Monday, March 17, 2014

Mountain Bike Demo: 2014 Santa Cruz Bronson C

A couple weeks ago I was back at the EPIC Duthie Hill Mountain Bike park in Issaquah, Washington. MAN it is awesome there.

In the spirit of trying something new and getting more experience on a full-suspension bike (like back in May last year on this Specialized Epic Comp 29er), I went to the stellar Kirkland Bicycle to rent a bike for hittin' up my fave track again.

Kirkland had a few regulars for rental bikes, namely the Salsa Horsethief as well as the Giant Trance X3. I was interested in both, though the Salsa has a bit of a different vibe than the usual -- it seemed intriguing but my buddy Ollie steered me towards the Giant or, even better, the Santa Cruz Bronson. Kirkland demos the Bronson... but this ain't no ordinary Bronson... it's the freakin' Bronson C SPX... Carbon Fiber!!!!!! Absurd. Safe to say this bike costs just about as much as an off-lease Mazda 3. I made sure to take good care of it. :) MSRP on this bad-boy is somewhere around the $6000 range, so it is clearly the fanciest bike I've ever been on and was way out of my skill level. That said, it was awesome to try it, and wicked that  the good folks at Kirkland Bikes let me take it out for its "maiden voyage!" Epic.

Damn this thing is hot

Kirkland rocked and apparently they name all their rental bikes after characters in The Big Lebowski?!?! Clearly I'm renting from this place again.

And off we go...

So, how did it fare?

Duthie Hill was amazing as always and I had an incredible time. Last time I was here I was so blown away by the vibe of the hill and this time was no different. That said, I spent much more time on the track and a lot less time freakin' out about how incredible and over-the-top awesome the track was... I just spent all that time ON the track instead :)

So, since I was a little more familiar with the trails, I was able to push myself quite a bit harder. I started off with the "Boot Camp" trail, my old favourite from last time. I found that the handling was truly excellent on this bike -- I've heard from quite a few people now that the "650b" format bike, this 27.5" wheel, is a sweet spot between the standard 26" wheel (what my Gary Fisher Tassajara hardtail is) and the crazy massive 29" wheel (the Specialized one I rode a while back). To be honest, this 27.5" really puts the 29" to shame in my opinion, especially for a track like this and given my height. I found that handling on tight switchbacks on the 29'er was really tough... it was nice to be able to roll over any rock of any size, but I did feel like I lost a lot of control in the handling department. This 27.5" felt pretty similar to my 26" at home, but I definitely did have increased confidence.

The brakes were super sharp given that this bike was brand new. I found them very responsive, though strangely I sortof feel like the braking on the Kona Blast hardtail I rented last time was "cleaner". No idea why that was. Maybe just the ground was slicker today as there was some snow and sleet I had to bike though, and there may have been a bit of rain overnight. I found the brakes on the Bronson incredibly responsive, but I noticed that my wheel was skidding a fair bit. I guess that has more to do with the weather I suppose than the brakes themselves.

As I mentioned, this bike is strongly outside of my level of ability, so I tried to change the air pressure on the front Fox shocks and the switch on the back shock, but wasn't sure what to expect/feel from the difference. The "travel" on the front fork changed a lot with the pressure gauge, but I wasn't sure what vibe to feel when changing the back shock. The seat was also a drop-seat with a trigger on the handlebars, pretty crazy. I tried it out a couple times on the practice jumps but didn't do anything TOO crazy.

The full suspension definitely glued my bike to the track this time. I bet with the weather conditions this time, I would have been sliding a bit more on a hardtail. The bike was glued down and when I got some minor air on a few of the up-and-down slaloms, I was right back on track and the tires hit the ground and kicked in with gusto.

The gear setup was similar to other newish trends, a 1x11. It's funny not to have a front shifter but it seems pretty solid given that you can trigger up and down quickly. I wonder if I could commute on this bike in San Francisco though or if there would just not be enough gears to go around in the city. The Shimano XT triggers were fast and very responsive and a shiny chrome colour. Badass.

Duthie, as always, did not disappoint. I did the Step it Up trail 2 or 3 times as well and really started to get the hang of it. There is one longer uphill section about 2/3 of the way through, but it's definitely worth it for the stellar opening and middle portions with lots of berms, nice flowy parts, and great opportunity for little jumps.

I think I can safely say I loved this bike and really enjoyed the comfort and stability of a full-suspension on this hill and in these weather conditions. I also think I can safely say I like the 27.5" better than the 29". That said, I have no idea if this would be "THE" full-suspension for me (clearly, would definitely get the Aluminum and not the Carbon though if I were to go Santa Cruz one day). I am going to definitely demo and rent a bunch more 27.5" bikes when I can and try them out to get a feel for one brand of bike over another. Generally I loved the design of the Santa Cruz, but I don't know enough or have enough experience riding full-suspension bikes to know if this is the best fit for me and my skill level, or if it just looks awesome and rides like a champ. Hmm... better keep renting bikes and hitting the hills till I figure that out.

All in all, an AMAZING bike with some really great handling on tight corners. And in beautiful fluorescent yellow, it's like it was made for me. :)

No comments: