Santa Cruz, CA may be better known as the eclectic backdrop for a number of 1980’s thrillers or as Surf City USA than for their mountain biking access. The Santa Cruz mountains are filled with gorgeous seaside trails, diverse micro climates, and riders to use them. With extensive trail networks for mountain biking and hiking, it is no wonder that there are a number of bike brands that call the city their home. Santa Cruz Bicycles, named after the city itself, is the city’s most prominent cycling brand and one of the most influential brands in mountain biking today. With that level of clout in the cycling world, it only makes sense that we at Contender Bicycles bring them on as our newest brands of mountain bikes.
Santa Cruz was founded in 1993 with a unique single pivot full suspension bike called the Santa Cruz Tazmon, the name being a “rastafication” of tasmanian devil. The Tazmon, a 100mm travel all-rounder, was released when anything with 100mm travel was considered a downhill bike, making this bike absolutely wicked in comparison. It’s trick rear suspension was much more active than the competition, and was wonderfully progressive until the end of the shock travel. This advancement led to their Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension kinematics. VPP is based on the patented principle of having two short links rotating in opposite directions, which make for an extremely efficient pedaling platform that is tunable to specific performance needs. This suspension design provides huge design flexibility, allowing Santa Cruz to manipulate shock rates to each specific model, from short travel bikes to World Championship winning DH machines.
(Photo courtesy of Santa Cruz Bicycles)
It’s rare in this day and age to find a bicycle brand that is as impressive internally as they are outwardly, but Santa Cruz is unique. Research and development stays in-house; the easy route is to send drawings to the factory, get a sample, and send feedback. Instead, Santa Cruz have their own test labs to develop their own designs, and test the competition’s designs as well. While Santa Cruz frames and rims are made outside of the US, each bicycle and wheelset is inspected and built in-house to ensure a level of quality control that is unparalleled in the cycling industry. It’s for this reason that both brands offer a lifetime frameset and bearing warranty for every bicycle they offer.
Why did we choose to bring on Santa Cruz? Few brands captivate their audience in the same manner as Santa Cruz. In addition, very few brands know how to walk the line between developing new product and sticking with something that is tried and trued. Santa Cruz is unique in how they focus on the bikes they’d want to ride and want to work on, and not simply what the market dictates. The Tazmon was built to the same standard Santa Cruz Bikes still lives by today: to build bikes of the highest quality that ride great.
We are extremely excited to offer what we feel to be two uncompromising brands with a deep line of mountain bikes for nearly every type of riding. From the versatile Santa Cruz Nomad long travel 27.5” bike, to the impressive Santa Cruz Reserve line of wheels (as tested by Danny MacAskill), to the rough and ready Santa Cruz Chameleon hardtail, there is an uncompromising mountain bike for nearly every need and desire. Just as we’d want it.
Santa Cruz Tallboy
The original Santa Cruz Tallboy debuted in 2009 as a 100mm full suspension 29er in a world where the 29” wheel size was more a fad than a viable option. It quickly proved that a 29er could be sprightly, nimble, and most importantly fun. Perhaps the father of the modern-day 29er cross country mountain bike, it changed how mountain bike companies approached their future designs forever. The new Tallboy’s slacker stance is perfect for a rider who is willing to give up a bit of cross-country efficiency to take their bike into situations where the terrain requires more forgiveness. With both 29” and 27.5”+ wheel size options, a wide size range (S-XXL), and available in an ultralight CC-grade carbon frameset, the Tallboy continues to be one of the best trail bikes money can buy, without being the knife at a proverbial cross country gunfight.
Santa Cruz Hightower LT
The Santa Cruz Hightower roared onto the scene in early 2016, capturing the attention of everyone looking for the speed that big wheels deliver in big terrain. It wasn’t long after the Hightower’s release that images began to surface of riders using a 150mm travel shock instead of the stock 135mm. While this was seemingly to the chagrin of Santa Cruz, the Santa Cruz – SRAM Enduro World Series team was already hard at work developing a Hightower that could maintain speed on rougher tracks. With that, the Santa Cruz Hightower LT long travel 29er mountain bike was born. The race-bred Hightower LT was designed for maximum speed in the challenging Santa Cruz mountains. Through pro-level testing and real world results, it the ideal choice for someone looking for lots of capability without pigeonholing themselves into one style of riding.
Santa Cruz Reserve Wheels
Santa Cruz Bikes brought carbon rims to the mountain biking mainstream when their World Cup Downhill team partnered with ENVE on their championship-winning downhill bikes. The success of their Syndicate Downhill Team proved the benefit of carbon wheels, and it set a precedence for their use today. However, Santa Cruz felt they could do better. As such, they created an in-house carbon lab with the end goal of creating strongest and most reliable carbon wheel on the market. The Santa Cruz Reserve line of wheels offers smart design, high build quality and ease of serviceability at a reasonable price. Each wheelset is handbuilt in Santa Cruz, CA, and offer a choice of DT Swiss 350 or Industry Nine Torch hub sets, with 27.5” and 29er wheel choices in varying widths. To top it off, Santa Cruz offers a no questions asked lifetime warranty on each wheelset; no gimmicks, no catches, only reliable performance.
Santa Cruz Syndicate
Speaking of downhill bikes, the Santa Cruz Syndicate Downhill Team is downhill’s most successful team, 11 years running. The team is just as much an embodiment of the Santa Cruz ethos as their bikes are; they’re laser focused on success, but have more fun than just about any team, with the Syndicate video series as evidence. The Syndicate is another example of something they grew from the ground up, at a time when big race teams were folding. Santa Cruz was the first downhill team to really popularize carbon fiber frames in the field to great success; they had the first full carbon downhill bike to win a world cup, and now nearly everyone runs one. In 2017, Santa Cruz became the first big manufacturer to put 29er wheels on their V10 downhill bike, to even more success. The Santa Cruz V10’s commercial success is proof that Santa Cruz mountain bikes are designed for pro riders and amateurs alike.
We’ve been able to spend some time on the Santa Cruz Hightower LT, and we can confirm that the bike is one of the best long travel 29ers we’ve ridden yet. It’s strength lies in its ability to do just about everything well. It is one of the most efficient pedaling 150mm+ long travel 29er bikes on the market today, but the ever-refined VPP kinematics keeps the bike feeling supple and it’s rear wheel on the ground, even during high-speed “send it” sessions. Not many people want to hear that a bike with this much travel feels like a bike with less, but in this case it is high praise. In an era of bicycles more and more specialized to one specific type of riding, the Hightower LT is a breath of fresh air.
The shop is abuzz with excitement about our new partnership with Santa Cruz Bicycles. Their approach to building mountain bikes is unprecedented, thanks to their desire to ride and build the best bikes in the world, for both racing and shredding a lunch time ride alike. Each Santa Cruz carries a vibe that is absolutely unique, just like the one-of-a-kind city from which they come.