Keegan Swenson's Santa Cruz Bikes
If you followed the Lifetime Grand Prix off-road race series last year, you know Keegan Swenson’s name. The Heber City, Utah native took the series by storm, setting the course record at Leadville and winning all but the Chequamegon 40, Big Sugar, and the Rad Dirt Fest (which he didn’t even start). His commanding wins in the series came while seemingly easily riding some of the best riders in the endurance mountain and gravel business right off his wheel.
Keegan Swenson rides for the Santa Cruz HT Squad and has been on the top tier Santa Cruz bikes all season with all sorts of different setups. We've seen him use the Santa Cruz Blur, Highball, and Stigmata, equipped with various gear ranges, stems, fits, and pretty much anything else you can think of. We'll showcase some of Keegan's bikes from notable wins, and show the versatility that a bike setup can gain.
Let's check out Keegan’s setup for the Downieville Classic. If you're not familiar with Downieville, it's one of the most interesting mountain bike races of the year. An uphill time trial is paired with a long enduro stage, along with a sizable catch; all riders must use the exact same bike, with no modifications, for all of the stages. This allows the riders to try and spec a bike to be fast uphill, while still being able to handle a rocky, rooty descent. Keegan chose to use his Santa Cruz Blur TR to get his perfect setup. He opted to go with a -17º 110mm stem with a 690mm wide bar, preserving a more "gravel-like" fit, which is an interesting choice for a bike designed to rip downhill. He clearly made it work though, so we can't argue with the logic. Keegan also used the then yet to be released Rockshox SID suspension with a remote lockout. He ran 37% sag for the rear shock, which may seem like a lot, but the SIDLuxe is prone to heat up over long descents, which causes the air to expand and lower the sag to about 30%.
The bike needed to be set up in a way that would handle Downieville's long, rocky descent but still roll well, so the tires of choice were a Maxxis Rekon up front and a Rekon Race in the rear, both in 2.4” width. He also used tire inserts to allow lower PSI for better grip, to help prevent flats, and to increase sidewall support. One of the best parts of the setup on Keegan's Blur TR are his bars wrapped with road bar tape to the stem, with the SRAM bluetooth blips installed on the bars for an extra shifter option.
This interesting bike setup helped win him the hill climb day and score a 3rd place on the enduro stage, locking up the overall win between the two days. Keegan's Santa Cruz Blur carried him to this result and it would arguably not have been possible on a different bike.
Keegan made history at this year's edition of the Leadville Trail 100. Entering the event with the goal of beating the course record, he managed to actually obliterate it by finishing the race over ten minutes faster than the previous record. For the Leadville race, Keegan chose to use the Santa Cruz Highball, their lightweight, cross-country hardtail mountain bike. Like the bike setup used for Downieville, Keegan’s Highball underwent some major modifications to make it the perfect choice for the day of racing.
A good portion of the Leadville course takes place on flat, fast gravel roads, so a true mountain bike probably isn't the perfect choice for breaking records. Keegan instead went for a "gravel-mountain hybrid" type of build. This setup started by pairing a 40t chainring and power meter with the SRAM XX SL Transmission 10-52 cassette and rear derailleur, a gearing choice typically seen only on gravel bikes.
After the drivetrain, the bike setup gets less and less conventional, straying further from traditional MTB setups (and even common sense, some might argue). The wheelset used is a pair of Reserve GR 25s, which are Reserve's gravel rims laced to a set of lightweight DT Swiss 180 hubs. The GR 25 wheelset was chosen for the Leadville bike due to the rim's increased compliance and narrower rim width compared to Reserve's XC race rims. Keegan's cockpit, yet again, resembles a gravel bike with its 660mm bar and his trademark 110mm -17º stem. He even wrapped the inside of the handlebar again with road bar tape so he could rest his hands anywhere on the bar and still get good grip and comfort.
The Leadville race doesn't really warrant a dropper post, so Keegan's Highball uses the lightweight Syntace Carbon P6 seat post. The most interesting choice for this setup is the use of the SRAM Level Ultimate 4-piston brakes, opting for added stopping power instead of the lighter-weight 2-piston version. Keegan retained the Rockshox SID Ultimate 100mm fork with a 3-position lockout, ensuring that he always has the right fork compression for the terrain.
Maxxis set the bike up with their Aspen ST tires. These are their lightest and fastest rolling 29 x 2.25 tires, and have yet to be released to the public. For the 4th stop of the Lifetime Grand Prix, Swenson came ready with the ultimate bike for the job.
Keegan went to Italy this year with one goal in mind, making a name for Team USA in the Gravel World Championship. The world-elite gravel field is separated into two main groups: those who ride the LifeTime Grand Prix and those who take on the European UCI Gravel circuit. Because of this, many people doubt the caliber of USA Gravel, so an opportunity to showcase the USA's talent on the world stage couldn't be missed. To ensure the best possible result, Keegan had to have full confidence in the performance of his Santa Cruz Stigmata. Team USA went into the race riding in support of Keegan, with his teammates setting out to give him the best possible chance of winning the event. After four long days of course reconnaissance, Swenson settled on the perfect bike setup for the day spent in the Italian hills.
The Santa Cruz Stigmata that Keegan rode at Gravel Worlds centers around the SRAM XX Transmission drivetrain, notably not the lighter-weight XX SL Transmission group. He wanted to ensure durability for the day, so opting for the slightly heavier, enduro-focused drivetrain was a choice solely made to help ensure that nothing would break.
Along with the XX derailleur and cassette, he used SRAM Red AXS levers and brakes, and a SRAM Force AXS 48t Crankset with aero chainring. This drivetrain enables Keegan to have a perfect blend of performance and durability. The perfect set of gravel wheels and tires must be durable, lightweight, and fast, and the Reserve 40|44 wheelset checked all those boxes. Paired with Maxxis Velocita, 40mm gravel slick tires and Tannus tire inserts, the wheels proved to be an amazing choice for minimum rolling resistance and maximum flat protection, while still being lightweight and aerodynamic.
Continuing on with the bike's aero theme, the handlebars of choice were the ZIPP SL70 road bar with a 38mm width, allowing Swenson to stay as aero as possible. This Santa Cruz Stigmata was built for speed and durability and delivered Keegan Swenson to a 5th place finish in Gravel Worlds, just behind a former UCI Road World Champion, and two Tour de France stage winners. A super impressive result for both the rider and the bike!
Lifetime's Big Sugar Gravel event in northwest Arkansas covers 100 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation so just like all of Keegan Swenson's other events, bike choice and setup are key. While the Santa Cruz Stigmata Keegan rode in Big Sugar certainly deserves to be highlighted in our list of killer bikes, it was interestingly enough ridden to his lowest placed finish of the 2023 Lifetime Grand Prix. This of course means that he "only" managed a 4th place, in a highly competitive field. We won't hold that against him...This time.
The main reason this Santa Cruz Stigmata caught our eye is the use of the RockShox RUDY XPLR suspension fork. If you've followed Keegan this season, you'll know that Big Sugar is the only gravel event he took on with a suspension fork, whereas he opted for high-volume tires in all of the other events. He still went with high volume Maxxis Rambler 45mm tires, whereas his teammates opted for 2.2” mountain bike tires. Pairing the XPLR suspension fork with the 45mm Rambler tires helps maximize rough terrain capability while minimizing rolling resistance. The idea was to shoot for the best combination possible for a technical gravel event like Big Sugar. Other than the suspension fork the bike setup was largely the same as the Stigmata used for Gravel Worlds. With only a week in between the two events, there wasn’t much bike setup to be changed in such a short amount of time.
For many off road events you might be headed to, diving into and changing up your bike setup can make a big difference. Especially if you're not operating at the level of Keegan Swenson with four bikes and professional mechanics at your disposal at any given time. Swapping to a long, low-angle stem on a cross-country mountain bike can improve performance for gravel-focused events. Adding a suspension fork and wide tires to a gravel bike can help during rougher gravel events. And as illustrated above with Keegan's setups, you can set up a Santa Cruz Stigmata to do pretty much whatever you need, with just an extra fork and wheelset. While these additions to the bike aren’t free, they cost a lot less than another bike, and you can keep them if you upgrade or switch frames throughout the years.
Interested in upgrading or adding some versatility to your bike? Give us a call and we would be happy to help set you up with the parts you need or changes to your bike to ensure maximum performance, maximum comfort and the best ride possible, on or off the race course.