Santa Cruz Heckler 1st week

The first week of riding my new Santa Cruz Heckler has been a cracker. For the first 3 days I was on the bike running skills courses at Gisburn Forest trail centre. I know these trails well and instantly know if I like a bike or not. Then I drove up to Scotland to ride on the mountain trails of the Cairngorms for 3 days, somewhere I’ve never been before. This trip was with Andy McKenna from Go Where Scotland and Benji Haworth to make the next Great Rock video. So 6 days of riding with berms, smooth tracks, drop offs and jumps in the pine forests as well as natural granite rock gardens, roots and real mountains.
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The 18 year old Heckler model has been updated for this year with 27.5 wheels, the same geometry as the Bronson, a bolt through 142mm rear axle and it’s even been made lighter than before. It’s a simple single pivot design and I think it looks fantastic., especially in the Club Tropicana blue colour that I have.  It is the working man’s Santa Cruz and deserves more attention than it has had so far with all the attention that has been focused on the excellent Bronson. The Heckler has a lot more going for it than just being cheaper than the VPP bikes though. It’s a great all round modern mountain bike that you can ride anywhere, at home or abroad. It’s capable and fun.

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I’ve loved riding the Heckler so far, which is a relief! I rode one earlier in the year which was a size too big for me and that combined with a too low front end and a pretty dull feeling fork left me underwhelmed. These misgivings were instantly gone on my first ride of my new bike.

It is a very capable descender feeling stiff and very stable. It also feels lively with plenty of pop out of corners and off lumps in the trail. It also feels good and grippy when leaned over and it corners well. Uphill, there is plenty of grip in the back end and the bike feels light to ride. Actual weight in this build is just over 30lbs with pedals. I haven’t felt any of this brake jack that people go on about with single pivot bikes.

The bearings on Santa Cruz bikes are pretty cool. I didn’t know before that you can adjust any play out of the bearings rather than having to replace everything. Don’t just tighten the bolt up on the outside! When you take out this bolt and the collet that’s round it, you’ll find an axle inside the frame that you nip up, with the same kind of force that you use on a headset. Simple. Bearings are angular contact bearings which in simple terms means they are just better and more macho than normal cartridge bearings.

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I’m running an X-fusion Vengeance HLR fork set at 160mm travel to give the bike a big hitting stance. I’ve heard good things about these suspenders both in terms of performance, reliability and price. My experience has been a good one so far. The damping feels spot on. No diving into the travel, a nice supple action and stiff just like you want long travel forks to be. Stanchions are 36mm wide and there is a Syntace 20mm bolt through axle. The fork can actually be used for 26 or 27.5 wheels giving it added appeal if you’re thinking of changing your frame in the future. On top of all this it has to be said that Vengeance is a pretty cool name for a fork too.

Wheels are the local heros from Barnoldswick. Hope Hoops with the reliable and adaptable Hope hubs and the nice wide and tubeless compatible Flow EX rims. I added Stans rim tape, tubeless valves and sealant along with some 2.35 Schwalbe tyres and went riding. I’m hoping to try some of the new tyres that WTB are now offering next. I’ve been impressed in the past by the strength of their sidewalls and the Vigilante looks like it will be a good tyre for Hebden Bridge as well as trips to the Basque Country and the Alps. I also chose a Hope headset. They make it easy to find the right headset for your chosen bike and offer a pick and mix choice of upper and lower cups to Viagra 100mg suit all the standards that we now have.

I’m sold on the 27.5 wheel size. I liked 29ers until it got very steep and tight and then they were just too big for me at my height. Basically I got bummed with the back wheel! I did love the way they rolled through rocks though and I’m glad that the 27.5s have a similar quality. Enough said on this issue.

My bars, stem, pedals, grips and saddle are all from Chromag. The bars are the OSX Fubars with 5º upsweep and 8º backsweep which is just how I like it. I’ve cut them down to 747mm from 780mm. The stem is the exquisite Ranger at 50mm and it has aroused stem envy in all who have seen it. The Basis grips are nice and slim, quite firm and have a very cute end cap system. The Scarab pedals are awesome. With a really big platform and multiple places to put the pins they are very grippy. The pins are made with a notch part way down them to ensure that they snap off rather than wrecking the threads. You can also remove a washer to make the pins barbarically long and grippy. I’ve not felt the need to try this yet.The beautifully machined pedal body is nice and concave for positive foot placement and they come in all the colours of the rainbow. The Moon saddle has a low profile, maximising standover for my short legs! It has a lovely full leather cover and ti rails. It’s light and the rounded shaping makes it easy to get on the nose for steep climbs and get off the back of it on techy descents. Chromag is available in the UK through dealers as well as directly from Shorelines the distributor, who also do Knolly bikes and North Shore Billet components.

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Drivetrain and brakes are from Shimano. I love the XT brakes, nice short levers with a great hook for your finger, lovely feel, great power, easy to bleed and they use mineral oil which is kinder to your hands, paint work and the living room carpet than DOT fluid! I run a 1×10 set up with XT cranks and shifter and a short cage Zee mech with a clutch. Crisp shifting and quiet, reliable and high performance. I’ve got a 32 tooth North Shore Billet, narrow wide chain ring and have not lost the chain at all. Happy days!

How anyone can survive without a dropper seatpost is now beyond me after using them for the last few years. I’m running a KS Lev post which took about half an hour to fit. It is cable activated so you don’t get the hose lengthening like you do with a Reverb. The lever is very neat and fits under the bar out of harm’s way. Everything is smooth, everything is easy.

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To finish off the bike I’ve had an Invisiframe frame protection kit fitted. This is a custom sized 3M vinyl kit that is specific to the bike model and frame size. It’s pretty much invisible when you put it on and the material is nice and thin. I’ve seen kits that have been on bikes longer than mine and you can start to see the edges of the wrap, however it’s not that obtrusive and the simple fact is that for not that much money you will be keeping your frame in a much superior condition for when you come to sell it on, or just to keep it nice for you to enjoy until you die. I’m well impressed with this kit.

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to riding the bike on my home Hebden Bridge trails this week and then packing it up into the Evoc bag and heading off to the Pyrenees to run a skills and riding trip with Doug from Basque MTB. WOOP!

People ask me how I can be independent when I review a bike that I’ve been given. Well I can’t claim to be can I? However I’m not going to say that I like something if I don’t, in fact you won’t see me riding something that I don’t like. Basically I don’t do anything that I don’t like doing if I can at all help it! You will just have to decide if you believe me or not. Chin up!

 

 

Hope Race Evo M4 Brakes

Hurray! These special edition brakes are now available to buy. Originally they were only available as a custom build for ‘lucky’ people. I first saw them on Rowan Sorrell’s Orange Alpine 160, that he had built up for the Urge Cabo enduro race. I wanted them instantly on looks alone! Minimal levers with powerful calipers, all decked out with a touch of the ‘sponsored rider’ green anodising. Gorgeous. Looking swanky is one thing, but do they work?

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I fitted this set to my Labyrinth Agile just before going out to the Alps to work on the Trans Provence race, (see my write up of the event here). I was really pleased with the performance of these brakes in the Alps. A long and steep 20 minute descent is going to highlight any problems with your brakes and we were riding 3 or 4 of these every day for 7 days. I’m running 203mm floating rotor on the front and 183mm floating rotor on the rear. I never experienced any over heating or brake fade. The rear rotor was doing a fair bit of pinging, as it cooled down at the end of some trails, but there was no effect on the braking power. If I lived in the Alps, I’d fit a big rotor on the back as well as the front, but for most of the riding I do it’s not necessary. Plenty of stopping power with a fantastic feel at the lever, so far so good.

It didn’t rain in the Alps though, so it was only on returning to the UK and the winter slither that I was able to see how the brakes faired in the wet. I’m happy to say that they are just as impressive as they are in the dry. The brakes lose none of their feel, or their controlled power.

The Race M4s have a lovely progressive feel and are not grabby at all. With the lever reach adjust, I’m able to have them biting nice and close to the grips, just where I like it. It’s easy to bring the bike to a quick and controlled stop. The Race lever combines minimalistic design with great functionality.  The lever hook is just right and feels dead secure. The great thing about the feedback you get through the lever is that you really can feel and control the grip you have at the tyres. Simply put you can decide if you skid or not. It’s like having finger ABS!

So with this package you get killer style as standard and feel good factor that comes with knowing that the product is all made in the UK. The lever is lightweight, all bolts are titanium, maintenance is straight forward and parts are easy to get hold of (should you need to do anything. I haven’t had the need).

Cost is £219 each end for the complete brake including 183mm floating rotor and caliper mount, all bled and ready to fit. More details on the Hope website.

New Gisburn Forest ‘Hope Line’ video

I was really happy to take part in the making of this video made by Tim Royle from Whitenosugar Productions. The trails in the video are the ones that I use for lots of my courses. The Hope line, sponsored by Hope Technology, is used for ‘Jumps for Dads’ and the ‘Flow’. The tight woodland singletrack of ‘Homebaked’ is used on ‘Stop Crashing 2’, as well as ‘Flow’ and is a brilliant place for developing better cornering and pump technique.

The other riders in the video are Dan and Ben Hemmingway, riding (and building) the Hope Line. Tim Gridley, from Gisburn Bikes AKA The Dog & Partridge and Dart from Hope are the other two.

Hope Hoops – Pro2 Evo hubs & Mavic EX721 rims

I chose the ‘downhill / heavy trail use’ Hoops because I wanted strong and reliable wheels that can take lots of miles and lots of abuse with little or no maintenance. I wanted ‘not too heavy’ as well and the Hoops fulfil all my requirements. Really lightweight wheels are not for me, I just don’t need the worry, and don’t want to be spending time with the truing stand when I need to be riding so much.

I’ve been using Hope hubs for years and am firmly convinced of their reliability. It’s easy to service them when need be and the spare parts are always easy to get hold of. It’s well worth watching the Hope maintenance videos, which clearly show you how to service pretty much anything Hope. The videos are usually a good laugh too, especially if you try to imagine how someone from America would go on, trying to understand the Lancashire accents of the Hope boys in the videos. “Just gi’ it a tap. Don’t bray it like. Just a tap”. Bang on! Not they they need much attention of course. The seals do a good job of keeping the water and grit out and the grease in.

The Pro2 Evo hubs that I have here, differ from the previous Pro2 in that they run on stainless steel bearings. Everything else stays the same, including the adaptability, which means you can change the hubs to take pretty much any type of axle you like. I’m running 20mm bolt through on the front and 135mm spaced, quick release on the back.

Hope hubs make a righteous northern racket and I love it. All other trail users are warned of your presence. This can come in really handy if you’re sessioning a bit of trail with other riders, all riding and pushing back up at different times. There’s little need to shout “rider” as long as you’re freewheeling.

The Mavic EX721 rim is a bomb proof classic. Tyres are easy to get on and off. The rim is nice and wide, allowing big volume tyres a good footprint. So far after a few months use, including a week on the rocky trails of the Basque country in north west Spain, the wheels are still perfectly straight and the spoke tension is still good. You get 2 spare spokes included with your Hope Hoops.

I’m just left wondering why anyone would pay big money for a pair of wheels when these are so good and only £330 RRP.

Ed Oxley