The Santa Cruz Bullit is back! Hot on the heels of the Heckler MX is their heaviest hitting e-bike with 170mm travel, Shimano EP8 motor and mullet wheels.
We all know the expression ‘you wait ages for a bus and then two turn up at once’. Where everyone piles on the bus in front, but actually it’s the second bus that’s got loads of free seats and ends up overtaking the first bus to get you home quicker. Well, that. The new Santa Cruz Bullit is the e-bike Santa Cruz should have released to kick off its entry into the motor-assisted market. Unlike the launch version of the Santa Cruz Heckler, this is no shrinking violet, with an up-to-date motor, bigger battery, bullish geometry and a mixed wheel combo that gives you the best of both worlds.
Santa Cruz Bullit
- Big-hitting e-bike with 170mm of travel and Shimano EP8 motor
- Mullet ‘MX’ wheels to blend stability with agility
- Carbon CC frame on all bikes in the range means prices start at £6,899
- Four sizes on offer from Medium to XXL
As a former Bullit owner two-times over, resurrecting the name brings back many great memories for me personally. Too many skinnies and hucks to flat than I can count, along with travels to places far and wide with a bike that felt like it could do anything. And while I can see some people getting wound up that this iconic name has been recycled for an e-bike, I actually think it’s the perfect partnership. This, for me, is modern freeride. Pedal up, blast down, hit everything in-between. Downhill tracks, bike parks, alpine singletrack: the Bullit is game for anything.
Money no object
But before I end up on a long and meandering trip down memory lane, let’s take a closer look at the brand new Bullit. Let’s get the uncomfortable part out of the way first; the price. This is a posh e-bike. The model I’m riding here costs £10,449 with Reserve carbon wheels, Fox 38 Factory fork and SRAM X01 drivetrain, but even the ‘entry-level’ R model is £6,899 and only comes with the lower powered E7000 motor. Contrast that with the recently released Vitus E-Sommet VRX with EP8, 630Wh battery and similar travel and attitude for £5,199, and you’re definitely paying a premium for the Santa Cruz name and everything else that comes with it.
If we compare the Bullit with the new Heckler MX though, it’s arguably slightly better value. For £500 more than the top of the range Heckler, the Bullit gets the bigger capacity battery and classy Fox 38 Factory RC2 fork.
Also in the range is the Bullit CC XT with Fox 38 Float Performance Elite fork, Shimano XT drivetrain, EP8 motor and Race Face ARC wheels for £8,699, and the Bullit CC S with Fox 38 Float Performance fork, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, EP8 motor and Race Face Arc rims for £8,199.
Part of the reason for the Bullit’s high pricing is that all the range gets the same CC carbon frame – there’s no heavier/cheaper C carbon option. Whether that’s something that will be introduced further down the line, we’re not sure, but as it stands, exclusively building with the stronger fibres has certainly helped keep the overall bike weight down. Considering this has a burly spec and Double Down casing tyres, our test bike weighed an impressive 21.48kg, just over a kilo heavier than the Heckler we rode earlier in the year. And remember that bike had a smaller battery, smaller wheels and less travel.
Shimano EP8: More power, more range
Another element of the weight saving equation is the new Shimano EP8 motor. It’s around 300g lighter than the old E8000 it replaces, as well as being much smaller in volume, giving the engineers more room to work with and increasing the ground clearance. Shimano has also boosted the power and torque, recalibrated the software and reduced the internal friction to help efficiency. In every aspect the new motor brings a significant improvement over its predecessor, even if it doesn’t produce quite as much grunt as its main rival – the Bosch Performance Line CX. One of the main criticisms of the EP8 so far is that it rattles loudly when coasting. While other EP8-equipped bikes we’ve ridden have exhibited this trait, the Bullit was much quieter on rough descents. Now this could be down to the Santa Cruz having higher anti-squat numbers, but the fact that it was actually noisier on the climbs leads us to think that the internals are tighter on this unit and it’s just a variation between motors.
Housed inside the down tube is Shimano’s larger capacity E8036 battery. Boasting 630Wh, you can effectively go 26 per cent further on a charge, even if the soft Maxx Grip compound Maxxis Assegai front tyre will chip into that range. Santa Cruz has done a great job with the battery installation too, bolting the rubberised cover to the battery itself and adding a hole at the top through which you poke a 4mm allen key to release the latch. It’s clean, simple and keyless with nothing to drop off or lose.
If distance is more important than sticking to off-camber high lines or nailing greasy roots, it’s pretty simple to swap that front tyre for a harder Maxx Terra compound. In our experience, it should increase your range by about 25 per cent.
Born to be mullet
Unlike the Heckler MX, which has had its travel neutered in the transformation to mixed wheels, the Bullit is a dedicated mullet bike. Which means it hasn’t had to make compromises in the BB height, seat angle or travel to work with the smaller rear wheel. As such the Bullit pushes the boat out with 170mm of travel front and rear. At least that’s what’s claimed, but we only measured the rear travel at 160mm. Not that it makes a huge difference, as the Bullit never feels low calibre. The lower link VPP design is neatly packaged around the motor, with a large enough seat tube tunnel and linkage progression to fit a coil shock – Santa Cruz actually offers the Super Deluxe coil shock as a no-cost option. Side-by-side with the Heckler, the Bullit looks better proportioned, too. There are subtle variations around the motor anchor points and the shock tunnel that, along with the burlier fork, give it less of a pronounced middle-age paunch.
This being a Santa Cruz you get comprehensive back-up, in the form of a lifetime warranty, fully serviceable bearings with lifetime replacement and a grease port in the lower link. Unlike the Heckler, you also get a bearing in the rear shock eyelet to improve sensitivity, although there’s no flip chip to change the geo, and the chainstay lengths are not size-specific like most of Santa Cruz’s analogue bikes.
While we’re on the subject of geometry, our size large Santa Cruz Bullit has a 63.5º head angle, 472mm reach, 450mm chainstays and 342mm BB height. The size medium Bullit gets a 450mm reach, the XL is 495mm while the XXL tops out at 515mm. And if you want to size up, the option’s there, because the seat tube lengths are seriously short and the standover impressively low. Kudos too, to Santa Cruz for speccing the same shock across all four models, which means that no matter what spec you get, you know the rear suspension will perform the same.
How it rides
The first point to make about the Purple Punisher is that it feels like a big unit from the moment you sit on it. The reach is decently long, even with that steep 77º effective seat angle. Coupled with the wide 800mm handlebars (with hidden, internal wiring) and stout 38mm fork it exudes purposeful confidence. That steep seat angle and fairly long chainstays make it a decent technical climbing tool, even with the slack head angle. What limits its prowess in these situations is the lack of overrun when you stop pedalling the EP8 motor, and the lower volume 2.4in rear tyre. If Santa Cruz had gone for a 2.5in or 2.6in, the extra footprint would have given better traction in loose or slippery conditions. Having said that, this bike is more about the downs than the ups, so the smaller tyre turns in more readily and holds up better under load. The compromise is a sensible one, and the Santa Cruz Bullit is certainly no slouch winching up punchy rises or technical singletrack. Despite its bulk it covers ground pretty well, too. Yes, that sticky tyre adds rolling resistance, but the low-friction motor and big wheel up front means you don’t waste precious energy getting to the good stuff.
Which brings us neatly to the descents. And here the Santa Cruz Bullit manages to play the wrecking ball across chunky, cratered sections, yet has the dexterity of a sculptor’s chisel when reaching for a high line, jinking through a quick change of direction or nibbling over a janky rock feature. Other big travel e-bikes can feel unwieldy and cumbersome in these tighter, more dynamic scenarios – bikes like the Specialized Turbo Kenevo for example – but the Bullit always seems to be at your heel, responsive to your commands and sharp enough to find a route out of trouble. In that sense, the MX wheel set-up is a triumph, helping the bike turn-in with minimal effort, yet remaining calm and stable once leant over.
There’s a deep layering of support to the suspension, so you can load it up through turns or push into compressions to skim across roots. And an unflinching solidity when you land a big jump, to the point that it feels like the Bullit could take punch after punch and still get up swinging. My only complaint is that I ended up fully open on compression damping with the RC2 Fox 38 fork (and RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock), and yet still the palms of my hands felt sore after nearly every run.
I didn’t miss the Heckler when I gave it back, but I’ll definitely pine for the Santa Cruz Bullit when it’s gone. It’s the freeride bike reimagined; a good times dispenser for a new decade. A bike I’d love to stick in the back of the van and drive to the Alps when the ski lifts shut, throw down Pleney and roost down Morgins. I’d love to take it to the Fort William World Cup track and pedal up to the start hut for a run down. I’d like to hit all the Welsh bike parks without touching an uplift vehicle. All these things sound like a heck of a lot of fun, and well within the capabilities of the new Bullit.