Mountain Gear

First Ride: Santa Cruz Bronson and 5010

Although the line between trail and enduro bikes is often blurred, Santa Cruz's updated rides provide two different experiences.

DOWNIEVILLE, California (VN) — Today’s mountain bike world revolves around two concepts: “trail” and “enduro.” The line between the two is exceptionally blurred, so let’s combine them and call them a “TrEnd.” This TrEnd has taken mountain bikers from the tall-seatpost, minimal-suspension hardtails of yesteryear to steamrolling squishy bikes that flatten trails no everyday Joe would consider rolling down in the almost-gone era of 24-hour races and XC everything. Trail bikes tend to offer shorter travel than enduro bikes — usually anywhere from 120 to 140mm of travel — that promise bearable climbing; enduro bikes have more squish — think 150 to 160mm of travel — and are designed primarily for descending, yet they often lean toward climbing abilities as well. See how that line blurs? See the TrEnd?

All that said, the TrEnd only matters if it works out on the trail. Here’s the quick and dirty on Santa Cruz’s revised 5010 and Bronson bikes as they performed in the wild in Downieville, California.

Santa Cruz 5010

Trails ridden: Mills Peak — dry, dusty, lots of flow with plenty of high-speed rock obstacles thrown in. It starts with a three-mile climb
What’s new:
• 67-degree head tube is one degree slacker than previous model
• 130mm of travel, 5mm more than previous model
• Longer top tube
• 8mm longer chainstays compared to previous model
• Shorter seat tube
• Steeper seat tube angle
• 148×12 rear hub spacing

The trails in and around Downieville are scary dry from the persistent drought, which meant a lot of loose corners, marbles-on-hardpack terrain, and hot, exposed sections of climbing. The 5010 conquered all with a very balanced 130mm of travel front and rear. It translates into more control and, by extension, more speed.

To achieve this suspension balance Santa Cruz goes with an interesting pairing: a RockShox Pike up front and a Fox Float X Factory Evol rear shock. The Pike lived up to high expectations on big hits and small chatter. Its mid-stroke felt smooth and consistent, too, though a little bit of messing around with low-speed compression is generally necessary to really get the most from the fork. Out of the box, the Pike is nearly ready to go without much fussing.

There is a small amount of pedal bob, especially when the trail gets steep, and when compared to Yeti’s Switch Infinity system, the bob is noticeable. We’re often told that it’s fine to just leave the shock set at descend mode because it will climb well in that setting too, but the 5010 climbs a lot better in the trail or climb position. Just don’t forget to switch it back to full open for the descents or you’ll find yourself getting thrown around more than necessary. Even at the descend position, the 5010 requires you to pay attention and pick a line. It’s no point-and-shoot setup.

Now that most builds of the 5010 are spec’d with a RockShox Reverb dropper, it’s easy to set the bike up for efficient climbing and stable, nimble descending. The geometry tweaks Santa Cruz made improve climbing significantly, though it may take some time to get used to the steeper seat tube angle. At times, however, the bike still feels a little too pedal-forward. While it never felt like a hardtail, it did cruise up the steepest sections of the climb with unexpected ease, and even with the slack head tube angle, there is no flopping or looping out when pushing over obstacles.

There seemed to be the slightest amount of flex in the rear end as well, possibly somewhere in the linkage, that led to wandering at high speeds. Diving into tight corners with speed is intuitive and confidence-inspiring, but powering out of them isn’t always as explosive or sure-footed. Ultimately, the 5010 is an excellent climber for the trail category, and well above average as a descender. The bike could easily be called the 6040: if you ride 60 percent downhill and 40 percent up, it’s right up your alley.

Santa Cruz doesn’t skimp on the build, either. SRAM Guide brakes performed much better than expected, even straight out of the box before they got really bedded in. In all that face-coating, throat-drying dust, the brakes never squealed or faded on long stretches of fast descending, and modulation is as good, if not better, than Shimano XT brakes.

You’re not going to win any XC races on the 5010, but then again, you probably won’t win any XC races on any bike that fits into the TrEnd category.  If the trail gets really gnarly (see: Butcher Trail), you’ll be itching for more travel, but the balanced suspension along with Santa Cruz’s long, slack geometry that feels more compact than it is — probably as a result of the short chain stays that allow for quick direction changes among the rocks and boulder — allows the 5010 to tame trails above its pay grade.

Santa Cruz Bronson

Trails ridden: From Packer Saddle, Sunrise, Butcher trail, Third Divide, First Divide. Fast and rocky; very likely to loosen your fillings
What’s New:
• 66-degree head tube is 1 degree slacker than previous model
• 150mm of travel, 5mm more than previous model
• Longer top tube
• 6mm shorter chainstays compared to previous model
• Shorter seat tube
• Steeper seat tube angle for improved pedaling efficiency
• 148×12 rear hub spacing

Butcher trail is aptly named, with sharp, jagged rocks ready to tear through tubeless tires at low pressure. For that terrain, the Bronson’s 150mm front and rear travel — again with a Pike up front and Fox shock in the rear — is well-suited. Its 66-degree head tube angle is made for the steeps, rocks, and roots. At 13.4 inches, the bottom bracket height gives you plenty of clearance for crushing rock gardens with little fear of bashing a pedal.

Like the 5010, the Bronson’s top tube has been re-shaped for better stand-over, the linkages have been moved, the chain stays have been shortened, and the head tube angle slackened. It’s also spec’d with an 800mm wide handlebar, which may seem like overkill until you’re leaning hard into a sweeping corner. Remember, a high bottom bracket is great for clearance, not so great for wheel tracking through a curve, so the extra leverage on the wide bars really helps.

The Bronson is the bigger, burlier cousin of the 5010, and it’s slightly less graceful, too. Remember that balanced ride the 5010 had? The Bronson isn’t quite there, though it’s not far off. The front end is playful and goes where you point it, but the rear end is a bit wayward and flexy. With some better suspension tuning, I suspect there would have been more hucks and boosts coming down the steeps on Butcher.

Don’t let that assessment fool you, though: Even with the rear suspension a bit too soft and the front suspension a bit too firm, the Bronson deftly handles all but the tightest switchbacks with constant, firm wheel tracking. Push those bars down at high speeds and feel the G-force carry you through a turn. While the top tube is longer and the seat tube slacker, the Bronson never feels long or unwieldy. It’s quick and playful, very likely due to the 17.1-inch chain stays, among other geometry tweaks.

It even climbed much better than expected, much better than previous iterations of the Bronson, though in the end, it’s a descender’s bike that keeps the rider in a sit-back position, not ideal for climbing.  Whereas the 5010 is a 60/40 descending to climbing bike, the Bronson is more of a 70/30, or even an 80/20, depending on whether the shuttle truck is gassed up for the day. With a bike like this, the rear suspension has to be perfect on climbs — almost no pedal bob.

But this is no climbing bike anyway, so how does it descend? On the grand scale of TrEnd bikes, the Bronson is toward the top of the list, but it’s still a step below a Yeti equipped with Switch Infinity. That line’s getting old, but that’s the truth. Against the gold standard, the Bronson is almost there, but not quite. The rear suspension has a tendency to stack up in brake-track ruts, successive big hits right before tight, steep turns. This leaves the rider with a sense that the suspension has become inactive or overloaded; it can be jarring when the deep hits are relentless.

Yet with all the yes/no, good/bad qualities of the Bronson, it still rides better than most bikes in this category. The Bronson feels like a bike that knows itself well enough to bill itself as a bike for real, everyday riding rather than for the dreams of Whistler vacations and five-foot drops. It has shortcomings, but on the right trails, you’ll forget all about them.

The Bottom Line

The TrEnd is real, and it’s fun. It’s easy to poke fun at TrEnd bikes as two sides of the same coin, but the Bronson and the 5010 prove that these bikes can be purpose-driven. If you’re looking for a do-it-all bike, the 5010 comes closer to being exactly that; for those seeking out more speed, bigger hits, and less emphasis on heading uphill, the Bronson deserves a spot in the quiver. VPP suspension is perhaps one of the best systems out there — but not the best. Both bikes performed admirably both up and down the trail, though both bikes could also benefit from a bit more lateral stiffness in the rear end. Santa Cruz has created a formidable one-two punch within the TrEnd category with the revisions to these already popular bikes.

Both models top out at $8,099 for the CC level bike and top-of-the-line SRAM build; both models range down to $3,599 for a C level bike and entry-level build.