2014 Santa Cruz Heckler
Size Tested: Large
MSRP: $2,999 as tested
Rider Info: 6’1”, 185 lbs.
Days Tested: ~30 days
The Build: Stock “R” Package (with a few updates—see below)
Locations Tested: Whitefish, Missoula, MT; Issaquah, WA
Santa Cruz chose to celebrate the 18th birthday of their popular Heckler with a special color offering — “18th Birthday Tropicana Blue” — in a late-season release that also included a slew of other updates to the seventh iteration of this bike.
As someone who is admittedly way too influenced by color in my bike purchases, the company pretty much had me with the mix of turquoise and neon yellow. I also figured the update to 27.5-inch wheels and 150mm travel, plus the fact that the 2014 Hecker has the same geometry as the Bronson and a 142×12 thru axle rear end, was enough to justify the purchase.
And so far, I’ve been very impressed with the new “Poor Man’s Bronson.”
Although I was impressed with the stock build, I did make a few changes before the first ride. I added a dropper post, which in my opinion is almost required equipment for this type of bike.
Secondly, the stock triple crankset on this bike hearkens back to days gone by. I nixed the front derailleur and excess rings for a 34 tooth Raceface narrow / wide chainring. I may have been a little overzealous with the amount of teeth, but overall this setup, combined with the spec’d Shimano SLX clutch rear derailleur, has worked really well. The chain hasn’t dropped, and I appreciate having fewer cables, parts, and general clutter on the bars.
I should also make a note regarding the performance of the stock Shimano Deore SLX brakes. I’ve owned some flashier and slightly lighter XT and XTR units, and I haven’t noticed any decrease in power, feel, or fade with the Deore brakes. They’ve performed flawlessly since the first ride.
Finally, I did eventually swap out the spec’d rear shock for a Cane Creek Double Barrel Air rear shock. More on that in a bit…
I ended up riding a large Heckler rather than an XL. I could have gone either way on this, but I think I was a bit closer to a large than to an XL. (As a point reference, my cross country bikes—Cannondale Flash 29 and Scalpel 29—are both XL.)
The top tube length of the large Heckler measures just under 24 inches, which, combined with a 70mm stem, gives the Heckler a fairly average reach. Other brands in this genre have gone a bit longer in the top tube (such as the Specialized Enduro Expert), but I found the reach of the Heckler to be both comfortable on the climbs and it gave me good control on the descents. Opting for the large also gave me the right amount of standover height, something that may have been an issue with the XL.
Over the course of 18 years and seven generations, there have been some major developments to the Heckler’s suspension system and to the bike as a whole. But there are a lot of features that have stayed the same.
The two main things I hear about this bike are that:
- It’s highly versatile—it can be built up for either freeride / light duty DH or paired down as a long-travel XC bike.
- The rear suspension is simple, efficient, and easy to rebuild.
I found the 2014 Heckler lived up to those statements. It has a single pivot suspension design (as opposed to the VPP suspension of the Bronson—more on that in a bit), which, when combined with improvements in rear shock technology and a slight forward placement of the pivot in front of the bottom bracket, makes for an efficient pedaling platform and a very plush 6″ of travel for the nasty descents.
One drawback of single pivot / high chainstay suspension designs is pedal kickback caused by the amount of chain growth in the suspension platform. I think the switch to a 1x drivetrain setup helped to reduce this unwanted characteristic, and I don’t have any issues to report so far.
The stock suspension build on my “R” model Heckler came with a Fox 34 150 CTD fork and matching CTD shock, both of which I was happy with. The stock fork and shock helped make this a true all-mountain bike, fully capable of riding almost any trail.
- Compression Settings
The three compression options for both the fork and the shock worked well. The rear end felt very firm while in the Climb setting—no pedal bob to speak of. As a slightly bigger rider coming from an XC background, I found myself switching to the Climb mode on the fork more often than I probably needed to. (I have a tendency to climb out of the saddle, so I’m accustomed to fully-locked front suspension.) But after a few rides, I realized the trail setting gave me enough of a platform to climb out of the saddle and required fewer switches between modes.
All told, I found I preferred to leave the bike in Trail mode while on rolling singletrack, while I saved the Descend mode for big descents and Climb for dirt access roads.
In all three compression settings, I appreciated that the front and rear seemed to match each other. At certain times, mainly slow speed, twisty forest riding, I found the rear suspension to be a little more active than I would have liked. But I think some tuning of the rear shock would remedy this. And on the flip side, since the single pivot platform is very easily “loaded,” the bike is quite playful.
My one complaint with the rear suspension came while riding at Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, WA. I rode the “Tiger Enchilada” downhill section both days at close to a race pace.
The first half of this descent is a new flow trail in every sense of the word. There is far more pumping going on than braking or pedaling. The lower half features roots and rocks, and reminded me a bit of trails in Fernie. Toward the bottom of the descent, I noticed my rear suspension was lacking much rebound, and the shock was noticeably warm. Considering this bike is intended for all-mountain trails, I found this to be a bit of a disappointment. And it lead to an upgrade I should note…
- Update: Cane Creek Double Barrel Air
About two weeks ago, I bought a Cane Creek Double Barrel Air rear shock and now have about six good rides on it. This shock is definitely not for someone who wants to just install it and go—there are five separate adjustments to get dialed (sag, low speed compression, high speed compression, low speed rebound, and high speed rebound). I probably would have been completely overwhelmed if it weren’t for the very handy setup guide book that’s included with the shock…
After getting the shock fairly dialed in, the first big adventure was a shuttle ride of Ashley Mountain and Bill Creek, two fairly technical, high-speed, two-thousand foot descents west of Whitefish, MT. Hitting the descents at speed, the shock kept pace and didn’t heat up or lose any rebound characteristics. I was a little apprehensive about losing the on-the-fly compression adjustments of the Fox CTD, but the DB Air worked very well on the climbs once set up properly.
After a couple rides—and a couple more adjustments—the DB Air really starts to shine. This shock can be fine-tuned for your particular riding style. Overall, I think this was a good upgrade—even though, for the most part, the spec’d rear shock treated me well.
NEXT PAGE: Braking Characteristics