First Look: Santa Cruz Heckler - A Bronson With a Battery
Ten years ago it would've been inconceivable for Santa Cruz, a brand that prides itself on rider connectivity and feel, to release an electric mountain bike. Hell, it would’ve been surprising even five years ago. But the Santa Cruz Heckler, now in its second iteration with electric assist, was an impressive entry into the world of eMTB.
The new for Santa Cruz Heckler offers more range via a bigger battery, a choice of wheel sizes, and updated geometry. This brings it in line with the recently-revised Santa Cruz Bronson and Juliana Roubion, and far more in line with the latest crop of eMTBs we’ve seen come through our doors.
There are five build kits for the Heckler, all of which come with a C or CC carbon frame. Top models receive the CC carbon frame and swingarm, which Santa Cruz claims to be nearly 400g (~0.87 pounds) lighter than the standard C frame. Besides that, the frames are the same. All have the features one might expect from a frame: clearance for a 2.6” tire (in 27.5” or 29” sizes), space to fit a coil shock or larger air shock, a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger, and room for a water bottle inside of the frame at every size.
Then there are some of the more Santa Cruz-specific design choices that are geared toward durability. The rear shock gets protection from grime via a dedicated linkage mud flap, tube-in-tube cable routing, well-designed rubberized downtube and bottom bracket protectors, and a ridged chainstay protector that Santa Cruz uses on their other bikes to keep chain slap quiet.
Santa Cruz has chosen to pair the Heckler chassis with Shimano’s EP8 motor that offers 85Nm of torque and feels pleasantly natural in use and lacks the surge-y feel of some other drive units. Alongside that is a small handlebar-mounted display, and a very clicky-feeling on-off switch found just under the rear shock. Alongside the drive unit is a rangy 720 Wh battery (up from the previous 504Wh or 630Wh), which can be removed with a turn of a 4mm Allen key for external charging.
Changes to Geometry and Suspension
Okay, enough electric. What about the bike?
Well, the previous generation Heckler (Ryan's ride review is HERE) did a good job of going about its business, and the geometry itself felt about par for the course at the time, maybe even a little behind. The latest Heckler is much more contemporary, seemingly pulling the numbers from the Bronson with a few tweaks to accept the Shimano EP8 motor. As a result, chainstay lengths are a flat 445mm on all sizes, standover heights are a little taller on the Heckler, and wheelbase measurements are a little longer too.
Like before, the Heckler comes with a 150mm shock and a 160mm fork, sticking it neatly in the all-mountain range of mountain bikes.
The Heckler is available in up to five sizes depending on wheel size: five sizes in the mullet Heckler (S-XXL) and four sizes in the Heckler 29 (M-XXL). Size small bikes receive dual 27.5” wheels. The head angle is essentially the same as the Bronson at 64.5 degrees, seat angle is about the same, and bottom bracket heights are within 2mm of the Bronson as well in each size.
Santa Cruz paired the Heckler with their VPP suspension layout, here tuned for ebike use. Per Santa Cruz, the leverage curve is a bit more progressive than on their acoustic bikes, with a reduction in anti-squat to get more grip in conjunction with the bike’s motor. Santa Cruz has added a flip chip that isn’t there to adjust head angle or to accommodate wheel changes as much as it is to adjust the shock’s progressivity.
Comparing to Other eMTBs
The thing to note with Santa Cruz is that while they have a history of blazing trails (both literally and in the mountain bike market), their bikes tend to be on the more conservative, use what’s proven side of things. As a result, the Heckler’s geometry is fairly moderate for a bike with 150mm travel out back, which makes sense when Santa Cruz aimed to make the Heckler the sweet spot for big miles and bigger trails.
Most mountain e-bikes come with a 29” wheel combination front and rear, and this is where the Heckler really starts to separate itself from the competition. The mullet wheel setup (with a 29er wheel up front and a 27.5” out back) tends to make it easier to move the rear end of a bike around, and for a 48 pound bike like the Heckler that is very important.
That 48 pound weight places it alongside other big-day bikes like the Cannondale Moterra Neo, SCOTT Genius eRIDE, SCOR 4060 Z, Orbea Wild FS, and Giant Trance X E+. Comparatively, the Heckler comes stock with the largest battery of the bunch (rather than the 625Wh battery of most.), tied with the SCOR. Interestingly, the batteries from the SCOR and the Heckler are both made by Darfon, which claims their 720Wh battery is about the same size as the smaller batteries, and not all that much heavier too.
As important as suspension kinematics tend to be on acoustic mountain bikes, pedal bob and climbing efficiency are a little less important with an electric drive unit. They all feel pretty similar climbing, and the extra weight of the motor and battery means these bikes all tend to give a bit more cornering grip than expected. But with its contemporary geometry, we would expect the Heckler to perhaps be the most neural feeling of them all, a bike one could easy get on and ride without much issue, even if they aren’t familiar with eMTBs.
We are big fans of the Shimano EP8 drive unit. It builds power smoothly and is compact for the power it puts out. Maybe the coup d’etat of Shimano’s EP8 drive unit is their E-Tube app, which makes it possible to adjust the level of support in each level to customize the bike’s performance. That way, riders can turn down the maximum torque put out and how quickly it provides that torque in each assist level to increase battery life. Alternatively, riders can also turn up the wick and max everything out for an extra speedy ride. That this can be done from a smartphone mid-ride is the icing on the cake, and we wish other companies that didn’t offer Shimano drive units could match this.
Sadly, there is no alloy version of the Heckler, just the two carbon models. We would’ve liked to see that to bring the Heckler’s goodness to a wider audience.
The new Santa Cruz Heckler features a huge bump in battery capacity as well as an update in geometry that adds confidence without sacrificing the familiar feel of the previous bike. The MX mullet wheels make this just a bit more playful than its 29” wheel counterparts, and easier to move around on tighter trails. In short, it is classic Santa Cruz - composed, cohesive, and easy to use.