Where the previous Santa Cruz Heckler was considered the electric Bronson, the new Heckler is much more like an electric Hightower.
Brand: Santa Cruz
Product: Heckler XO1 AXS RSV
Tested: by Benji for 2 weeks
Three things I’d change
- I wouldn’t say no to bigger rotors
- Seat angle could be steeper
- Fork sits a bit high when seated
Three things I liked
- Excellently, invisibly capable suspension
- Big batteries are ace
- Exhibits an incredible nimbleness
Let’s get the elephant out of the room first. This bike costs £11,699. I’m going to do my best not to review this particular ultra high-end very conspicuous consumption bananas chi-chi mobile. The new Heckler range starts at £6,999 and is going to offer a ride experience extremely close to this £11.7k showroom piece. So I’m going to endeavour to concentrate on the core riding characteristics at the heart of the bike and not get sidetracked into the bling.
Elephant gone. What about the bike?
The new Heckler ebike is not very much like the previous Heckler ebike. It’s a very different bike. While the travel remains the same (150mm) and delivered by a similar VPP configuration at the back, pretty much everything else has changed. Motor, battery size, wheel size, geometry. Everything is new.
The previous Santa Cruz Heckler launched with 27.5in wheels. Then had a MX mullet makeover within its first year. And while the 27.5in wheel size still can feature on the new Heckler as a mullet – or even full 27.5in on the Small size – the new Heckler feels to me like it’s principally meant to a full 29er. The Bullit is there for the rad mixed-wheel mullet manual machine.
Whereas the previous Heckler felt a little bit like it arrived too late, with nothing much new to add the ebike scene and as such was rather underwhelming, the new Heckler feels very much like it has caught up with the scene.
The scene in question being big capacity battery ebikes with full power motors and all-round capable geometry.
A bit like Shimano, Santa Cruz often isn’t the most progressive or pioneering of brands but when it does something it does it right. The new Heckler may not sport anything hugely progressive – there’s no LEDs/control on the top tube and the motor is ‘just’ the Shimano EP8 – but it no longer feels an ebike from a couple of years ago.
Another way of looking at it, is that there are no gimmicks on the Heckler. It feels like a matured ebike that’s easy to live with and has its priorities in the right place.
Let’s start with the motor. The Shimano EP8 doesn’t need any introduction. It’s Shimano’s flagship motor that offers 85Nm of torque and feels pleasantly natural in use. Yes, it rattles when you’re coasting. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest (my mountain biking experience is rarely quiet) but some folk won’t like it.
The motor comes pre-tweaked by Santa Cruz with its pedal power preferences. Essentially, it has turned down Trail mode a bit. This gives the bike better fuel economy and also makes Boost feel significantly more powerful when it is engaged. It’s a good tweak. I prefer Santa Cruz’s setting to Shimano’s. It’s something anyone can do with the Shimano E-Tube phone app, but it’s nice that it’s already been worked out and installed for you.
Similarly, the EP8 is one of the more relatively subtle and unobtrusive motors out there but you can tune it yourself via the phone app to be more (or less) surge-y or binary if you like things that way. You can alter how fast the assistance comes in, how fast it dies away (aka overrun), whether the power comes in with a big wallop, or comes on slowly and all sorts of stuff. You’re not stuck with the factory-set feel of the motor. It’s well worth fiddling with it.
This particularly true of the Trail mode. Once you’ve got Trail mode to behave how you like it, you can pretty much just put it in Trail and leave it there for the rest of the ride. Possibly banging it into Boost for when you want a rest, or a laugh. You can also drop it down to Eco mode but I’m not sure you’ll be doing that very often. Why?
The battery is the big news. Literally. The new 720Wh battery is proprietary to Santa Cruz but is warrantied to work with Shimano motor and controls. You can charge it up in situ, which is how I typically charge ebikes, but is quickly and simply removed with a 4mm Allen key for external charging. The battery is integrated into the downtube cover and is one of the more straightforward designs to locate and click into place securely.
For me, having a big capacity battery is a game-changer. No longer having to be mindful of your mileage – and constantly wondering if you should be in a lower power setting – is a real joy increaser. One less thing to have to think about. One less thing getting in the way of the ride experience.
Enough about the E. What about the bike?
The geometry is good. The head angle is a capable 64.5°. The reach numbers are healthy for an e-bike; perhaps not as long as I’d typically like on an acoustic bike but I appreciate the shorter reach on heavier ebikes. The reach on my XL test bike is 492mm and hasn’t felt too cramped during big days out. The 343mm BB height is bob-on. The EP8 has 165mm cranks slapped on its sides, which helps.
The back end of the new Heckler is perhaps the most significant area. The chainstays are 461mm in length which may make the jibbers wince but for riders who like to cover ground and go fast – uphill and downhill – generous chainstays are great. The effective seat angle is a claimed 76.7°. I measured the actual angle as nearer 73°, which does feel noticeably slack when coming from other bikes with steeper seat angles. You’ll want to slam your saddle forward on its rails to help offset this, especially in the larger frame sizes.
The rear-ward bias on climbs is perhaps made more noticeable by the rear suspension being more willing to go into its travel compared to the Fox 36 (160mm) up front, which typically likes to ride on the high side. With a bit more time on the bike, I’ll be playing about with sag points, volume spacers and low speed compression dials to see if I can level-up the bike’s uphill chops.
To be fair to Santa Cruz, I feel it’s the Fox 36 that needs faffing with to sit lower more often, as opposed to the Heckler’s VPP being overly plungey.
Despite this current rear-bias, the Heckler is still a laugh out loud excellent climber. The rear suspension is insanely grippy. The reduction in the VPP’s anti-squat (compared to Santa Cruz’s acoustic bikes) is a very good move. Combined with the EP8’s less-jerky, softened assistance makes for much more consistent and predictable uphill progress on the sketchiest of terrain. Obviously, the Maxxis DHR II rear tyre helps as well. Great tyre.
When it comes to doing my aforementioned suspension tweaking, I’m going to be very cagey. I do not want to mess up this bike’s handling on the not-climbs. Traversing trails and descents of any kind on the new Heckler are quite simply stunning.
We can point fingers at the price tag all day long, but there is something at work here. Where is the money going? It’s as simple/frustrating as this: the chassis and the suspension kinematic is what you’re paying for.
But, as I alluded to at the start, you don’t have spend five figures to get this. The £7k Heckler is going to ride a whole lot like this £11.7k Heckler.
Bump absorption is brilliant. It is on all ebikes. I’ve not ridden an ebike that wasn’t great at soaking stuff up and staying on line. Where the Heckler’s suspension is particularly impressive is how it responds and interacts with the rider’s handling inputs. It is not an inert dead weight. It changes direction with seriously impressive adroitness.
And let’s remember here that is has a massive 720Wh battery taking up that whole down tube. Despite this power package it doesn’t feel hefty or unbalanced when zigzagging up, over and across trails. It feels like you have more control over the traction levels on tap; push down with your feet when hitting grip-points, push down on the handlebars to unweight the rear and help it get around whatever you need it to get around.
The rear suspension fundamentally feels super supple around the sag point but definitely has more a bit more about it in the way of feeling when it comes to dishing out the rest of travel. Too often on bikes there are two aspects that dominate: the start of the travel and the end of the travel. The middle part feels kinda irrelevant or absent.
The middle part is also something that things like volume spacers and enlarged negative chambers don’t touch. If the middle part of the suspension isn’t to your liking, tough. There’s not much you can do about it.
The thing is, the middle part is where most of mountain biking happens. There’s a reason why bike reviewers bang on about mid-stroke. Mid-stroke matters (there’s a podcast title right there). As cliched and trotted-out trope-y as it may be.
Whatever. All you need to know is that the beginning, middle and end of the Heckler’s suspension is really good. Each part flows seamlessly into the other and the whole thing is seriously predictable and capable. Hence why I don’t really want to mess with it.
You can put a coil shock on the Santa Cruz Heckler. The enlarged shock tunnel means it accepts more shocks than ever and it less tight and fiddly to work on. I personally wouldn’t put a coil shock on it though. It won’t work significantly better. It’ll just be harder to achieve the sag point – and hence the bike stance – that suits you.
Which reminds me. The geometry adjust. There is a flipchip is the lower linkage. It doesn’t offer much change. I suspect it may be more useful for tweaking the bike’s stance should anyone decide to run a coil shock.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time on the Santa Cruz Heckler. It has all of the good aspects of ebikes. It turns wintry trails into summer buff flow-fests. It allows me to ride twice as many trails in the same time window. It has insane grip, everywhere.
It doesn’t have much in the way of the bad aspects of ebikes. I have no more range anxiety. I don’t feel like I’m just a passenger, holding on. The Heckler doesn’t feel as disconnected from either me or the terrain under its tyres as other ebikes can do.
Santa Cruz may not be showing off any shiny new progressive e-tech with the Heckler but when it comes to the ride and bike handling experience, it is currently right up there with the best.
Santa Cruz Heckler XO1 AXS RSV spec
- Frame: CC Carbon 150mm
- Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate
- Fork: Fox 36 Float Factory E-Tune 160mm
- Drivetrain: SRAM XO1 AXS Eagle 12sp
- Drive unit: Shimano EP8 85Nm
- Battery: 720Wh
- Seatpost: Fox Transfer Factory (S: 125, M: 150, L: 175, XL-XXL: 200mm)
- Rims/hubs: Reserve Carbon 30 Front/ DH rear/ Industry Nine 1/1
- Front tyre/rear tyre: Maxxis Assegai 2.5 MaxxGrip EXO/Maxxis Minio DHRII 2.4 MaxxTerra EXO+
- Weight: 22.97kg (XL)