestic bars kept us online but threatened catastrophe in the trees.
Sure, sure, seat comfort is subjective, but the Silverado saddle is disliked across the board, uncomfortable for all of our testers. The RockShox Reverb Stealth is a reliable seat post that works very nicely. It's one of our favorites in the test. One, however, preferred the Yeti's Race Face Turbine's reaction speed, sensitivity, and intuitive, front shifter-like lever. The Reverb is slow in comparison to the Race Face, which moves quickly but without much force. You have to devote more time to adjust the Reverb.
Considering that the Bronson is a take-you-anywhere type of ride and you've got a $6.5K deal on your hands.
The Bronson is up for anything.
The Santa Cruz Bronson balances technical skills with a reasonably spritely pedaling feel and keeps up with the pack in both climbing and descending performance. It's ready for anything and will make sure that you are too.