Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Gear Review: Santa Cruz 5010

Short Version:

Everyone has their own tolerances on bike tradeoffs. Some of my friends are happy to have a bike that is a more competent gravity rig for the tradeoff of some more XC/trail features; others would consider this sacrilege.
For me, after a season on this bike, I was leaning slightly more to the latter. I ended up changing steeds in late September after simple economics conspired against a continued weight loss plan for the 5010/Solo (carbon wheels and a carbon frame).
My final word: If you decide this is your rig, go light on this bike from the start, and seriously evaluate its use. Santa Cruz bills it as the more XC/trail version of the Bronson. I don’t have experience with the latter, but I think if I was riding more technical trails, I’d just go with a Bronson, and if I wanted a trail bike, I’d look at other options. This leaves a fairly small niche for the Solo to fill, but if it fits, it really won’t disappoint.

The Solo on one of its first rides this season to Gull Rock.

Long version:

I spent the summer riding an aluminum, Santa Cruz 5010, AKA Solo (I had a 2013 frame, so, technically, I had a Solo.)

The bike was assembled locally here at Chain Reaction Cycles, and they treated me very well. I went with an XT/XTR 2X gruppo, Fox F-32 CTD 120mm Kashima fork and Fox Kashima Float CTD shock, and a Rock Shox Reverb remote dropper. The shop threw on an XTR 2x crank. It pays to shop local.
This bike wants you to ride hard and ride fast. The more you push it, the better it feels. I hammered some descents I’ve ridden for years in ways I never knew I could. The bike has a fairly long wheel base and a semi-slacked head tube, and that gives it a “rides on rails” feel at speed.

I never pushed it through anything super technical since I never took it outside AK, but I have no reason to think the bike would not impress.

One of the things I liked the most out if this bike, it actually made me a better rider on my hard tail. Normally, the transition back and forth between full squish and hard tail is harsh, and takes a few miles and a bad line or two to re-calibrate.

Not with the Solo.

Another big surprise came from the 650b wheel size. I really wasn’t expecting much from the “new” wheel size. Sure, the hyped 29r wheels roll over “anything,” but I expected little improvement on the “roll-ability” from 650b. I was pleasantly surprised that this 5-inch bike rode like it was packing 6 inches.

Did the bike still retain the nimble-ness of a smaller wheel size? Hang on, I’ll get there.

Lastly, ya, Santa Cruz VPP suspension: it’s efficient. That’s all over the Internets though.
A slimmed down Solo at Bench Lake.
Here’s what I didn’t like.

Biggest mistake, buy freaking carbon. It’s 2014, not 2004. This is all on me. Robin – “I’ll sell you a carbon anything” – D at Chain Reaction told me to go carbon. He pushed, and I resisted.

The fact of the matter is, some bike manufactures are getting rid of aluminum frames all together. The shift is happening, and it’s happening for a reason. As a friend deep in the industry said to me two years ago when I asked him about the shift to carbon: “they wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t working."
That being said, I could not get over my own fears.

None of this has to do with the bike itself, but it did however, heavily influence how I felt about it throughout the season.

This bike felt like a tank from ride 1. I immediately put it on a diet. The stock Maxxis High Roller II tires were swapped for Maxxis Ardent Races. The former were very heavy for tires that are considered trail tires. Unless your trails go predominately downhill, they ride like suction cups.

Next went the dropper post. I can’t say I feel like my riding is getting held back by my saddle height. While droppers are starting to expand their appeal beyond just the gravity scene, it was an easy, top-heavy, pound of weight to get rid of. I found a deal on an OE carbon post and slid it in.

Then came the drive train. Remember that XTR crank? Light, yep; but geared high at 28/40T with an 11-36T cassette. Maybe if I kept my rides under 2 hours on rolling terrain I could manage these ratios, but stretched out on rides that last over 4 or more hours and climb thousands of vertical feet, my legs were over-taxed on long climbs, and often lacked the extra oompf needed for short steeps or technical maneuvers.

The logical option was to swap out the 24/38T XT crank on my Scott Scale 910. Problem: the angle between the Solo’s rear wheel and bottom bracket make it impossible to route the chain to a crank with anything less than a 28T ring without grinding on the bottom of a Shimano XT 2x clamp on front derailleur. The only solutions would have been to stick with the high-geared XTR 2x and go long cage with a pie-plate cassette in the back, or run an XT triple up front (I guess I could have gone straight 1X too). I went with the latter, going in the opposite direction as far as weight savings, but alternatively, giving the bike a wider range of gears. While the trend is decidedly moving toward 1X at the front, for the long and diverse rides this bike does, options are nice. On a plus note, I still moved the XTR crank to my Scott Scale and it was a welcome upgrade.

Nimbleness Question: The bike’s long wheel base, somewhat slacked head tube, and low bottom bracket height all helped to make this one seriously BA bike on the descent, but conspired against it on technical climbs.

This bike felt nimble at speed, but I would not use that term climbing. Crank and bottom bracket strikes were common. The bike threw big wheelies at speed, but they were obnoxious when pointed upward.
I found myself off the bike and pushing a couple very short sections of trail for the first time this season, and I was really displeased by that.

Every full suspension bike is billed these days as being a great climber. Bike builders aren’t necessarily lying, but they are oft speaking only to a bike’s linkage efficiency. Linkage efficiency is only part of the equation though. If you ride up fire roads, and drop gnarly trails, than all the things I just complained about won’t really matter.

I found myself dreading taking the Solo back to the trails in the east. The technical, rooty, rocky, "WTF is a switchback" trails require deft handling and a nimble bike capable of withstanding a lot of abuse going both up and down. On paper, the Solo should have owned those trails, but in reality, I knew I’d be leaving behind orange paint marks on the slick quartz and granite features, not to mention a bit of anger at not being able to ride features I used to crush on an XC bike.

As for Alaska, we certainly don’t have much in the way of gravel road access, nor technical trails.

I guess, where I get a little irked at Santa Cruz directly, is when they call this bike the perfect backcountry steed.

What backcountry has a gravel road for the climb, and what backcountry rig requires that you walk ridable features?

Another tragic experience was the severing of a pivot link axel after about a month of riding. This is not unheard of for Santa Cruz VPP suspension; the Internet will tell you some stories. Santa Cruz was quick to respond to the shop when contacted, and immediately sent replacements, no questions asked. The one disconcerting thing: in an email between myself and a Santa Cruz tech, he described it as a “fluke” and said he had never seen that. When there are multi-page threads dedicated to the subject on forums like MTBR, I guess I’d just leave it at “sorry, replacements on the way, happy trails.” Like said, the issue was responded to promptly, and it never occurred again this summer, so, no complaints, just an observation.


The Evil MGE! said...

Have you had a chance to reevaluate your thoughts of the 5010 in technical climbs and descents? I was first introduced to the 5010 during a pilgrimage back east to my home, Brevard, NC. Home of Pisgah National Forest often deemed the Trail Goddess who requires sacrifices in blood to ride her trails.
Pisgah is often wet, rooty, and rocky with plenty of technical descending and climbing and fire roads if that fits your fancy. It also has some areas of more buffed out trails in DuPont State Forest and Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
I went in thinking the Bronson would be the bike for the area for me. It proved me wrong by having a slightly deadened feeling and front heavy. I attributed this to having a longer wheel base and I believe the demo I had gotten had a steerer tube cut to short making the handlebars over two inches below my saddle height soo my thoughts on the Bronson are obviously skewed.
I took the Bronson back after one ride and the shop talked me into the SOLO. I was hesitant at 1st, the SOLO having a 32mm fork and only 125mm rear wheel travel. My buddies talked me into it and within the first ten minutes I was impressed. The bike felt responsive and nimble. By the time we reached our first big descent I was impressed with it's climbing prowess.
The descent, a fast mix of flow and root n rock called Butter Gap showed me what this bike was capable of. Descending it was fast n floating. I pushed the bike harder and it took it and pushed me to go faster. It was an indescribable experience and later that week; 125 miles and 18,000 ft of accumulated climbing later....I decided it was the bike for me.
I came home back to Colorado and sold my 6 month old Kona Satori and bought a now renamed 5010 and have never looked back.

Being Strong and Courageous said...

I'm with ya ... Got my 5010 back in the spring , set it up 1x, easton 65 mil stem and carbon bars ,slx crank with narrow wide 30 tooth and spank spike pedals and then a dropper post ... I love this bike , I crank uphill, shred downhill, drops, jumps, and when te trails are wet I ride street like when I was a kid on BMX , launch steps, bunnyhop ledges, hit gaps... Whatever!!... I can't say enough good about it .. I've ridden brown county, IN. Copper harbor Mi. And a few others plus my local trails and its been great! Kinda wish I woulda went carbon but oh well, I could drop 5 lbs myself and call it even.... Overall I love it and can't wait for spring!

Dante said...

Glad both of you like the Solo/5010. As I said, if the bike fits, it won't disappoint.
I picked up a Yeti SB-95c in September and after a few rides up here, took it on a 3-week road trip back east and through SoCal. There were trails where the Solo seemed like it would have been great, but the Yeti was awesome, and for the riding I do here in AK, the SB is def a better fit.

Anonymous said...

My ibis mojo will be replaced by a 5010 and I cannot wait ! I really enjoyed my mojo ....but is time for a change to the 27.5..., and I hope this will be the right trait ....
Would be a nice step ... I hope no test bikes here ....

TahoeSteve said...

I randomly found this page reading about 5010 climbing. Interesting to hear a report from AK, I'm only trail run up there and never knew that you guy lack technical trails?

For some perspective I've got a 5010 and ride it year round in WA. On any given day I might be riding it on a 15-30 mile XC trail, Bike park with jumps and drops or a more 'all mountain' type trail with roots, rock gardens, bermed turns, etc.. I've also taken it on the tahoe 'punisher' route which is a big XC epic (6000+ ft climbing in 25 miles) at elevation.

On one hand I agree with you that the stock WTB i23 wheels with HRII's are boat anchors. And the AL (which I ride) is a little heavier but gives some of us more confidence. I swapped tires for nobby nics which helped but took away from park riding stability a little. I went 1x10 with 32x42 my granny. That worked on the previously mentioned tahoe ride even with the HRII front (which was stupid).

Really though it comes down to this:

It's not an XC bike, it's a lighter, snappier AM bike that can REALLY ride the whole mountain.

jdfrommargs said...

Hi from Australia. Yeah interesting view points and I can see where your coming from in regards to the climbing but.....The front end does feel a little light and I do adopt a deliberate climbing position that I dont do on my Pivot but it still shoots me up there. Everyhting else about this bike, I bloody LOVE! Ive had a swank of bikes but none have given me such a feeling of oneness that I get when Im nailing technical singletrack on this little beast. Its a whole different buzz to attack a rocky fast descent with confidence on such a short travel intuitive machine.It has a dual slalom feel that is very hard not to love. I have the carbon with Pikes set at 130 and spank oozy wheels. I never hesitate to take this bike to wherever Im riding and it always works out to be the right choice. A big bike, in a small package