By Karen Brooks
The venerable brand from NorCal introduced three new bike models earlier this week, and I was one of the lucky stiffs who got to check them out on the kickass trails on and around Gooseberry Mesa in southern Utah. Santa Cruz really knows how to impress: not with slideshows of graphs, but with lots of time on singletrack.
First off, they’ve introduced a middle child to the Blur line that just may become the darling of the family: the Blur TRc (affectionately known by the end of our stay as the “Turkey”). “TR” is for “trail,” since that’s the designation usually given to such 5”-travel, yet pedal-friendly machines as this; the “c” stands for carbon, as this is another example of Santa Cruz’s mastery of the material.
The TRc geometry is a peanut-butter-and-chocolate blend of XC-style top tube length plus a slackish 68-degree head tube angle. The proven VPP suspension design supplies the squish. This was the first bike on my riding menu, for the Red Bluff Competitive Area trails and the Bearclaw trail on the first day and some of the fabulous trails atop Gooseberry Mesa on the second. The TRc felt like a fast XC machine – awesome pedaling response, stiff where it should be – until I landed hard coming off a ledge or slammed into a rock, then the suspension kicked in to save my butt. Our host Mike Ferrentino explained that they adjusted the shock rate curve from an “extreme smiley face” to a more flattened shape, so that there was less of a wallowy feeling in the middle of the travel and consistent squish all the way through to the end. In other words, going further in the quest for that Holy Grail of bottomless feel.
The TRc’s lower link is aluminum since it’s in a spot vulnerable to punctures, but the rest of the frame is sleek, sexy-looking painted carbon fiber, and comes in at a fairly light 5 lbs. altogether with shock. Santa Cruz claims their construction process is superior to most, something they’ve been perfecting since the development of the first carbon Blur XC that came out in 2009. Engineer Nick couldn’t reveal all the details, but I did learn one crucial detail and a new word: mandrel, “a cylindrical rod around which metal or other material is shaped.” Rather than simply wrapping fiber around a flat, plastic-bag-like bladder, as some other manufacturers do, the Cruz wizards use a mandrel inside a bladder, so that the fibers can be more accurately laid and more tightly wrapped before the bladder is inflated to press the fibers into the mold, to yield a shape that is precisely formed from the inside out. How this mandrel is then removed from the frame is one of their closely-guarded secrets. All Mike would say is that it may or may not involve midgets.
Here’s Nick explaining the finer points of a cutaway frame.
Nick told us that when they began experimenting with carbon, they purchased some examples from competitors and cut them apart to check out the frames’ interiors (that must have been fun). In some cases, they were horrified at what they found – haphazard fiber directions, voids, variations in thickness, and even bits of newspaper (!). Unfortunately for our morbid curiosity, they restrained themselves from getting catty and showing us these examples.
To complement the meticulous carbon construction, Santa Cruz continues to up the ante with frame fittings and hardware. They’re still using reliable, rebuildable, adjustable angular-contact bearings in the pivots, and any of the pivot points can be easily disassembled without removing cranks, derailleurs, etc. The stout 15mm axles going through the pivot points are a big part of what gives the VPP design its superior lateral stiffness. They also angled the grease ports in the lower pivot to better protect them against getting pounded, and threaded them to make them more easily replaceable just in case. Mike said that the Cruz hardware is the “unsung hero” of their bikes, and I’d have to agree.
Here demo guy extraordinaire Ariel shows a cutaway bottom pivot...
… and here he shows the easy disassembly of the bottom pivot.
Santa Cruz will be taking orders for the Blur TRc within the week, and should be able to deliver them by late May. The retail price on the Blur TRc frame and Fox RP23 shock is $2,700 and complete bikes start at $3,800.
For more: Read about Santa Cruz’s other new offerings, the carbon Highball and the aluminum Tallboy, here.