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If MBA was ever guilty of falling over itself in praise of a relatively ordinary mountain bike, it would be over the Santa Cruz Heckler.
In the age of Horst Links, dual-links, instant centers and virtual pivot points, it should not be possible for the Heckler’s old-school, single-pivot, monoshock suspension to remain competitive. However, be it magic or clever engineering, the Heckler still sets a standard for efficient power transfer and mistake-proof handling in the aggressive trailbike arena. In spite of recent efforts to supersede the Heckler with a modernized replacement (the Nomad), Santa Cruz wisely opted to embrace its single-pivot miracle and give it a whole new profile. We are happy to introduce the all-new, 2007 Heckler.
Thirty-pound trailbikes are all over the marketplace, but the new Heckler is all about strength it doesn’t waste an ounce on frivolous fat. Its frame tubes are tapered, butted, bent and flared to reinforce high stress junctions and to provide clearance for tall forks, rider standover height and very large tires. This is most evident where the upper swingarm members arc upwards to pick up the forged shock mount and then sweep sharply downwards to the swingarm pivot journal. Each feature of the new Heckler’s chassis is integrated into the whole, and its components are selected in the same manner.
Much of the Heckler’s charm is that it is a complete misfit. At 29.2 pounds, it falls outside the cross-country category, but its 5.5 inches of suspension aren’t enough to earn it a place in the black-diamond arena either. Outfitted with a Fox F32 RLC fork and Float R air shock, it leads one to believe that its place is among the epic-riding trailbike set. One ride, however, and you’ll feel its potential.
The Heckler is a truth-or-dare trail monster, disguised as a happy-go-lucky playbike. The single-pivot swingarm arcs the rear wheel slightly towards the rider’s mass, as does the track of the fork in compression. Each action of the Heckler suspension forms a sort of self-canceling triangle of force that seems to keep the chassis riding level and allows its rider to stay in the center of the chassis, where it takes relatively small steering corrections and weight shifts to control the bicycle. This is true for climbing, cornering or descending. Riding a chassis from a centralized position makes it difficult (even nearly impossible) to be caught off balance by an unseen impact or unexpected technical problem on the trail.
Like many Santa Cruz designs, the medium-sized Heckler feels a half-inch short in the cockpit. Its tiny, 90-millimeter stem is the present fashion for technical trail specialists, as is its wide, 27-inch-width Race Face handlebar. Together, they keep the rider in a decidedly upright pedaling position. Nonetheless, the Heckler rolls along without much effort at the cranks and feels significantly lighter than its 29 pounds. Acceleration is not crisp, but how could it be with its huge-for-cross-country 2.35-inch Kenda Nevegal tires. As long as you bring the Heckler up to speed with a smooth application of power, however, it will reward your efforts with efficient, bob-free pedaling. The Heckler’s swingarm configuration creates a degree of mechanical anti-bob resistance by using chain tension to stiffen the rear suspension. The swingarm pivot is placed to create this effect primarily when grunting uphill using the smallest chainring - when anti-bob action is most welcome.
Climbing report: This month’s test track incorporated a long section of gravel road that rolled easily uphill, followed by a steep, half-hour singletrack climb that is punctuated by a number of switchback turns. The Heckler made it known that the best way to keep it rolling uphill was to stay seated and use the right shifter to maintain momentum. Its mechanical anti-bob action makes short, out-of-the-saddle efforts to get up the back side of stream crossings and short, rocky pitches very effective.
Extended climbing while standing, however, is curtailed by its cramped cockpit. Long, supple suspension travel helps to keep the Heckler moving forward. On a prepared trail, few obstacles exist that would give a Heckler pilot reason to pull upward on the handlebar, and there is rarely cause to steer around an object. This, and its larger-than-life Nevegal knobbies, makes technical climbing an easy proposition. Click into the granny gear and find your rhythm the Heckler climbs steadily at a jogger’s pace, oblivious to the terrain. It scratches its way up loose, stony surfaces and claws in and out of parallel ruts while its rider pumps away at the crankset, oblivious to the miracles taking place below him.
Technical skills: Armed with plenty of traction, five-plus inches of wheel travel, and a slack-ish 69-degree head angle, the Heckler reminds us of its heritage the moment we drop the front tire into a steep chute. There is no need to move to the back of the saddle, unless the drop is near vertical. The Heckler’s steering remains authoritative deep into the most troublesome technical problems where most bikes would be skidding and bouncing, happy to be rubber-side down.
Like its predecessor, the new Heckler is a real confidence-builder. Both wheels grip equally around corners, and when the limit of adhesion is exceeded, the Heckler simply enters an easy, two-wheel drift until its 2.35-inch tires find more grip. Its balanced suspension takes care of all but the biggest obstacles in the path, so when something really scary looms ahead, or a jump is an option, the rider’s mind is clear and there is more time available to come up with a plan.
Not much. We would like a slightly longer stem (100 millimeters instead of the stock 90-millimeter item) to better weight the front wheel while climbing steep pitches and to boost the bike’s ergonomics under acceleration. We loved the oversized, seven-inch brake rotor up front, but the larger rotor in the back made the rear brake feel grabby, and it was too easy to lock the wheel under moderate braking pressure. We’d switch it out to a six-inch rotor to achieve a balanced feel at the handlebar.
We love the new and improved 2007 Heckler as much as, if not more than, the one it replaces. Its curvy frame is as easy to fall in love with as its can-do handling qualities. Santa Cruz showed great restraint by leaving the Heckler’s magic frame geometry and suspension performance untouched when it upgraded its entire chassis. New Heckler owners get better standover clearance, easily replaceable swingarm-pivot bearings, and the chance to be seen on one of the sexiest looking trailbikes. It’s hard to imagine that so much performance can come from such a simple, sturdy design. It must be magic.
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