Twice as nice.
If you're like us, then you've seen a lot of Santa Cruz's Bronson since its release just a couple of model years ago — but mostly on World Cup podiums and highlight reels. More common in our own backyard — and our own stables — is the Heckler R Complete Mountain Bike. It includes the same geometry and big travel as the Bronson but without the exotic materials, Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension, and flashy, one-by drivetrain builds.
The result is a more affordable enduro sled that rails lines and smashes trail furniture as nice as a bike twice its price. For 2016, Santa Cruz has dropped the point of entry even further, maintaining the focus on the Heckler's long, low geometry while tweaking the build kit slightly in order to make sure that all-mountain doesn't translate to all-exclusive.
The newest Heckler retains the same 67-degree head tube angle, short chainstays, and a low bottom bracket of the more expensive carbon Bronson, bringing Santa Cruz's on-point handling and line-sticking wheelbase to the Heckler's hydroformed aluminum platform. It may not save weight, but it definitely saves pennies, and when you're testing the Heckler's six-inches of travel on the ragged edge, you may even be grateful for aluminum's greater survivability in the event a user error sees your bike meeting the business end of a rock garden or an innocent, bystanding tree.
Santa Cruz may be renowned for its carbon enduro bikes 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 responsive pedaling when seated and a plush feel when descending. Santa Cruz's Virtual Pivot Point suspension has traditionally enjoyed one advantage over its single-pivot model: when sprinting out of the saddle, single-pivot suspensions tended to compress under rider weight and swallow watts. The Heckler takes advantage of new shock technology to mitigate that drawback, and Santa Cruz has opted to replace the previous FOX Float CTD shock with a RockShox Monarch Plus for 2016. While we weren't flies on the wall for the decision to make the switch, we suspect it may have something to do with the new Monarch's Solo Air spring rate, which feels like a coil shock but without the weight penalty and lack of on-the-fly adjustability.
The rest of the Heckler R's build kit also received some minor tweaks, including a move to a full Shimano drivetrain and brakes, replacing SRAM cranks and front derailleur and SRAM's Avid brakes, respectively. The fork has also been changed, replacing RockShox's Pike with a Sektor Gold RL, which may be noticeable to the pros on the World Cup leaderboard; however, for the aspiring racer, this change won't affect much more than wallet weight. The Shimano SLX rear derailleur is one inclusion we're happy to see unchanged, as it includes the Shadow+ clutch to eliminate chain slap so your legs and tires are doing all the talking.