The New Santa Cruz Heckler E-MTB – First Look
Santa Cruz recently launched their brand new Heckler E-mtb. This is significant news because this is their first entry into the e-bike world, which some might say long overdue. Personally I think they’re entering the arena at a good time where the technology is well enough developed to save themselves some major headaches.
What’s in a name?
Those of us that have been in the game for long enough will remember previous generations of the Heckler, the last of which ceased production in 2016 after a near-constant presence in their lineup since 1996. The original Heckler was always a simple single pivot bike, but importantly it was a game changer when it was first released. It was one of the first ‘long travel’ trail bikes, and remained so throughout its life with later iterations becoming longer legged and ever more capable. The Heckler name is significant because to many of us it’s tied to the idea of a real bruiser of a bike, but one that’s reliable and will be ready to go every day of the week. It’s something that’s a little different, something that means business and is here to shake things up. Will the new Heckler live up to its namesake? Only time will tell.
Heckler Frame and Geometry
The new Heckler is based around the Bronson platform; a proven nimble and capable all-rounder of a bike. Santa Cruz aren’t just following the crowd and basing the Heckler around 29″ wheels, which we appreciate. The Heckler rolls on 27.5″ wheels, with 150mm travel from the lower-link driven VPP rear end, and a 160mm travel fork. Head tube angle is 65.5°, with a seat tube angle around 76° depending on size, reach of 465mm in a Large, 13mm of BB drop and chainstays at 445mm. The chainstay length is the only appreciable difference here at 15mm longer than the Bronson (aside from a few of the other numbers being a touch more modern) as they needed to push everything back a bit to accommodate the motor.
So what does this all mean? Well the Bronson is an extremely fun bike to ride – it climbs well, it rails the descents whilst being nimble and comfortable. It’s not an out-and-out enduro sled, meaning most riders can get on one without feeling over-biked. The Heckler then should be a very intuitive and fun ride, albeit with a little more stability at speed, owing to the longer chainstays. Weighing in at roughly 46lbs it has a bit of a weight gain, and we tend to find that this results in more supple-feeling travel and more ground-hugging traction. The anti-squat numbers are a little lower, meaning you may get a little more pedal feedback when climbing, however this is less important on an e-bike, and should result in better climbing traction, meaning the Heckler should climb crazy well, as you’d expect.
Having been able to swing a leg over one on some real trails, the first ride impressions back the numbers up well with the Heckler being a nimble, capable bike. It climbs as well as you’d expect from an e-bike, though managing the power around tight switchbacks takes a little getting used to. Turn the bike around and point it downhill and the Heckler really comes alive, with it being one of the best handling e-bikes I’ve been able to ride so far. The weight is really evenly distributed resulting in an intuitive and natural feeling ride. The extra weight makes you re-think your line choice a little, but it also helps it hug the ground really well. Thankfully, the Heckler has the geometry numbers to back up the sensation of “plowability” and hold a line where with other e-bikes they might lull you into a false sense of security with their grip, but you can very quickly find yourself in over your head. Despite the added weight, I was able to move the bike around where I wanted it on trail without much trouble but it certainly isn’t a stealth e-bike that “rides just like a normal bike”. It seems to be somewhere in between those two camps, and I found that really fun.
Santa Cruz have done a nice job of keeping the bike clean looking – having designed their own DI2 compatible carbon handlebar to hide wires. There’s very little on show and it looks slick. The frame integration is nice too, with the battery hidden inside the down tube, and released with a single 4mm allen key and the motor tucked nicely into the frame. They’ve done an excellent job of placing the VPP pivots around the motor in what is really quite a tight space – it looks tidy.
Motor and Battery
The Heckler uses Shimano’s top end E8000 motor and battery system. The E8000 provides 265W of power and the bike has a 504WH battery which should be good for up to around 100km, depending how you use it. Santa Cruz chose to use Shimano’s Steps system rather than develop something of their own because Shimano systems (alongside Bosch) are the most popular and readily available systems out there. This means that there’s a good supply of spares and knowledge anywhere in the world you might happen to be. Their dealer system is extensive, and the system is proven and reliable. In short, it works, and it works well. Another nice feature is DI2 installation, you could simply plug in a DI2 derailleur and shifter if you wanted and it would run off the bike’s battery.
Shimano’s Steps system uses their E-Tube project software which is available on phones, tablets and PC. From this software you can tune your bike and change things such as customisable power settings. The heckler comes with a 3-button switch at the left grip for changing modes etc, and a display by the stem – the same that is used for Shimano’s MTB DI2 systems. The display shows information such as mode, range etc. and has bluetooth wireless capability.
Spec and Pricing
For the Heckler, Santa Cruz are only using their top end CC-grade carbon layup. The reasons for this presumably being to keep weight down on a bike that’s going to be pricey no matter the frame material. There are four build specs and two colours – wild and mild. All bikes have a 12sp Sram Eagle drivetrain and powerful Sram 4-piston brakes. All bikes have a sturdy e-bike specific fork, starting with a Rockshox Yari and higher specs coming with a Fox 36. Suspension out back is taken care of by a Rockshox Super Deluxe and obviously all bikes are specced with a dropper post.
Pricing starts at $9799 CAD for the R-build, and ends at $17249 for the XX1 AXS RSV build which includes Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon wheels, a full AXS wireless drivetrain and top of the line Kashima Factory suspension and all the bells and whistles.
Who is the Heckler For?
Once again, we’re looking at another e-bike that does things a little differently to it’s competitors. Not all e-bikes are created equal and that’s obvious, but lines are starting to get a little blurred now. Perhaps it’s best compared to the Specialized Turbo range and where it sits there. The Heckler weighs a few pounds less than a Turbo Levo, but has in real life what I would consider to be a similar feeling motor (though it has less power, it feels very torquey), however should be a little more nimble with the lighter weight. Then we compare it to the recently launched Turbo Levo SL, which is lighter again than the Heckler, at 38lbs, but has a significantly less powerful motor, and lower range.
The Heckler then is a light weight full-fat e-bike in my eyes. Something that can keep up with the big boys but with a slightly more playful and capable feel on the trails. It’s for people that maybe won’t mind climbing a bit but want that assistance, but the importance is in the fun on the downs, or getting those high-mileage rides in. It’s for someone who appreciates the small details in the bike that add up to a great overall package with well thought-out geometry and excellent ride characteristics. It’s for people that want Santa Cruz’s legendary build quality and premium after-sales service.
In the end though, it comes down to the way the bike rides, and to help you decide which bike works best for you we are planning on having a full range of bikes from Santa Cruz and Specialized available to test this summer. Don’t hesitate to come in store to check out the range, or speak to an expert. Alternatively, check out our demo bikes page below here to see what’s available and book a demo.