Mick Reviews The New Santa Cruz Heckler e-MTB
In one of the most highly anticipated releases for 2020, Santa Cruz has finally joined the e-Party with its first ever electric mountain bike. That’s right folks, Santa Cruz has an e-MTB! And holy mackerel is this one an absolute doozy. For those who had guessed otherwise, thankfully those hip Californians decided not to call it the e-Bronson. Instead, they revived a classic name from the Santa Cruz archives; the Heckler.
Watch our video on the Santa Cruz Heckler here!
- 0:22 – Why it is big news?
- 0:57 – Bringing back the name; Heckler
- 1:39 – Modelled off the Santa Cruz Bronson, vital specs
- 2:00 – Frame construction highlights
- 3:05 – Shimano E8000 motor and 504W/hr battery overview
- 3:35 – Battery removal process
- 4:17 – Model overview, four options
- 4:40 – Five frame sizes
- 5:10 – Australian pricing
- 5:56 – The Heckler CC R we’ve been testing, weight and spec overview
- 7:06 – Ride review, highlights and lowlights
- 7:53 – Wheel size discussion
- 8:34 – Lower-link VPP suspension design
- 9:00 – Alternate option comparison
- 9:59 – Pricing discussion
- 11:21 – Why Shimano? Power delivery, noise and RPM impressions
- 13:00 – Conclusion
Nope, there are very few similarities with the old Heckler. But the new Heckler does share a lot in common with its naturally aspirated counterpart, the Bronson.
They’re both equipped with 27.5in wheels, a 160mm travel fork, and 150mm of rear wheel travel. Santa Cruz has also engineered the Heckler around the lower link VPP suspension layout, which sees the rear shock placed low down in the frame and driven by the lower linkage. It’s an impressively engineered part of the chassis, particularly when you factor in the short chainstays and water bottle clearance inside the mainframe.
For more detail about the bike’s build, background, features and a range overview, check out our first-look story on the Santa Cruz Heckler here.
You can see the strong resemblance to the current Bronson with the new Heckler below.
Santa Cruz has chosen to build the Heckler around the proven Shimano STEPS E8000 motor, which is powered by a 504Wh battery pack that clips into the underside of the downtube. A 4mm hex key is all you need to unlock the battery from the frame, and the battery pack is armoured with a thick carbon fibre plate that is made from the same structural carbon as the rest of the frame.
What’s It Wearing?
For 2020, Santa Cruz is offering up two colours and four spec levels available in the Heckler lineup. All models are built around the same CC carbon fibre frame and Shimano power plant, with Aussie prices ranging from $12,999 to $19,999. You weren’t expecting a Santa Cruz e-MTB to be cheap, were you?
For the past week, we’ve been riding the ‘entry level’ model of the range; the Heckler CC with the R build. Like the more expensive models, you’re getting a Super Deluxe piggyback shock, a 1×12 drivetrain, and big 4-pot SRAM brakes with 200mm rotors. You also get aggressive 2.6in wide Maxxis Minion DHR II tyres, though there is room to fit up to a 2.8in tyre in the Heckler’s frame.
2020 Santa Cruz Heckler CC R
- Frame | CC Carbon Fibre, VPP Suspension Design, 150mm Travel
- Fork | RockShox Yari RC, 160mm Travel
- Shock | RockShox Super Deluxe Select
- Drive Unit | Shimano STEPS E8000, 70Nm (250W)
- Battery | Shimano E8035, 504Wh
- Wheels | WTB ST i29 TCS 2.0 Rims w/SRAM MTH 746 Hubs
- Tyres | Maxxis Minion DHR II EXO+ 3C Maxx Terra, 27.5×2.6in
- Drivetrain | SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 w/Single-Click Shifter, Shimano M8050 165mm Crank Arms, & 11-50T Cassette
- Brakes | SRAM Guide RE w/200mm Rotors
- Bar | Race Face Aeffect R, 25mm Rise, 800mm Wide
- Stem | Race Race Aeffect R, 50mm Length
- Seatpost | Race Face Aeffect Dropper, Travel: 125-175mm (Size Dependent)
- Available Sizes | S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Confirmed Weight | 21.54kg (Large)
- RRP | $12,999
Geometry & Fit
Given the Bronson’s successful handling recipe, Santa Cruz hasn’t strayed too far with the Heckler. The head angle is almost identical at 65.5°, though the seat angle is a lick steeper at 76°, and the reach is slightly longer too. Every frame size is equipped with an 800mm wide riser bar and a 50mm long stem.
One interesting note on geometry is that the Heckler has an XX-Large size option. Given how expensive the carbon moulds are in the first place, it’s a significant investment for Santa Cruz to produce five frame sizes, when other brands are only making four, or sometimes just three. It’s great to see a more comprehensive size range with more options for more riders, though we reckon this is also a clear sign that Santa Cruz is anticipating this to be a very popular model.
Also of note is the lack of adjustable geometry. This differs to models such as the Tallboy and Megatower, which feature a high/low flip-chip at the rear shock mount along with adjustable chainstays. There are no such features on the Heckler, which no doubt saves on manufacturing costs, but also keeps things clean and simple. And perhaps Santa Cruz is anticipating a different type of rider who’ll be attracted to the Heckler?
Handling the Heckler
With the inherent weight from a battery and motor, an e-MTB has stability in spades. With that in mind, Santa Cruz has given the Heckler relatively moderate numbers, which puts the rider in a neutral seated position for comfortable climbing when in the saddle and steering that feels light and fast. It doesn’t feel like a raked-out enduro bike; instead the wheelbase and fit feels reasonably conservative. Pair that with a very supportive suspension feel and you’ve got a bike that strikes a balance between generous traction, big-hit confidence, quick steering, and an appetite for air.
Shimano Steps E8000, an antiquated system?
In a fiercely competitive space, Shimano’s E8000 is not particularly en-vogue. We first rode the STEPS E8000 system on a Focus JAM² over three years ago, and it has remained mostly unchanged since then. In that time we’ve seen Bosch release its hugely improved 4th-generation CX motor with a smaller and lighter arrangement. And Specialized’s Brose-equipped Levo has also evolved in the size, weight, power and feel stakes.
On paper, the E8000 motor still holds its own, with good power ratings, weight, size and mobile app connectivity. It also has a narrower stance, with a Q-factor that’s identical to a regular XT crankset. But on the trail, we don’t think this is the best system available only due to its age in the market. It lacks the grunt and oompf that a Bosch and Brose motor have, and at high RPM the power struggles to keep up and at times leaves you with less support.
That said, it’s Shimano, so it’s premium quality and has plenty of dealer support in bike shops. The e-Tube App allows custom tuning to the boost and trail modes (though not at the level of Specialized’s Misson Control App), and the display unit is compact and unobtrusive, especially in comparison to Bosch’s massive Purion display. The 504W/hr battery gives good range and uses a standard unit that can be purchased and sourced easily.
The three power modes are easily toggled via a thumb lever, and the ‘trail’ mode delivers exceptionally smooth and intuitive power. Kick it up to ‘boost’ mode, and you’ll be greeted with all of the Newtons and the power comes on strong.
How Does It Compare To The Competition?
We can’t compare anything without addressing the elephant in the room; unsurprisingly, the price is impossible to ignore. Santa Cruz’ are expensive, we don’t feel like anyone will debate that fact, though add in the inherent costs of a motor and battery and you have an expensive bike with costly parts. The base-model Heckler CC R we tested is $12,999. That’s a price range where many brands position their highest model option.
Spec is considerably low for the dosh when compared to brands like Merida, Cube, Norco and Giant. For example, the Merida eOne-Sixty 9000 we reviewed recently comes in at four grand less, even though you’re getting Fox Factory suspension, DT Swiss wheels and a Shimano XT groupset.
However, Santa Cruz does play in the ’boutique’ end of the market, and its pricing actually isn’t that outrageous when you compare it with the likes of Pivot, Intense and Specialized. Beyond the cool factor, the reason there are plenty of Santa Cruz’ on the trails boils down to the quality construction, considered handling character, low fuss aesthetic and warranty support – the sort of things that a spec sheet can’t really show you.
The Heckler CC scores very highly in the aesthetics stakes, with a frame that is refreshingly void of fandangled bits, whacky shapes and glaringly obvious e-bits. Where many e-Bikes are boldly e-Bikes, or struggle to retain modest shapes, the Heckler is subtle and beautifully clean, and we like that.
What Kind Of Rider Does The Heckler Suit?
The Heckler CC is undoubtedly the first of many to come from Santa Cruz; the brand’s first attempt has a light-hearted attitude. The decision to roll on 27.5in wheels with a good dose of suspension travel and a relatively moderate fit shows the focus here is on producing a fun bike to ride.
It’s not a self-shuttle dual-crown DH e-MTB like the Norco Range or Giant Reign E+, nor is it a cosy ride-all day trail e-MTB like the Specialized Levo. Instead he Heckler is aimed squarely at the rider who likes to engage with the trail and let it hang out. It jumps well and predictably, so that will appeal to many riders alone.
Roosting turns, hitting gaps with tight landings, flicking through tight turns, the Heckler is born for this type of riding.
Flow’s Early Verdict
While we’re sure the Heckler’s development was long and complicated, the result is a bike that’s reasonably light on features, proprietary gizmos and acronyms. Which leaves us here at Flow with fewer topics for discussion, and may leave shop staff with fewer features to sell off in comparison the competition. So if you’re going to consider the Heckler seriously, you’ll have to be fans of what makes Santa Cruz’ bikes tick, or have an upmost appreciation for quality.
We found the Heckler CC a blast to ride, appreciating its lively handling and unflappable suspension. We’re glad it’s here, and look forward to more e-bikes from the cool Californians.
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