For the longest time, the Santa Cruz Bronson has been the quintessential 150mm travel trail bike in the Santa Cruz line, the new Bronson offers mullet
Off all the tweaks to the Santa Cruz Bronson over the years, the most notable was the switch to a shorter rear end in 2016 followed by the introduction of the VPP lower link driven shock layout in 2018. And the Bronson’s metamorphosis continues, the latest round of revisions aiming to bring it up to speed with the best mountain bikes transforming it into a mixed wheel size mullet. One thing remains unchanged however, it’s still a 150mm travel ripper.
Santa Cruz Bronson review
In terms of geometry, the current Bronson is unrecognisable from the original. The 473mm reach on the size L the best part of 50mm longer than the V1 design. And it’s a similar story with the 64.3° head angle, it’s almost three degrees slacker, while the seat tube has had 50mm lopped off, making it much easier to fit a longer dropper post or swap between the five available frame sizes. New for 2022 are proportional chainstay lengths that shrink from 443mm on the XL to 432mm on the XS and help maintain a balanced weight distribution across the entire size range.
And while a lot has changed there are some constants. The chainstay length on the Bronson has never been crazy short and the BB isn’t super-low; 340mm on the current bike, and that’s in the low geometry position. Yes, the Bronson still has a flip-chip in the lower link. It’s been updated though, where two small wings on the retaining nut mean you won’t break out in a panic sweat when it comes time to switch the geometry.
In fact, you’ll only need to do it once, as you’ll slam the Bronson into the low setting and never give it a second thought.
With half of the RockShox Super Deluxe shock hidden inside the carbon frame, the sag gradients on the shock body are a godsend as you’d struggle to get a tape measure inside the shock tunnel to measure sag accurately. On our initial shakedown rides we ran the Bronson at 25%, 27.5% and 30% sag before setting on the firmest set-up as it seemed to give the bike a tighter, more stable suspension response. It also made the Bronson climb and pedal more efficiently – two traits we feel are essential on an out-and-out trail bike – without compromising its ability to take the hits. The down side? Or for some it will be considered a plus, you’ll have to send it super-deep to achieve full travel. So if you’re not regularly going big, simply removing a volume spacer from the shock would make it easier to eke out the full 150mm travel.
Guide pressures and rebound settings on the Fox 36 Factory fork give a good ballpark set-up but we ended up going with a slightly softer set-up to help offset the taller front end that’s exacerbated by the 35mm rise handlebar. It’s not a compromise though, as the independent high and low-speed compression adjusters on the Grip2 damper make it easy to dial in the correct level of support when running more sag.
If mention of a 35mm rise bar raises an eyebrow, it’s nothing compared to how it raises the height of the front end. With the Burgtec stem slammed on the Cane Creek headset we were able to achieve a balanced ride, but still felt that the front end could have gone lower still. At the very least, fitting a regular 20mm rise bar would give a much greater degree of adjustment. A lower front end would also shift the weight distribution of the Bronson, which was definitely a factor in the suspension set-up we gravitated towards.
And the bar height wasn’t the only issue up front. With a super-sticky Minion MaxxGrip tyre it feels like you’re riding around with the brakes constantly rubbing, and swapping it for a mid-compound MaxxTerra option instantly injected the pace we’ve come to know and love from most Santa Cruz trail bikes.
With the niggles cleared up, let’s talk about the rest of the specification. SRAM’s wireless shifting is a luxury not a necessity, but like most creature comforts, once you’ve got used to having AXS it’s hard to go back. The GX shifter is paired, literally, with an X01 AXS derailleur and shifting is rapid, precise and effortless. And while it’s easy to moan about having to charge the battery, gunked up gear cables are a thing of the past. It’s a similar story with the hydraulic RockShox Reverb post – bleeding it is a faff, but the light lever action and no sticky cables pays back in spades.
Santa Cruz’s trail bikes are renowned for their ruthless efficiency. But the Bronson has a slightly different flavour, prioritising improved tracking and traction over pedalling prowess. Don’t take that as a criticism though, the Bronson still reacts instantly to hard pedalling efforts, but combine the more sit-up-and-beg riding position with the increased sensitivity of the rear suspension and the bike has a more laid back approach to trail riding, favouring rougher, rowdy trails. Get the set-up right and it’s not overly soft though, so it still pumps and reacts to rider inputs as the trail flies by effortlessly beneath the carbon Reserve wheels.
It’s interesting that Santa Cruz has not used the smaller rear wheel on the Bronson to generate crazy short chainstays, and the bike feels all the more balanced for it. Yes you could argue that you may as well go full 29in if the rear end isn’t any shorter, but the introduction of the proportional stays really helps centre the rider on the bike. Sure, it makes the ride of the Bronson a little vanilla compared to more extreme geometries, but the reason why vanilla is so popular is that it blends well with many other flavours and ultimately that’s what makes the Bronson a really versatile bike.
With a 29in wheel leading the charge and the lower link driven VPP suspension, the V4 Bronson is a step change from its predecessor. The biggest difference though, is actually the least obvious – the rear suspension trading some pedalling efficiency for improved sensitivity. This means set-up is more critical than before, but get it right and the Bronson has pace and plushness in equal measure. The build kit has shortcomings though, the MaxxGrip front tyre saps energy and the 35mm rise bar jacks the front end up. So while it may be what the cool kids want, not many kids have over £8k to drop on a bike.