Santa Cruz Bicycles Superlight 29 Review

by FatBob on February 3, 2013

Santa Cruz Bikes’ Superlight 29 is a 4” travel, single pivot, full suspension bike that has been in test rotation with our smaller riders for a while. It is a value driven, high performance frame that really fills a need in the 29er market. The frame comes in at $1050 and complete bikes range between $1,950 and $2,450.

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For this review we have two different perspectives. Holly, who describes herself as girl with some gnarly ambition and moderate skills, and Jamie (aka Crash Bob) who always pushes hard, likes to race, and puts a fair amount of thought into bike setup.

Holly reports that the bike takes turns and switchbacks easily, especially climbing, and it is smooth in turns – all traits that built her confidence. The Superlight 29 does well on fitness rides on bike paths without being overly heavy and, at the same time, excels on mountain trails.  Going up she felt it climbed well overall though sometimes she wished it could dig in more for better traction. On the flip side, it felt hard to control on gravely descents.

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Jamie says that the handling was a very pleasant experience on this bike. It was confidence inspiring – pushing him to go faster and faster through tight corners. With the slack head angle design, it was easy to get the front wheel up, which has both pro’s and con’s. The front wheel tracks very well and was easy to get up for upcoming log overs. Descending off camber downhill runs are great. The trade-off is that, on steep uphill climbs, it can become difficult keeping the front wheel planted to the ground without aggressively changing your center of gravity more forward over the wheel.

Holly likes a meaty frame, which this bike has, but does not find the bike overly cumbersome. She is 5’4″ with a 28 inch inseam and can clear the top tube while straddling by about an inch. This is tight, but works fine and has, up to this point, never been a problem.

Despite the single pivot, the Superlight brakes well. She noted no noticeable negative qualities with jack or compression. The suspension served Holly well, as she reports using all of the available travel every ride but never felt a bottom out.

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As far as the frame goes, Jaime addressed one big concern many riders have with full suspension bikes – flex and/or lateral stiffness. At a riding weight (body + gear) of 175 lbs, it was not really an issue for Jaime. It was only when he had the bike in extreme conditions such as an off-camber switch back with a drop and extending the travel the full length of the stroke, that he noticed any flex. Even then, it was very minor and never caused him to lose his selected line or create confidence issues.

While straddling the bike, Jamie, at 5’7″ with a 30 inch inseam, had over 3 inches of clearance from the top tube; there is plenty of room to maneuver in the cockpit while out of the saddle.  As a result of the room in the cockpit, it built his confidence quickly. The bike asks you to throw it around, whether carving a treacherous rock garden or bombing a downhill with off camber sweepers. The harder he pushed the bike, the more it earned his respect.  As he reached his limits, the bike felt like it had more to offer.

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Jaime immediately noticed how user friendly the bike is to set up. He went with the recommended pressure settings for the shock (145 lbs psi). On the shock itself, he settled on a little less, about 142 lbs psi, to get the proper sag and suspension action he likes. All-in-all, initial setup on the bike took less than 30 minutes before it was dialed to his liking. The shock length felt very linear throughout the stroke. At times, he forgot the travel was only 100mm, as it felt like so much more was there.

In the end, on other 29ers, Holly has noticed things she didn’t like but was not always able to put a finger on what they were. With the Superlight, she felt really comfortable – no nagging suspicions that something was wrong. Jaime had expected more of a hog on the trail but I was pleasantly surprised by how exciting and playful that bike actually was on the trail. Based on their input, we’d say the rider best served buying this bike is the beginner to intermediate rider who wants a quality bike, at a relatively cheap price, that can conquer varying types of terrain, and will last over many years to come.

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Notes from Fat Bob, who was bummed that he is too tall to ride this bike: the Santa Cruz Superlight 29 single pivot design is simple to set up and has required no maintenance. After 6 months of riding, the pivot is as tight and smooth as the day we bought it.

The XT /SLX kit is excellent. We have no issues with the drivetrain as a whole. There were no reports of bad shifting or ghost shifting. We will, at some point, change the cranks, as they are heavy, but, in truth, they work well enough that it is hard to justify spending money on them despite their low price point.

The wheelset was the first casualty the bike suffered. We immediately swapped them out. We are spoiled by high end wheels. The stock wheels are a solid choice and easy to maintain. The swap was due to our preference and not a reflection on a negative parts spec.

One thing we will stand completely against are the Maxxis Cross Mark Tires. They just don’t work for our terrain. We would like to see a more versatile tire spec’ed.

Next up are the Avid brakes. The Elixer 3 brakes are the appropriate price point and are lighter than Shimano. Even so, we would rather see a Shimano set even, if it was a Deore set up. The Elixer 3 brakes ended up locking down after they broke in. I had to release hydraulic fluid so I could push the pistons back in. After doing this, the Avids have worked fine without any problems. However, they are noisy and there is a pulsing at the lever.

Lastly the rear shock failed after Jamie’s test period. Admittedly, Jamie is particularly hard on bikes. However, I believe it was more of an issue with the shock being valved for lighter riders given the small frame. It is of particular note that Santa Cruz Bicycles went beyond expectations to fix this problem. In addition to fixing it, the process was faster than expected. I am very confident with a Santa Cruz Bicycles’ ability and desire to take care of customers. I could not have asked for a better experience as far as working with a company. Remember, we bought this bike, this is not a demo fleet model.

Overall, from a parts standpoint, the stock kit is a solid kit. The larger companies give a little more, due to being able to save money on house branded parts and bulk purchasing. Still, for the money, the Santa Cruz is competitive with its parts package, making very few compromises comparatively speaking from a performance standpoint. My hope is that anyone looking at the Santa Cruz Superlight 29 is looking at buying into a frame, suspension and fork package based on performance and handling.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

hm February 21, 2013 at 10:09 pm

what tires would you suggest for this bike? for trail use and a little bit of xc.

FatBob February 22, 2013 at 10:42 am

hm can you tell us more about the terrain you ride ?

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