The second bike Santa Cruz ever released, back in 1996, bore the name Heckler and garnered a loyal following of fans. With single pivot suspension, 26” wheels, and 100mm of travel the original Heckler was, at the time, the go anywhere do anything mountain goat; this was back when you raced XC on Saturday and DH on Sunday on the same bike. The ninth version of the Heckler shares little with its original namesake with bigger wheels, more suspension travel and VPP suspension replacing the single pivot, but does it live up to the original Heckler’s legacy of being able to turn its hand to any style of riding?
Discontinued in 2016, the Heckler name was relaunched in 2020 as Santa Cruz’s first e-bike, based around the Bronson with 150mm of travel and 27.5” wheels. Revised in 2022 into the Heckler 9, the latest version of the Heckler uses Shimano’s EP8 motor, powered by a Darfon 720Wh battery, and has had its 150mm VPP suspension kinematics updated in line with the rest of the Santa Cruz range.
The standout feature for this latest Heckler however, is the choice of a full 29” wheel setup or MX wheels. 445mm chainstays on the Heckler MX create a ride characteristic that is more lively and eager to change direction, great for riders who are looking for a sporty ride or regularly ride tight trails. The Heckler 29 comes with 460mm chainstays, calming the handling and letting the bike confidently hold a line across rough terrain. Best for riders who are looking to carry as much speed as possible or just want the extra traction the 29” rear wheel provides.
A head angle of 64.8° and reach figures in line with the rest of Santa Cruz’s range, 475mm on a size Large, means the Heckler is right in the geometry sweet spot to give a ride that excels on a wide range of terrain. Current Bronson and Hightower riders will feel instantly at home on the Heckler. Steep seat tube angles give a great seated climbing position for fire road climbs, but on flatter sections of trail this forward biassed position can place excess pressure on the hands. The Heckler’s 77° seat angle continues the geometry theme of versatility, giving a seat angle that is steep enough to be comfortable on extended fire road climbs, while still working on undulating terrain where you’re in and out of the saddle and using your body weight to keep the rear wheel in traction.
Versatility, and the ability to shine on a variety of terrain is clearly the name of the game with the Heckler. A build that doesn’t sacrifice performance without adding any undue weight means you can go from uplifting DH tracks in the morning, to flowing round the trail centre in the afternoon, and even take in a remote hilltop in the evening, all on the same bike.
Fox 36 forks and Maxxis EXO+ tyres are fitted across the Heckler range, giving excellent performance on rough terrain without sacrificing performance on more mellow terrain with excess weight. At 22kg the Heckler is towards the lighter end of the spectrum for full power e-bikes, yet with Darfon’s 720Wh battery gives the ability to ride bigger loops and explore further afield.
Designed to go beyond your normal boundaries, the geometry and build of the Heckler throw the door wide open to mountain biking in its broadest sense. Expand your local trail network by exploring further from the well used paths, link together routes previously too remote, and enjoy every ride with well balanced ride characteristics that make the most of whatever terrain you find yourself on.
Riding the Heckler
Reworked suspension kinematics, something seen on every new Santa Cruz model, mean that the rear suspension of the Heckler works incredibly well. Travel is used efficiently but effectively which gives the Heckler a feeling of having more travel than it does. A relatively high rate of progression means there is plenty of ramp up to resist harsh impacts, but this ramp up increases smoothly and gradually so there is no step in the travel caused by a spike in progression.
E-bikes are known to have huge amounts of traction; the heaviest parts of the bike, the motor and battery, are placed low and centrally in the frame and act to push the tyres into the ground more than on a lighter bike. However, the Heckler offers up more traction than you’d expect even for an e-bike. Undoubtedly the tyres and rear suspension play a role in this, however the balance of traction between the front and rear wheels adds confidence when turning the bike over loose terrain or on less supported turns. The longer chainstays on the Heckler, 445mm on the MX and 460mm on the 29, creates a chassis where the rider's weight is more evenly distributed between the wheels tha on a bike with shorter chainstays. This balance in weight means traction is increased as each tyre can do its job more effectively and makes the bike more predictable at the edge of traction as a more even weight split means both tyres let go in a similar, and more controllable, fashion.
It’s this difference in chainstay length that gives the Heckler 29 and MX their different on-trail manners. The 29, with its chainstays 15mm longer than the MX, offers the highest level of traction of any e-bike we’ve ridden. Get low and drive your weight against the trail and the Heckler 29 responds almost in slow motion, except you're beating your PB’s on every trail you take it to. The level of calm, confidence inspiring traction on offer from the 29er is astonishing and makes it one of the best bikes, not just e-bikes, that we’ve ridden.
The MX, with its 445mm chainstays, gives similar ride to the 29, but where the 29 bike wants to carve smooth, flowing arcs down the trail, the Heckler MX is eager to turn tighter and change direction more. Head into tight or twisty terrain and you can use this to your advantage. Miss a wide setup to a turn on the 29 and you could stall, losing flow. Aboard the MX bike this just doesn't matter, commit to the tighter inside line and the MX wheels and shorter chainstays let the bike feel like it’s pivoting around the BB, letting you carry more speed out the other side of tight and awkward turns.
Both bikes handle fast and rough terrain exceptionally well, but are equally happy when the trail flattens out and you can loosen your grip on the bars.
The 720Wh of battery capacity strikes a great balance between weight and having plenty of range. We were easily able to double our regular rides distance on one charge, opening up areas of the valley that we go to less, purely because it’s difficult or it takes longer to get there.
The biggest compliment you can give any e-bike is to say it rides like a normal bike, and the Heckler is one of the best bikes that we've ever ridden.
Whether you prioritise outright grip and stability at speed with the full 29 option or opt for a bike with quicker handling, that’s always looking for the fun lines, in the Heckler MX you’ll be getting an e-bike that will have you grinning from ear to ear and will expand your trail network.
We love the Heckler so much we got our own demo bike! Get in touch to book a demo ride.
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