First Ride Review: Santa Cruz Blur 3 CC XX1 Reserve

by Wil Barrett 1

It’s been about five years coming, but the Santa Cruz Blur is finally back.

First introduced back in 2002 alongside the V-10 downhill bike, the Blur was one of the original VPP suspension bikes from Santa Cruz. Sporting 26in wheels, 115mm of rear travel and the option to run a 80-100mm travel fork (and even rim brakes!), that original alloy-framed Blur became well known and loved for its efficient pedalling and versatile trail manners.

The success of the Blur name saw it fracture into multiple platforms over the years, including the longer travel Blur LT, the mid-travel Blur TR, and the short-travel Blur XC. Carbon frames followed and were well received, but then so too did 29in wheels. And once 29in wheels took hold of the XC and trail bike markets, it was ironically Santa Cruz’ own Tallboy and Tallboy LT that eventually killed off the Blur around 2013.

As with many things Santa Cruz however, nothing ever really dies. It just seems to go into hibernation for a while.

While the Blur has been resting though, the popular Tallboy has been feasting. It’s grown bigger and stronger, with more travel, slacker geometry, and beefier components like 130mm travel forks and stockier tyres. And though the 3rd generation Tallboy is no doubt a cracking lightweight trail bike, it is no longer the XC racer it used to be.

That has opened up a bit of a gap in the Santa Cruz lineup – a gap ready to be filled by this new Blur.

santa cruz blur 3 cc xx1 eagle kashima fox 32 sc
The Blur is back for 2018. Or is it 2019 now? Maybe 2018.5? Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

The Bike

For 2018 the Blur has emerged from its hibernation leaner, meaner and faster than ever before. Returning to its roots as a thoroughbred, fully suspended, XC race bike, the Blur is now equipped with 29in wheels, and balanced out with 100mm travel front and rear.

Available in carbon fibre only (there are no plans to add an alloy option), the Blur can be had in either Santa Cruz’ C or CC carbon grades. We’re told that the strength and stiffness is the same between the two, but the CC frames use higher quality ingredients with a more complex layup process that see it lob off about 220g over the cheaper C frame.

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There are C and CC carbon frame options. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

Speaking of mass, there’s not much of it in the Blur CC frame. Claimed weight is just 2060g for a medium frame with the Fox Float DPS shock. That’s within 10% of the lightest full suspension frames on the market, though it’s worth noting that most of those competitors are running simpler suspension designs with tricks like pivot-less rear stays to get the weight down.

In comparison, the Blur still features a proper dual-link VPP suspension design. And from first glance, it just doesn’t look nearly as anaemic as its weight figure would suggest. The carbon tubes adopt straighter lines overall, with a more classic look reminiscent of the early alloy Blur. It may look less edgy and aggressive than the sharp lines found on other modern carbon frames, but the rounded tubes play to the inherent strengths of carbon fibre, reducing weight and the chance of excessive resin buildup in tight corners.

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Hollowed-out upper VPP link. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

The upper VPP link has been hollowed-out to save some weight, but like the lower one, it’s still made from solid-forged alloy. As with all Santa Cruz VPP bikes, the lower link features chunky angular contact bearings that can be home-serviced with a standard grease gun.

The new Blur is 1x specific, and that allows a more symmetrical-shaped swingarm with two twin vertical struts. If anything, it just looks wonderfully balanced compared to the old 2x compatible frames, which only had a single strut on the non-drive side. As with the Hightower LT, the Blur adopts post-mount rear brake tabs, which gives a clean direct-mount setup with the 160mm rotors.

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There’s a mix of internal and external cable routing. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

With Boost dropouts, there’s clearance for up to a 2.35-2.4in tyre (tyre and rim model dependent), but the Blur is purposely not 27.5+ compatible like some other Santa Cruz 29ers. The frame features a smart mix of internal and external cable routing, room for a water bottle inside the mainframe, and there are bosses underneath the downtube for a second bottle.

Four frame sizes range from Small through to X-Large, and in total there will be six complete bikes available; three cheaper builds using the Blur C frame, and three blingier builds using the Blur CC frame.

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The rear shock lockout cable disappears into the underside of the top tube. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

The bike we rode for the launch was (of course) the Mac Daddy of the lineup. This build includes a Kashima-laden Fox Factory suspension package, SRAM XX1 Eagle 1×12 shifting, and Level Ultimate brakes. Wheels are built in-house at the Santa Cruz factory in California, using DT Swiss 240 hubs and a fast-engaging 54t Star Ratchet freehub mechanism, DT Swiss J-bend spokes, and Santa Cruz’s own Reserve carbon fibre rims.

The stock builds will come fitted with a rigid seatpost (or as I like to call them, single-position dropper posts), though I – like many of the other journalists on the launch – elected to run a cheater post for our test ride. In this case, a 125mm travel KS LEV Integra. Including the dropper post, my medium sized test bike weighed in at 10.31kg setup tubeless, meaning this bike will be very close to the 10kg barrier with the standard build.

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Straight-up, the Blur just makes you wanna ride really fast. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

The Ride

For the launch in Santa Cruz, us journos were split into two groups. For the first day, one group would ride the Blur while the other rode the Highball, and the following day we would swap.

Day one was Blur day for me, and that meant jumping in a van from Santa Cruz to drive about an hour and a half up the sunny Californian coastline to the Pacifica area – not too far from San Jose and Silicon Valley. The trails we’d be riding were within the El Corte De Madera Creek Open Space Preserve. Thankfully it’s also known as ‘Skeggs’, which I found much easier to pronounce.

With huge redwood trees reaching up from the dark brown pine needle-laden forest floor, Skeggs is exactly what I picture when I think of trail riding in Santa Cruz. The network of legal multi-use trails contain a combination of smooth and flowy rollercoaster singletrack, alongside rockier and more natural-type trails that give it a remote backcountry feel.

With half a dozen journos accompanied by a handful of designers, engineers, marketing folks and photographers, our bustling group was filled with plenty of stops for photos and general chinwags about the new bike. Despite the stop-start riding, we still managed to notch up nearly 30km of riding with just over 1000m of elevation gain. The last fireroad climb out in particular was a proper lung-buster.

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The progressive cockpit gives the Blur a tonne of front-end confidence. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

So the bike – what to make of it? Well, it’s fast. Very fast. And lightweight. But you already knew that.

What I immediately liked about the Blur is its cockpit. It doesn’t feel like an angry race bike, and that’s a trend we’ve witnessed with other contemporary short-travel XC race bikes like the Kona Hei Hei, Scott Spark and Rocky Mountain Element.

A lot of that has to do with the full-width 750mm carbon bars that Santa Cruz has spec’d on the Blur, which helps to open up your chest over the front of the bike. Each frame size features a modest 70mm stem length, except for the small, which goes down to 60mm.

Previous Santa Cruz models have been known for being short through the top tube, but the new Blur is not. The medium size sports a healthy 440mm reach, which means if you look down at the front wheel while riding, you’ll notice that the front hub sticks out a good way ahead of the handlebar – a perspective not normally observed in the XC world.

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Wil took the B-line, and it ended up being way worse. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

The 69° head angle is fairly sharp, but while not quite as slack as the Scott Spark RC, Santa Cruz has pulled off a clever trick to steady the steering by using a shorter 44mm fork offset, rather than the usual 51mm fork offset used on most 29ers. Josh Kissner, Santa Cruz’ product manager for the new Blur, explained that test mules were set up with both offsets and various head angles during the prototyping process, and both he and the testers preferred the calmer handling that came with the longer trail figure (less offset = more trail).

In use, it works very well. Despite the smooth-but-bendy Fox 32 Step Cast fork, the front end doesn’t feel frantic. It is responsive, but oversteer is kept to a minimum – not unlike my experience with the new Specialized Epic that uses a similarly short fork offset.

For the racerheads, the cockpit can be absolutely slammed though. The headtube is short and is moulded to accommodate plop-in bearings, so there are no external cups to jack up the bars. Our test bikes were set up with the stem inverted with several spacers underneath, and that felt pretty balanced to me, but for the sportier and more flexible riders among us, there’s scope for getting those grips down lower for a more powerful climbing position.

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For fireroad sprinting during a race, the dual-remote lockout is a sweet tool to draw on. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

Speaking of which, the Blur climbs as you’d expect of a 10kg XC race bike with carbon wheels and Maxxis Aspen tyres – like a cat on fire. Acceleration is prompt, and the 74° seat angle puts you into a nice centralised riding position to keep pushing the power down through the pedals whether you’re spinning on flatter terrain, or grinding up steeper inclines. Santa Cruz has tuned the VPP linkage with efficiency in mind – and that it delivers in spades – but it’s not so firm and bound to chain torque that it feels inactive. Like the handling, it’s very balanced.

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Santa Cruz has tuned the VPP suspension design for discreet pedal efficiency. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

For those that mash, you do have the power to turn the Blur into a rigid bike at the flick of a button. The compact two-position remote will be a nice feature for anxious racers worried about power loss, but to be honest, there is absolutely zero difference in pedal efficiency between locked and unlocked while pedalling seated. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are a little different, and those regular hardtail and singlespeed riders amongst our group were making use of the lockout on the fireroad climbs. Personally, I prefer to sit and spin away on the climbs. You can get away with this thanks to that big 50t sprocket out back, and with a calmer approach to climbing the Blur is no more sluggish with the suspension open – it’s just more comfortable, and that makes it easier to find your rhythm.

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We spent a lot of time pummelling rocks on the first part of the trail. The Blur lapped it up surprisingly well. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

One thing that all of us noted during setup on the Blur was that the rear shock seemed much less sensitive to sag compared to previous VPP bikes. I initially ran around 30% sag with 165psi in the shock, and everything felt smooth and steady for a good portion of the day. A couple of occasions saw full compression though, after leaving the ground for a little longer than I’d anticipated. Bumping up pressure by 10psi helped eliminate bottoming, but in terms of feel, the suspension still felt smooth and active. You wouldn’t normally expect this with a VPP bike that uses such a wee shock, but clearly Santa Cruz has spent some time smoothing out that leverage curve and working with Fox on the tune, so the bike is much less finicky to get it where it needs to be.

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The plush suspension package and broad cockpit encourage you to look for the cheeky lines. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

Once we got down the lumpier, rockier descents and further below into the trees, the Blur fell right into its element. Darting through twisty singletrack is this bike’s forte, with the substantial 42mm BB drop and compact 432mm chainstay length keeping the handling responsive. The stiff one-piece swingarm surely helps, and along with those nice wide bars, the Blur enjoys being dipped over through the turns.

The lightweight Maxxis Aspens occasionally disagreed with my lean angles and line choices, and they certainly wouldn’t be my tyre of choice for riding back home in the UK. That said, they were nice and supple setup at 23/25psi, and despite looking like a glorified inner tube with some grooves etched into them, I was surprised with how much they did actually hold on.

As for the rest of the build kit, it all performed pretty well for a brand new bike on its first outing. I did experience some clicking from the front end, which I tracked down to either a creaky CSU or bushing knock in the Fox 32 SC fork – two things I haven’t experienced with a brand new Fox fork for a good couple of seasons now – and I suspect something that would be covered under warranty as a manufacturing defect.

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The new 1x specific back end allows for a near-asymmetrical swingarm. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

There were a few creaks and groans initially from the X01 cassette as the chain settled in over the first hour of riding, but it came good and quietened down. Likewise the brakes were very soft to begin with, but after a few longish descents that got some heat into the pads, the braking power and lever feel was absolutely fantastic. It reminded me why the Level Ultimates are some of my favourite brakes on the market for XC racing and trail riding.

While I don’t have enough experience with the Reserve wheels to pass judgement, upon initial inspection they seem to be very nicely finished. The rims use offset drilling that means spoke lengths are nearly identical drive and non-drive, leading to more balanced spoke tensions overall. The 25mm inner width is spot-on for supporting XC-width tyres at low pressures, and the carbon fibre layup is thicker around each spoke hole to increase strength, hence the rim’s bumpy aesthetic. I also like that Santa Cruz chooses to build its wheels with a regular 3-cross lacing pattern, external spoke nipples and DT Swiss hubs, giving longer term serviceability the consideration it deserves.

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If you want to go fast on XC trails, this bike is ready. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

Overall

My time aboard the Blur was short, but very sweet. I can attest that this isn’t just the lightest full suspension bike that Santa Cruz has ever developed, it’s also the fastest and one of the best handling too.

Its steady demeanor gives it a bigger safety net for riding a little more recklessly, and there’s certainly a load of reliability in the stiff carbon frame and well-rounded suspension design, which coaxes you into indulging in cheeky trail maneuvers. Of note is that the Blur frame will accommodate an extra 10-20mm of travel up front, though to be honest, if you desperately want to go down that route, then the Tallboy is still likely the better choice.

Ultimately for XC riding, racing and tackling multi-day marathon events though, the Blur is no doubt the correct tool for the job, and an exceptionally fun one at that.

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The Blur is an XC racer with a little extra spice to it. Photo: Forrest Arakawa.

Santa Cruz Blur CC XX1 Reserve Specifications

  • Frame // CC Carbon Fibre, 100mm Travel
  • Fork // Fox 32 Step Cast Factory Series, 100mm Travel
  • Shock // Fox Float DPS, Factory Series, 170x35mm
  • Hubs // DT Swiss 240, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // Santa Cruz Reserve 25, 25mm Internal Width, 28h, Tubeless Ready
  • Tyres // Maxxis Aspen Tubeless Ready, 2.25in Front & Rear
  • Crankset // SRAM XX1 Eagle DUB, 34t X-Sync 2 Chainring
  • Rear Mech // SRAM XX1 Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Shifters // SRAM XX1 Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Cassette // SRAM XG1295 Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
  • Brakes // SRAM Level Ultimate, 160mm Centrelock Rotors
  • Stem // Syntace LiteFore Stem, 70mm Length
  • Bars // Santa Cruz XC Carbon Flat Bar, 7mm Rise, 750mm Wide
  • Grips // ESI Chunky
  • Seatpost // KS LEV Integra, 125mm Travel, 31.6mm (Syntace P6 Carbon HiFlex as stock)
  • Saddle // WTB Silverado Carbon
  • Size Tested // Medium
  • Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Weight // 10.31 kg / 22.68 lbs (as tested with KS dropper post)
  • RRP // £7899

Review Info

Brand:Santa Cruz Bicycles
Product:Blur CC XX1 Reserve
From:Jungle Products, jungleproducts.co.uk
Price:£7899
Tested:by Wil Barrett for one glorious day in Santa Cruz, California

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