As far as contemporary XC bikes go, the latest generation Blur from Santa Cruz Bicycles ticks a lot of boxes.
Plugging an important gap that the Tallboy left behind as it steadily morphed into a trail bike, the new Blur (also known as the ‘Blur 3’) heralds a spectacular return to its cross-country roots. This is a bike that has been fully engineered from the ground-up as a lightweight full suspension race bike.
To that end the Blur is equipped with a high-tech carbon fibre frame, 100mm of travel, fast-rolling 29in wheels, and geometry that aims to combine an aggressive head-down-bum-up racing position with sure-footed handling. The frame is dropper-ready and 1x specific, and thirsty riders need not worry – it’ll still take a water bottle inside the mainframe, and you can fit a second underneath the downtube.
Like other Santa Cruz models, the Blur frame is available in both C and CC carbon fibre grades. We’ve got the higher-end CC frame here, which Santa Cruz states is the lightest full suspension frame it has ever produced at 2060g. I recently found out this is quoted without the rear shock though, which explains why this Medium-sized test frame came out at 2250g (5.58lb) with the rear shock, thru-axle, hanger and seat collar.
Respectable, but a little ways off an equivalent Scott Spark RC (1779g claimed) or Canyon Lux SLX (2053g claimed).
I travelled to California earlier this year to test out the new Blur on some of the trails local to Santa Cruz HQ, where the Blur had been prototyped, tested and refined into the production version you see here. I got along with the Blur very well, but I did find the Fox 32 Step-Cast forks felt a little twangy compared to the stout frame, and the Maxxis Aspens it came with weren’t exactly the grippiest of tyres. Sure it’s a pretty dialled race setup out of the box, but to me the speedy Blur felt like it was being held back – at least for my limited riding skills anyway.
To explore the outer realms of the Blur’s capabilities, and to see whether it could be more than just a skinny XC whippet, we got in a standalone frameset and built it up from a blank canvas. Here’s a closer look at how we took this thoroughbred XC race whippet and gave it a steroid injection.
Blurring The Boundaries
Though Santa Cruz doesn’t exactly shout about it, the Blur – like many other modern XC frames – is capable of fitting up to a 120mm travel fork. And this introduces some interesting possibilities for making an XC bike a little more trail-friendly.
I chose to fit a 2019 Fox 34 Step-Cast – a fantastic fork that recently won a Singletrack Editor’s Choice Award. Coming in at 1650g, the 34 SC is lightweight, supple and simple to tune, making it an ideal match for the latest crop of new-school XC bikes on the market, such as the Intense Sniper, Yeti SB100, and Whyte S-120.
If you want to know more about how this fork performs, read our Fox 34 Step-Cast review here.
The extra travel up front does lift up the bike and kick back the angles. With the 120mm fork, the Blur’s head angle kicks back to 68.1° (from 69°), while the seat angle relaxes to 73.1° (from 74°). The static BB height is lifted by 12mm to sit 340mm off the floor.
As for the rear shock, it’s a Fox Float DPS in the all-black Performance Elite trim. The Blur does come with a dual remote lockout as standard, but I decided early on I could do without that, given the Blur pedals fine as it is. De-remotifying a Fox shock isn’t a straightforward (or cheap) process, so I sent it in to the techs at Silverfish, who replaced the top eyelet with a standard version. Now I have a nice, uncluttered cockpit, along with a blue lever that I can reach down and toggle between Open, Trail and Firm modes.
Santa Cruz recommends setting up the Blur’s rear suspension with 23-38% sag. Because of the diminutive shock size, that translates to 8mm (min) to 10mm (max) of sag, so you’ll need to get the ruler out to make sure you’re in the right range. The Blur does generally seem less fussy to sag than earlier VPP bikes, but it’s still worthing spending the time to get it set up right.
Fortunately Santa Cruz has an excellent suspension setup guide for the Blur, and I found the recommended pressures to be bang-on. For my 70kg riding weight, I ended up with 190psi in the shock’s air spring, with rebound set 6 clicks off full slow.
Making use of the internal routing and 31.6mm diameter seat tube, I chose to fit a Race Face Turbine R dropper post. With the exception of the logo, this is identical to a Fox Transfer dropper (Fox and Race Face play in the same sandpit), so it’s been performing flawlessly as you’d expect.
The Race Face lever is way nicer than the Fox equivalent though, with a much larger textured paddle for your thumb. I’ve also been able to go for the full 150mm of drop, since Santa Cruz built the Blur with a nicely short seat tube and plenty of standover clearance.
The cockpit comprises of a flipped 50mm Renthal Apex stem, and 760mm low-rise bars to keep the grips from getting too high with the taller fork. The riding position is still fairly aggressive though – the Blur has quite a stubby head tube and plop-in bearings, so there’s very little risk of any chopper effect.
More recently I’ve been using the excellent Ergon GE1 EVO Factory grips, which have flared tips that increase the effective bar width by about 10mm.
I’m also testing some Bontrager XR5 Team Issue tyres, which on the 27mm wide Reserve Carbon rims size up a touch bigger than the claimed 2.3in width. Set up tubeless around 18-25psi (depending on conditions), these are exceptionally grippy and dependable tyres for doing silly things with on a short travel bike.
There’s not a lot to be said about the SRAM X01 Eagle drivetrain that hasn’t been said before. It’s got terrific range, a positive shift feel, and I am still yet to drop a chain off the X-Sync 2 chainring. I have to give a shout-out to the often misunderstood DUB bottom bracket too, which was rather lovely to install and hasn’t skipped a beat so far. Of course it’s nice to see Santa Cruz stick with a threaded BB shell on the Blur.
SRAM’s Level Ultimate brakes continue to impress with their sumptuous carbon lever blades, assertive bite point and generous modulation. In the search of more power from the lightweight 2-piston callipers, I will be swapping the stock organic brake pads for some sintered metallic pads soon though.
All up, the complete bike you see here weighs 11.64kg. A bit porky for an XC bike, and considerably more than the Blur I rode at the launch, which weighed in at 10.31kg.
The question remains though; has the extra weight been worth it? Or did I simply curb the Blur’s enthusiasm?
I’ve put a good deal of saddle time into the Blur so far, including a couple of months riding in the UK, followed by another month of riding back in Australia. My local trails in Bendigo tend to suit short-travel trail bikes well, with plenty of fast, pedally singletrack that’s lathered in sidewall-eating granite and loose, dusty rocks. You can ride a hardtail here, but full suspension is a much more comfortable choice.
For the technical trails I wanted to take the Blur on, I was a little worried about the fork and build kit riding beyond the frame and rear suspension. From the very first ride, that concern proved to be unfounded.
Set up as it is here with a plush fork and grippy tubeless tyres, the Blur makes for a wildly fun, pocket-sized trail bike. It doesn’t feel like a dainty lightweight that’s just been jacked up at the front – something you do risk when banging a bigger fork onto an XC bike. Instead, the Blur feels like the energetic trail ripper it was meant to be.
The Blur retains its snappy demeanour, with the (torsionally) stiffer fork complementing the stout frame and efficient rear suspension. There’s a good level of anti-squat built into the VPP platform, and that sees the bike stand up to attention when you stomp on the pedals. And thanks to the 1x specific frame that uses an additional upright for the rear swingarm (which also affords a pleasingly symmetrical profile), there is very little perceivable wiggle through the chassis.
The rigid carbon wheels and short back end help here too. Santa Cruz lists the rear centre length at 432mm, which I think is spot-on for a bike in this segment. It keeps cornering crisp and direct, with the rear tyre tracing a tight arc when requested. Speaking of, traction from the Bontrager XR5 tyres is exceptionally good, but it’s no doubt made better by the Blur’s perfected weight distribution. It’s a supremely well balanced bike, with usable chassis feedback that allows you to shift your body position as required.
The big 760mm wide bars also provide good leverage over the front wheel, and I’ve found it easy to push the inside grip down when the Blur needs tipping a little harder through the turns. The whole bike just feels so sturdy from the grips down to the rear axle, with minimal twisting apparent when you’re loading up the four contact points.
Normally you’d associate a taller BB with poor cornering, but on the Blur it works well. Admittedly it isn’t that tall – I measured the sagged BB height at 304mm. However, the reduction in BB drop (height difference between the BB and the hub axles) does improve the bike’s ability to flip-flop from left to right when dancing through slithery S-bends. Agility is certainly not a trait lacking in the Blur.
It also gives a load of useful pedal clearance – I honestly can’t recall striking a pedal more than once in the past three months of riding. For climbing up chunky, rocky climbs and gassing it on wide-open corners, I’ve been able to safely keep the power down with far less risk of stalling out. While the current fashion is to make BB’s as low as possible, which is typically fine on smooth, machine-built flow trails, it’s been nice to climb properly rough and technical ascents without having to constantly ratchet at the pedals.
With the short stem and longer fork the Blur can wander a little more on steeper climbs, but not as much as I was expecting. You just need to be a little more mindful of weighting the front tyre. I’d also been concerned about the slackened seat angle, since everyone seems to be hyping uber-steep seat angles at the moment.
After the first few rides though, I ended up pulling the saddle backwards on the rails after I’d checked the position of my knee relative to the pedals. Pedalling has been a lot more comfortable since then. For a short-travel bike like this, I don’t feel that the seat angle needs to be any steeper than it is.
The Blur otherwise stands as an efficient climber. It’s obviously not as whippy compared to the lighter XC setup, but it’s steady, and the VPP suspension – which I always leave wide open – keeps the rear tyre well connected to the trail surface.
While you can’t expect the same level of plushness as a bigger travel trail bike, the Blur’s rear suspension is highly effective overall. The anti-squat early on in the travel provides a taut feel underfoot when you’re on the gas, but there isn’t so much anti-squat as to stifle the suspension deeper in the stroke. Quite the contrary – the Blur feels active and comfortable throughout, with a gentle ramp-up towards the end.
On extended rough sections of trail when you’ve got the saddle down, elbows and knees bent, and the bike is hovering in the middle of the travel, the rear suspension is wonderfully effective at supporting you while the rear wheel is jiving about on the trail. With only a 35mm stroke, the DPS shock has to work mighty hard on choppier terrain, but I’ve been constantly surprised at just how well the back of the Blur follows the fork. Providing the descents aren’t mega-steep, the Blur is composed and comfortable enough to keep up with the bigger boys.
The sporty chassis and suspension means the Blur is willing to pop enthusiastically into the air when the need arises, and there’s no detectable wallow when pushing into lips and around banked-up corners. Indeed it’s one of the quickest mountain bikes I’ve razzed around the local pump track on.
If you’re the kind of rider blessed with cat-like smoothness, you’ll be able to get away with a lot on this bike. If you’re less elegant with your landings though, it isn’t uncommon to find the end of the travel. This is still, after all, a 100mm travel XC bike. And since the shock already has the biggest volume spacer fitted from the factory, there’s no room to decrease the volume further for more ramp-up.
With that in mind, much heavier riders may want to consider a custom tune for their shock if they’re looking for more damping support, or just simply ride with a little more wheels-on-the-ground finesse. If your priority is jumpy trail riding though, you should also consider the Tallboy, or perhaps even a 5010 or a Hightower.
Speaking of the Tallboy, while it comes with a longer stroke shock and burlier components, it actually has very similar geometry compared to the Blur with the 120mm fork (though the Blur does have a longer reach). Given the overlap, I’d hazard a guess that Santa Cruz will be beefing up the next generation Tallboy to distinguish it further from the Blur.
While we’re talking bike spec, Santa Cruz is also now offering the Blur in a ‘TR’ build, which comes with 110mm travel Fox 34 SC forks, Maxxis Rekon tyres and a dropper post. Unless you really need a pure XC race setup, the TR option is what I’d recommend for anyone who’s looking at a complete Blur and wants a fun XC bike that they can still do long distance rides and races on.
The Next Phase
As I’m sure you can tell, I am really digging the Blur as it’s set up here. In the interest of science though, there are a few changes to the Blur test bike that I have planned over the next few months.
Firstly, I’m going to get a side-entry bottle cage for it, since you can’t use a regular one – the bottle fouls on the rear shock. With the aim of entering some XC and endurance races over summer, I’ll also be looking to fit some faster-rolling rubber, along with a racier cockpit and potentially an air spring swap to lower the fork to 110mm.
Before I do that though, I’ve got some fork offset testing to do. I have the Fox 34 SC fork in both 51mm and 44mm offsets, and I’ve been swapping them around to see the effect of different offset on a short-travel XC bike. There’s some further back-to-back testing to be done, so stay tuned for the full feature on that one.
If you’d like to read more, check out all the details on the Santa Cruz Blur in our launch story here. You can also read my first ride review of the new Blur here, and if you need a good laugh, then see how the bike came together in this build video (hint: very slowly).
And if you’ve been inspired by this review to ‘trail-ify’ your own XC bike, then make sure you check out our feature article “Ditch The Twitch – 14 Ways To Turn Your XC Bike Into A Confidence-Inspiring Rad Machine!”
As always, we’d love to hear what you think of the Blur and how I’ve got it setup here – let us know your thoughts, and shoot me any questions you’ve got in the comments section below!
Santa Cruz Blur CC Specifications
- Frame // Blur CC Carbon Fibre, 100mm Travel
- Fork // Fox 34 Step-Cast Factory Series, 120mm Travel, 51mm Offset
- Shock // Fox Float DPS EVOL, Performance Series, 170x35mm
- Hubs // DT Swiss 340, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
- Rims // Santa Cruz Reserve 27, 27mm Internal Width, 28h, Tubeless Ready
- Tyres // Bontrager XR5 Team Issue, 2.3in Front & Rear
- Crankset // SRAM X01 Eagle DUB, 32t X-Sync 2 Chainring
- Rear Mech // SRAM X01 Eagle, 12-Speed
- Shifters // SRAM X01 Eagle, 12-Speed
- Cassette // SRAM XG1295 Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
- Brakes // SRAM Level Ultimate, 180mm Centreline Rotors
- Stem // Renthal Apex 35, 50mm Length
- Bars // Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon 35, 10mm Rise, 760mm Wide
- Grips // Ergon GE1 EVO Factory, Slim
- Seatpost // Race Face Turbine R, 150mm Travel, 31.6mm
- Saddle // Ergon SM Pro, S/M
- Size Tested // Medium
- Sizes available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
- Weight // 11.64 kg / 25.74 lbs
|Brand:||Santa Cruz Bicycles|
|From:||Santa Cruz Bicycles, santacruzbicycles.com|
|Price:||£2,999 (frame only with Fox Float DPS Kashima shock), $4,999 AUD|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 3 months|
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