Santa Cruz’s new affordable carbon charger proves the frame matters most.
Super-stiff, dynamic driving, lightweight trail weapon with massive upgrade potential, at a bargain price
Santa Cruz has always been an aspirational brand, but its latest complete carbon bikes only cost slightly more than its flagship composite frames.
Can they cut that much cost without cutting corners, and is the chassis more important than the componentry?
- Highs: Outstandingly stiff and light carbon frameset at an almost alloy price, VPP suspension suits the aggressive frame character superbly
- Lows: Aggressively involving rather than lazily surefooted, basic kit works but you’ll be gagging to upgrade it
Frame and equipment: quality frame with decent kit and great upgrade potential
Bargain fans who want boutique kudos will be delighted that there are no external differences between the cheaper Carbon C and flagship Carbon CC frames. They use the same moulds but a lower grade of carbon, so each frame needs 200 to 250g more fibre (depending on size) to provide the same stiffness and strength.
As Santa Cruz’s premium carbon chassis are properly light, that means the 5010 Carbon C frame is still lighter than most at 2.5kg (5.5lb).
You get the same grease guarded, DIY adjustable collet bearings for the twin-linkage VPP suspension system, just with alloy rather than carbon linkages. You also still get a DT Swiss RWS 142x12mm rear axle threading into full-carbon dropouts, with the same Shimano direct-mount mech options too.
There’s no cosmetic or stiffness difference between the 5010 Carbon C and the flagship CC, it’s just a bit heavier
The disc brake mounts are carbon and there are ISCG-05 tabs on the threaded BB shell. Internal dropper post routing and neat rubber chain and frame protectors are all carried over, and the geometry and four size options are the same too. Despite being significantly lighter than the 3.08kg (6.8lb) alloy 5010 frame, the Carbon C is available as a complete bike with the same build kit for just £300 more.
It's fitted with Shimano’s Deore brakes and Shimano XT/SLX gears. Past experience suggests these will be ultra-reliable, though we can see many 5010 owners going single-ring straight away.
Critically, Santa Cruz fit top-quality Maxxis tyres and set them up tubeless on the wide WTB rims. That adds a noticeably more subtle and supple small-bump response and better traction to the RockShox Sektor fork. While the rest of the kit is fixed, you can upgrade the stock rigid post to a KS LEV Integra dropper for £200 (saving £100 on the RRP).
A frame of this quality has vast upgrade potential too.
Ride and handling: guaranteed good time
The 5010 has a more XC than DH feel and the VPP suspension is dynamic in character. Press the pedals and you effectively pull against the lower linkage, creating a firmer, more direct feel with each stroke. That gives it an advantage when chasing round tight corners, particularly uphill. You can tip the 5010 in fast, then drive it through with the rear end.
The hard drive feel combines with obvious frame stiffness to fire the 5010 up to speed. The flipside is that the suspension sags between power pulses – particularly in the small chainring, making the ‘trail’ setting on the shock vital for long climbs. Heading back down, the wide bar/short stem cockpit gives a precise power-steering feel and the frame is outstandingly stiff.
This creates a super-confident feel that goes a long way to compensate for the skinny fork legs. We never felt like we had to back off on aggression or speed heading into a sketchy section even if we had to hang on tighter to get through it.
RockShox’s Sektor teams up with tubeless Maxxis rubber for way more control than fork snobs would expect
Similarly, the Evolution series Float shock feels firmer and less sophisticated than the Monarch DebonAir when you’re rolling over the small stuff. Start walloping stuff hard though trying to carry speed across roots and rocks or blasting down a black run and it sucks up impacts far better than you’d expect from its 125mm (4.9in) stroke. The rear suspension is easier to set up than on the 150mm travel Santa Cruz Bronson too, so we were going full gas from the first segment of the first ride.
While the front end is less relaxed and comfortable than on the slacker bikes here at higher speeds, it’s stiff enough to muscle through, not freak out. The extension of the wheelbase at the rear keeps it stable enough to drop your heels and carve hard through berms or loose, chattery turns too.
It’s a bike that rewards you more the more you get involved, and whatever the geometry, suspension and component theory, it was the one we grabbed every time for a guaranteed good time.