How does it Ride?
It is very much like the Santa Cruz TRc and the Tallboy LTc really. It’s light, stiff and plush and all the geometry angles are dialed. I never liked the harshness of the original Tallboy but the Tallboy LTc (long travel) was way smoother and much more capable. It was just so damn big, specially with big tires, for my 5’8″ stature. Even with that size issue, I positively described the Tallboy LTc as like ‘landing a jump in a pillow’. The Bronson exhibits the same characteristic but it is more playful in the air. The Bronson is just plain better than the TRc in every respect and trumps even my TRc 650b conversion. The Bronson frame is laterally stiffer than the TRc or the Tallboy and it it is complemented with a 34 stanchioned front fork and a rear 12 mm thru axle. The Bronson feels right-sized with a wheel base and height that felt right at home on tight singletrack of very rough trails. It really showed its true colors on very rough and tight trails. The bigger the hits, the more it settled in and showed its prowess.
Small Bump Compliance
Santa Cruz spent a lot of time on getting the Bronson plush and small bump compliant. This has been the weakness of VPP and they seemed to have attained a new level here by suspension tuning and trying a bunch of rear shock valving rates. The bike is very smooth so it descends well, has a ton of traction on bumpy corners and rooty sections. On my very first downhill the rear was very active through small roots and ruts in the trail. I braced to get bounced around but was pleased by the plush riding experience.
When I pedaled the suspension stiffened up a bit VPP and it was not as plush as some fully active designs. But when I mashed hard or pedaled out of saddle, the bike did not bob much and there was little need to play with the CTD lever on the rear shock.
How does it Climb?
It’s a climber too and I never had to flip the CTD rear shock in to ‘climb’ mode. Wide open, it climbs well and stiffens up as you deliver more power. The drivetrain has been optimized for a 36 or 38 chainring so it is designed to stay neutral even with high torque pulling the chain from that size chainring. This results in a very good climbing bike in that big ring of a 2×10 or 1×11 front. It seems to me that the older Blur TRc was never designed for this size ring so it was always shipped with a triple front chainring.
The 73 degree seat angle props the rider forward when the lever is in the raised height position and the rider is able to drive max power as he’s right over the pedals when in the down stroke. Descending at this forward position may seem awkward but it actually works out with the dropper post since dropping the saddle negates the steep seat angle and pulls the rider weight down and rearward. We can actually say that this kind of seat angle is optimized for dropper posts.
The Bonus of High Travel
Do we really need 150mm of rear travel. Most trails and most riders may not require 150mm of travel most of the time but we found an unexpected benefit of it. Since this bike is quite efficient with its climbing, we kept checking our rubber o-ring rear shock travel indicator and noticed that we were not getting full travel even on our roughest trails. So we kept lowering our pressures on the rear and front shock until we got close to full travel. We ended up with about 30-35% sag which delivered a lower BB height and a more plush ride. Climbing was still efficient at the wide open ‘Descend’ mode of Fox’s CTD. But when the climb got long and steep we actually found benefit in putting the rear shock in the middle ‘Trail’ mode which firmed up the shock a bit.
On bike setup, the XX1 is just amazing. Santa Cruz mated it with Shimano brakes since those are the best. The dropper post with lever mounted in place of the front shifter is the finest configuration ever. Without the front shifter, the dropper lever is placed ideally under the bar as the rider does not have to unwrap the thumb from the bar to activate the lever. The Reverb lever is still too long but that will hopefully be fixed in the future.
Maxxis Ardents in the rear with High Rollers in the front is an amazing combo. And the Enve with matching stickers are aspirational. You don’t need them but if you don’t get them, you’ll be dreaming about them for the next three years.
Comparing this bike to Norco Sight and Range
We did a 650b/27.5 Round Up a couple months ago and learned about the contenders for all mountain bikes in this new wheel platform. We rated the Norco Sight the best so the natural question is how the Bronson compares to the Sight. The Norco Sight is a 140mm travel bike and its sibling the Norco Range is a 160mm travel. The Bronson slots in right in the middle with 150mm of travel.
We think these two bikes are very close. We’ll have to use the Bronson Aluminum as the basis of comparison since carbon versions of the Norco are not available at this time.
The Norco has shorter chainstays at 16.8 inches vs. 17.3 for the Bronson. Also the BB height on the Norco is 13.3 inches vs. 13.6 for the Bronson. So we like that Norco Sight better when it comes to carving corners and slithering through singletrack. The one geometry flaw on the Norco is it’s 70 degree seat angle vs. 73 for the Bronson. We like the Bronson’s 73 degree angle better since that places you in a much better position when climbing. And it is better optimized for dropper posts since the the seat is out of the way anyway when the saddle is dropped for descents.
As far as suspension travel is concerned, they’re fairly equal. But the Norco is more active during climbing and is thus better suited for very rocky climbs. The Bronson stiffens up a bit under power and it shows an advantage when climbing out of saddle. It really doesn’t need the CTD rear shock. The Norco on the other hand really benefits from the different platform modes of the CTD shock.
And finally, as far frame material options, frame refinement and cable routing, the Bronson is a clear winner. The Bronson frame has advanced pivots that are clean and easy to maintain. Cable routing too is dramatically better than the Norcos with the Bronson’s internal routing.
So as far as overall package is concerned, the Bronson edges out the Norcos.
In the end, definitely consider this new wheel size and the Santa Cruz Bronson (or the Norcos) if you’re in the market for a new bike. If you’re perfectly happy with your current bike and wheel size, then ignore all these new bike and wheel size chatter.