Mountain Bike Action Bike Test: Santa Cruz Heckler eTrail Bike
SANTA CRUZ HECKLER
By Alex Boyce
Ever since it was founded in 1994 as a full-suspension-centric mountain bike brand, Santa Cruz has maintained a top-tier position, owing to their push in new technology and heavy investment in racing with a succession of some the world’s best downhill riders found under their umbrella. So successful were they in the pedal bike market that they initially scoffed at the idea of joining the pedal-assist market.
Of course, their steadfast resistance only lasted so long until they realized that they were losing a significant portion of potential market share as they sat on the sidelines watching one competing brand after another enjoying newfound profit and popularity by embracing the battery.
For Santa Cruz, though, they needed to do something that would give the competition something to worry while also staying true to their well-respected history of creating a cutting-edge product. The Heckler is that bike.
Originally, the Heckler was a pedal bike that arrived in 1996. For the new-age e-bike version, Santa Cruz has taken their Bronson platform as the starting point for the Heckler, which leans towards an aggressive trail/enduro bike. The Heckler starts with a carbon frame that uses some very nice-looking CNC pivots to join the VPP pivots, which counter-rotate in opposite directions around the centrally mounted RockShox Super Deluxe Select with a piggyback reservoir, but, noticeably, there’s no lockout.
The main characteristic of the VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension design is the ability to absorb big trail hits smoothly while still providing an efficient pedaling platform. Due to the design needs of the VPP system, making it work in combination with a motor was a complex operation. When looking at how the motor layout, shock position and pivots are combined, one is left really impressed with the amount of engineering required to achieve the final outcome.
The frame has excellent integration and uses an internal battery with subtle, well-placed cable routing. The battery release is a simple 4mm hex key and allows off-bike or on-bike charging.
The design of the system means all the suspension bearings are situated in aluminum, and the power in the unit is contained within a one-piece rear triangle. This leads to a very quiet system that does not creak or wear quickly, and is easier to maintain and adjust. Santa Cruz says that many other systems on the market that use four-bar-link suspension systems have more moving parts and thus increases the risk of noise and wear points on the frame. Santa Cruz even designed the rear-brake attachment points to be for 200mm rotors as standard, rather than use adapters on the frame—again, to minimize the risk of movement and
The Heckler bucks the big-wheel trend by using 27.5-plus-inch wheels. There was a lot of testing and experimentation before this wheel size was arrived at. Santa Cruz was looking for a bike that has excellent handling characteristics that would also give riders the ability to change directions easily.
Santa Cruz’s design lead, Nick Anderson, highlighted the fact that in order to achieve the agility and performance they were looking for, the chainstay length was key and 27.5-inch wheels fitted that criteria. Interestingly, they did not decide to put a 29er wheel up front, which has also become a move from other brands.
The 12-speed SRAM Eagle NX drivetrain is a solid performer. To help minimize pedal strikes, Santa Cruz chose to run with 165mm cranks.
Braking is provided by SRAM’s Guide RE with 200mm rotors. The wheel packages are comprised of aluminum WTB rims mounted with 2.6-inch Maxxis DHR II tires.
The front and rear suspension is courtesy of Rockshox and offers up 160mm up front and 150mm of rear travel to play with.
Santa Cruz have chosen Shimano as their motor partner, equipping the Heckler with the Shimano E8000 system, which provided the standard Class 1 levels of power and limits of speed. The wiring, power-control circuits and switches are all Shimano, as is the 504-Wh internal battery. Santa Cruz took this option in order to make it easy to service and maintain, with only one point of contact necessary worldwide to source and service parts.
The system uses Shimano cranks, and the subtle E7000 power switch and display tuck in just behind the bar out of the way. Turning on the system is via a power switch underneath the shock, which we like, keeping the frame lines clean.
The Shimano motor can be tuned via their E-tube app and allows multiple settings in each power mode, plus easy updating of motor firmware. The E8000 motor has three main power modes, plus Walk mode, which are controlled via the left-mounted power switch. Charging times come in at around three hours in average indoor temperature conditions. Charging on the bike is possible via a small power connector on the left side of the frame above the motor. The speed sensor is integrated into the brake-rotor mounts and, again, gives it a clean design.
Range of a 504-Wh battery and a Class 1 motor is hard to predict but assume the bike gives a 200-pound rider
two hours of quality ride time in Boost mode and/or allows about 1000 meters/3000 feet of climbing in Boost mode. Rider weight, trail conditions and many other factors, including tire choice, can influence range off-road. With the removable battery system, it is possible to carry a second battery in your backpack and effectively double the range.
WHO IT’S MADE FOR
Technically, the Heckler is not fussy at all, with one of the lowest maintenance suspension systems on the market that provides an excellent ride and a motor that is supported by legendary Shimano service, reliability and support. The Heckler is certainly aimed at those who just want to ride and not think about the technology/maintenance side too much.
From a rider’s point of view the Heckler will keep a broad spectrum of riders very happy. However, as we said previously if you have excellent bike skills and want to make a solid investment in a fun ride, the Heckler should be one of the bikes that you need to try. If you are a beginner looking for more of an A-to-B ride, then the Heckler will be above your needs.
The Heckler has not followed the fashion that has come out of many European design houses of an extremely long top tube and stretched out riding position. Most American bike development is cautious, seeking not to alienate the core riders at home that have their own thoughts on geometry.
While being too stretched can leave a rider feeling uncomfortable on long rides, the Heckler has a good balance between relaxed riding and active readiness. The Shimano motor is unassuming and reliable, adding to the no-surprises sensation. It has some noise, but nothing that isn’t on par with other motors like the Bosch
Gen 4 system.
Climbing on steep, rocky terrain with the VPP suspension setup with the addition of the motor is a rewarding experience. Maintaining an easy-going, relaxed body position at the right balance point within the frame is simple. Front-end lift is minimal and steering in tight, uphill sections is enjoyable, and the bike goes around corners well with no stalling at the slowest point of the corner. Here, we actually felt that the 27.5-inch wheel size gives the Heckler a slight advantage over 29ers if you are riding tight, twisting uphill trails.
The Shimano motor was responsive and on point for all of the climbs we committed to; however, the power modes do need tuning to match the riders’ athletic ability, which can be done within the E-tube app. With the stock setting, we made adjustments to the middle settings to make it a touch less powerful compared to Boost mode. All riders should play with the settings to make them suit individual needs as it can really improve the enjoyment of the ride and battery range is enhanced.
Owing to their downhill World Cup win record, Santa Cruz’s bikes are most famous for their fast-descending abilities, and the Heckler is no exception. With the VPP suspension system, the rider does have a small feeling of invincibility on big hits. As the rider approaches the limit of the suspension the system progressively ramps up and flat drops don’t feel as flat as they might with other suspension designs.
The RockShox shock also provides excellent support on long descents, maintaining shock rates as the air chamber heats up with no packing. We found the stock tune to actually be good. We set sag at around 30 percent and kept the rebound fairly slow. This meant the bike was still responsive for our riding style when taking big hits as we pushed and popped off the trail in corners. You can also easily get low when at speed, as the stand-over height and bottom bracket height put stability at the core of the ride.
This takes us to the main recognizable point of the ride—maneuverability. The Heckler feels like it can be picked up and placed where the rider wants it to, and this is aided by good geometry choices plus a lowish weight. At just under 48 pounds for the base model, the Heckler weighs in well below compared to the competition. The top-of-the-range X version is a (claimed) pound-and-a-half lighter, but significantly more expensive at $13,099.
On fast, rocky trails, the Heckler is really good fun, changing directions quickly, picking up speed instantly and popping out of turns with poise. The bike eats up the terrain with ease and adapts well to rider input. The ride feel is definitely “Santa Cruz” in nature and does offer a difference compared to the vast majority of the rest of the market. There are only a few bikes we can think of that offer a similar fun ride. If the rider has good on-bike skills, this is the type of bike that will reward those skills with more fun.
Santa Cruz kept everyone waiting. They took their time, did their research and produced a solid-performing e-bike. The Heckler exudes exceptionally good quality and confirms its position as a high-end, top-tier product. Everything fits together really well, and nothing feels out of place.
The top-tier pricing (three models ranging from $7399 to $13,099) keeps the Heckler out of reach of those with smaller budgets. But for the price, you get a full-carbon frame with solid components at a bike weight that is competitive when compared to equivalent products from other brands. If you were going to drag
race three dream cars down a racetrack to find out which was best, the Santa Cruz Heckler would be one of the bikes that you would put on the starting line.
SANTA CRUZ HECKLER
Price: $7399 (R model)
Motor: Shimano STEPS E8000
Battery: Shimano 504
Charge time: 4 hours
Top speed: 20 mph
Range: 20–40 miles
Drive: SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed
Brakes: SRAM Guide RE with Avid Centerline 200mm discs
Controls: Shimano STEPS E7000
Fork: RockShox Yari RC 160mm 27.5”
Rear shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Select
Frame: Carbon CC Santa Cruz frame. Tested L size.
Tires: Maxxis Minion DHR II, 27.5×2.6 EXO+ TR
Weight: 47.66 pounds
Color choice: Yellowjacket & Black or Blackout & Copper
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
Mountain Bike Action is a monthly magazine devoted to all things mountain biking (yes, that’s 12 times a year because we never take a month off of mountain biking). It has been around since 1986 and we’re still having fun.