The logistics of packing four bikes and four friends into a Peugeot Partner is a skill unto itself, and oddly therapeutic. Unfortunately, it is also time consuming. So, after loading up and a good few hours of driving to the damp pine forests of North Wales, (taking in a couple of pit stops for human and vehicle fuel), a nights kip; bivvy’d up beneath the branches, was as appealing as any B’n’B.

A good night’s sleep in hand and some stove cooked breaky dismantled, the time had come to see what all the fuss was about. It was time to hit some laps on the latest edition of Santa Cruz’s stalwart trail bike, the Bronson. The bike feels like it has been part of Santa Cruz’s range for longer than the decade landmark it reached this year, and it has seen a lot of changes along the way. Most notably, this latest edition (4.0) is the first to feature an MX wheel size (27.5 rear / 29 front), after spending the last 10 years with both wheels 27.5″.

Photography – Dylan Rees @dylrylian

Describing myself as a die hard 27.5″ rider, I was apprehensive to get out and see what this big change meant for my favourite bike, I had been riding a Bronson 3.0 for the last 4 years and had fallen in love. The rain of the night before had given the trails a tacky quality and the crisp chill of mid morning Spring was enough of an incentive to get pedalling.

First impression when pedalling out of our camp from the night before: the bike looks amazing. This Bronson was a SRAM AXS build with Reserve carbon wheels, the highest spec available in this model, so it did look the part. However, its not just about looks, the first climb was where I started noticing what this bike was really about. After a couple of minutes out, I adjusted my ride position to suit the new MX setup and got to work. On the steeper, more technical climbs I discovered the bike was a hell of climber. Pedal strokes were efficient and the bike felt incredibly balanced . The Bronson’s bigger 29″ front wheel allowed the bike to pull itself over obstacles when ascending, allowing for a more controlled climb. This ability to haul itself over things was something I would later find it also does incredibly well when going the opposite way. As the climbs eased off and the flatter sections of the ascent were tackled, it was time for a brief chin wag before pointing the bike back down the hill.

Photography – Dylan Rees @dylrylian

The Bronson felt smooth and stable. This became apparent after the first few corners, however, in the fast straights it got even better. With the pine coated floor feeling loose and shale sections giving way under cornering, braking could have been an issue, however, the Bronson felt controlled, it tracked the ground seamlessly when the anchors were on. The bike felt noticeably more stable allowing me to scrub off speed with much more precision. This created an increased confidence on the bike. However, there was no false bravado, the more you threw the Bronson into situations, the better it dealt with them.

Although the latest modifications to the Bronson had definitely increased its speed and handling, I feared the nimbleness may have been a collateral in all of these changes. I was wrong again. As I noted about the bikes climbing, the front wheel was pulling the bike over technical features and rock sections, keeping the speed constant whilst the smaller rear wheel allowed for the precision movements and micro adjustments when the trails got techy. The Bronson felt like it had all the benefits of a 29er with the genuine feel of a smaller bike. Control was the main take-away of the bikes descending capabilities. The Bronson takes care of the speed and grip so that the rider could focus on exactly how they want to ride. This did raise the thought of how much better the bike may handle with a coil shock fitted? A question which I very much would like to answer.

Photography – Dylan Rees @dylrylian

After more laps than we had planned and the the sun starting the fade we began to roll back towards camp, stopping at a few features to test the Bronson out when jumping and jibbing. This was the only part of the day where the Bronson took some real getting used to. When tackling slow technical manoeuvres, the bike needed alot more effort and thought putting in than a same wheel size bike. With the two different wheel sizes it felt like at times, a brain was needed for each wheel. Planning for how each wheel would react in situations at high speed was not an issue, but slowed down for these jib sessions, it maybe didn’t feel quite as fun.

The Verdict

After what was a full day of really pushing the bike, it must be said, the Bronson 4 was a very impressive bike. The perfect bike for blasting laps, a competent and comfortable climber (once adjusted), incredible at speed and possesses all the qualities and confidence of its biggest travel brothers when descending. All round, control and capability feels like it has been the forefront of the bikes re-design and it really shows through. Whilst maybe not as fun as its predecessor on a jib session, it sure does make up for it everywhere else.

Rider – Angus Dawson / Words – Tom Conway / Images – Dylan Rees

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