Equivalent MTB: Santa Cruz Bronson; motor and battery: Shimano Steps
Light and lithe; feels an awful lot like a regular mountain bike without a motor
Battery life needs improvement
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The biggest challenge with e-bikes is creating a riding experience that will appeal to riders who already mountain bike. And that’s what Santa Cruz has done with the Heckler. Combine the full carbon frame, VPP suspension, and pedal-assist, and when I climbed aboard I was on a bike that felt familiar: lithe, maneuverable, and decidedly fun.
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Key to that familiar feeling is the Heckler’s VPP suspension, which is signature to Santa Cruz. Many e-bikes use a Horst link or modified Horst link because it’s easy to tune with the extra weight and torque of an e-bike. Santa Cruz stuck with its signature suspension, cleverly lowering the link for lower anti-squat.
On the trail, that means more traction and support when you’re climbing and sitting, including when you’re rallying this bike up technical singletrack seated. Since there is no need for pedaling efficiency, Santa Cruz left the rear suspension on the soft side.
Climbing is one of the unanticipated thrills of e-MTB. Uphill riding can be as fun and exciting as the down, instead of just a grind to get to the goods. Santa Cruz tuned the Heckler’s suspension to make uphill shredding hilariously fun.
On descents, both the RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate and the Fox 36 E-Float Performance Elite shock performed superbly, despite the bike’s weight. The bike went where I wanted it to. I could feel the trail—in a good way. And whether I was crushing a rock garden, skirting over roots, or hucking off a wooden feature, the bike felt solid and dependable underneath me.
Powered by Shimano
Santa Cruz opted for Shimano STEPS electronics, which are reliable with a clean and simple interface on the bar. Shimano specs a small display screen that lets you track your speed and battery level. There are no dedicated computers or oversized displays.
The plus, minus, and on/off switches are unobtrusive, intuitive, and don’t get in the way of the dropper post lever. The Shimano Steps app connects via Bluetooth or plug-in to let you tweak the Heckler’s three-assist levels — Eco, Trail, and Boost. And it lets you or your shop troubleshoot issues.
I didn’t tweak assist levels—the programmed ones suited my riding well, and I had no issues with the electronics. Grooves in the Santa Cruz handlebar managed Di2 wires and kept them from forming a tangled mess.
The downside to the 250w Shimano STEPS E-8000 and 504-watt hour battery is that the battery doesn’t last as long as the new Bosch system featured on competitors’ bikes. I took the Heckler and several other e-MTBs to Vermont’s Suicide Six, a pedal-access closed ski area, and ran consecutive laps. The Heckler died near the top of the sixth 600’ climb lap. Other bikes in the test gave me around 2.5 hours of riding on a single charge, which was nine laps on the Suicide Six trails. This one died around 1.5 hours in.
Carbon Reserve rims with overbuilt DT Swiss 300 hubs stood up to jumping this bike, and hard riding on technical terrain. The wheels come with a lifetime warranty.
Like all high-end mountain bikes, the Heckler comes stock with a single chainring. Here, it’s a 34 paired with a 12-speed SRAM Eagle cassette for a solid gear range that combined with the bike’s battery and motor let me climb as aggressively or as controlled as I wanted to. SRAM four-piston Code brakes with 200mm rotors had good stopping power.
The Santa Cruz Heckler Carbon CC X01 Eagle Reserve is available in five sizes, S- XXL.
Hop on the internet, and there’s a lot of chatter about how uncool e-bikes are. Now that Santa Cruz is making one, that stigma may change. The Heckler is a ripping fun bike with some of the same ride characteristics of other Santa Cruz bikes. It’s also one of the lightest e-bikes out there, which helped me keep the mental connection to human-powered mountain biking — and in turn made the transition to pedal-assist more palatable, even for die-hard anti-e-bikers. I love the look and the ride; I just wish the battery lasted longer.