Enter at Santa Cruz's level.
If the Heckler is Santa Cruz's ideal blend of enduro travel, race-tuned geometry, and price, then the Heckler D Complete Mountain Bike is the all-mountain alloy frame's "entry-level" build. We're dropping "entry-level" into quotations because, the first time we dropped into a sloppy line through a rock gutter, we realized that the level we were entering into is the same as Santa Cruz's already legendary Bronson frame. And with an aggressive geometry and a heritage that encompasses eight-plus generations of constant evolution, the only sacrifices the Heckler makes to its more expensive offshoot are a few hundred grams of frame weight, less bling in the drivetrain, and a few thousand dollars on the price tag. After all, what good is an all-mountain race bike if you can't afford even a month's worth of entry fees?
With the same 67-degree head tube angle, short chainstays, and low bottom bracket of the more expensive carbon Bronson, the Heckler brings Santa Cruz's on-point handling, line-sticking wheelbase, and giddy-up out of corners to the rider who's more interested in rallying lines than nursing the current selection off of the rotating seasonal menu of flavored lattes at chain coffee shops. While the latest generation of showroom bikes are leaning against a faux-mahogany railing as their owners wait for the corporate barista to microwave a scone, the Heckler's six-inches of travel will be railing berms on the ragged edge. This bike's not meant to be indoors; it's meant to be in danger, and its resilient aluminum frame will bounce back from mishap when the edge gets a little too ragged for carbon.
Santa Cruz may be renowned for its carbon enduro sleds now, but we grew up enjoying Santa Cruz's expertise in aluminum, and the Heckler proves that the California-based manufacturer hasn't been idle on the alloy front. The light, yet strong, aluminum front and rear triangles are shaped and butted with Santa Cruz's hydroforming process to place more material where it's needed and eliminate material where it isn't. This ensures strength and stiffness for confident descending and a generally rock-solid platform that takes advantage of the tapered head tube, oversized 12x142mm rear axle, and asymmetric stays to throw power into sprints and clean steep climbs.
As with its predecessor, the 2016 Heckler's pivot location is slightly above and forward of the chainrings, an orientation that nets responds crisply while seated and plushes-out on the descent. While Santa Cruz's Virtual Pivot Point suspension has traditionally enjoyed fewer watts lost to compression while mashing out of the saddle, the latest Heckler takes advantage of new shock technology to mitigate that drawback. Toward that end, Santa Cruz equips the Heckler D build with the same RockShox Monarch Plus shock on the more expensive Heckler R build, which takes advantage of the new Solo Air spring rate for the feel of a coil shock but the weight and adjustability of an air shock.
In fact, the only big differences between the R and this here D build kits are the brakes — SRAM DB1 with Avid rotors instead of Shimano Deore and RT66 rotors — and different Shimano models at the rear derailleur and shifters. While obviously not equal to the tech sheet of a World Cup machine, the Heckler D starts an aspiring racer with the most important part: the proven pedaling platform. What you make of it afterward is up to you.