- Santa Cruz Blur XC
- £1,495 frame only (powdercoat, Fox Float R shock); £1,549 anodised; +£80 for RP23 shock; bike as tested, something like £3,500
- Lighter, more racy version of the original Blur
- 115mm travel
- VPP suspension
Frighteningly, it’s four years since we tested the original Santa Cruz Blur, the first fruits of SC’s freshly-acquired Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) technology. The short-link suspension design manipulates the rear axle path and rate curves to make your pedalling efforts tend to make the back end sit at the sag point, promising lively pedalling. It works, too. The original Blur was pitched as an XC bike, but its weight and 115mm rear travel meant that it found most favour as a fast trail bike.
For 2006 a whole family of Blurs was introduced. There was already a beefy 4X variant, while the new LT extended the travel to 135mm. With the LT aimed at the trail bike role, there was scope to refocus the original Blur. The XC has the same 115mm of rear travel, but the top tube is longer, the stays shorter and a whole bunch of weight cut to make it more appealing to the race crowd.
At first glance the XC looks almost identical to the original Blur, which isn’t all that surprising – all of the changes are quite subtle and not things that immediately leap out at you. The differences between the XC and the “classic” Blur fall into two broad categories – geometry and weight-saving.
The geometry changes involve making the bike longer in some places and shorter than others. The top tube is now a rangy 24in on the Large test bike (23in on a Medium) – that’s half an inch longer than the Blur’s LT brother and lets you stretch out for that all-important pedalling efficiency. Meanwhile the chainstays have come down in length (they’re a whisker under 17in) and the head tube is shorter too, which both saves weight and lets the real raceheads get a lower front end. Angles are 71° head and 73.5° seat.
The real action, though, is with weight savings. All sorts of things have been going on to trim a bit of mass from the Blur frame. For a start, the 6069 aluminium tubeset is slimmed down – some tubes are smaller diameter, most have thinner walls. Then there are little touches like the svelte two-piece titanium upper link that replaces the chunky aluminium one. Everything’s been whittled away at to get the frame weight down to a claimed 2.4kg (5.2lb) including shock.
Early Blurs had fairly limited tyre clearance, which has gradually improved over the years. The XC has crimed seatstays to give a little more room at the sides of the tyre, although it’s still not over-generous on top. The Kenda tyres fitted were pretty chunky for their stated 2.1in width, though, and we reckon it’d be fine with the kind of tyres that you’re likely to be running on it. As ever with Santa Cruz, there’s a big choice of colours in either painted or anodised finishes.
There are lots of options if you’re in the market for a Blur XC. If you’re sitting on a big pile of components you can just get a frame. Anodised ones are more money than painted, and the standard shock is a Fox Float R – if you want an RP23 as found on the test bike, that’s an extra.
If you’re after a full bike, the number of options increases again. Santa Cruz UK offers three build kits – R, X and X0. Your cheapest option, then, is a painted frame with a Float R and the R build kit (Avid Juicy 5, LX/XT mix, Race Face Evolve kit). That’ll set you back about £2,500.
The test bike was almost, but not quite, an X0 spec – the Avid Juicy 7 brakes, Thomson stem and seatpost, SRAM X.0 transmission, and Hope/Mavic wheels where all drawn from that build kit, but the headset was a Chris King rather than a Hope and the cranks were XTR rather than Truvativ Stylo Teams.
As you’d hope from such an array of high-end gear, everything worked absolutely fine. We took this bike to the TransWales stage race, so the supplied saddle came off in favour of one that we knew we’d get on with. Other than that, we rode it exactly as it arrived.
The suspension components were worthy of further comment, being our first encounter with Fox’s 2007 forks and shocks. Up front, we had an F100RLC, one of Fox’s revised F-series lightweight forks. It’s got adjustable rebound and low-speed compression damping, plus a lockout lever and a threshold adjuster that lets you set how easy it is to get the lockout to blow off – you can set it up with a kind of platform feel by running it locked out and tweaking the threshold if you so wish.
An interesting feature is the new forward-angled dropouts. The revised orientation should reduce the possibility of axle movement under braking, but it takes a while to get used to them when you’re putting the wheel in and out. It’s not any harder to do, it’s just that the open ends of the dropouts aren’t where you expect them to be so it takes a couple of goes. Claimed weight for the F100RLC is just under 3.5lb, which isn’t too shabby.
Out back the Blur came with a new RP23 air shock (an £80 upcharge over the standard Float R). The key difference between the 23 and the 2006 RP3 is in the anti-bob ProPedal adjustment. The RP3 had a three-position lever allowing you to choose from minimum, middling or maximum ProPedal. The RP23 has a two-position lever (which also has actual stops on it so you can’t turn it all the way around) offering fully-open or ProPedal settings. There’s also a three-position dial that lets you set how much ProPedal there is with the lever in the ProPedal position – fully open is the same wherever the dial is set, but you can have a range of ProPedal from a bit firmer to an almost locked-out feel.
Most of this test was done over the seven days of the inaugural TransWales stage race. Pre-event recommendations pointed towards a short-travel full-suspension bike as the weapon of choice. There was certainly a huge range of terrain – Tarmac, fire road, singletrack in hardpack dirt, surfaced, rooty, loose and rocky flavours, various species of slabby rocky bit, rivers, mud, grass, loose stony chutes and fast rubbly descents. What we needed was a real all-rounder, and the Blur XC delivered in spades.
Despite its XC moniker, the Blur doesn’t feel all that much like a race bike. Yes, it’s quite long and fairly steep, but it’s got a degree of confidence and poise on descents that we don’t usually associate with XC race thoroughbreds. It was certainly a valuable ally to a tired rider. The suspension at both ends definitely came up with the goods – plenty of rock-munching potential when you needed it, but otherwise unobtrusive.
The VPP design is one of the more stable under power, but we still felt the benefit of the switchable ProPedal on the many long fireroad drags. It’s not so much bob that it helped with, but weight shifts – transitions from seated to standing climbing or back again felt more positive and encouraging with a whiff of ProPedal on.
The Blur has never been a super-sensitive design over the small stuff, but that’s just part of its character – it’s a taut, fast bike, more sports car than Cadillac. And it’s still supple enough to eke out those last tyrefuls of traction. You may detect a little more pedal feedback under certain circumstances than on some bikes, but that’s the price you pay for a sprightly response to your efforts.
The only real downside of the VPP system is that it’s very picky about setup. Get the air pressure 10psi out either way and it can start to exhibit some quite odd behaviour. The silver lining, though, is that it’s pretty obvious when it’s wrong – if it feels weird, it needs some attention. When you hit the sweet spot, it’s very sweet indeed.
As supplied, the Blur XC was definitely still more of a lightweight trail bike than an out-and-out racer. It’ll happily run an 80mm travel fork and flat bars if you want to sharpen it up for woodsy courses and there’s plenty of scope to fit super-light parts – a complete bike in the 24lb area is certainly doable. For what we were doing with it, though, the longer fork, slightly more upright riding position and stoutish parts were just the ticket. It’s hard to think of a bike that we’d rather have been riding in the TransWales…
Open Gallery5 Images
Positives: Taut feel, lively, top-notch descender
Negatives: Finicky setup, expensive
We really liked the original Blur, and the XC variant works just as well but weighs less. Which can’t be bad. The downside is that in the four years since the original appeared, a lot of other very good bikes have come on to the market and many of them are considerably less expensive. So on the one hand it’s better than ever, on the other it’s harder than ever to justify paying for it. There’s no doubt that taking a test ride is likely to prove hazardous to your wallet, though…