2022 Santa Cruz Bronson First Look: Mixed-Wheel Sizes for the Masses?
The release of the 2022 Santa Cruz Bronson marks the fourth generation of a bike that’s been a mainstay in the 27.5” wheel world, and the de facto choice for long travel 27.5” bikes. As any other Santa Cruz, the latest Bronson sees a number of refinements and changes, brings something entirely new: mixed wheel sizes front and rear.Stirring Up the Pot
Here are the basics of the Santa Cruz Bronson. The Bronson runs a 160mm fork paired to a 150mm shock. Nearly every Bronson comes in their MX layout, utilizing a 29-inch wheel in the front and a smaller 27.5-inch wheel out back. The exception is the XS size, which sticks to 27.5-inch wheels front and rear. The Bronson comes specifically with air suspension, though Santa Cruz touts compatibility with all air and coil shocks, even the big burly ones that flummoxed that old Bronson.These days Santa Cruz isn’t really well-known for mixing up the status quo, generally preferring to refine their formulas. The California-based company’s choice to set the trend with their stalwart Bronson is a surprise to us. Mixed-wheel layouts, or MX, as Santa Cruz terms it) gained popularity as riders took to downhill bikes adapted just enough to pedal them up mountains but still get rowdy on the descents. In this sense, the idea of riding anywhere and everywhere sees a bit of a comeback.
And to those who want to ride their Bronson with 27.5” wheels front and rear: you might be able to do it with a travel-adjusted fork, but why experiment when Santa Cruz has done it all for you?Small Adjustments, Big Results
Wheel size aside, what’s new on the Bronson? Let’s start at suspension kinematics, where the big change - like a lot of other bikes with this much suspension travel - is a change in leverage ratio. That ratio is more linear in its progression, and as a result is more active in soaking up rock gardens, square edges, and whatever you can throw at it than before. Santa Cruz has also lowered anti-squat significantly in the name of increasing traction when climbing.
Geometry has seen a few changes to accommodate its newfound mixed-wheel prowess. Chainstay lengths and seat tube angles vary with frame size in the name of keeping the smallest and largest sizes riding similarly. Those seattube angles are generally slightly steeper than before to match the longer front center and wheelbase measurements. Reach and stack measurements get longer and higher too. Seattube angles steepen a bit as well to match the 64.5-degree head angle and mixed wheel sizes. Despite Santa Cruz moving away from plus tires, the Bronson still sports a flip-chip found on the suspension’s lower link. It offers just under a degree of adjustment in the head and seat angles, as well as slight changes in reach and chainstay length. Bronson offers ample tire clearance for a 2.5” tire out back and 2.6” up front.
Elsewhere, you Santa Cruz’s high-level detail. ISCG 05 tabs are found next to a threaded bottom bracket. Tube-in-tube cable routing keeps things easy, molded protectors for the chainstay, seatstay, bottom bracket, and downtube keeps things extra quiet, and use of the SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger keeps complications at a minimum. As with all Santa Cruz bikes, the Bronson has a lifetime warranty on the frame and pivot bearings.Is the Bronson for You?
Obviously Santa Cruz wants you to believe that this isn’t your old Bronson. The clear delineation is wheel size optimization, which Santa Cruz believes gives you the best of the Nomad and the Bronson. Smaller wheels out back typically mean the rider can pivot over the rear wheel and manual more easily, keeping even a bigger, heavier bike maneuverable. A 29-inch front wheel helps to create lots of traction up front from a larger contact patch. That means, at least in theory, out back you get the playfulness and maneuverability of 27.5 and the confidence and rollover ability of a 29er. Especially when you consider long-travel bikes in this territory, any amount of nimbleness you can get is sure to be welcome.
Reality, liked the wheel size, is a bit mixed, however. The relative lack of natively designed mountain bikes for mixed-wheels means that those experimenting have seen concoctions that simultaneously wander at low speeds and unpredictably at higher speeds. It is bikes, however, like the new Bronson that will make or break the mixed-wheel mindset once and for all. As mentioned before, Santa Cruz has leaned toward more conservative designs that they know function well, and to see a jump like this means there is something to the MX platform.Conclusion
Santa Cruz claims the ability to tackle the steepest and deepest of Moab while making the local, tame singletrack around us fun. Many bikes claim the same versatility. But garages consisting of a Hightower and a Nomad might actually find their happy medium in the Bronson.
We suspect that the new Bronson, with its sibling, the Juliana Roubion, will be one of the most polarizing bikes in the shop. The prior Bronson models really knocked our socks off, and despite the changes, we think the new Bronson will do the same.
As you’d expect, Contender Bicycles has the 2022 Santa Cruz Bronson in stock now, with more available on preorder. Drop us a line by phone or email, or stop by our shops to see the new bike and see if the Bronson is for you!
Words by Alvin Holbrook. Photos by Berin Klawiter.