Price: £1149, (titanium spring £300)
From: Jungle 0113 2937703,
We’ve been riding the Bullit throughout January and early Feb, but last week was our first brief chance to try it with the Fifth Element shock. That said, seeing as we were riding the exact same trails as we were for the previous month, we reckon the comparisons are pretty relevant even over this short period of time. What we did miss was the lack of time to fool around with the multitude of settings on offer, so just treat this as a first legover not a meaningful relationship.
The Bullit has been Santa Cruz’s single pivot freeride / extreme XC / short course DH bike for a while now, but it’s just received a couple of significant tweaks as part of its ongoing evolution.
The mainframe gets a new custom butted 6066 tubeset, while a reworked swingarm has clearance for 8″ disc rotors on the rear, and a larger, shaped brace pipe between the two swingarm uprights replacing the previous pipe section. The pivot point has also been moved nearer the bottom for a more neutral suspension action under power.
Steering remains nicely balanced between tree weaving agility and power dive stability, and there’s enough room for comfy all day riding without sluggish long wheelbase reactions.
The big news for this spring is the use of a custom built Progressive suspension Fifth Element shock. The sliding cradle is removed, a longer stroke means rear wheel travel goes up to 7″ and shock weight is significantly lower than the Fox it replaces. However, the real performance differences are in the adjustment possibilities compared to the previously fitted Fox Vanilla coil over.
Preload of the coil spring itself, rebound damping, compression damping – separately adjustable for the initial and final phases of the stroke-, plus an adjustable piggy back air chamber section. Adjusting air pressure creates more or less preload, while adjusting the chamber volume increases or decreases the progressiveness of the shock stroke. The shock comes with a big “optimum setting” but the combination of fork preload collar, rebound adjuster, air valve, volume adjuster wheel and the two little blue Allen key compression adjusters on the piggyback unit is still a slightly intimidating array.
For those who want the inside technical information, you’re probably best going to look at the reply by Progressive Suspension’s Roy Turner to some ill informed “I’m an engineer me” criticism on mtbr.com or the official Progressive Suspension website.
Does it work?
The bike is a really impressive all-rounder in its stock set up. But even with the lower pivot point it still behaved in the classic single forward pivot style, digging in slightly on climbs to lever you up steps, but nodding slightly under power on smoother sections.
The immediately noticeable difference with the Fifth is the total steadiness of the shock under pedalling if you increase the “start of stroke” setting. Rather than just sitting and settling for our lot on climbs – like we normally have to do with seven inch travel bikes – we could charge up the hills with remarkable ease considering the plus 30lb weight. If we’d had it longer we’d have backed off the pressure slightly to smooth out even the gravel patches, but the shock moved smoothly and quickly over all but the tiniest stuff so we’re being very Princess and the Pea here.
So in terms of XC pedalling performance it’s a revelation, but you aren’t carrying seven inches of coil travel for the uphills. The range of compression adjustment means that Progressive don’t have to use a big spring to stop the shock bottoming out, and the coil is super plush from hardpack ripples through to slammed landings halfway down big block steps. You’ll never feel a bottom out thump though thanks to the controlled arresting action of the separately adjustable end stroke compression and floating damping piston.
Rebound is astonishingly smooth too. In fact it’s so toe curlingly smooth that we even had to stop and say “blimey, that’s smooth” the first few times it floated us back to our selected level of sag. We only had about an hour to ride it but whatever we chucked it down or round it stayed completely smooth and poised. Even in really steep compression sections it never wallowed or faltered it just pedalled straight out. We could power it through twitchy, rooty singletrack as fast as a race hardtail 6 or 7 pounds lighter, with the stiffened swingarm and small bump soak in the suspension letting us turn into and hold harder lines than we were expecting.
Should I buy one?
Most riders we know (and most of the rider reviewers on the site) reckon that the Bullit was one of the first choice frames for anything from big travel XC to short course DH anyway. The addition of the Fifth Element and it’s astonishing tuneability and smoothness puts it way ahead of anything we’ve ridden recently. You might get a linkage bike (like the Foes Fly or Intense Uzzi) close with a similar shock, but if you want the simplicity, tyre clearance and sharp all round pedalling performance of a single pivot system the Bullit Fifth Element is in a class of it’s own.
Two of our test team, have already ordered one and I’m desperately thinking of a lame excuse to get custody of the test bike again, and recommendations don’t come any stronger than that.