The Santa Cruz Stigmata has been in the brand’s lineup for donkey’s ears, and time had left the original Stiggy looking a little, well, original.
Gravel riding has advanced significantly, and with it, bike geometry as well. This is the fourth generation ‘Stig, originally released back in 2007, then in 2015, 2019 and now this version. It’s more than just a slacker head angle and longer reach, Santa Cruz has created a bike that is clever, classy, and tries hard to do it all.
With the Dirty Warny gravel race on the horizon, we took the opportunity to log a few hundred kilometres of gravel, fire roads, back roads, and tarmac on the Stigmata. After all, this is a bike that won the legendary Unbound Gravel 200-mile race, so it was definitely up for the challenge.
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An overview of the 2024 Santa Cruz Stigmata
The new Stigmata is built around a full carbon frame and suspension-ready geometry. The sloping top tube and dropped seat stays create a compact silhouette. Internal frame storage for your spares means you don’t have to sully those lines with a saddle bag.
Common sense came to the Stiggy party, and the brake and gear lines are routed neatly and externally up front, rather than through the headset bearings thankfully, before diving inside the frame alongside the head tube. The threaded bottom bracket is another practical choice, as is the presence of fender mounts.
There’s the full complement of bottle mounts, but oddly no top tube bosses for a little feed bag.
A universal derailleur hanger opens up options for SRAM Eagle T-Type Transmission as Santa Cruz htSQD rider Kegan Swenson did most of last year — check out one of his more eclectic race day setups below. Rubber clearance is a girthy 50mm at both ends, and 700c wheels are the only option.
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The geo is progressive without being silly. The long reach of the frame is paired with a short stem — our size medium had a 70mm unit — and even with the big rubber toe-overlap is not an issue.
The lines and tube profiles are thoroughly Santa Cruz and painted up in a fetching rusty red; it’s a smart and unique-looking bike that attracts a lot of attention.
Santa Cruz Stigmata pricing & specs
Santa Cruz has just one gravel bike in their lineup, so it makes sense to go broad in terms of the bike’s appeal. Depending on how you dress it up, the Stigmata aims to please everyone with 5 build kits to suit your preference from an all-road machine to something that blurs the lines with mountain biking a lot more.
There are options for either single or double-ring drivetrains from SRAM. Those dedicated to life on the gravel will probably opt for a 1x, but the closer ratios of the double-ring options will appeal to those looking for an all-road bike.
The Stigmata is one of a growing number of gravel bikes that are built to accept a short travel fork. Most of the Stigmata builds come with a rigid fork; the flagship variant we tested runs a 40mm-travel RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR as well as a 50mm-travel Reverb AXS dropper post. This mountain bike-inspired build kit significantly expands the bike’s horizons.
Santa Cruz Stigmata Force 1x AXS RSV
- Frame | Stigmata Carbon CC
- Fork | RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR, 40mm
- Wheels | Reserve 25|GR 700c, DT Swiss 350 Centerlock
- Tyres | Maxxis Rambler, 700x45c, DC, EXO, TR front and rear
- Drivetrain | SRAM Force XPLR AXS 1×2 w/40T Crankset & 10-44T Cassette
- Brakes | SRAM Force
- Bar | Zipp Service Course SL-70 XPLR Bar
- Stem | Zipp Service Course Stem, 70mm
- Seatpost | RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR, 27.2, 75mm
- Saddle | WTB Silverado Medium, Ti
- Claimed Weight | 9.53kg
- RRP | $10,999 AUD
Chris reviews the Santa Cruz Stigmata
We’ve undertaken long mixed-surface rides around the Hawkesbury River, taken it through some chunky chunder in the Watagans, enjoyed pure road rides, and raced it for 250km on gravel at the Dirty Warny.
We like it an awful lot. This bike is all you’d hope for from Santa Cruz – the way it handles, the build quality, the sense of control it offers, it’s all top-shelf.
Having done 99% of our gravel riding on rigid bikes, it’s hard to separate the performance of the bike from the RockShox Rudy. It might just be 40mm, but suspension fundamentally changes the experience of riding on gravel.
Gravel suspension for the win
It’s not just about comfort; it’s about control. This bike let us brake much later and harder, apex corners with less regard for ruts, and confidently let it rip on corrugated descents without fear our hands and the bars would depart company. It’s going to be tricky to walk back that sense of overconfidence when we return to riding a rigid bike on the gravel!
Of course, the comfort factor is important too. We initially considered swapping to a rigid fork for the Dirty Warny but a couple of long training rides convinced us that the fatigue reduction of suspension was worth the weight penalty.
What do we dig about the Santa Cruz Stigmata?
Forgetting the fork, for now, the balance the Stiggy strikes is pretty ideal. It nails a sweet spot between confidence and agility. As an (overwhelmingly) mountain bike brand, there was a chance that Santa Cruz would push the Stiggy into super progressive geometry territory — a la Evil’s Chamois Hagar. But the Stigmata stays away from sedate angles and retains plenty of agility.
It changes direction quickly, climbs without wandering when you’re out of the saddle, and has the directness you want from a fast gravel bike. But point it downhill or through a sweeping long corner, and the stability is there in spades. Plenty of bottom bracket drop puts you nicely ‘in’ the bike, and the flare of the Zipp XPLR bar puts you in a strong and stable position in the drops for descents.
On the tarmac, it’s plenty fast. The reasonably tall stack height and shallow drop bars entice you to spend more time in the drops, so you can hunker down and happily buzz away at 30km/h+. The Maxxis Ramblers are fast rolling on the road, too.
What could be improved?
In most situations, the gear range of the Force XPLR is fine. But we think it would have been smarter to spec an Eagle AXS drivetrain on this particular model. With a dropper post and suspension, this bike is itching to take on some singletrack and a wider gear range would be a better fit for riders looking to take the Stigmata into steeper terrain.
Perhaps we didn’t push the Stigmata hard enough, but we never really got a lot of use out of the dropper post. Compared to a mountain bike, where you hit the dropper as much as you change gears, the dropper post just has less value on the gravel. Plenty of people will disagree, but the handful of times we used it each ride never felt enough to justify its weight or the faff. When the Dirty Warny rolled around, we decided to swap the dropper for a rigid post instead.
The convenience of the Glovebox internal storage is a winner. We left a pump, CO2 canisters, tube, levers, and a host of small spares tucked away in the downtube. The Glovebox door is simple to open with gloved hands and secures rattle-free. All bikes need this.
On the subject of storage, we don’t understand the lack of top tube bosses. This bike is a great gravel race option, and racers love to have a feed bag on the top tube ready for instant snacks.
A bit more about that RockShox Rudy fork
There’s plenty of scepticism about suspension forks on gravel bikes. If the gravel you ride is all the smooth champagne variety, or if your gravel bike plays double duty as a road bike, then a suspension fork is overkill.
But if your gravel riding is a mixed bag and you have an inclination for recklessness, you need to give some suspension some consideration. Of course, you’ll need a bike that has an axle-to-crown length that’ll work, and at this stage, that is a rarity.
Yes, the fork adds weight – perhaps 700g over a rigid fork. And sure, it’s another thing that requires maintenance. But those downsides are obliterated the first time you dive into a descent and find it all full of ruts and corrugations.
We never felt any real efficiency loss, either. There’s just not enough travel to feel like you’re being robbed of any meaningful amount of power. And if you are concerned, there’s always a lockout lever you can hit.
Bike packing on the Stigmata? Nah.
When you try to be everything to everyone, you need to make a few concessions. On the Santa Cruz site, you’ll see images of the Stiggy slung with frame bags and heading off for a few days of bike packing. But there are better options for you if that’s your thing.
The compact frame makes a frame bag a tight fit, even with 500ml bottles. And there are far fewer mounting points than you’ll find on more adventure-focused machines. If carrying your life on your bike is your bag, look elsewhere.
The Stigmata is an excellent platform for tackling gravel riding in just about all its forms. At the core, it’s a brilliant handling all-rounder and the wide range of build kits lets you take the bike in a lot of directions.
Go rigid with a 1x drivetrain for a fast and light gravel racer. Run a front derailleur and you’ve got a nice all-road and fast mixed-surface machine. Or grab it with a dropper and suspension to hit the kind of terrain that tips into the mountain bike world. The only area we feel the Stiggy is lacking is at the full-on bike-packing end of the gravel spectrum.
At the end of the day, there will be plenty of mountain bikers who are going to pick this as their gravel bike because, hey, it’s a Santa Cruz. Fortunately for them, it also happens to be a really inspiring and impressive gravel all-rounder.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER - Chris Southwood
Chaotic, misleading, brakeless and far too far