- Santa Cruz Superlight Trail
- www.santacruzbikes.co.uk; 01423 780088
- Latest evolution of a single-pivot classic
- One of two complete bike packages
There aren’t ever so many bikes that deserve to be described as “legendary”, but we reckon that Santa Cruz’s Superlight is one of them. It started life as a lightweight version of the original Heckler, a 4in travel bike that was one of the first true FS all-rounders. Since then, it’s survived the Heckler moving on to bigger-travel things and the introduction of Santa Cruz’s VPP bikes like the Blur – everyone assumed that the Blur would replace the Superlight, but it never quite happened.
And now there’s an all-new Superlight, part of Santa Cruz’s revamp of its whole single-pivot range and a signal that there’s still room for a bit of simplicity in the world of MTB suspension. Unlike the relaunched Heckler and Bullit, though, there’s no extra travel or subtle repositioning – the new Superlight carries on the 100mm XC/trail tradition but in a curvy new form.
Santa Cruz is mainly known as a frame supplier, but as well as bare frames it supplies build kits plus a small selection of off-the-peg bikes. The Superlight Trail is one of the latter, and the cheaper of the two ready-built Superlight options available.
All dimensions based on Large frame
- Effective top tube length (TT) 24in
- Seat tube, centre to top (ST) 19.5in
- Chainstay (CS) 16.7in
- Head angle 71°
- Seat angle 73.5°
- Frame weight 2.36kg (5.2lb)
Catch a glimpse of the new Superlight from certain angles and you might wonder what’s changed. Look more closely, though, and you’ll notice that, while the general profile is familiar, pretty much everything is actually different.
The most obvious change is in the swingarm. For a start, the pivot has moved a bit – rather than being perched on top of the downtube, it now passes straight through it and is thus lower down and closer to the chainrings. The pivot itself has been redesigned and now runs on an oversized aluminium shaft for greater stiffness.
A forged yoke clamps on to the ends of the pivot shaft, and from there a pair of square-section tubes arc and twist their way up and back to meet the shock mount yoke and seatstays. Meanwhile the chainstays sweep out from the uprights and meet the seatstays at the minimalist sculpted dropouts. After all this time, the Superlight frame finally gets a replaceable gear hanger, but it’s not the flimsy bit of plate that was what led Santa Cruz to skipping it for so many years. The Superlight’s hanger is a stiff, 3D piece secured with two bolts into the rear of the dropout.
The left-hand dropout is different in several ways. There’s no hanger (duh), there’s a brake mount (duh again) but it’s also a substantially different shape because the left-hand chainstay sits lower than the right-hand one (which has to clear chainrings and the front mech). All of this work, plus completely revised tube butting profiles, has resulted in a frame that weighs in at a claimed 5.2lb but is noticeably stiffer than the outgoing Superlight.
Frame-only Superlights are available in a range of powdercoat or anodised finishes (anodising is slightly lighter), but the complete Superlight Trail bike comes in white only. No complaints there, we like white bikes this year.
With Superlight frames retailing at £949, it’s clear that most of your money for this complete bike is going into the frame. To its credit, Santa Cruz has gone for a gimmick-free selection of solid bits rather than trying to make the bike look like something it isn’t.
Sensibly, the fork is a priority, with a thoroughly decent RockShox Reba Team making a good match for the back end. The drivetrain is mostly Deore, with the addition of LX front and XT rear mechs. You don’t see many Octalink bottom brackets on bikes in this price bracket these days, but it’s a solid setup. Avid Juicy 3 brakes are serviceable, if chunkier than the 5s and lacking the adjustability of the 7s.
Deore hubs are laced to Mavic XM117 rims with DT 1.8mm spokes – nothing special parts-wise, but well-built. Kenda Nevegal tyres are fine, Truvativ XR bar/stem and seatpost do their jobs and the Lizard Skin grips and WTB Rocket V Comp saddle you’ll either like or not. Really, the only thing that gives away the relatively lowly spec from the saddle is the slightly plasticky feel of the Deore shifters and the occasional sense of a little more weight than you’d like on long drags.
The whole lot came in at a bit under 29lb on our scales. It’s worth remembering that the frame is impressively light – there’s a lot of scope to shed weight as time goes on. We’d imagine that a lot of Trail purchasers would see it as a starting point for a gradual upgrade programme. The frame’s certainly worth it. Obviously you have to weigh the fact that you could get a better specced bike from a bigger manufacturer against the fact that you couldn’t build up a Superlight with this kind of spec on your own for the money.
If you’ve had experience of the old Superlight, describing the ride of the new one is easy – the same, only better. Take the previous incarnation, retain the sharp, but predictable, handling but make it a little bit more supple and a whole lot stiffer, and you’re there.
For everyone else, the key word is “predictable”. This is a steep-angled bike, but the weight distribution and well-balance suspension mean that it won’t spring any nasty surprises. The main surprise for the uninitiated is how effective such an apparently simple bike can be – there’s a decade of refinement here, and you can feel every minute of it.
Predictable doesn’t mean dull, though. Far from it. If you’re used to multi-link bikes you may initially find the odd bit of pedal feedback on the Superlight distracting, but after a while you realise that it’s not actually doing any harm and it’s letting you know exactly what’s going on under the wheels. Combine that with about the most sorted handling you’ll find anywhere and you’ve got a bike that you know will go where you want it to go. And that knowledge is a powerful ally when it comes to going faster.
The Superlight feels sprightly (despite this complete package being slightly on the portly side) yet poised at the same time. Yes, the back end might chatter a bit occasionally, but as with the hint of pedal feedback you either quickly learn to work with it or you just forget about it. It’s never less than a rewarding ride, and it’s a very effective mile-eating tool to boot.
One thing’s for sure – on this showing, single pivot bikes are going to be with us for a long time yet. And we’re grateful for that.
Ups and downs
Positives: Simple yet effective, inspiring ride, a true classic
Negatives: Can’t match the big boys on spec for the money
Looked at in pure spec-per-pound terms as a complete bike, the Superlight Trail can’t stand up against bikes from bigger manufacturers. Pretty much every component is a notch down from what the big boys are offering in this price range. That’s not surprising – Santa Cruz bikes may sometimes feel ubiquitous, but the company is still a minnow compared to the Treks and Specializeds of this world.
If you’re making decisions from the saddle rather than the catalogue, though, it’s a different story. The Superlight is simply a fantastic ride. Yes, the single-pivot configuration has its theoretical limitations, but for us the immediacy, trail feedback and sheer rugged simplicity of it more than make up for any slight idiosyncracies. The frame is a true classic (if we were just testing the frame it’d get five stars overall), and all the bits work even if other bikes offer flashier gear.