Review: Santa Cruz Bronson

-by Utah

Running a little late with this, but I wanted to recap my experience with the Bronson that I borrowed from @jdog of Halter’s Cycles.

Jay was nice enough to lend me the shop’s new 2019 Bronson R+ / Carbon C version for my trip to Kingdom Trails. I was dying to try it out at Burke, but I also wanted to see how it felt on the regular trails at Kingdom. I have been looking around for something that I can replace my 2013 Cannondale trigger 29er with…..Its now got in the area of 8000 miles on it and while I still love it and would never think about selling it, I’m really itching to get something new. 

This particular demo Bronson was the carbon framed R+ model…Which is the entry level carbon version. Has the carbon frame, Rockshox yari fork, rockshox super deluxe rear shock, sram wheels, sram nx drivetrain.. So basically outside of the nice carbon frame, the rest of the parts were nothing fancy. Of note is the wheels/tires…this is the R+, so it came with 35mm wide wtb rims and 27.5×2.6 minions. It’s not exactly the lightest model…website says 35.5lbs with no pedals….picking up my scalpel and this bike, ya I believe it. Also of note, I’m 5’9 have a 30″ inseam and this bike was a large…to me it fit perfect. I guess it’s pretty looking? I don’t know, I like how it looks, but looks are meaningless nonsense to me….

So of course, to start out with this bike…we headed out and straight up to the top of Moose Alley. So right out of the gate, 40min climb…parts of which are somewhat technical and steep. This is where I generally find these big travel, slack bikes annoying. I mean I’m not going to say a 36-37lb bike was great uphill, but I will say it was light years better than I expected. At no time was I sawing back and forth with the bar trying to keep the bike pointed in 1 direction on the steeper stuff. On a couple of the wet/steep rooted sections, I noticed that the traction this bike has was pretty ridiculous. So long as you didn’t try pushing it on the uphills, it was perfectly fine. This is something that is a prerequisite to me buying another bike….while I really don’t care how fast my bigger travel, no xc bike goes uphill…I ride 80% of the time at wildcat, so it HAS to be able to get rocky, technical, loose climbs. 

Ok, the BS out of the way, now for the fun part, moose alley. On this day, moose was not great. Had rained the night before so this morning it was rather slick…..I started out in front with @graveyardman67 following me…this usually means, you better be moving or you will be run over. Its a great way to ease into a bike you have never ridden. The bars a wider and the position is different from my trigger, so i needed to make some adjustments…Right off the bat, the fork was not right…very harsh, rebound was too slow and I was struggling to keep the front end planted. At one point I stopped and dropped the pressure in the fork and tires, which helped, but in rough turns, I was having a tough time…….conversely, any open/fast downhill, this bike just ate up. Super stable magic carpet like ride. I also quickly noticed how much easier this bike was to jump then my trigger. Just seem to sail effortlessly….

By the end of moose I liked most of the bike, but stopped again to play with the fork. Again removed some air and adjusted the rebound. From there we went over to Farm junk/skydive…..Which as far smoother downhills that are nicely bermed and has excellent flow. @muddybike started following me and before long she was yelling at me that I was going too slow in the turns. So I quickly made a few adjustments to how I was standing and began to realize….wow, you can REALLY lean this thing over. It just sort of clicked and I found I could carry way more speed thru the turns. This combined with the fact that KT takes a little getting used to coming from riding northern NJ trails. 

From there we hit up Tody’s Tour….which is the one with the short climb in it…..Bike felt amazing on this trail…the rear suspension was one of the things I noticed that was significantly better than my trigger. Very planted and the responds so well to being pumped thru the banked turns. I really drilled it on this run, later noticed that I was only 1 sec off my best time with my trigger….Which I didn’t need strava to tell me…..Just awesome. The uphill portion of the trail was what kills this set up….if you need to pedal hard and fast uphill, forget it, your not going anywhere. This of course is a product of the wheels on this bike…the RIMS are 570grms…So that means the rims alone are almost as heavy as my Podium wheelset I run on my Scalpel. That plus 2.6 minions, etc…it does not respond quickly to pedaling. 

The other trail where i wanted to test this bike was on a trail called Riverwood IIRC….it’s a flat, winding section that has some bermed turns…but mostly I wanted to see how it felt to sit on the bike and actually pedal and turn it. Another thing that I find the modern geometry lacks….Great for standing and pumping thru banked turns downhill, but what about just pedaling thru single track. While its not an XC bike, it did ok. I was expecting it to be awful at this and it really was not bad at all. You do sit rather upright as would be expected, so your not in a great pedaling position…but with a size large the bar was not in my lap and I could sit and pedal without issue. 

From there I spent a lot of time with the bike just doing what we do at Kingdom…we basically ride the place all day in the same manner you would do an Enduro race….Pedal up and over to whichever of the fun downhills at a conversational pace, smash downhills, rinse, repeat. In all I pedaled it 33 miles that day, 4.5 hours with about 3500′ of climbing. For a bike weighing over 35lbs, with giant tires, I was still having fun with it after 4.5 hours and couldn’t wait for the next downhill. 

The following day I rode the Mach 429 trail in the morning…(more on that in another review) but then took the Bronson to Burke Mountain…..now THIS is where this bike was just a BLAST. The first run…I hit a few of the huge berms, pumped thru from left to right, man this bike was like built for this place. I only ride on jumps like once a year and it takes me some time to get the feel for it…Every year I say that I want to practice this and get better at it, but I never do. So after a few runs on jester I was hitting most of the table tops, then @BrianGT3 showed up and I followed him over that wooden rainbow bridge jump thing…In the grand scheme of jumps, these are all small, but what is significant is that it was by far the most comfortable, most fun I have had at this park on any bike. It’s really well balanced, really stable. I did 11 or 12 runs and was really bummed to have to call it a day. Even after all that, I decided to ride the bike back to the house. 

I took it out once again on day 4 in the afternoon…this was after a 3 hour ride in the morning on my scalpel. Rolled out of the house to try Moose Alley again…again did the 40min pedal up and I again was impressed by how well something this heavy climbed…albeit slowly. Moose Alley was about the only spot in KT where I could not get this fork to work properly. Its considerably rougher than the rest of KT and this fork just felt harsh and the front end not well planted. I was also pretty tired at this point, but that was my one hang up with this bike….Take this fork and throw it somewhere. But this is the lowest end fork, so it’s to be expected when you are accustomed to riding something as perfect as a 140 lefty supermax. Most other forks I have ridden do not compare. 

So in 3 days I managed to put almost 70 miles on the bike, about 6-7 hours and and shit ton of climbing and descending. I had 4 bikes at my disposal to use at KT, I rode this one the most. 

Likes:
It turns like a an f1 car…even with boat anchor wheels and i could lean it over enough to scare myself a few times
I suck at jumping bikes and in my own mind I felt/looked like @Ryan.P by the end of the day at burke. 
It climbs well and has tremendous rear traction

Dislikes:
Most of the complaints I had with this bike were more about how it was equipped….This was a low end model so the fork IMO, was meh. Perfectly fine on smooth surfaces, but anything square, choppy turns, I could not get it to feel right. Again, I have a supermax and like the finer things in life, so I would opt for a fox36, or whatever high end rockshox they make now. Better yet, put my supermax on it. 
A nice set of wheels would do wonders for this bike…I might also opt for a some tires with a little less volume myself. 
The rear shock worked fine, my only complaint was that it was a low end version and no uphill or downhill setting…so it was always in the middle….Worked ok for everything, but a climb and descend mode would be much better. 

Really, my biggest complaint is that @jdog needs to let me try his own personal fancy version of this bike.

Overall… 6-7 hours on a 35+lb bike, roughly 7000′ of climbing and I was really bummed to give it back….IMO, it’s pretty livable all around….I loved it!