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Cross-Country

Tested: Santa Cruz Blur X01 AXS RSV

A modern classic

Basics

-100-millimeter front and rear travel
-Flex-stay single-pivot platform
-Carbon frame only
-Also available in 115/120mm-travel TR version


Pros

-Light
-Stiff
-Race-Ready

Cons

-Slight pedal bob
-Easily deflected
-Not for every descent


Price

$9,150

Brand

Santa Cruz


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Santa Cruz has updated each of their bikes over the last few years, and XC riders have anxiously awaited the new Blur, now in its ninth generation. Rumors flew when the htSQD Riders appeared at the season’s first UCI races on what appeared to be prototype bikes—and sure enough, the formal announcement quickly followed. 

The biggest update to the new Blur is that it loses the VPP suspension it helped pioneer, moving to an all-new single-pivot linkage with flex stays. The brand calls this its “Superlight” platform, partly because it drops 289 grams from the frame, and partly in homage to its first XC bike, which bore the same name. Opening up the linkage also makes room for two water bottles on the frame, a welcome feature we’re seeing on more and more full-suspension XC bikes these days. 

The Blur is available in a standard version (with 100mm of front and rear travel) or the TR version (with 120/115mm front and rear). The Juliana version of the bike, called the Wilder, is only available in the TR configuration. The bike we tested was the standard shorter-travel CC version with Carbon reserve wheels. 

This is a very light bike—the lightest full suspension mountain bike the brand has ever made. And while it still features that compact, quiet feel that Santa Cruz bikes always seem to have, it’s not a buttery, comfortable ride. When I unboxed the new Blur, I was expecting The Santa Cruz Take on XC—that is to say, something a little California-relaxed compared to the rest of the field. What I found instead was all-business; a seething matte-black carbon weapon that looked like it wanted to go straight to Europe and kick people’s teeth in. 

On the trail, it accelerates exactly how you’d expect a serious race bike to—you barely have to touch the gas pedal before it leaps forward. Steep climbs seem to melt under your tires and the light front end lifts effortlessly over technical features. I also appreciated the new Rockshox TwistLoc suspension lockout, which looks and works a bit like a grip shifter. By eliminating the lever, it declutters your cockpit and leaves room for a standard dropper lever. If you’ve wrestled with the dropper/lockout interface in the last few years, you know what a monumental shift this is, so to speak. 

How did the new linkage work? In general, it performed very predictably. It felt active when I wanted and supportive when I wanted. However on long, sustained efforts I did notice a slight dead zone at the top of my pedal stroke. Here’s what I think was going on: in doing away with VPP suspension on this bike, Santa Cruz was able to simplify, stiffen, and lighten the linkage significantly. They also, however, eliminated VPP’s high anti squat values, and the brand used a more supportive leverage-rate curve to keep riders high in the suspension while pedaling. I’m not sure if it wasn’t supportive enough, or if the leaf-spring-like flex of the stays just contributed a weird, subtle sort of bounce. The result just didn’t feel as efficient as I think it could have, though this phenomenon only stood out on long, non-technical climbs.

The Blur, predictably, has a nice steep head tube (68.3 degrees) for that razor sharp handling you expect from an XC bike. Of course, that can make for a rather in-your-face experience on the way down, but on most XC courses the tradeoff for quick, precise handling is worth it. The reach is fairly long at 450mm for a medium—which fits right in line with the long, low, slightly more aerodynamic position racers tend to adopt. That’s not to say you’ll feel overly stretched out—I had no problem settling into a comfortable, powerful position for tempo riding,  and I felt balanced in the air when popping off little kickers. 

Descending, you’ll realize that 100mm of travel goes fast; and the stiff, relatively unforgiving frame means that you have to get pretty physical to process most trail features. On rolling trails this feels exhilarating—it’s a joy to maneuver such a light bike in the air and through tight corners. That lightness isn’t always an asset though— when things get really rattly, this bike tends to get deflected, which just means you have to muscle it even more to stay on track. On steep, sustained technical descents, I often found myself shaking out pumped arms and cramping feet at the bottom.

Ultimately, the Santa Cruz Blur is not a generalist; it is a specialist, and it specializes in XC racing. That means short, punchy, meticulously-built 4km race laps. It is too steep, too stiff, too immediate for situations when you need a bike to take a bit of the edge off. The Blur wants you to find that edge, and then keep you there until you or someone else cries. And that’s kind of what racing is about. 

If I were considering this bike for marathons, stage racing, or daily adventures, I would get the TR version. The added travel slackens the head tube angle by almost a degree, lengthens the wheelbase by 10mm and leaves you with a respectable 76-ish-degree seat tube angle. By slowing this bike down just a touch, I think you might actually go faster, as you’d conserve more energy and feel more confident, especially over long days. 

But if true XC racing; like 90-minute, bleeding-out-of-your-eyes UCI racing, is your goal, then you could line up with the Blur feeling absolutely confident that no other bike is going to be significantly lighter, stiffer, or more aggressive than yours. That might sound trite, but it actually counts for a lot—when you’re asking everything of your body, you need to know your bike is just as committed to the cause. Rather than a relaxed interpretation of XC, Santa Cruz has delivered a real contender with the new Blur. 

Photos: Anthony Smith

Entry Point:

Expensive cross country bike

Brands know that the dedicated XC crowd is used to paying a lot for their bikes. They are also, technically, a bit smaller of a “crowd” than the audience of other categories. So, the Blur lineup is aimed at an elite few who are likely racing, or who simply find the Tallboy to be too much bike. That’s why you can’t get into the 100mm race-focused Blur for less than the $5,200 price tag of the Santa Cruz Blur’s S Build. It is appropriately serious, though. Sid suspension front and rear, respectable GX drivetrain and genre-appropriate Level TL brakes. You can go up to a full XT build for about another $1,000, but it’s not until you go up two levels that you see any significant weight savings, and not until three levels that you see carbon rims. Thankfully, none of the builds have any shortcomings in sheer quality. Whichever Blur that suits your budget should suit you.