Compare-O Bottom Line: Santa Cruz’s über Bronson a beautiful, agile killer

27.5 Enduro Enduro Compare-O 2014

This article is part of the Mtbr’s Enduro Compare-O. See all the stories in this special section here–


While a large percentage of our high-dollar fleet inherently has podium potential, Santa Cruz’s much vaunted Bronson Carbon goes to the top step. Slack and stable, galloping fast and eager to attack, the Bronson has that extra je ne sais quoi to nip the field at the line. Undoubtedly the smart, high-zoot build helps, but at the heart of it, Bronson’s stiff, responsive and fun-to-ride chassis wins the day. And not just Race Day, but everyday, because even on some idle Tues-day, throwing your leg over a Bronson Carbon is a victory in itself.

See the rest of the award winners here.

In the 1972 action-thriller The Mechanic, Charles Bronson plays a sophisticated man who enjoys classical music, fine wine and collects art. Despite his refined tastes, however, he makes his living as a hit man that meticulously and precisely plans and executes his kills. And while Santa Cruz’s Bronson (the bicycle) was actually named for the street of their former headquarters, one can’t help but see the similarities between movie and mountain bike. The latter looks every bit a sophisticated objet dart, but when put in motion delivers a performance nothing short of killer.

As we mentioned in our First Look at the Bronson Carbon, the much-hyped 27.5-inch wheel superbike had no shortage of fanboys (and girls) within our test crew. Few, however, had thrown a leg over one—let alone one that cost $10,000 and came spec’d with an XX1 drivetrain and Enve carbon wheels. But once they did, the anticipation immediately turned to accolades.

“I actually had adrenaline shakes for the first 20 minutes of riding this bike—that’s how fast it felt,” said one rider who is no stranger to speed. “It’s quick, nimble, agile, capable, and ready to attack anything—a rowdy bike with a touch of refinement.”

Those comments reflect the unanimous sentiment of our test crew who collectively likened the Bronson to a rally car—“souped-up, fast, incredibly grippy and ready to attack stage-after-stage,” as one rider put it.

Photo by Tyler Frasca.

Of carbon goodness and VPP machanations

At the heart of Bronson’s inspired performance is the bike’s stunningly stiff yet light weight carbon frameset. Santa Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system manages the rear end’s 150mm of travel creating a ride that’s supple across the entire range of potential impacts.

“I felt the Bronson had a really wide range of capability,” explained one rider. “It was supple on smaller, rapid-fire hits, but managed bigger impacts well too. Square-edge hits, braking bumps and even drop-to-flat, I always felt the suspension was in its element.”

Indeed, conversation about the Bronson seemed often to shortcut directly to its descending acumen, in both rough and smooth conditions.

“The trails at Demo aren’t really bermed,” observed one rider. “But the Bronson seemed to encourage you to lean it over, and the bike responded quickly, slingshotting you through a turn’s exit.

“I wasn’t really trying to pin it, but the bike just has a way of organically making speed,” he continued. “Often I didn’t realize how fast I was going until I got on the brakes.”

Keeping it on the up-and-up

Though the Bronson makes a pretty good case as an all-arounder, a few riders found some nits to pick with the bike’s climbing ability.

“The bike’s suspension worked great on steep, technical climbing sections,” observed one rider. “However, I had difficulty finding the sweet spot in terms of front/rear balance. The front end generally wanted to float up on steep pitches. Shifting my weight forward compromised rear traction.”

Photo by Tyler Frasca.

Another rider concurred but suspected it might be related to chainring spec.

“I couldn’t seem to keep the front wheel firmly planted on the ground, it was too light in the front end,” he suspected. “The large 34-tooth chainring spec’d with the XX1 system didn’t help matters on the steep techy stuff.”

Other riders—particularly ones intimately familiar with VPP bikes—felt the 26.94-pound Bronson climbed without issue.

“This bike climbs neither like an XC racer nor a pig, but it ascends reasonably well for its intent,” one rider commented. “With the CTD shock, I lock it out for the long fire road slogs and pretty much leave it in Trail for everything else and find it exceptional.”

Continue to Page 2 for more on the Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon and full photo gallery »

About the author: Don Palermini

Chicago-born Don Palermini became a cycling-based life-form in the sixth grade after completing a family road bike tour of his home state. Three years later he bought his first mountain bike to help mitigate the city's pothole-strewn streets, and began exploring the region's unpaved roads and trails. Those rides sparked a much larger journey which includes all manner of bike racing, commuting, on- and off-road bike advocacy, and a 20-plus-year marketing career in the cycling industry that landed him at his current gig with Santa Cruz bicycles. Now residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, his four favorite words in the English language are "breakfast served all day," together in that order.

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  • Joe Millionare says:

    It would be nice to read a review that didn’t use the term “with ease.” The (insert bike here) climbs with ease. The (insert fork here) soaks up bumps with ease. Anyone heard of a thesaurus?

    That said, it was a good review of a good bike. It was a little on the fan boy side, but the bike probably warrants the attention. It’s be interesting to see what they say about the Mach 6 which is arguably the most talked about bike of the year.

    • TJ says:

      They should be able to fix this with ease

    • Mtbr says:

      Joe – Thanks for the feedback. We used the word “ease” once in this story–to describe wheel acceleration. Frankly describing things accurately without being redundant is difficult within a single story and nearly impossible across 44–which is how many we’re doing in this feature. That said we will ask our editors to be as precise as possible in future articles in regards to performance characteristics.

  • johny says:

    So I have been reading all these reviews and I am left wondering where is the compare part? How do these bikes compare to eachother in terms of performance and spec? Which one is the best climber, descender….? So far all the reviews are beginning to sound the same.

  • Paul says:

    @ johny the actual comparison part is coming later after this phase is over. I agree it’s been draaaawn out a bit too long. In a couple weeks you’ll be able to compare them with ease.

  • Chader says:

    There will be a final award section once all the other reviews are completed. See the “The Golden Pliny’s – Enduro Compare-O Award Winners” link preview in the index at the top right.

  • Pegleg says:

    “When pressed to choose between the Bronson and its shorter-travel brethren, the 5010—which is touted more as the “all day adventure bike”—most of our riders see no point in going shorter given a weight difference of just over a pound when you consider the greater capability the Bronson provides.”

    But what about the loss of climbing ability? The 5010 review lauded it for its climbing prowess, wheres this review is kind of “meh” on the Bronson’s climbing. I’m getting the sense that the review team is biased towards downhill performance, and will always choose the burlier downhill performer over the bike that’s a better climber. Here in the CO front range, we spend most of our time climbing to get to the fun downhill (e.g. a 3 hour ride is usually 2 hours of climbing and 1 hour of downhill), so it seems to me like climbing performance really ought to carry more weight.

    • Mtbr says:

      Pegleg – You make some valid points. There is definitely a bias towards descending as we look at the bikes through the lens of enduro racing first and then for other things. Regional differences will dictate preferences, and the 5010 did indeed climb better than the Bronson–if I has to put a number on it 3-5-percent better. Maybe. Interestingly, our Colorado-based test rider was much more enthused by the 5010 than he was the Bronson.

      • Pegleg says:

        Thanks for the reply. That makes sense; I wasn’t really thinking of these as being through an enduro-specific lens (I know, it’s in the name of the series – I was just thinking of it more as a category of bike than a type of riding). In the end, I’ll just have to ride both (plus the Tallboy LTC) and figure out what’s right for me. Great series, appreciate all the info.

      • Bazou says:

        Hi Mtbr! Did you mean 3 to 5 percent better or 35 percent better?

        Can’t wait to read you’re compare-o between the 5010 and the Bronson…

  • Mike says:

    Please stop with the quotes! Especially since we don’t know who you are quoting. You might as well take all the comments and weave it into the review without the quotes, so it flows better.

    Also, almost every review on this website uses the word “prowess” to describe the bikes climbing ability. Use a thesaurus like another commenter has mentioned!

    • Mtbr says:

      Mike- Sorry you don’t like our format, but the backstory is that we wanted our editors to convey the predominant sentiment of the test rider feedback, and use direct quotes to both support and offer alternate POVs on a bike’s performance. We could have attributed the quotes to the specific test rider, but felt that would be even more distracting as even if named, you have no idea who they are. We appreciate your POV, however, and will take your feedback into account when we do future tests.

  • Russ says:

    It adds no value to the comparison by saying “XX1 is great” or “Enve wheels are great” or “the build is too expensive” or the totally worthless “tire X is grippy or sucks”. All of those are items that can be configured on any frame. So the real value of the comparison would be to have the bikes have similar builds (understanding that more travel may mean different required components) and then compare performance related to the bikes geometry, proprietary suspension design etc.

  • Mtbr says:

    Russ – Thanks for your note. We had much debate over how to test the bikes and even contemplated a ‘stock spec’ we’d swap from bike to bike. But aside from it being physically impractical, the truth is most people still buy complete bikes as spec’d by the manufacturers–so that’s how we tested them. As practicably as possible, we tried to filter out the easy swaps–tires, saddles and the like, but some of the parts become integral to the way we experience bikes on the trail, and there’s no way not to factor them.

  • Andrea says:

    First of all sorry for my bad English, I’m Italian! I Think is not fair making reviews or bikes comparisons with very expensive components like Carbon Enve Wheels that only 5% of us ,If not less, at the moment can afford. A carbon wheel set can change the climbing performance of a bike from good to great I think. It’s not fair to compare a bike with carbon wheels with others with aluminum rims, it’s a key component that can change the judgement and the climbing ability of a bike. I ’m sure they will be the future for top level bikes but for the time being they are too expensive.
    Anyway I’m a MTBR fun from a long time and I’m waiting for a reliable and sincere comparison of all bikes at the end of test. As others have mentioned aslo for me climbing is a key point in a bike, enduro bikes are at the end do it all bikes so they must be good in both worlds, up and down, I don’t think all the readers here are enduro reacers! All the best!

  • enduro119 says:

    Hey Thanks again bicycle manufacturers, for making yet again another overpriced five hundred percent marked up carbon frame BICYCLE! Anyone could walk into a Honda or Yamaha dealership drop 8500 and walked away with a motorized bicycle… come on these prices are getting ridiculous An absolutely unacceptable…Are We trying to kill our sport?

    • Mtbr says:

      High prices would only “kill the sport” as you put it, if there were no viable lower cost options available–which there are plenty of. We will be testing the $3400 version of this bike–the Bronson Aluminum–in the coming weeks and seeing how it nets out against this version. And that motorcycle comparison is a tired one. Yes, we know there are MX bikes that cost less than this, but how often do you get to ride it? If it’s everyday, then absolutely it’s more valuable–TO YOU. To me a bike brings adds more value to life than a car or motorcycle…and just about anything other than family and friends, so the value is what you make of it and what it means to you.

  • Ray says:

    It’s very easy to sit back and read a review and pick holes in it. I’d like to see everybody who has complained about the writing style and the use of “certain” words in this review compile a review as well written as this that keeps the reader engaged from start to finish.

    Santa Cruz makes a great product, and this is a phenomenal bike.
    Great review MTBR.

  • Jon says:

    FWIW, I rode a Bronson Alu and 5010 Alu with same R build kit back to back over course of 5 hours on mixed techy climb/descent terrain. I found the Bronson to ultimately perform and climb better to me under these conditions due to much better balance (front to back) than that of 5010 to my surprise. For some reason, I never felt in optimal position to steeply climb or descend on the 5010, whereas the Bronson felt equally good to me in both directions. Both frames were same size, same length stem, tires, Fox suspension with similar sag. Bronson just had 150 travel front to back versus 130 on the 5010. I am still perplexed that the Bronson was the better climber for me, but think that added travel allows for a better tune of the shock, cause it felt livlier and more compliant to me, whereas the 5010 kind of felt dead in the back end to me and too steep/thin up front (fork). My take between the two bikes with exact same build ridden on same trails back to back.

  • Sun says:

    I am really enjoying the reviews. I was only 5 months in to the sport when I bought my Bronson w/ the same equipment as the one tested. But I feel like I made a wise purchase for my local conditions even if it is a bit overkill for my skill level.
    I ride MX and I’m not sure that an MX bike is really more complicated than a top of the line MTB. Look how all the MX rear suspensions are basically identical, yet every MTB has it’s version of a virtual pivot and many other variables to account for. Either way, riding my MTB is so much easier than getting out on my MX bike that it’s worth every penny.
    Would this be the appropriate place to ask what I should be running the sag at front and rear on the Bronson? MX bikes all have a set same number for the sag but bikes don’t appear to be the same. I’ve asked a lot of people and I’ve gotten a wide variety of answers leaving me pretty confused.
    Is this bike specific info or just a general number related to preferences or maybe riding conditions?

    • Ray says:

      Hey Sun,

      Sag for the shock can be set initially according to the guidelines that Santa Cruz offer on their website. if you scroll down to the section where shock setup is and set it according to your weight. Depending on what fork you have on your bike you can get a recommended sag setting from there too. After that, you can mess around with sag settings yourself to find what suits your riding style and where you are most comfortable. Hope that helps, suspension setup is something that all depends on your riding style.


  • mike says:

    where is the $3400 alloy frame review??

  • jim says:

    I test roded both the bronson and the 5010. I ended up with a 5010 with the more beefy bronson talus fork. I also went to the XL instead of the large. For me this ended any climbing struggles. Decreasing the angle with the reduced fork length and extending the front end with the larger bike created a climbing experience that is nothing short of amazing. The more stretched out front end put the downhill speed that the brolo produces under even more control. No one has mentioned the low bottom of this bike. It makes for fantastic control when pushing the rubber to the turn. However, it does necessitate attention what your peddles and/or front cog may come in contact with.

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