By Adam Newman. Photos by Gary Perkin and Adam Newman.
The Santa Cruz Bronson stormed onto the scene this spring as one of the highly anticipated bikes of the year. While it has hardly disappointed, it left room in the line-up for a more nimble trail bike than the Bronson’s all-mountain and enduro attitude. Anyone paying attention to the Juliana Bikes sister brand launch a few weeks ago would have noticed a new model that didn’t have an equivalent model in the Santa Cruz line-up: a 125mm trail bike.
While many will make the natural connection between the Solo and the much-loved Blur TRc, Santa Cruz prefers to think of it as a “little Bronson.” Santa Cruz developed the two bikes together, and they share not only the family resemblance, but some subtle engineering refinements as well.
In the stand
The venerable VPP suspension layout is still present, with its counter-rotating linkages. The links themselves are aluminum, since the carbon fiber pieces used in previous models were more difficult to manufacture, expensive, and actually heavier than these alloy pieces. Inside are angular contact bearings, which are easier to service than sealed units, and can be flushed with fresh grease via the grease ports tucked away below. You can do this, or even drop the whole linkage out, without even removing the rear wheel.
The frame itself clocks in at 5 lbs.—slightly lighter than the Bronson—with 17.1-inch chainstays, a 68-degree head tube angle, and in four available sizes. There are two sets of water bottle mounts, ISCG-O5 tabs, routing for internal or external dropper posts, and all the fittings—shock mounts, brake mounts, etc.—are layered into the carbon weave and cured as one unit rather than attaching them after the frame has been molded.
Some details, such as the IS brake mounts and threaded bottom bracket shell may seem outdated, but Santa Cruz is very committed to only using new “standards” when they have a significant benefit to the rider and don’t create more problems than they solve. Case in point: the brand was slow to adopt the 142×12 rear axle, but now uses it on nearly all its models.
On the trail
Out of the gate, most consumers are likely going to focus on one main aspect of the Solo: the wheel size. While I have ridden and enjoyed several 27.5 bikes, this is the shortest-travel offering I’ve tried, and was curious to see how it would compare to 26 and 29-inch bikes in the 4 to 5-inch travel range.
Fittingly as the Solo has less travel and smaller wheels than the current crop of 5-inch 29ers, initially it felt quite small. Not as tiny and BMX-like as the TRc, but coming from the big wheels it has a distinct middleweight feeling. Handling is neutral and predictable, with no brain-recalibration required. The modern long top tube/short stem/wide bars setup was comfy as well.
Pedaling with the VPP suspension is very efficient, with nary a hint of bobbing. Even out of the saddle climbs are not a problem with the FOX CTD shock set in Descend mode. I left it there untouched throughout my riding.
While 27.5 wheels have several merits, one minus is that they still can’t compare with the ability of 29ers to roll over slow, techy terrain. I found myself being a little more cautious of where I let the front wheel drop when riding some of the rougher terrain of the Scottish Highlands.
The build kit on the model I rode was the same five-figure “bling kit” that we tested on the Bronson: SRAM XX1 drivetrain, Shimano XTR Trail brakes, Fox Kashima-coated fork and ENVE carbon fiber rims laced to DT Swiss 240s hubs. Clearly there was no complaining from me. Still, this was the first time I had tried the XX1 kit and it is simply sublime. The chain is super-glued to the chainring, the shifter moves through the gears like a rifle bolt, and it offers enough range for all but the steepest Land Rover tracks (this being Scotland and all).
The ENVE/DT Swiss wheels are also astounding—and as expensive as a nice trail bike. Though they are certainly light, where they really make themselves felt is their unbelievable stiffness, to the point where through fast chunky sections I could feel the fork working harder than I ever could feel before with alloy wheels.
The Solo has a distinct “Goldielocks” vibe going on: not too big, not too small. You can build yours up with a stout fork and chainguide and go enduro racing, put together a svelte 1×10 (or 11) group and go for the holeshot, or choose from one of Santa Cruz’s well-rounded build kits. If your travels routinely take you through diverse riding conditions and styles, the Solo might be for you.
- Price: Aluminum complete bikes starting at $3,299. Carbon complete bikes starting at $4,199.
- Availability: Carbon bikes: shipping now. Aluminum bikes: shipping in July.
- 125mm travel VPP suspension.
- 27.5" wheels
- Sizes: S, M, L, XL
- Colors: Carbon: Gloss Orange or Matte Carbon Aluminum: Gloss Orange or Gloss White
- 12 ENVE decal choices
- Fork options: Standard: 32 Float 130 CTD Evolution. Upgrade: 32 Float 130 CTD Adjust Kashima
- Shock options: Standard: Custom tuned Fox Float CTD Evolution Upgrade: Custom tuned Float CTD Adjust Boost Valve Kashima
- Total frame weight: 5.06 lb (for size M, carbon)
- 142 mm rear axle spacing
Also unveiled this week was the second generation of the Tallboy full-suspension 29er. With 100mm of VPP suspension the original Tallboy won accolades for its performance as a marathon/light-trail bike. After four years, Santa Cruz didn’t want to screw up a good thing, so it kept the geometry of the original, but re-tuned the shock rate, increased pedaling efficiency, and updated the carbon frame to be lighter and stronger. The aluminum frame is all-new as well, incorporating the same subtle tweaks, including a direct mount front derailleur and optional direct mount rear hanger.
Designed for a 100-120mm fork, the Tallboy bridges the gap between XC and trail, and while it doesn’t have ISCG mounts, it does have routing for an internal or external dropper post line. The same suspension design and hardware from the Bronson and Solo is present on the Tallboy2 as well. It’s also available in a size Small, something its predecessor wasn’t.
I spent a half-day ripping round the trails near Ballater, in the Scottish Highlands, and the Tallboy is a fast and efficient machine. The 45-inch wheelbase on my size XL combined with the 29-inch wheels helped me clean some tricky uphill sections and the VPP suspension puts all your power into the ground. While the head tube angle might still be on the “racer” side of 70-degrees, it keeps the Tallboy feeling agile and headed in the right direction.
While a consumer’s decision between the Tallboy and the Solo may very well come down to wheel size preference, they will likely be satisfied either way. Both bikes occupy that coveted heart of the mountain bike market where folks want their bikes to do a little bit of everything.
- Pricing: Complete aluminum bikes begin at $2,399. Complete carbon bikes start at $4,150.
- Availability: Carbon bikes are shipping now. Aluminum bikes will ship in July.
- 100mm travel VPP suspension
- 29-inch wheels
- Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL (carbon only)
- Colors: Carbon: Matte Carbon/White or Gloss White/Black Aluminum: Gloss Green/Black or Gloss Grey/Orange
- 12 ENVE decal choices
- Shock options: Standard: Custom tuned Fox Float CTD Evolution Upgrade: Custom tuned Float CTD Adj. Boost Valve Kashima
- Frame Weight: 2235g (4.9lbs) for size L, matte carbon
Candy-colored bike journalists. The town below is Braemar, home to the Highland Games Gathering.