Monday, May 16, 2016

Santa Cruz Bronson v2 First Ride and Review - CA Enduro Series Round 2 Recap

The fresh Bronson build
I finally got the new Bronson all built up and rolling on Tuesday last week. Aside from playing around a little at the Folsom Grom MTB Race and discovering the rear tire could hit the dropper cable, "Pinky," as I now call her wouldn't see real trail time until Saturday's enduro race in Reno.  So I would roll out on the first transfer with some educated guesses for suspension setup and tire pressure, only to begin the days' long list of positive impressions this bike would reveal.

Impression 1 - Fit

I spent some time on the first generation Bronson and I never felt comfortable on it.  For the same frame size and fork length, I just felt perched on top and I didn't like it.  The v2 on the other hand is a longer wheel base and longer top tube, so I felt like I was sitting into the frame more and was instantly comfortable, even with a short 40mm stem.

Impression 2 - Pedaling

As we rolled out from the venue and started climbing up to our first timed stage, I was amazed at how well this thing went uphill.  The short rear end was responding to pedal pressure very efficiently, even with the Fox Float EVOC rear shock fully open.  Changing the shock platform to trail mode made the rear even more stiff and responsive to acceleration, and "climb" mode felt like hardtail mode.  When the climbing got steep and/or the enduro transfer shenanigans began (tire rubbing, brake checking, pushing each other off balance, etc.) I had no problems with balance or front wheel wandering.  Only a tight uphill switchback with rocks would cause a dab later in the day, but that would have been tough on any bike.

Impression 3 - Technical DH - Just let go bro!

Our first timed stage was the most technical, with numerous sections of all rock and no trail.  I didn't know the trail, so it was my cajones holding me back.  The bike was BEGGING me to just let go and sit back, but I just kept being a timid, stiff goober and making the rocks way more chunky than they needed to be.  Even still, the bike soaked up everything I hit square and at odd angles and I never felt out of control or like I needed to correct any input from the suspension.
Dropping in on stage 5 of the Battle Born Enduro - Photo: Called to Creation

Rolling over the "waterfall" on stage 5

With more speed, it would have just floated over all of that with ease.  Which I learned later in the day coming down a few of those sections again.

Impression 4 - Fun factor at speed

I finally opened it up later on down that first stage and then the whole next stage, which was a fast one, I really noticed the air cushion that floats you down the trail.  The bike doesn't wallow in slow speed compressions and with a little press in from your feet, you can pop right out and line up for the next turn.  Small bumps aren't noticeable at all, it just eats them up.  The "ramp up" of the suspension makes it seem bottomless even under a heavy rider.  Our second stage of the day was all speed and flow, following the hill contour with a tail wind.  So I had the post up a lot, pedaling, pressing in and popping out of the banked turns, and trying not to fly off the loose off cambers that were blinded by desert shrubbery.  I discovered that I need to reassess my definition of "fast" when railing this bike, because it can go faster and is more stable than any bike I have ever ridden, while still being maneuverable.

Impression 5 - Long climber

The transfer climb up to our third stage was a four mile, 1200ft vert climb.  I got into a groove and just kept chugging at a nice zone 3 pace, never uncomfortable, and the big enduro bike never held me up at all.  I never felt the weight of it or the slack angles and got to the top in a little over 30 minutes, as fast as I ever have.  Why would I bring this up? Because it points to the Bronson's ability to be an all day go anywhere bike.
At the top of the long climb, with Reno down below

Impression 6 - Balanced and Tough

The next stage was a long one, and I hit a sharp rock near the top and heard some air pissing out of the front tire rotationally.  It finally sealed up after loosing about half its pressure and I kept charging.  I leaned back a little more over few bits of rough trail on this stage to protect the front tire, and it transferred the weight and traction wonderfully as I used the rear end to steer a bit more than normal (maybe this should be where I am all the time!).  But as the trail weaved down a canyon like a bobsled run, the turning forces on the front tire leaked out more and more air until there wasn't much left.  I could just push down on the bars and hit the rim on the ground, but if I just sat back it would ride on the few psi within the sidewalls.  With a few turns to go, I got off balance in a deep channel of trail approaching a turn and the flat front tire folded over trying to get traction, sending me into the bushes.  I ditched the bike out front as we hit on the drive side and slid to a stop.  I popped back up, turned the bars back around and rolled the next few turns into the stage finish, learning my lesson that I really need to put some THICK tires on this thing so I can hit whatever I want!
Getting up to race speed - Photo: Patrick D Rosso

The next stage was a fast and pedally one.  By then I was really getting the hang of the bike and had some fun leaning back and popping off the sides of the ditch we rode down.  It would be my best stage finish of the day.  Which was followed by my worst stage of the day, where I'd flat the rear 1/4 of the way down loosing all air pressure and ride the rear rim all the way down.  Seen here:
Limping down stage 3 with a rear flat - Photo: Called to Creation

This just reinforced two things.  One being the need for stronger tires, again.  And two, that ENVE's are awesome.  I did take it a little easy, but I didn't walk it and there were plenty of rocks pinging the rim and making me cringe.  There's not a scratch on it :-).

Impression 7 - Jumper

The final stage stared with a few small jumps.  And I'm so comfortable on the bike and how it's going to react and stay stable on take off, that I WANT to jump it!  I've never had a bike that wasn't a full DH rig, where this was the case and I'm looking forward to more.  Those of you that know me will see this as a big step.

Final Impression - All day fun!

Sprinting across the open valley of stage 4 - Photo: Called to Creation

After 26 miles and over 4,000ft of climbing, I was charging on the final stage.  The bike was never power sapping and it encouraged more speed and playfulness.  I hit the familiar lower sections with a lot more speed and caught more air than I ever have.  Two wheel drifting over a negative g-force crest just for fun and coming into a rocky channel too hot (or not?) but the bike forgiving me as I just wall-ride the rocks back to the desired line and let out a "woohoo!"

I may be grabbing this bike to ride much more than I expected...

The build:

Frame - Santa Cruz Bronson v2 - XL
Fork - Fox Float 36 160mm
Shock - Fox Float EVOC w/ adjust
Seatpost - Fox D.O.S.S. 5 inch
Brakes - Shimano XTR - 180/160 rotors
Drivetrain - Shimano XT 1x11 - 34t front
Wheelset - ENVE m70 on DT Swiss 350 hubs.
Bars - ENVE DH 800mm
Stem - ENVE 40mm
Saddle - WTB Silverado Carbon
Headset - Cane Creek 110
Pedals - Crank Brothers Mallet E

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