I’ve always been the kind of guy who will go drive a new shiny car at the dealer that I realistically can’t afford and probably shouldn’t even if I could. I’m also that guy when it comes to riding other mountain bikes. Obviously my waxing poetic about my Heckler in previous blogs means that I’m totally content with my bike and definitely don’t need anything newer or shinier (Right?) That said, when Unreal hosts a Santa Cruz demo day, you find a babysitter and get your butt out there to ride the new shiny.
I’ve had a bit of a lingering thought that maybe I should have opted for the Bronson over the Heckler back then. Same geometry, but better suspension linkage/travel pattern must be a better bike, right? Well I guess that previous statement about geometry holds true for the 2015 models, but the 2016 Bronson is an entirely different animal than that. Santa Cruz lengthened the top tube and shortened the chainstays for a more accessible cockpit, slightly slacker head angle, and better climbing capabilities. The advances in the suspension and frame were apparent right off the bat. The bike definitely felt like it liked climbing. The suspension while grinding the fire road was about the same as the Heckler, though the bike felt more rigid (It’s carbon Mike, of course it does) which was a nice feeling, albeit a little different than the various alloys I’ve come to know and love.
However, and I’m going to be critical here because I’m a stickler about traction: The bike had balding tires and Forest Park is like 60% loose over hard pack. Despite the tires not inspiring any confidence, I did manage a 3rd best time on Hobo (I felt like I was about to die every time the tires broke out and felt like I was riding so slow) but realized that the twitchy aggressive handling of the Bronson is probably what saved my bacon. I’d really like a chance to put a meaty set of DHF 2.5s on and give it another shake sometime when it’s not 100* out.
Anywho, after a brief respite and trying to find cold water for my Camelbak, I threw my leg over a Hightower CC in 27.5+. Now I’ll disclose that this began as one of those rides where I’m demoing it purely for the novelty, no way I’d buy a silly hybrid double squish sorta fatbike thingy. And I’d be dead wrong. I can’t speak to the climbing capabilities of the bike, because when it’s your second climb on an exposed fire road in triple digit heat… your climbing capabilities tend to be nothing to write home about. It climbed as well as my sorry self was able to push it. The rear Ikon tire is dreadful on loose gravel when you stand and pedal, but as with the Bronson, it’s a demo in factory trim and not kitted for the terrain.
I wanted to take the Hightower down Diabolical and see if the + tire hype was anything to write home about in the loose bumpy “Bend-like” trail conditions. For any non locals reading this, Diabolical is a dirtbike trail, decomposed granite surface with lots of ruts, loose bermy corners, loose over hardpack corners that feel like ball bearings, and no cell service if/when you bin it into the manzanita bushes. Despite the tires being a low profile knob and not the giant bear claw tread I’m used to, I never felt like I was lacking traction through corners. The bike is a contradiction to itself: A big meaty thing that was easily as nimble as the Bronson, but without the twitchy aggressive feel. I sent the barrel kicker on the way down with ease, and landed oh so gently despite coming into a loose over hardpack stutter bumped corner. I won’t say it was a smooth ride; that trail doesn’t accommodate such vocabulary in summer conditions, but dammit all if it wasn’t a lot more pleasant than a normal bike on that trail.
Once I transitioned to Granite trail, I was in the flow zone and felt about as comfortable as I could hope to on the maiden voyage of any bike. I was pushing through corners, hitting rock drop trannys with some speed, and manualing the rollers. I felt comfortable on it, and it offered the ride I needed to feel comfortable. As I mentioned above, this was intended to be a novelty demo, but if I had some more expendable income, I could legitimately see myself buying a Hightower in addition to my Heckler.
Since I take forever to edit and revise my blogs, I also just did the Juliana demo day this past weekend where I tried out a Furtado (5010) and gave the (Bronson) Roubion another shake. The Juliana bikes are effectively the same as their Santa Cruz counterparts, but come in pretty pretty colors with some slight cockpit changes like the saddle and narrower bars. That aside, the ladies bikes are just as capable and shreddical as the Santa Cruz variants.
Both bikes came equipped with Pike forks, Fox Evo rear shocks, ENVE wheels (drool) and the 1×11 Sram drivetrain. Both bikes climbed as nimbly and efficiently as can be. Both bikes were are heat seeking trail weapons of mass destruction when pointed downhill. Contrary to my above review of the Bronson it’s lackluster tire condition, both of these bikes were razor sharp and aggressive descenders with proper suspension/tire set ups, and inspired confidence in the post enduro race summer conditions upper ashland trails have to offer. Both bikes jumped smoothly and with enough pop to compensate for my lack of air skills, and landed smoothly ready to attack in the next corner.
I didn’t get enough seat time to notice a major difference between either bike, the biggest takeaway was that the Furtado seemed to enter and exit corners a little more forgivingly than the Roubion which launched me out of the corner like an f15 off an aircraft carrier. I would peg the Furtado/5010 as the more all around trail bike and the Roubion/Bronson as a straight enduro weapon that needs to descend as fast and aggressively as humanly possible.
Did I mention they’re pretty?
Big thanks to Peter and Lewis at Unreal, Jake from Santa Cruz, and Paige from Juliana for the awesome demo experiences. Bikes with Mike will have an exciting update as a result of the demos in the next month….