For a couple of years, the 27.5-inch wheel’s potential seems to be all that the mountain biking community has been able to talk about. And when it comes to all-mountain riders, this is even more of a truth. Intuitively, the ‘in-between’ wheel size makes sense, as it represents a compromise between the limitations of both 26- and 29-inch designs. For example, if we were to generalize the entrenched standards, we might say that 26in bikes are nimble, but they run out of momentum on long, technical sections. Conversely, 29ers dominate straight, rock-strewn descents, but they lumber around turns, and accelerate slowly.
These, of course, are just stereotypes. And if experience has taught us anything, it’s that every bike is its own animal, and that wheel size, albeit a critical component, is just part of what gives a bike its overall ride quality. So, we’ll refrain from drawing generalizations about the 27.5-wheel standard in this review. After all, Santa Cruz designed the Bronson as a whole, not just as a pair of wheels with some carbon wrapped around it. Accordingly, it deserves to be considered as one cohesive machine.
To begin, we’ll describe our test bike. Santa Cruz lent us a Bronson Carbon equipped with its gravity-friendly SPX AM build. Highlights included a FOX CTD Kashima-coated shock and fork, a RockShox Reverb Dropper Post, and Shimano XT drivetrain components and brakes with a 160mm rear and 180mm front rotor. The wheels consisted of DT Swiss 350 hubs and WTB ST i23 TCS tubeless rims, wrapped in Maxxis High Roller 2 EXO tubeless tires. Set up this way, the 150mm-travel Bronson proclaims a clear preference for downhill riding. As such, we vowed to evaluate it as an all-mountain bike, and to save expectations of cross-country/trail-level efficiency for lighter builds.
We tested the Bronson on various trails surrounding Park City and Salt Lake City, Utah. To accommodate the all-mountain mindset, we’ll get climbing impressions out of the way first. The Bronson surprised us with its willingness to go uphill. After all, we know that the Santa Cruz Syndicate plans to race this bike in professional gravity events. And the SPX AM build features wheels and tires that are sturdy, but not exceptionally light. Yet, despite these considerations, we climbed steadily and in relative comfort, chugging up sustained ascents of 1,000 feet or more. When clearing step-ups, the Bronson didn’t require a violent, trials-style burst. Instead, a subtle weight shift sufficed, as long as care was taken to maintain traction. This is where the Bronson, with a longer wheelbase than similar 26in all-mountain bikes, felt most like some full-suspension 29ers that we’ve ridden.
When climbing, we did use the FOX CTD shock’s Climb setting, but we attribute this to frame sizing and not a lack of pedaling efficiency. We stood up on climbs in the shock’s Trail and Descend modes and found the Bronson to be plenty efficient. However, the Large size that we rode was on the shorter side for our testers . The Climb setting kept the Bronson higher in its 150mm of travel and allowed us to appropriately weight the front end when seated.
While the Bronson was a willing climber, one could always tell that underneath, it was champing at the bit to descend. To oblige it, we first sent it down the 24-7 and Ant Farm Trails near Park City. These are downhill-only trails with hairpin corners, man-made ledges, and short rock gardens. We’d describe these runs as freeride-light, and they presented no obstacles to upset the Bronson. It dove into and snapped out of corners with enthusiasm, leapt over tables, and dropped off of ledges at a moment’s notice. The few short rock gardens we encountered were trampled mercilessly underfoot. In truth, we exited these trails a little unsatisfied — not with the way that the Bronson performed, but because it felt under-utilized.
So, we went in search of longer, faster, and more technical proving grounds. Eventually, we found an ideal trail on the southern outskirts of Salt Lake City, in Draper’s Corner Canyon. At the apex of the canyon lies Jacob’s Ladder, which runs along a protruding ridgeline. This trail is characterized by steep, chunky chutes, high-walled slalom turns, and exposed rock faces. On Jacob’s Ladder, the Bronson sprang into action, and we floored it. Over the most technical lines we could find, the suspension was smooth and predictable, and the handling was stable, yet responsive. The Bronson didn’t pick our lines for us, like some larger-wheeled bikes are apt to do. Instead, it bailed us out when we weren’t quite aligned right. We’re also confident that the 27.5-inch wheels contributed to the momentum that we were able to maintain as we barreled down the trail.
After the rush of Jacob’s Ladder, we continued our descent to the bottom of the canyon on Ghost Falls Trail, a smoother, more winding run. Again, the Bronson deftly navigated switchbacks and hairpin corners, but the memory of our adrenaline-fueled beeline down the Ladder did have us peeking over the sides of the trail and considering rock-strewn fall lines instead. But, out of respect for the integrity of the trail system, we resisted the temptation to plunge — barely.
In the days following our test rides, we had some time to reflect. We couldn’t help but wonder if, in our short time with the Bronson, we’d only scratched at the surface of its downhill prowess. Sadly, our testing coincided with winter’s reluctant departure from the Wasatch Range. As such, we longed to ride still-snow-covered alpine trails like the Wasatch Crest Trail and Deer Valley’s lift-serviced runs. Visions of Moab’s Porcupine Rim also danced in our heads. In the end, we attributed these persistent urges to the depth of the Bronson’s capability. Buy one, and be prepared to seek out progressively faster descents and more challenging trails. Or, be prepared to resist its endless siren song.