Vital MTB gives the Bronson 5 STARS!!!!!

March 22 — 2013

Reviewed by Evan Turpen // Photos by Gary Perkin

When I first heard about the Santa Cruz Bronson I was skeptical. I got the impression that Santa Cruz just slapped 650B (~27.5-inch) wheels on to a Blur TRc-esque frame and tweaked the geometry and suspension slightly to get more travel and fit the new wheels. After riding the bike and hearing the development process, however, I am happy to report that my skepticism was unfounded. The Bronson is an entirely new bike from the ground up and I have to say that Santa Cruz has done a great job.

Santa Cruz Bronson Setup

I was invited to Santa Cruz new headquarters to throw a leg over the new bike. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Will Ockleton (Santa Cruz Marketing Manager) and Santa Cruz's dynamic-demo-duo of Ariel and Abby. Since I was the first to arrive, there was adequate time to select and properly set up a Bronson for myself.

Working on the Santa Cruz Bronson in the Shop
Working on the Santa Cruz Bronson in the Shop

Abby walking me through the details of the Bronson.

At 5-feet 10-inches tall I can ride a medium or a large according to the Santa Cruz sizing chart. I decided upon a size large, "Tennis Yellow" Bronson set up with a shorter-than-stock 50mm stem, as I prefer longer, more stable bikes combined with shorter stems. We set sag to right around 25-percent at the rear shock and then added fork pressure to balance the bike, front to back. I set the rebound and compression to my personal preferences and was ready to go. Once the rest of the journalists and riders were set up on their bikes, the group headed out for a ride, pedaling right out the door of the new headquarters in sunny Santa Cruz, California.

Our Santa Cruz Bronson component highlights as tested with the Santa Cruz XX1 am 27 ENVE Build Kit:

- Fox Float CTD Boost Valve with Trail Adjust and Kashima rear shock

- Float 150 FIT CTD Trail Adjust fork

- SRAM XX1 Drivetrain with 34t chainring

- ethirteen XCX chainguide

- Easton Carbon Haven handlebar, 711mm width

- Rock Shox Reverb seatpost

- ENVE Composites AM rims laced to DT 240S hubs with DT 14/15 spokes, alloy nipples

- Maxxis High Roller 2 2.3-inch Tubeless Ready EXO tires

- Claimed tested weight: 26.21-pounds

- Price as tested, $10,624 (Bronson full bike prices start at $4,150)

- You can personalize your Santa Cruz Bronson with the Bike Builder on the Santa Cruz website.

Bronson in the shop
Bronson in the shop

Setup Notes

The stock Fox Float 150 fork can be raised to 160mm travel by changing the "Shuttle Bumper" in the air spring internally. You don't have to buy another fork which is nice. Also, the Fox Float CTD rear shock tune is specific to the Bronson. They use a 7.875 x 2.25-inch stroke with a light rebound tune, medium velocity tune, 200 PSI in the Boost Valve, and a 0.6 cubic inch air volume reducer in the LV (Large Volume) air sleeve. This tune is used across the board on all the different size Bronson frames and allows for a very easy suspension setup. The rule is just body weight minus 10-pounds in air pressure in the rear shock. I'm 170lbs and the recommended 160psi was spot on for me (a rarity for their setup charts). If you are a rider over 240lbs this rule changes, so check with Santa Cruz and Fox about set up configurations.

Climbing and Pedaling the Bronson

The initial climb up to the trail network was first a paved road and bike path followed by singletrack of varying steepness and technical difficulty. On the road with the Fox Float CTD rear shock set to the softest "Descend" position, a very slight amount of movement (2-3mm) at the shock was detectable while pedaling. This movement was easily cancelled out by flipping the CTD lever to "Climb" mode.
Once the pavement turned to dirt and roots and rocks replaced the paved bike path, I set the shock to the softest "Descend" position to see how well the bike climbed. Relying solely on VPP's anti-squat characteristics and the shock tune, even in the softest CTD setting, the bike pedaled efficiently up anything I encountered. The larger wheels and revised geometry helped maintain traction on the climbs, over roots and rocks and slippery terrain. While pedaling through bumps I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of noticeable pedal feedback.

A collage of Santa Cruz Vans, Bronsons on the shop wall, and mountain bikers sitting together
A collage of Santa Cruz Vans, Bronsons on the shop wall, and mountain bikers sitting together

The Bronson seems to have hit the nail on the head as far as pedaling characteristics. I spent the rest of the ride in the "Descend" position and never once felt the need to touch the lever. The 13.5-inch (measured) bottom bracket height required a slight amount of conscious effort to avoid pedal strikes over roots and rocks, but in no way seemed too low.
When the climbs got especially steep, the 73-degree seat tube angle combined with the 17.3-inch chainstay length helped maintain proper weight bias while pedaling seated. The front end only wandered slightly on steep, seated climbs when the fork encountered a sizable bump. Overall, the Bronson handled steep climbs well whether seated or standing.

Pointing the Bronson Downhill

Once we arrived at the top and dropped in to our first trail of many it became very obvious what the Bronson's intended purpose's meant to be ridden hard and fast! Cornering traction was impressive on the stock 2.3-inch Maxxis High Roller II tires, despite some rather dry trail conditions. The bike inspires confidence in the corners and rewards riders with an aggressive, more-forward riding style.
Transitioning from corner to corner was very good. The Bronson has no hiccups in its handling while changing lines last minute. It's a very playful yet stable bike. For me, there was no real learning curve with the Bronson and its 27.5-inch wheels. The speeds the bike could handle felt much higher than my comparably-traveled 26-inch wheeled bike, and the harder you push this bike, the better it works, which is a great feeling.

Josh Bryceland riding the 2013 Santa Cruz Bronson
Josh Bryceland riding the 2013 Santa Cruz Bronson

Josh Bryceland and the Santa Cruz Syndicate were on the ride with us. Here's Miami mowing down one of the rocky pieces of trail.

The Bronson is predictably balanced coming off jumps and very controlled upon landing. It likes spending time in the air. Riders who connect the smoothest bits of trail by launching over the rough ones will really enjoy this bike. The balance, front to back, in the suspension is some of the best I've felt on a trail bike. I used all 150mm of travel, front and rear, in multiple big-hitting situations (according to the travel indicator o-rings) yet never noticed it bottom-out. The suspension of the Bronson has a very controlled feeling throughout the entire stroke. According to Josh Kissner, Santa Cruz Bicycles Product Manager, this was a big focus in the development of this bike. The leverage ratio, shock tune, and air spring characteristics all work together to achieve balance and predictability in the suspension. It still has that distinct "Santa Cruz feel," only much more refined.

When the trails got steep and rough, the Bronson maintained its composure well. Braking is predictable and doesn't require the rider to adjust their riding style to compensate. The suspension does a great job of absorbing bumps big and small. Carrying speed through the rough is exceptional for a trail bike too, which is most likely a combination of everything (geometry, suspension design, shock tuning, and wheel size). Frame stiffness is also very good with no noticeable flex.

Rolling Green landscape and a mountain biker
Rolling Green landscape and a mountain biker

Bronson Frame Details

Cable routing is well thought out and fully external with the option of a very clean internal stealth dropper post routing. I personally prefer external cable routing for its ease of maintenance and swapping out a cable or hose if one should break. The Bronson also keeps the cables out of harm's way by routing them on the top side of the down tube and underside of the top tube.

Nice touches on the bike are the low-slung top tube, integrated chainstay and down tube protectors, ISCG05 chain guide mount, generous shock clearance for ease of access, clean 142x12mm thru-axle, and mounts for two water bottle cages. Overall the Bronson is a very clean and refined Santa Cruz.

Save any long term durability issues (which aren't common among Santa Cruz frames), I can see it holding up for several years of abuse.

The 2013 Santa Cruz Bronson
The 2013 Santa Cruz Bronson

What's The Bottom Line?

Whether you're racing competitively or just riding and having fun, the Bronson is an excellent bike that inspires you to push the limits. It's definitely a bike I wouldn't mind owning because of how much fun it is to ride! It truly is the Santa Cruz bike that was "20 years in the making," and represents decades of refinement and the best advancements in their craft since the company's beginning on Bronson Street.

As for the star rating, I'm going to have to go ahead and give it 5 stars, especially since my personal bike (the Specialized Stumpjumper EVO) just recently got a 5 star rating from the Vital MTB Test Sessions. I, without a doubt, like the Bronson more. It's encouraging to see progress like this from year to year.