2014 Santa Cruz Bronson alloy (aluminum) – review

So I’ve put a few hundred miles on my Bronson.  It’s a great bike.  I bought it right before I got a job learning how to work on bikes in a professional capacity.  What this means is I could only afford the R kit (the low-end kit).  Still packed with great parts, and I upgraded to a RockShox Pike right off the bat.  I swapped a few of the other parts with the hard tail “Darth Goat” to make both bikes better at what they do.

Well Darth Goat has been sold, to someone who’s having a blast riding it in Washington state.  One of these days I’m going to get up there and ride with him, thanks Bennett!  Hoping he’ll get a pic of him riding it and can round out the 45650B build series.

I purchased the bike from North Rim Adventure Sports in Chico, the shop I now work for, but a couple weeks before they offered me an entry-level mechanic position.  I had visited every shop in the area on more than one occasion since I’ve lived here to try and find that shop I was willing to forsake internet purchases for in exchange for good service and a second home for my various steeds.  Service, availability of parts, brands sold, understanding of my riding sub-genre, were all there.

THE BUILD

It’s probably best to start with the parts spec the bike CAME with:

  • Fox Float O/C 150mm Evolution series fork
  • Fox Float Evolution rear shock
  • Shimano Deore brakes 180 F / 160 R
  • SLX front and rear (clutch, SGS or long cage) derailleur and shifters, 2×10
  • Shimano Deore 175mm cranks 2×10
  • RaceFace stem (70mm) and bars (740mm) and seatpost – alloy
  • WTC ST i23 rims with Maxxis High Roller II tires
  • Lizard Skin non-lock-on grips
  • Cane Creek 40 top and 10 bottom headset
  • WTB Volt saddle

This build, at the time, retailed for $3399.

Now I’ve been riding just long enough to know certain things I want and what I don’t want, and North Rim (most local shops for that matter) will help you swap out and upgrade parts when you purchase a new bike.  So I made the following changes:

  • Added RockShox reverb seatpost 125mm – Stealth routing
  • Swapped Fox fork for RockShox Pike 150mm Solo Air
  • Bontrager Rhythm Pro bar (carbon, cut to 780mm) and stem (60mm)
  • Dropped the front derailleur and added race face narrow/wide 34t front chainring
  • Swapped the SLX brakes from Darth Goat (Deore was a better match on the 45650B)
  • Swapped the 170mm Shimano ZEE cranks from the 45650B
  • Added RaceFace Half Nelson grips (comfort and familiar grips)
  • changed the Cane Creek 10 bottom to a 40 bottom headset cup and bearing
  • Final addition was Shimano Saint flat pedals.  Not a clipless man.  Nope.

Final bike weight was 31 lbs 2 ozs:

Complete. 2014 Santa Cruz Bronson alloy.

Complete. 2014 Santa Cruz Bronson alloy.

And so I was off on the first full new bike I’ve EVER bought and the most technologically advanced and recent bike I’ve ever had.  I mean hell!  I had a current year model bike!  New fork! New EVERYTHING (almost)!  First VPP bike since I had the Blur 4x in 2011:

Blur 4x, LOVED this bike

Blur 4x, LOVED this bike

THE PRAISE

I’ve ridden this bike for 5 months.  I’ve had it all over local Bidwell Park, all over Mt Ashland in Oregon, at Downieville, Nevada City, Oroville Dam, Auburn, and a few trails in Sacramento.  This bike was just beautiful, fantastic, amazing!  I just mobbed stuff that I used to pick through.  This bike saved my ass on mistakes and bad landings.  I peddled pretty fantastic, and I often forgot to change the CTD settings on the rear shock for climbs, and didn’t bother much.  The efficiency of the rear was just head and shoulders above anything I had ever been on before.  Modern trailbike, eh?

After first Downieville ride!

After first Downieville ride!

I had a small issue with creaking, which was remedied by removing the locking collet hardware (best in the business!) and greasing, then re-tightening to spec.  Took care of it right away. I also had a feeling at times of twitchiness in the rear that I finally tracked to the rear shock.  I weigh 205 with gear and it felt like if the rear shock didn’t have the exact settings that worked, I would get some negative feeling at some point in the ride, especially  extended descents when the shock would heat up.  Small tuning threshold.

THE RIDE

Where I live we have dozens of miles of trails in Bidwell Park that consist of lava cap covered with dust.  Just a continuous rock garden of non-moving baby heads, with rocks to catch your pedals and tear your flesh when you hesitate or make a mistake.  I’ve always had to have a suspension tune for Bidwell, and a tune for everywhere else.  Basically less air/compression and faster rebound for Bidwell and then “normal” settings for other places.  This bike didn’t need it.  The Pike up front and the firm yet compliant VPP rear allowed me to motor up the 3.5 miles (1200 ft gain) of unshaded sunbaked technical North Rim trail and then just drop into the rocky Hell-Chute that is B-Trail.  I could then simply load my bike on the Subie and drop the 5K+ ft of elevation drop in the woods above Ashland, OR.  Fiddle a bit with tire pressure, but it was insanely nice not to have to always remember a shock pump.

Climbing on this beast was just heaven.  The Reverb meant the right height, anytime, and the platform provided by the VPP rear meant that fast changes from up to down could be handled wide open without having to risk reaching for the shock switches.  I also dropped Time Warp in Ashland and forgot to take the rear out of climb mode without ill effect.  I mean I noticed after a bit of feeling like I was going to be ejected, but it wasn’t severe enough to cause a wreck.  Priceless.  I screw up, bike saves me.  It was like a dull floating carpet of muted quite happy trails to you!

After riding the bike with this setup for several months, I decided to take a bit of weight off.  I did this by getting a pair of DT Swiss Spline 1 XM 1501 rims and swapping tires to a Continental Mountain King 2.4 in the front and a Bontrager XR3 Team Issue 2.3 in the rear.  I also went with the One Up 42T rear cog and RAD cage (which meant getting the XTR backplate to go GS, or medium, cage). This brought the weight to 29 lbs and a few ounces.  I also have a Cane Creek Bronson-specific Double Barrel Air CS that I swap in and out on different trails.  I love the Cane Creek, and the WIDE tuning threshold it affords my weight, but there are definitely times when the svelt Fox Float is the ticket to get the job done.

Every change just made the bike better, but none of them were required to make the bike the Silver Plate of Awesome that it has been every day.  My conclusion is that this bike, in alloy form, with entry level (for Santa Cruz) parts spec, despite the changes I made, craft a bike that is durable, pliable, functional beyond its means, and priced even better now!  You can get the base alloy for $3199!!! Check it out!  I hope this review helps those thinking about whether Santa Cruz Alloy is worth it in a world of Carbon bikes.

I say it is.  

The review is NOT based on where I work or what is sold there.  This series of reviews are meant to be from the perspective of the “every man rider” and this bike was purchased during that time period without a shop discount at retail pricing.  I hope all my reviews remain unbiased, but feel free to call me out on things that might not be.

Next will be a comparison of a newly acquired 2015 Bronson Carbon (the high-end) frame with the same part spec.  After that I hope to take the entry level carbon out and have a full comparison between the three.  I’ll leave you with the last photog of the lovely black Bronson (you can catch a view of the new carbon frame on the right in my Instagram feed).

THANKS!

2014-10-21 07.04.42-1

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About RCS

An interested, often crass fellow. Likely found on a bike or wandering in a seemingly aimless fashion in the woods. Use caution when approaching, as the subject is known to be oblivious, and at times obnoxious.
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2 Responses to 2014 Santa Cruz Bronson alloy (aluminum) – review

  1. Barnesy says:

    Thanks for the review.. Was the icing on the cake. Bought an alloy Bronson yesterday. Would have loved the carbon but we just have too many rocks where I ride here in Oz that will randomnly jump up and kiss the bike. And I’m no sponsored rider.
    Thanks again answered all my queries

    Like

    • RCS says:

      No worries, always glad to get feedback. I’ve gone back and forth between aluminum and carbon with my past few bikes and I still prefer the bulletproof metal at the end of the day.

      Like

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