- Santa Cruz Blur
- £3105 as tested, £1499 anodised frame only
The Blur (and its downhill brother the V10) is something of a departure for Santa Cruz. For years they’ve been champions of the simple single pivot suspension design as found in the popular Superlight. The Blur’s Virtual Pivot Point design, though, has a bunch of pivots and promises a leap forward in suspension performance. It’s a system that was pioneered by Outland several years ago, but they could never quite get a successful bike out of it. SC saw the potential, picked up the patent and went to work. The V10 and Blur are the results. So does the Blur deliver?
Early photos of the Blur made it look a bit skinny and gawky. It was refreshing, then, to set eyes on it in the metal and find that from most angles it has a pleasing line. The test bike’s Fox Forx/XTR spec helps here a lot – the bike pictured on Santa Cruz’s site has RockShox Black Box SIDs that make the front end look a tad undernourished. This bike’s not quite a production one – we’re told the finish isn’t up to scratch (although it looks pretty respectable to us) and the production bikes will have canti bosses on the back for the lightweight freaks.
But we’re talking about the frame here. The front end is broadly similar to the Superlight/Heckler, tidily welded from 6069 aluminium with some little gussetty bits up the front and the trademark SC swoopy top tube with the shock mount part way along it. Unlike some suspension bikes, the Blur has a proper full front triangle, meaning that you can put the seat down a long way and there’s room for a bottle mount in a sensible place. The second bottle mount is somewhat less sensible, being under the down tube, but at least it’s got one.
Out the back is where all the interesting stuff happens, though. The rear shock is positioned in about the same place as the Superlights, but everything aft of there is completely different. Except the wheel. At first glance it looks as if the Blur has a pivot at the dropout, but that’s actually Santa Cruz’s new replaceable dropout design which is why it’s only on the drive side. SC have always resisted including replaceable derailleur hangers, saying they contribute to ghost shifting and often damage the main frame when they fail. They prefer to go with meaty dropouts that are harder to bend. It seems to work – we’ve bent Heckler hangers on occasion (you have to hit them quite hard) and pulled them straight no problem. Breaking it would involve you in a new swingarm, though, so SC have equipped the Blur with a complete replaceable dropout (rather than just the hanger) that’s as stiff and strong as a regular one.
Unlike typical multi-pivot bikes, the Blur’s rear end is one welded construction with short linkages between the rear end and main triangle. This ought to make the back end stiffer than having pivots out near the rear axle, although most decent multi-pivot bikes don’t particularly suffer in this area. All of the Blur’s pivots are tucked between the front end and the back end. The upper one is reminiscent of the swing links on the likes of Trek’s Fuel, but it’s the lower one down by the bottom bracket that makes the difference. Both links are short, beefy units with sizable bearings. It’s hard to say how long they’ll last. We’d expect the lower ones to give up first simply because there’s more gunge and cack down there, but only time will tell.
The other neat detail in the back end is the extra tube on the non-drive side to stiffen things up vertically – there isn’t one on the drive side as the chainrings and front mech would be in the way. The only niggle with the back end is that mud room is merely adequate. The bike was fine with the (relatively narrow) tyres fitted but meatier treads will start to run quite close.
There’ve been a few attempts to make a suspension bike with a one-piece rear triangle that moves vertically up and down by hanging it off a pair of parallel links, like the Schwinn Rocket 88. One the face of it the Blur is similar, but the important difference is that the links aren’t parallel, meaning that rather than moving vertically the Blur’s rear axle moves in a complex compound curve. More on that later…
You’ve got a lot of choices if you buy a Blur. You can get just a frame and kit it out with your own choice of bits (a good choice if you’ve already got your choice of bits). Frames are available in a choice of anodised finishes at £1499 or painted for £1350. And yes, those prices are higher than you may have seen elsewhere – the bike’s taken longer than SC had planned to actually go on sale, and longer development means higher prices… If you want a complete bike, there’s a whole new range of options based around forks and build kits. Our test bike is equivalent to the XTR/Disc/Fox RL spec which’ll be somewhere around £3,105. That’s a whole hill of money, but then we’re talking top dollar spec. You could get yourself a more real-world painted/Deore/XT/disc bike with a cheaper fork for a bit over £2,000 – still pretty spendy but a lot more accessible.
The standard shock on the Blur is Fox’s AVA R. Our test bike had an RL with a lockout lever which we never used (except out of curiosity). You can have an RL if you really really want but we can’t really see the point. The AVA bit is Fox’s Air Volume Adjuster – twiddle a knurled ring on the shock body and you can make the air chamber larger or smaller. The effect of this is to vary the progressiveness of the shock. A smaller air chamber will make the spring rate ramp up more towards the end of the travel. We fiddled with it a bit but generally left it in the 1 position.
Continuing the Fox theme, the forks were the excellent Float RL air forks. The test bike had 80mm travel forks, although Santa Cruz recommend 100mm for most purposes. If you like your bikes racey and super fast handling, though, the Blur works fine with the shorter fork.
The rest of the spec was all wish-list stuff – Hope Minis, Shimano XTR transmission, Easton carbon post, Answer carbon bars, Hope hubs, Mavic X317 rims and, er, WTB Nanoraptor tyres. These low-tread, almost centre-ridge tyres are fine in the dry, but perhaps not the best choice for a soggy UK autumn…
We embarked on a massive description of the VPP suspension design to put in here. We’ve hived it out into a separate article because it made this test into a novella. If you’ve got the time have a read, if not, well, it’ll be there for a rainy day…
Most suspension bikes are designed to sag under the rider’s weight. This allows the suspension to move up and down from the rest position so it can drop into holes, swallow bumps and generally make a better job of keeping the back wheel following the ground. The Blur is designed to have a small degree of chain tension effect at that sagged position. Push down on the pedals and the bike lifts just enough to counteract the vertical forces imparted by your weight moving up and down. Unlike some single pivot designs, though, the effect isn’t so great that bumps have trouble moving the suspension – hit a bump and the suspension moves freely. As the wheel moves towards the extremes of travel, though, the chain tension effects are lessened so that pedalling doesn’t hinder suspension movement and big hits don’t kick the pedals back at you.
The big claim for the Blur is that it doesn’t bob or pogo under power. So is it bob-free? Not exactly. We’d describe it more as ‘extremely bob-limited’. Pedal along on a smooth surface and look down at the shock and you’ll see it moving. But, and this is the point, not much. You can get other bikes to move as little as the Blur does under steady-state pedalling, but not without high shock pressures or extra damping, neither of which are very welcome.
We set the Blur up with the recommended shock pressures and at first it felt way too soft. But that turns out to be an illusion caused by two things. Bikes that jack up under power always feel like they’ve got less sag because a lot of the time the suspension’s extending. The Blur tends to sit very near to the sag position and doesn’t move much either way so if feels like it has more sag than you’re used to even though it doesn’t. The other thing is that, while pedalling generally balances out weight movements, if you’re not moving it’s very sensitive to weight movements. The best example of this is if you get out of the saddle for a bit and then stop pedalling and sit down. The act of sitting down gives the suspension a good old squish.
Compared to the Superlight, the Blur excels in a number of areas. Pedalling over bumpy ground is a revelation. The plush rear tracks into hollows and over bumps superbly, with no discernible pedal feedback It’s most impressive up steep climbs in a low gear. Get onto a granny-ring grind and look down. You’ll see the upper linkage just nudging back and forth a fraction of an inch until it gets bumpy, when things start to move properly but the rider remains unperturbed. On a Superlight and similar bikes, hitting a bump on a granny ring climb drags the pedals back round. If you’re putting a lot of oomph into them this is less of a problem, but if you’re trying to spin it can really put you off your stride. The Blur just sails through. Sit down, spin and point…
The other area where we’ve got used to pedal feedback is landing off drops. The Superlight gets longer when you approach bottomed out, and again this kicks the pedals at you. It’s not really a problem, but you always know you’ve landed. In contrast, the Blur lands with a cat-like surefootedness and the lack of pedal feedback makes it feel like it has much more travel than its 100mm.
The Blur’s suggested set up has fairly low shock pressures and light damping, making it very plush indeed. Again, you can set other bikes up this plush, but with a similar setup they’d be mushy. The upshot of all of this is a bike that always feels like a suspension bike, but feels like a tight, short-travel suspension bike under power and a plush, long-travel bike over bumps. A neat trick if you can do it…
All of this would be for nought if the bike didn’t handle, though. Fortunately Santa Cruz have never made a bad-handling bike and they haven’t started now. The Blur is just lovely to ride. Handling is fast but never scary, it doesn’t get out of shape under braking and the whole thing just fills you with confidence and pushes you to ride harder and harder. What more could you ask for?
You’re probably getting the impression that we like this bike. You’re right, we do. A lot. And we liked it more and more the more we rode it. It does feel strange at first, particularly if you’re used to the foibles of most suspension designs. But once you’ve got into it it’s hard to identify anything that it doesn’t do well. What it doesn’t have is the simplicity of the Superlight. The Blur has chainstays, so unlike the SL it’s not immune to chainsuck. The bottom linkage tends to gather mud which just falls out of the SL. And inevitably it’s going to need more attention to keep it going. It’s also £300 more than the SL. If you value simplicity then it may not be for you.
But from a pure performance point of view, the Blur is number one. We haven’t ridden a less compromised suspension bike, ooh, ever. Most sus bikes now work really well, but the Blur has an extra edge. We love it.