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This Santa Cruz Stigmata + Fox 32 Taper-Cast Was Too Cool To Sell (As Is)

The Santa Cruz Stigmata is cool. Gravel suspension forks like the Fox 32 Taper-Cast are cool. Put them together and you get a SUPER cool gravel bike that can shred rough terrain. I'd do this to my own bike, but alas, we're not allowed to sell this particular setup.

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Bikes

The Santa Cruz Stigmata has always been one of my favorite bikes. My interest in it started nearly 10 years ago when Santa Cruz revived the bike in 2015 (the original Stigmata 1 was discontinued in 2011). The release video featured downhill legend Steve Peat and cyclocross racer Scott Chapin riding in Yorkshire:  

This video was formative for me. Seeing Steve and Scott pedal through the snow with confidence and enthusiasm unlocked a desire I didn’t know I had. I started imagining spending my winters skidding around in the snow instead of being stuck inside on the trainer. It convinced me that cyclocross bikes were a rad must-have addition to my quiver. 

That fall, I bought my first ‘cross bike (an old CAADX) and started getting my ass kicked in my local CX series. A couple of years later, I finally added a beautiful 2017 Stigmata to my collection. 

2017 Santa Cruz Stigmata yellow

My old 2017 Stigmata 2. NOTE: I didn’t actually run the saddle slammed like that. This is pre-gravel droppers and it’s what I did for some singletrack!

My old Stigmata 2 in the “Gloss Yellow/Mint” colorway was one of the best-looking bikes ever made, especially with a set of matching ENVE M50 wheels.

I was never any good at the short and punchy nature of cyclocross but I became obsessed with riding and racing drop bars on unpaved surfaces. Eventually, I started using my Stigmata for a new and growing discipline: gravel. Ultimately, it was the Stigmata that led me to gravel racing

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From ‘Cross to Gravel

2022 Santa Cruz Stigmata Fox 32 Taper-Cast

Go ahead, compare it to a ‘90s MTB! 

This 2022 Stigmata 3 in the classy “Gloss Brut” colorway has everything a modern gravel bike needs to tackle the roughest gravel roads and singletrack trails —  a suspension fork, a dropper seatpost, wide (25mm internal) carbon wheels, and some fat and knobby tires.


The predecessor to this bike, the Stigmata 2, was designed to be a dedicated cyclocross race bike with a high bottom bracket and 33-35mm tires (though it could clear 40mm tires). However, as with many cyclocross bikes of that era, most riders weren’t using the Stigmata for its intended purpose. At Santa Cruz’s headquarters, their employees put fenders and bags on their Stigmatas and used them for commuting, singletrack adventures, and endurance gravel events. 

Stigmata stack height

Look at that spacer stack. The previous owner was either very tall, a bit inflexible, or he just liked to shred (maybe all three!).

So in 2019, Santa Cruz released the Stigmata 3 which was updated to be more versatile and gravel-oriented. The new frame could fit 700c x 45mm gravel tires or 650b x 2.1” mountain bike tires. It had mounts for fenders and a third bottle cage. There was even a Juliana version, called the “Quincy,” which added a smaller size 49cm and used a women’s saddle and narrower bar.

The bottom bracket was dropped 1-5mm and the head tube length increased 5-15mm. The bottom bracket drop was fairly mild because Santa Cruz wanted to retain the Stigmata’s ability to handle cyclocross racing, but it added a bit of extra stability. The increased head tube length was much more significant though because it made the Stigmata more comfortable, capable, and confidence-inspiring on rough terrain.   

Speaking of comfort, the updated frame also featured a new carbon layup that took cues from Santa Cruz’s Highball hardtail mountain bike. This layup was paired with more rounded tube shapes that improved compliance compared to the previous Stigmata.

Stigmata AXS reverb gravel dropper post

Finally, for riders who wanted to get extra rowdy, the frame used internal routing for a dropper post. The previous owner of this particular Stigmata chose to use a wireless Reverb AXS XPLR dropper. 

That Pesky Gravel Suspension Fork

Fox 32 Taper Cast gravel fork santa cruz stigmata

Despite the gravel-forward design, there was still ONE THING the designers of the Stigmata 3 didn’t account for — gravel suspension forks. 

This bike came to TPC with a Fox 32 Taper-cast gravel fork installed. This is a gravel-specific suspension fork that provides 40mm of travel (there’s a 50mm version too). This post isn’t going to dive into the merits of gravel suspension forks (TL;DR - they’re awesome on rough terrain), but rather, the issue of compatibility. 

Our mechanics took issue with this particular Stigmata build because the Fox 32 Taper-Cast has an axle-to-crown height of 435.5mm, which is about 40mm taller than the Stigmata 3’s stock rigid fork. This 40mm change has a major effect on the bike’s geometry. The increased height will make the head and seat angle significantly slacker (~2 degrees). The bottom bracket and stack height will be higher, and the reach shorter. These geometry changes mean the bike essentially won’t handle as intended. 

Not only that, but a longer fork also creates more leverage where it is attached to the frame, so to be officially approved, frames need to be impact tested with a longer fork. They also need a headtube designed to fit the 1-⅛” to 1-½” tapered steerer used by modern suspension forks.  

Fox 32 Taper Cast gravel fork Santa Cruz Stigmata

The current crop of gravel suspension forks like the Fox 32 Taper-Cast and RockShox Rudy are forward-looking products. When they were released, not many gravel bikes on the market were officially approved to run it. Unfortunately, this 2022 Stigmata 3 isn’t officially approved by Santa Cruz for this fork, although the fork does fit the frame beautifully otherwise. 

If you want a Santa Cruz gravel frame designed to run a gravel suspension fork, then you’ll want the newer 2023+ Stigmata 4. This updated model has all-new geometry that is extra-long and designed around a fork with a 430mm axle-to-crown height. It’s “suspension corrected” and officially approved to run any current gravel suspension fork. 

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So alas, our mechanics removed the Fox 32 Tapercast. Ultimately, I was sad the fork got taken off. I’m a big fan of “overforking” my mountain bikes, so if this were my bike, I’d just send it and keep the suspension fork (to be clear, this is MY opinion and TPC doesn’t endorse this). 

I tested a RockShox Rudy on my old Lynskey gravel bike and the big geometry changes didn’t really bother me. For me, the experience was all positive. I was more comfortable and I could ride more quickly on rough terrain. I was so impressed that I ended up buying a Lauf Seigla as my next bike which uses a leaf spring fork but also rides amazingly with an air fork like the Fox 32 Taper-Cast or RockShox Rudy.  

I even argued with the mechanics about it. “It’s way cooler with the fork and I already took pictures of it,” I said. But no. They like doing things right and making things safe. Oh well.

Santa Cruz Stigmata Fox Taper Cast gravel fork

They removed the fork, inspected the frame, and even tested it with an ultrasonic tap hammer to ensure its structural integrity. They also worked with Santa Cruz to get a color-matched replacement fork. (Santa Cruz are warranty masters and it’s always amazing how many spare frames and parts for discontinued bikes they keep on hand for issues like this.)

So this Stigmata is a bit less cool now. If it ends up in your garage, consider putting a suspension fork back on. I’m a fan. 

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