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Which Santa Cruz Bike is Right for You?

By Bruce Lin

Go to any mountain biking hot spot and you are guaranteed to see several Santa Cruz bikes ripping the trails and generating huge smiles. Santa Cruz Bicycles has created some of the most popular, well-reviewed, and desirable bikes of the last decade.

Its bikes are known for clean design, durability, great resale value, and excellent ride characteristics. Santa Cruz is often the choice of some of the world's best riders. Since being founded in 1993, it has helped pioneer the development and production of durable, high-quality carbon frames and pushed mountain bike design to build bikes that allow riders to go further, faster, and higher, for longer.
Santa Cruz Used Mountain Bikes
Santa Cruz’s range of high-performance machines will satisfy everyone from long-distance gravel adventurers to World Cup downhill racers. This overview covers all current Santa Cruz models.

Start by thinking about what type of riding you’re planning to do on your new bike. What sort of terrain will you ride? Are you interested in style or speed? Do you want to race XC or enduro? Hopefully, this guide helps you make an informed decision when buying your next bike. For more information on mountain bikes, you can check out our Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide.

Contents

Frame Material Options

Santa Cruz builds both aluminum and carbon frames. An aluminum frame will weigh more than a comparable carbon frame but will cost significantly less. Aluminum frames are only offered on select models as budget-oriented or entry-level options. 

Santa Cruz’s carbon frames currently come in two different versions — Carbon C and Carbon CC. The type of carbon used is generally designated in the model name (e.g., Bronson CC). By using slightly less expensive carbon fiber, C-level frames are more affordable but weigh around 280 grams more than the CC-level frames. The high-end CC-level carbon frames are more expensive but lighter, and they will have the best resale value. Otherwise, Santa Cruz claims the stiffness, durability, and strength are identical between the two carbon levels. 

VPP Suspension Technology

All current full-suspension Santa Cruz bikes use the Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension design. VPP uses a solid rear triangle that moves using two counter-rotating links. This design is highly tunable so engineers can optimize it to strike a good balance between pedaling efficiency and plushness. The short VPP links help create a stiff and robust chassis. They are designed to prevent linkage play with large diameter axles and bearings that are easily serviceable with built-in grease ports. Several Santa Cruz models have adjustable geometry that can be changed into low and high positions using a flip-chip in the suspension linkage.
Santa Cruz VPP Suspension

Photo courtesy Santa Cruz Bicycles

Santa Cruz currently designs its full-suspension mountain bikes with either an upper or lower-link mounted shock. The upper-link mounted design is generally used on its cross-country and trail bikes (e.g., Blur, Tallboy, 5010) to provide more pedal platform and support for efficient pedaling and snappy handling. The lower-link design is used on more downhill- and enduro-oriented bikes (e.g., Bronson, Nomad, Megatower) as it has a more progressive leverage rate with better small bump compliance and bottom-out resistance.

Men’s vs. Women’s Models

In general, all Santa Cruz models are unisex. There’s is nothing to stop both men and women from riding any model. In the past, Santa Cruz had a women’s model called the Juliana. That has since spawned a women’s specific sister brand, Juliana Bicycles. Founded in 1999, it is named after legendary mountain bike racer, Juli Furtado and it provides bikes for female riders who want a high-quality Santa Cruz bike but who may desire a bike with a different aesthetic or identity.

Used Juliana Furtado Santa Cruz Mountain BikeThe Juliana Furtado CC is equivalent to the Santa Cruz 5010 CC

Juliana bike models are essentially the same as their Santa Cruz counterparts, but they have different branding, colorways, and they use female-specific components like smaller grips and women’s specific saddles. Current Santa Cruz models that have a Juliana equivalent will be noted below. 

Gravel / Cyclocross Bikes

Stigmata

Frame options: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 700c / 650b
Juliana equivalent: Quincy
Who it's for: Riders looking to explore dirt, gravel, and paved roads, gravel and cyclocross racers, and long-distance endurance riders.
Santa Cruz Stigmata Used gravel cyclocross bike
The Stigmata is Santa Cruz’s gravel/cyclocross bike. The geometry is slightly more relaxed than a road bike to make it more stable when riding dirt, but it still remains quick and responsive for competitive gravel or cyclocross racing. It can handle rough dirt and gravel roads and even some light singletrack, but it's also light and efficient enough to transition comfortably to smooth pavement. The Stigmata has large tire clearance to fit high-volume gravel tires. The current version can fit up to 45mm 700c tires or 2.0” 650b tires. It also has fender mounts to make the bike more versatile for different riding and weather conditions. The Stigmata is perfect for those who want a Santa Cruz bike to ride beyond the mountain bike trails. 

For more information on gravel and cyclocross bikes see our Gravel/Cyclocross Bike Buyer’s Guide.

XC Bikes

XC (a.k.a. cross-country) mountain bikes are lighter, easier to pedal, and have quick and responsive handling. They are good for riders focused on fitness, speed, climbing, endurance, long-distance rides, and XC racing.

Highball

Frame options: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 100mm front
Who it's for: Cross-country racers and climbing- and endurance-focused riders who want the light weight and efficiency of a hardtail.
Santa Cruz Highball Used Mountain Bike
The Highball is the lightest and most efficient mountain bike in the Santa Cruz line-up. While it's a race-oriented hardtail that will appeal to XC purists, the geometry has been tweaked and relaxed to make it more capable and composed than traditional XC race bikes. The carbon layup is fine-tuned to calm trail chatter, and combined with the bridgeless seat stays and 27.2mm seatpost, it takes hardtail comfort to a new level. The Highball is a bike for pedaling hard that will climb fast, go far, and do it with confidence.

Blur

Frame material: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 100-110mm front / 100mm rear
Who it's for: Cross-country racers. Climbing- and endurance-focused riders who want the extra compliance of rear suspension.
Santa Cruz Blur Used Mountain Bike
The Blur has recently returned as Santa Cruz’s race-oriented full-suspension XC bike. The 2,060-gram CC-level frame is the lightest full-suspension frame Santa Cruz has ever made, and it uses a VPP layout to both maximize pedaling efficiency and help riders endure long-distance cross-country rides. The Blur also comes standard with a dual lockout remote for racers who need to quickly firm up their suspension for hard pedaling efforts. Part of the new school of XC bikes, the Blur has been developed with a slacker headtube and longer reach to match current trends. A trail version called the Blur TR is also available with a beefier 110mm fork and a dropper post, for XC riders who want a little more downhill capability than the standard 100mm bike.

Trail Bikes

Trail mountain bikes are all-rounders that can handle uphills as well as downhills. They are usually the best choice for the majority of riders looking to have fun on a variety of trails.

Chameleon

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C
Wheel size: 29” / 27.5”+
Travel: 120-130mm front
Who it's for: Riders looking for a simple, fun, and capable trail hardtail.
Santa Cruz Chameleon Used Mountain Bike
The Chameleon is a trail hardtail with a relaxed and fun-loving spirit that can still be pushed to shred. Some riders simply don’t need the complexity or cost of a full-suspension trail bike. The Chameleon uses modern geometry and affordable components to give riders a simple, no-fuss option to get out and ride. The Chameleon can change to suit its environment and is compatible with both 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires. Swappable dropouts allow it to convert between geared and singlespeed drivetrains. With three bottle cage mounts, it can gear up for epic adventures far away from civilization.

Tallboy

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 120mm front / 110mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Joplin
Who it's for: Riders looking for a versatile trail bike that pedals efficiently on climbs and long rides, but has the travel and geometry to outperform XC race bikes on descents and technical trails.
Santa Cruz Tallboy Used Mountain Bike
The Tallboy is a bike that muddles the line between XC and trail. It has an efficient 110mm of rear suspension that provides just enough extra travel to take to edge off of rougher trails. It’s intended for those who want an efficient bike but aren’t hardcore XC racers. With extra forgiveness in the suspension and a slightly slacker front end, riders can attack technical trails just a bit more confidently. The Tallboy fits very nicely into the do-it-all bike category, able to transition between XC riding and big climbs to harder descending that might overwhelm most short-travel bikes. Previous Tallboy models are compatible with 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires but currently it is offered as a 29” model only.

5010

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 27.5”+
Travel: 130mm front / 130mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Furtado
Who it's for: Riders looking for a playful trail bike that maximizes agility and poppiness.
Santa Cruz 5010 Used Mountain Bike
The 5010 is designed to be the most fun trail bike possible. The 130mm of travel is just enough to handle hard hits and landings, while the responsive geometry and smaller wheels keep the bike nimble and make it easy to pop and jump off every trail feature. The upper-link driven shock helps the bike pedal efficiently to the fun bits of the trail. It’s the do-it-all choice for riders who are more interested in thrashing their bike and having a good time than racing or competing. The newest 5010 is compatible with both 27.5” and 27.5”+ wheels and is capable of fitting up to 2.8” tires, giving it huge versatility. 

Hightower / Hightower LT

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 150mm front / 140mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Maverick
Who it's for: Riders looking for a versatile trail/enduro bike that is better equipped to effectively handle steep, technical, and gnarly terrain.
Santa Cruz Hightower Used Mountain Bike
The Hightower is a bigger do-it-all bike that's aimed at trail riders more interested in downhill prowess. It features more travel and an even slacker headtube than the Tallboy to help it excel on steeper and chunkier trails. The previous generation Hightower came in two flavors. The original Hightower had 135mm of rear travel, making it an ultra-versatile trail bike with compatibility for 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires. It was followed by the 29” only Hightower LT which increased rear travel to 150mm to satisfy enduro riders. The newest version of the Hightower splits the difference with 140mm of rear travel, a 150mm fork, and a slack head angle. It's a bike that sits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone of downhill capability — efficient feeling, but just forgiving enough to save you on descents when things get out of hand.

Read our longterm Santa Cruz Hightower / Hightower LT review.

Bronson

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 27.5”+
Travel: 160mm front / 150mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Roubion
Who it's for: Riders who want a stable and confident trail/enduro bike that is not too heavy-duty.
Santa Cruz Bronson Used Mountain Bike
The Bronson uses 27.5” wheels and 150mm of travel to maintain a more playful feel, but it can still buckle down and plow through technical terrain when needed. Santa Cruz designed the Bronson to ride the edge between agility and stability, to make it as fun and capable on downhill trails as it is on flow and jump trails. The newest Bronson has moved to a lower-link driven shock and gone from a 150mm fork to a 160mm fork to increase its downhill capabilities. It can fit standard 27.5” wheels and tires up to 2.8” 27.5”+ wheels and tires. 

Jackal

Frame material: Aluminum
Wheel size: 26”
Travel: 100mm front
Who it's for: Dirt jump, slopestyle, pump track, and skatepark riders.

The Jackal is a classic dirt jump bike that allows riders to play on jumps, pump tracks, at skate parks, and on urban features. It’s made to take abuse and be dead simple to maintain. Dirt jump bikes are great for everyone from adventurous kids to veteran riders looking to sharpen their riding skills.

Enduro

Enduro mountain bikes have more suspension travel, aggressive geometry geared toward downhill stability, and heavier, more rugged componentry. They are good for riding steep and technical terrain, bike parks, and enduro races.

Megatower

Frame material: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 160mm front / 160mm rear
Who it's for: Riders looking for a big travel 29” enduro bike for riding gnarly downhill terrain at race speeds.

The Megatower combines the rollover of big 29” wheels with 160mm of travel to produce a heavy-hitting enduro machine. It's the primary choice of Santa Cruz’s Enduro World Series racers. It offers some of the most progressive geometry in the Santa Cruz line-up to help maximize rider confidence when attacking trails at race speed. It can pedal uphill, but with the big wheels, big travel, and the lower-link shock, it encourages riders to plow through gnarly terrain as fast as possible. An additional flip-chip in the rear dropouts allows riders to lengthen the chain stays for extra stability in extreme downhill situations. It’s suitable for die-hard enduro racers and riders looking to conquer downhill KOMs on their local trails.

Nomad

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5”
Travel: 170mm front / 170mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Strega
Who it's for: Riders who want the maximum amount of suspension travel in their enduro bike for big hits, gnarly downhill terrain, or bike park riding.
Santa Cruz Nomad Used Mountain Bike
The Nomad is aimed at riders whose primary focus is attacking gnarly downhill terrain and hitting big features, jumps, and drops. The 170mm of travel make the bike plush and forgiving, 27.5” wheels keep it maneuverable. The ultra-slack headtube and long reach help inspire more confidence when trails get super steep and technical. The Nomad has the most suspension travel in Santa Cruz's line-up other than the V10 downhill bike. The lower-link shock design is progressive enough to be compatible with air and coil shocks and it helps the bike soak up big hits and bad landings, encouraging riders to send bigger and bigger features. Its intentions are definitely downhill focused, but the VPP suspension will give it enough of a pedaling platform to get you back to the top. 

Downhill Bikes

Downhill mountain bikes are designed to go downhill as fast as possible — pretty straightforward, right? Downhill bikes don’t pedal or climb well and are best suited to lift-served downhill bike parks and shuttling.

V10

Frame material: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 29”
Travel: 203mm front / 215mm rear
Who it's for: Downhill racers, dedicated bike park riders, and freeriders who need the burliest mountain bike possible.
Santa Cruz V10 Used Mountain Bike
The V10 is legendary. It’s one of the most successful downhill bikes ever made with numerous World Cup wins under some of the best downhill racers in the world. With a massive 215mm of rear travel, the V10 is the biggest weapon possible for tackling the gnarliest terrain or biggest jumps a rider might ever face. It has also helped change the face of World Cup downhill racing as the first downhill bike to use and win on 29” wheels. Over its long history, the V10 design has been constantly fine-tuned and whether you’re a racer or a park rat, it will help maximize your downhill potential.

 

See our entire Santa Cruz collection


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