Flash Review: 2022 Santa Cruz Bronson

David Golay reviews the 2022 Santa Cruz Bronson for Blister
2022 Santa Cruz Bronson

David Golay (6’, 165 lb / 183 cm, 74.8 kg): I’ve just started spending time on the newly-mulleted Santa Cruz Bronson (in the X01 AXS Reserve build) and can weigh in with some early impressions.

Santa Cruz heavily emphasizes the versatility of the Bronson in their description of the bike, and they’re right to do so — for a bike with 150 mm rear / 160 mm front travel, the Bronson feels particularly engaging in mellower terrain and when the aggression dial isn’t turned up to 11. The bike’s handling is quick without feeling twitchy, and pedaling performance is quite impressive. It doesn’t hurt that our test bike (granted, with a very high-end build) comes in at just 30.6 lb / 13.9 kg (size Large, without pedals). I haven’t yet done too much technical climbing on the Bronson, but my early hunch is that it’s really going to excel there. Its combination of quite-efficient pedaling plus good compliance and traction under power is impressive, and the not-crazy-aggressive geometry of the Bronson should make it easy to maneuver in tighter spots. I’ll make sure to get the Bronson on some more awkward, technical climbs soon and report back in the full review, but I’ve got high hopes there.

Something I’ve recently found while experimenting with mullet setups on several different bikes is that, in general, they tend to be notably quick to initiate a turn, especially at medium speeds where you’re going fast enough to be mostly initiating a turn by leaning the bike (instead of turning the bars) but not so fast that you’re making more subtle inputs and going into a big, sweeping turn. That’s definitely true of the Bronson as well, but on some (generally longer, slacker) bikes, that sensation can result in the front end feeling floppy and twitchy, and there’s none of that on the Bronson. My hunch is that the mullet combination is just a bit quicker to lean over than a full 29er, and that pairing mixed wheel sizes with a very slack headtube angle (and correspondingly slower steering) makes it harder to “catch” that lean-in and countersteer out to finish the corner. And so I think it makes a lot of sense that Santa Cruz has gone not-crazy-slack on the Bronson. Its headtube angle sits at 64.5° in the low geometry setting (where I’ve had it for the duration of the test so far; the “high” position bumps it up a modest 0.2°) and while that’s not what we’d call steep, it is a bit more moderate than a lot of other bikes with similar travel numbers. The result seems to be a really nicely balanced, fairly quick-handling bike that I can see working well for people who want a healthy amount of suspension travel and compliance, but find many bikes in that travel range to be a bit too sluggish for their tastes.

The flip side of all that is that the Bronson is definitely a bit less stable at speed than some other (generally longer, slacker) bikes in the same sort of class, but that’s a tradeoff that I think plenty of people will be happy to make. And while the Bronson’s handling isn’t ultra-calm and stable, its suspension does a great job of being quite compliant and forgiving, while still also being fairly supportive and able to be pushed hard without feeling wallowy. I like it a lot, and the tuning feels nicely matched to the bike’s performance as a whole.

I’ll be spending a lot more time on the Bronson in the next couple of months (and Dylan Wood should get a turn on it soon, too) so we’ll have a lot more to report on in the full review. But so far it’s shaping up to be a very fun, super versatile longer-travel Trail bike that I can see working really well for people who want a forgiving, capable ride but find full-blown Enduro bikes to be too sluggish and ponderous at lower speeds. Stay tuned for a full review to come.

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5 comments on “Flash Review: 2022 Santa Cruz Bronson”

      • I look forward to a full review! I haven’t been able to schedule the Bronson for a factory demo yet, but I have taken out the Nomad and the Hightower. I currently have a Tallboy and am way underbiked, and waaay too far forward over the front wheel on steep descents. I am looking to replace my Tallboy with something that better suits my style. Mine is also a Large, and I am 6’2″ and definitely need to size up to an XL. I’m an intermediate aggressive trail rider at best (so I really appreciate Jonathan’s 2-Cents as I can relate!). On paper, the Hightower is my perfect bike. With the Hightower demo, it honestly felt too much like my Tallboy, and was still really stiff, leaving me wanting more plushness (granted a lot could have been the suspension tuning). The Nomad was just straight-up fun! The cockpit geometry just felt so perfect, the suspension plush, and the descents super forgiving and confident. My only complaint was the jarring hits on logs, roots, and rocks of the smaller front wheel, and some sluggishness when the downs turned back up. I’m not an EWS speed racer by any means, so a slower bike isn’t necessarily a bad thing for me…I just wish the Nomad we’re a 29er. I’ve also spent a month demoing a Specialized Status Mullet, which is pretty sweet on the downs, but does have the aforementioned squirrelly front end often found with Mullets. It’s also the heaviest bike I’ve ever ridden, and a horrendous climber. Long story short, the Bronson Mullet vs the Hightower seems where my tough upgrade choice lays!

        • We’re getting close on the full review. I don’t want to promise an exact date but… soon.

          The short version of the Hightower vs Bronson comparison is that there’s a significant family resemblance, but the Bronson is a bit more compliant and a little more stable at speed, and a little less lively and a touch slower handing as a result. They aren’t massive differences – they’re reasonable bikes to cross shop if you’re still weighing where on that spectrum you want to wind up – but I’d call that the biggest point of differentiation for most people.

          And there’s the mullet factor. There’s more tire to butt clearance, of course, and it does slightly change the way the bike turns in and initiates corners. Is it a massive difference? No. Does it feel a bit different? Yes, definitely. In short, the back wheel is quicker to turn in, especially in medium speed corners where you’re doing a mix of leaning the bike and turning the bars to corner. Whether it feels quicker handling than a full 29er (in a good way) or a little twitchier and less stable (in a less good way) is going to be a matter of taste, I think.

          We’ll go deeper on that in the full review.

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