Reviewed by Brandon Turman and Steve Wentz // Photos by Shawn Spomer and Lear Miller
The 125mm travel Santa Cruz Solo - excuse us, Santa Cruz “5010” - enters the 2014 lineup as a smaller brother to the Bronson. Compared to the well-regarded Blur TRc, at first glance you’re sure to notice the new wheel size, but there’s much more to the story. The bike sees updates to the geometry, suspension tweaks, feature updates and more. As one of the most memorable videos of 2013 showed, the bike was designed to take to cover some serious ground on your adventures, but also to be a capable rig that’s at home even under downhill crushers like Steve Peat. Having only gotten a taste of what the bike had to offer during the official launch, we invited the boys from Santa Cruz to send one over for the 2014 Vital MTB Test Sessions in Sedona, Arizona.
5010 Carbon Highlights
- Carbon frame
- 27.5-inch wheels
- 125mm of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 68-degree head angle
- 73-degree seat tube angle
- 13.1-inch bottom bracket height
- 17.1-inch chainstay length
- ISCG05 tabs
- 73mm BB shell
- 142mm x 12mm thru-axle
- Measured weight (size large, no pedals): 26-pounds
- $9,775 MSRP
There’s no denying that this bike is a good looker, but what’s inside is equally impressive. From the cutouts we’ve seen, the one piece carbon lay-up is as smooth and wrinkle free inside as it is on the outside. Weighing it at just 5.06-pounds for the frame and shock, the 5010 immediately takes a step ahead of much of the competition. Find and watch Santa Cruz's frame testing videos and you'll see there isn't much to concern yourself with in regard to their carbon frame strength. Carbon done right can be incredibly strong, even when the frame is light. Our complete build weighed just 26-pounds sans pedals, and was the lightest of the 25 bikes in our 2014 Test Sessions lineup. It was also the second most expensive.
Close inspection reveals that Santa Cruz took their time as even the minor details have been executed well. One favorite element is the ability to access the lower pivot bolt from the non-driveside, a small touch that can save a lot of time when it comes to maintenance. As with all Santa Cruz bikes, the 5010 features remarkably well-engineered pivots. The collet axle system uses steel-shielded angular contact bearings that boost frame stiffness. Everything is very well sealed with grease ports for quick and easy pivot maintenance. Mud clearance near the lower link with a 2.3-inch Maxxis tire is decent with about 1cm of room for the muck.
Internal seatpost cable routing cleans things up nicely, but external cable mounts are still there if needed. External brake and derailleur routing make for easy maintenance. Santa Cruz also kept the 73mm threaded BB, sighting the press-fit alternative as sometimes creaky and troublesome. IS brake mounts ensure that you don't accidentally goof up your frame by stripping a threaded insert and, according to Santa Cruz, are also positioned more reliably during the carbon molding process.
New molded rubber frame protection finds its way onto the frame on the chainstay and downtube. It's plenty durable and easy to remove. There's also a rubber guard on the inside rear area of the seatstay to eliminate any chance of chain slap. The 5010 sees the addition of ISCG05 mounts for those looking to bolt on a chainguide. First introduced on 2013 Blur TRc frames, the 5010 also sports a 142mm thru axle rear end. There are two water bottle mounts on the downtube for those looking to ditch the pack.
Compared to the 26-inch Blur TRc, the seat tube has been steepened a half degree to offer a better pedaling position. The shock rate has been altered slightly as well, allowing it to sit further up in its travel and again pedal a bit better. Another thing that we're pleased to see is a shorter seat tube length for each size, allowing riders that opt for a larger frame to still run a dropper post with 5+ inches of adjustment.
Out back, the bike relies on the VPP2 suspension system to soak up the hits and provide traction. It uses a pair of super short, counter-rotating links with large diameter axles and angular contact bearings to keep things stiff. The upper link is carbon fiber and the forged aluminum lower link has been offset to allow for a chainguide. You might notice that the lower link is quite low, which may present a clearance issue in extremely rocky, jagged situations.
The linkage has been tuned to be regressive up until the sag point before getting increasingly progressive through the end of the stroke. This creates a bike that is responsive to small and medium-sized bumps with (in theory) plenty of support for bigger hits. The FOX CTD Float shock is in a very good position for adjusting the knobs on the fly.
The bike is designed to work best with a fork in the 120-140mm range. The stock 130mm Fox 32 Float CTD fork can be adjusted internally +/- 10mm.
Complete builds start at $4,199 and range up to $8,010 with additional FOX and ENVE upgrades that add extra. Our 5010 Carbon with the SRAM XX1 build kit, ENVE wheels, and Kashima coated FOX suspension ran a whooping $9,775. For those looking for the value buy, the 5010 is also available with an aluminum frame and completes starting at $3,299.
On The Trail
When the 5010 was introduced to the public last year we had the opportunity to throw a leg over it in the boggy hills of Scotland. Wanting more ride time before writing down our ride impressions, we spent a few extra weeks rallying it in the hills of Sedona. Trail highlights included HiLine, Chuckwagon, Aerie, Huckaby, Teacup, Slim Shady, Ridge, Brewer, High on the Hogs, Pig Tail… just about anything you can think of. All told it saw a proper mix of terrain and trail styles from fast cruisers to big hits and rowdy steeps.
We tested a size Large frame. Before we even left the garage for the first time a stem swap was in order. The stock 80mm Thomson stem is certainly a beautifully made component, but to really unleash the potential in the 5010 we opted for a shorter replacement. Combined with the comfortably sized 750mm Easton Havoc Carbon bars, Brandon (5’10” tall) chose a 50mm stem and Steve (5’8”) a 35mm. After the swap both riders felt perfectly centered on the bike with a spacious reach and lots of room to move around. Note that Santa Cruz’s sizing tends to run on the smaller side, so be sure to consult their suggested size charts before purchasing.
While there are no geometry adjustments built into the frame, the chosen numbers create a ride that’s perfectly suited for the full range of trail riding. The moderately low 13.1-inch bottom bracket height, agile 68-degree head angle, and 17.1-inch chainstays worked well on the vast majority of the terrain we rode. It was surprisingly rare that we found ourselves wanting a slacker front end, even on the steeps. If anything we’d just bump the fork up to 140mm of travel and call it good. It very rarely pitched our weight forward, and combined with how the frame works the head angle is more capable than the number typically indicates.
Pointed downhill, the 5010 feels immediately comfortable, encouraging you to let off the brakes and pick up speed. It’s playful and rewarding once you reach a minimum speed. Before that speed it's a very stable but almost muted feeling ride. It lacks the always playful feel of some bikes in that it's not overly bouncy or "poppy" off stuff, but it’s playful in the sense that it encourages you to try harder things by staying composed through the rough. It felt really planted and stable in corners, was easy to compress and jump off of trail features, and getting the front end off the ground wasn’t hard to do. The traction offered by the VPP suspension certainly adds to the bike’s descending ability, and it’s surprising what you can get away with considering you’re on a 125mm travel bike.
When things get really steep and rowdy, though, the bike begins to feel a little overwhelmed. We found ourselves at the end of the travel on several occasions on drops, g-outs, and big impacts. It's a not a harsh bottom-out, but you can feel it. The bike does a great job of maintaining a line even at the end of its rope, though, so it never feels sketchy. Because it seems to use lots of travel lots of the time, it gobbles up bumps, tracks well through chatter and stays planted, but there isn’t much left for big hits. Previously we had a hard time using all available travel on the Blur TRc, but it feels a bit too easy on the 5010. The bike does, however, stay up in the travel nicely when you’re not smashing down rough hills.
Part of that “muted” feel we described earlier can be attributed to a lack of much mid-stroke support. Ridden with the suggested amount of sag, the bike tends to wallow a bit, leaving us wishing for more mid-stoke damping. Sure, one could simply flip from “Descend” to “Trail” or “Climb” on the FOX CTD Shock, but doing so increases the damping in the beginning of the stroke a bit more than we’d like for all-around performance. The initial damping is great for pedaling but comes at a compromise to the great small bump performance that’s available in the softer modes.
What we appreciate most about the suspension design and performance is that there wasn’t any funny business. The bike tracks very well with no hang ups, and when ridden hard it doesn’t ever get out of shape.
While the 32mm FOX Float CTD fork may look concerning to the aggressive rider, we found that those concerns don't really translate to the trail that much. In short, the fork isn't holding the bike back. A lowered 34mm FOX fork (they don't make a stock 130mm 34) could offer some additional stiffness, but it's not an absolute necessity, at least for these 175-pound riders. That said, we did have to run about 20psi more than what FOX recommends for our weight to keep it from diving excessively. Heavier riders or those wanting to extend the fork to 140mm of travel may find torsional stiffness to be an issue.
Except for rolling speed, everything about the way the bike handles goes hand-in-hand with the 26-pound weight we observed on the scale. While the Maxxis Highroller II tires perform quite well all-around, a faster rolling rear tire could take the 5010 to the next level. This is only a marginal part of the perceived weight argument, though. All else was exceptional.
Out of the saddle the 5010 wants to take off. It accelerates quickly and reaches top speed in a hurry. There isn’t much bob and just a little loss of power, but it’s perfectly acceptable given the tracking and small bump compliance offered by the suspension design. You can feel the bike settle into its travel, but once there it offers good support while stomping on the pedals.
When climbing seated there is little suspension movement. FOX's higher initial damping rates do a great job of numbing any movement that could happen with pedaling when using any of the three Trail modes. The bike feels efficient and there is plenty of room to move over the front. Technical climbs are a treat thanks to the suspension design which offers ample rear wheel traction when you need it. Pushing in turns wasn’t an issue, nor was crank spiking due to the bottom bracket height.
For $9,775, the components spec’d on the top-of-the-line 5010 Carbon had better be remarkable. Luckily they are, and this build includes the best of the best in many areas. Those that can afford it will be pleased to know that there’s very little we’d change. Those that can’t will be pleased to know that the other build kits offered by Santa Cruz come at a competitive price and quality.
Save the stem, as previously mentioned the only other thing we’d swap out is the rear tire. The 2.3-inch Maxxis Highroller II tires were solid performers in the loose trails of Sedona and occasionally wet trails in Scotland. Loose over hardpack wasn't the best (when is it?), but once the tires were in soft soil the grip was incredible. Braking traction is phenomenal and there’s great bite when really leaning into turns. If you do replace the rear with something fast rolling, we’d suggest saving the extra High Roller 2 for when the front gets worn.
ENVE’s wheels are super light, remarkably stiff, accelerate very quickly, help the bike change direction at a moment’s notice and add to its downhill abilities. Are they worth the additional dollars? For those racing, possibly so. For those out to enjoy everyday trail rides they’re hard to justify. With such little travel and an already stiff, precise, and light frame, the stiffness of the wheels might be overkill on the 5010. Some will appreciate this precise feeling, others may miss the more forgiving ride of aluminum rims. Plus, a little bit of rotating weight could actually help the 5010 in the stability department. It’s already stable as is, but the ease of movement can take a little getting used to.
On two occasions the DT Swiss rear hub slipped, but this could likely be remedied by cleaning and carefully re-lubing the ratchet mechanism. This is easy to do.
The Shimano XTR disc brakes performed very well all around with zero complaints. There was some disconcerting pad movement in the garage when rocking the bike back and forth, but this didn't impact the ride on the trail.
The RockShox Reverb Stealth seatpost worked without issue and was as smooth as they come. We appreciate that Santa Cruz got the lever position correct and mounted it under the bar.
SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain was exceptional, as usual, with no drag and quiet, drop free, dialed performance. It comes with a 34-tooth chainring which may mean some grunts on long, extended, steep climbs even with the added range of the 10 to 42-tooth XX1 cassette.
The carbon frame, carbon wheels, clean cable routing, and clutched Type II rear derailleur all helped keep things quiet, and the 5010 was among the quietest bikes we’ve ever tested.
Long Term Durability
We have no concerns regarding durability. The big pivot hardware, oversized shock bolts, and grease ports are smart things for any frame, and especially so for one that's capable of getting rowdy. Santa Cruz includes a grease gun for easy pivot maintenance.Detailed maintenance tips and videos are available online. The frame is backed with a five year warranty and lifetime pivot/bearing replacement.
What's The Bottom Line?
The Santa Cruz 5010 Carbon is an everyday rider's kind of bike good for rough trails, smooth trails, and everything in between. It's light, strong, stiff, stable, predictable, consistent, and corners like it’s on rails. The carbon construction is amazing and without a doubt improves the quality of the ride. Those seeking a short travel bike with a confidence inspiring feel capable of handling high speeds will be pleased with the 5010. It isn’t vague in the least, and if you’re willing to push it a little the ride is very rewarding. The only improvement we’d like to see is more mid-stroke support and a touch more bottom-out resistance for when things get wild, which they inevitably will do given how encouraging the bike is.
Oh, and for the record, we still call it a Solo.
For more details visit www.santacruzbicycles.com.
About The Reviewers
Brandon Turman - Brandon likes to pop off the little bonus lines on the sides of the trail, get aggressive when he's in tune with a bike and talk tech. In 14 years of riding he worked his way through the Collegiate downhill ranks to the Pro level. Formerly a Mechanical Engineer, nowadays he's Vital MTB's resident product guy.
Steve Wentz - A man of many talents, Steve got his start in downhilling at a young age. He has been riding for over 17 years, 10 of which have been in the Pro ranks. Asked to describe his riding style he said, "I like to smooth out the trail myself." Today he builds some of the best trails in the world (and eats lots of M&M's).