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The Wilder is Juliana’s very first direct analog to the Santa Cruz Blur, and it is being introduced at a time when short-travel 29ers are at a crossroads. Bikes with numbers adjacent to those in the XC category are being ridden on far more aggressive terrain and under far more aggressive riders than ever before. But meanwhile, XC tracks are getting more challenging. And on top of it all, the competitors are getting more … competitive. A line has been drawn, straight down the middle of a genre, separating bikes that are concerned primarily with versatility from bikes concerned only with speed. The Juliana Wilder is in the latter category … but not too far.
For a little backstory, there’s probably no bike in the past 20 years that has had a greater influence on rear suspension design than the original Blur. Sure, it was built around a second-hand, third-party concept, licensed from a small forgotten brand called Outland, but the Blur is what brought the Virtual Pivot Point to the masses. Santa Cruz refined and simplified VPP, and the rest is history. The Blur finally proved the VPP concept, and with it, that of every dual-short-link design that would follow. Without the Blur, it may have taken ages for similar suspension platforms to find their way under brands like Ibis, Giant, Intense, Pivot and Niner.
Dual short-link designs like VPP are chosen for their precise control over axle path. Designers can build in complex anti-squat curves to suit whatever pedaling characteristics they want. Need a bike that’s quick and supportive, even at the expense of bump sensitivity while pedaling? You can have it. Or, are you more concerned with making a bike levitate through chunder no matter how hard you’re mashing? You can have that instead. But dual-short-link designs will always depend on a fair amount of beefy hardware in high-torque areas to pull it off, and that means added weight.
A flex-stay bike is more simple in the spots along the frame where it helps for a bike to be more simple. And it’s lighter where it helps for a bike to be lighter. The single pivot at the bottom bracket adds stiffness, and the lack of pivot at the dropout removes unsprung weight and improves suspension performance. And with only 115 millimeters of travel, Juliana didn’t need to rely on VPP’s high anti-squat values for its get-up-and-go. A more supportive leverage curve was chosen to split the difference, keeping riders high in the travel without sacrificing small-bump sensitivity under load.
And flex stays offer designers the ability to add some natural ramp-up because they behave like leaf springs as the suspension compresses. Juliana had unique control over this element of the Wilder’s design, thanks to their in-house carbon development lab. The net result is a frame that is a claimed 289 grams lighter than the Santa Cruz Blur was in its previous generation, while also offering more travel.
That more travel is where yet another line being drawn here. While the Santa Cruz Blur is available in the same 115mm rear, 120mm front configuration as the Juliana Wilder (under the name Blur TR), it’s also available in a more traditional race-focused version (just called the Blur) with matched 100mm of travel front and rear. Those models swap the Wilder’s Fox Float DPS shock and 120mm 34 Step-Cast fork with a RockShox SidLuxe shock and 100mm SID SL fork. There’s a pretty significant geometry change between the two as well. The wheelbase shortens by 10mm and the head angle steepens by 0.8 degrees. Seat tube angle steepens too, by between 0.9 degrees and 1.4 degrees, depending on size. In addition to the swap in suspension spec, the shorter-travel Blur gets smaller rotors and lighter tires. And it still retains a dropper post out of the box, but it’s a lighter, shorter-travel version of what comes on the Wilder or Blur TR.
Regardless of gender, riders looking for the experience of a narrowly focused XC race machine will find themselves drawn to the Blur. The Wilder takes a broader view, but the waters are a little muddied given that the ever-popular Joplin stacks just 10mm more front travel and just 5mm out back. Surprisingly, though, the two have significantly different characters. While the Joplin is a short-travel shredder like what we’ve seen lately from Evil, Transition and Pivot, the Wilder is more of a real-world XC bike. The kind of XC bike that, under the right rider, can handle most of the terrain the Joplin can, but is far more focused on its quickness on the climbs. The Wilder’s head angle is more than a degree and a half steeper than the Joplin, and its stack is more than 10mm lower.
We’ve only just received our Wilder for review, so keep an eye out for our first impressions.