The Superlight has always been an unsung hero in the Santa Cruz line, offering way more trail toughness and playful interaction than its weight-focused name suggests. The new SL 29 keeps the simple format but upscales wheel size and technical terrain tenacity in a surprisingly effective way.
Okay, perhaps “surprising” is a little harsh, but when almost everyone else (besides Orange) has moved to a full linkage suspension system for short-travel 29ers we weren’t sure how well the simple swingarm setup would work. Chatting to Santa Cruz’s engineers it seems they shared the same worries, but after blasting it round Sedona’s twisting, drifting, rock-and-drop slickrock singletrack we can see why they pressed the ‘go’ button.
The asymmetric back end certainly isn’t as stiff in wheel-twist terms as the company’s VPP Tallboy 29ers. But it smeared plenty of climbing and turning traction onto the red rock trails and flexed predictably under pressure, rather than loading up and suddenly unleashing like some over-whippy tails can do.
The ‘stiffens under power’ suspension character puts useful pep into pedalling to offset increased wheel mass and inertia. The big-wheel roll-over bonus is obvious as a speed sustaining, grip increasing helpful hand on the back over rough ground, too. The 200mm-long, 50mm-stroke rear shock means the back end also copes with square edges pretty well for a 100mm bike.
Unsurprisingly the bigger chunks of Sedona geology did stretch the Superlight to the limit. There’s definitely more sense of unsprung wheel and swingarm weight slowing down suspension response compared to a 26in-wheeled or linkage-driven bike. This translates into it slapping into rather than sucking up bigger hits when things get fast and choppy.
The steep head angle means you’ll be climbing off the back to keep right side up if you’re descending/braking hard enough to start bending the fork back towards you. Then again, if your ride profiles are more Etch A Sketch than sine curve you should probably be looking at the newly announced Tallboy LT and a 34mm-legged fork anyway.
Easy pop-and-drop handling makes the Superlight more engaging and naturally playful than locked-to-the-trail linkage bikes, though. We spent a lot more time with the front wheel lifted than we generally do on short-travel 29ers, and this turned the grin/gritted-teeth ratio in its favour on more technical terrain. Like the 26in version it’s perfectly happy with a 120mm fork plugged in for a more relaxed feel, too.
A 2.67kg/5.9lb frame and shock weight creates a 12.75kg/28.12lb complete bike for the RXC29 spec option we tested, despite heavyweight tubeless 2.25in Maxxis Ardent tyres. If you stick with the stock 2.1in Maxxis CrossMarks you’ll really unleash its ability to turn miles into kilometres in terms of the consequences for your legs.
The lack of linkages brings the back wheel in closer and shortens the wheelbase compared to Santa Cruz’s VPP bikes. Add fast, cross-country based handling templated off the very popular Tallboy model and anchored firmly in the tapered-head front end, and it’s eager to hit the singletrack as fast as possible.
The same 15mm-axled, user serviceable collet bearings, decent tyre room and a conventional bottom bracket shell for easy spares sourcing means it should cope with epic mileage well too. Santa Cruz build kits (from £1,899/$1,850) are now exclusively Shimano than SRAM based too, trading increased weight for reduced maintenance time and smoother long-term performance.
Add a small frame size with better standover than most XS bikes and a shorter shock to give a broader rebound range, plus black and orange paint as standard or the full new custom colour palette, and you’re looking at a very appealing fast trail/cross-country bike.