For the launch of Santa Cruz’s new bikes, I was invited to ride with a solid roundup of journalists and employees at Gooseberry Mesa in southwest Utah. The trails offered a great testing ground for all three new bikes, covering the gamut from slickrock to loose rock to rock drops to rock hard singletrack. In otherwords, terrain that’s nothing like my standard NC east coast riding…but wicked fun.
The three new bikes launched – Blur TRc, Tallboy AL and carbon Highball 29er hardtail – are all solid performers, but my favorite was the new Blur TRc. We have all three bikes coming in for long-term review in late May, and they’ll be spec’d with shiny new 2012 components – the same way you’ll be able to order them through their online bike builder around that time. Until then, check our original post for geometry and glamour shots, or jump past the break for cutaway frame photos, tech info and first impressions on the Blur TRc. Then start saving your pennies…
The Blur TRc sits smack between the XC and LT models with 127mm travel in the rear and a custom set Fox fork at 130mm. Many names bounced around for this model, including the elegant “in-blur-tween” before they simple settled on TR with a “c” to denote “carbon” (and a not so subtle hint that an aluminum model will eventually join the stable).
It evolved from an internal desire…a lot of the employees were modding their Blur XC’s with longer travel forks, bigger tires and dropper posts, and they kept saying how great it would be with an extra inch of travel.
The Blur TRc has about same geometry as the Nickel overall. It’s got a 68 degree head angle, the same as an LT with a 150mm fork. Once they’re officially on sale, Santa Cruz will offer a build with a 120mm fork which would put it at about 68.5 degrees, getting it darn close to the Blur XC’s 69 degree head angle. Unlike the XC, it has a tapered headtube with some pretty large shaping of the top- and downtubes where they meet it.
The bike uses all continuous cable housing, which product manager Josh says is something they’ll be doing on more models in the future. They’re also making more of their bikes chainguide compatible, including this one as you’ll see further down.
The bottom bracket area is fairly beefy, which gave the bike a solid feel. I didn’t notice any flex under power. Tire clearance is decent for the 2.1 Maxxis tires installed.
While our demo bikes were built with current parts like XTR 3×10, Fox fork and shock and Easton cockpit with Rockshox Reverb dropper post (which will stay as a build option!), one of the more interesting parts picks was the Chub front hub. It seems like a solid hub, and SC marketing man Mike Ferrentino said they chose it because it’s big, strong and they like the guys at By The Hive. Full weights on the bikes as built for our test rides are in this post, but by the time they pop up on the bike builder section of their website, they’ll be kitted out with some 2012 bits that differ slightly.
CARBON TECHNOLOGY, VPP and FRAME DETAILS
The VPP suspension design been around at Santa Cruz since 2002 with the Blur XC, then the 2nd (and current) generation came about with the LT. For 2011/12, they’ve made a few updates across the Blur line:
- Revised grease port locations and the ports are threaded in rather than just pressed in. In the pics above, you’ notice that from the side you can’t see the grease ports, meaning they don’t stick out where they’re in danger of getting hit by rocks like on current/past Blur models.
- Changed the shock rate and movement to go from a very sharp shock ramp up and 31mm of chain growth to one with more consistent shock rate throughout with only 16mm of chain growth.
The frame’s design allows all lower pivot axles to be removed from the non-drive side without removing the cranks, so it’s easier service.
The VPP suspension tends to be very supple at the beginning, which makes it really smooth over little bumps with a lower shock rate in the middle of the travel to be very active over rough terrain before ramping back up a bit at the end of the stroke to keep it from bottoming hard. The upside is that these bikes soak up rough terrain like a sponge, making it feel like there’s more travel than the bike really has. The downside is that, partially also because of a low-ish BB height, it’s easy to hit your pedals when pedaling over rocks or roots.
About that low BB, it’s an intentional design to lower the COG and improve handling, but it takes a bit to get the pedaling habits changed to accommodate it.
Their carbon construction uses an internal mandrel during construction which allows them to evenly apply high pressure during layup. This creates a stronger frame that is less likely to fail catastrophically (meaning it may crack in a major wreck, but you’ll probably be able to ride it out of the woods. This method of construction also makes it easy to localize thickness in the frame walls to reinforce areas that need more strength.
SC says this method of construction is about twice as expensive as simply using a bladder with external mold because there is a lot of additional tooling and parts used. They won’t say how they get the mandrels out…trade secrets. Of course, by not telling us, the conversation devolved into a 20 minute “discussion” about why they wouldn’t tell us what their mandrels are made of other than to say it involved a specific nationality of midgets (their words, and yes, they’re joking) and that the end product should be the focus. We agree…and the end product rocks.
The Blur TR has a full monocoque front triangle. The swingarm is made in left and right halves then bonded together. Lower linkage is aluminum since it’s going to see more rock strikes. The inside of the driveside chainstay also has a protective leather-like bit, same as the chainstay chain slap guard.
Headtube has an insert bonded in after construction to make headset removal safer for your frame, that’s why it looks like a tube (the thin, non-structural piece closing off the HT from the TT and DT is the insert). The carbon frames have aluminum inserts at the brake mounts, bottle mounts and anything with an axle (pivots, BB). The cable guides are aluminum, too, but they’re co-molded on for a very svelte look.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
The bike above is a pre-production Blur LT TRc that belongs to Josh, their product manager. No, yellow won’t be a color option, but note how he’s got it built up: Single front ring with chainguide, SID 120mm fork and fat WTB tires.
I spun around the parking lot on both bikes back to back and actually preferred it with the 120mm fork…it just felt a hair quicker to turn, which is what I’m used to having a serious leaning toward XC-type riding. The difference is slight, but it shows what is likely to be this bike’s strongest selling point: Versatility.
Our Blur XC has the same SID on it and currently sits darn close to 23lbs with pedals. We could basically swap all the parts over to the TR and have a sub-24lb race rocket, then put a longer travel fork on it for big days on the mountain. Ideally, we’d just put a reasonably light adjustable travel fork that’d go from 120mm to 150mm and leave it alone…here’s hoping something like that is a build option directly from Santa Cruz.
Josh’s bike was set up as a 1×9 with an older SRAM X0 derailleur.
Keep in mind, this is only a first impression based on two days of riding the Blur at Hurricane and Gooseberry Mesa in Utah.
The first day we rode some trails in Hurricane, UT, including Bear Claw Poppy and some other trails that shoot off of it. These had some rather steep and/or sustained climbing sections that included a few technical bits. On the flatter stuff, I noticed the front end would wander just a tad, exposing it’s “trail” underpinnings. Despite that, traction was solid whether seated or standing.
The second day was the better test. After spending the morning on the Tallboy AL on Gooseberry Mesa’s slickrock and other trails (Hidden Canyon, White Trail, South Rim), I was expecting the Blur TR to have a little more trouble picking it’s way through the deeper, more abrupt ruts and incline changes. Not the case. Not at all, actually. Maybe it was the longer suspension, maybe the slacker angle, maybe both plus some magic. Whatever it was, the Blur TRc was an absolute blast to ride. The VPP suspension (of which I’m an unabashed fan, for the record) soaked up the bumps and drops with liquid smoothness. Coming off drops anywhere from 10″ to 24″ were no problem, and some of the other folks there were easily doubling that.
(This paragraph added 4/11) The frame is quite stiff, most notably apparent when cruising over rough fire road. Several of the dirt roads we used to connect trails had recently been mud, which freerange cows used to migrate about, leaving a mottled surface that was hard as concrete once dry. Such surfaces have such rapid small bumps that they’ll overwhelm the suspension, so all of the bumps were felt through the frame. This isn’t a knock on the bike or the Fox suspension, because when you want the suspension for normal mountain bike stuff it’s there, and the frame’s plenty stiff for hammering, it’s just something I noticed. Also, because the suspension is so supple, it does tend to bob a bit when standing and pedaling hard, but flipping on ProPedal cures some of it, and it’s barely noticeable when seated.
The dropper post is a smart spec choice, making it easy to get off the back of the bike and really point it downward. The Maxxis CrossMark tires (ran with tubes) performed flawlessly across the various surfaces we rode.
For Santa Cruz fans torn between the race-ready performance of the Blur XC and the capabilities of the longer travel, tougher Blur LT, this is your bike.