by AJ Barlas
At a time when the majority of industry chatter is around 'new' wheel sizes, frame materials and Enduro - testing anything that doesn't check all the appropriate boxes can result in it appearing a little lackluster and obsolete. Thankfully I'm not really one to concern myself with the rumor mill and e-spec too much, at least not without looking deeper into the product being speculated about before forming my own opinion. Nevertheless, everything I had discussed and heard from trusted, respected riding buds and others regarding the Santa Cruz Blur 4x left me very intrigued to throw a leg over the updated and more trail friendly version, the Blur TRc. The Santa Cruz Blur TRc was in part brought into the Santa Cruz lineup to fill a gap that the 4x had tried to, though ahead of its time, only now it would be pushed more directly into the path of the trail riding audience, incorporating new technologies to seal the deal.
The trail riding market has come a long way since the original Blur 4x. Riders that were formerly dedicated downhillers and who'd rather not be seen dead out on 'XC' trails now spend equal amounts of time, or more, on their smaller travel bikes. Personally, I feel this change has been a great marriage in timing - the bikes evolved as more people wanted to spend more time ripping trails, day in day out. Then again, it could just be that I'm getting older… In either case the market is full of great 'small' travel bikes with confidence inspiring geometry numbers that are capable of handling high speeds. Coupled with updated construction techniques they can handle the beatings taken on an average trail ride. The Blur TRc stands tall in this category.
As for the check boxes, the TRc covers two of them. It is constructed from carbon, using Santa Cruz's proprietary and proven process, and it is an Enduro racing machine. Just hit any of the Oregon Enduro series events to see for yourself, they're everywhere! Does not checking the wheel size box make it any less worth talking about? Not at all! In fact, it's quite the opposite. This bike raises the bar, all the while sticking with 'boring' 26-inch hoops.
Blur TRc Frame Highlights
- Full carbon fiber construction
- 26-inch wheels
- VPP suspension
- 125mm (4.92-inches) of rear wheel travel
- Tapered headtube
- 68-degree head angle
- 72.5-degree seat tube angle
- 13.1-inch bottom bracket height
- 16.9-inch chainstays
- Threaded bracket shell
- 142mm rear spacing with 12mm through axle
- Weight (frame + shock): 4.69-pounds (2.13kg)
- Sizes S, M, L, and XL
- $2,698 MSRP with FOX Float CTD (+$205 for upgraded FOX Float CTD Kashima shock)
The Frame & Build
When pulling the frame out of the (well packaged) box, it was easy to see that the design is well thought out. Seemingly minor elements have been executed well, in a market where many either ignore the small details or simply don't get it. One favorite element is the lower bolt configuration for the rear suspension linkage opposing the chainrings, making it simple to check the torque or take out if necessary - there's no need to remove cranks here. Another is running the cables along the top of the downtube. It's somewhat surprising that some of the largest companies in the industry continue to put out frames with the routing below the frame. Don't see this as a problem? Why do some of the worlds best racers have their mechanics jimmy rig the cables to the top of the downtube?
The test frame arrived in early December 2012 and has seen trail use most days since. The bike was built to be a durable, yet sensibly light number, with a slightly beefier fork than standard to ensure confidence from the front of the bike. Was this overkill? I don't think so, but more on that later. The TRc frame weighs in at a rather svelte 4.69-pounds (for a Medium) and being on an XL, its safe to assume this frame is right around 5-pounds - still light! The light weight can be concerning for some trail thrashers out there, but rest assured, it can handle. This lighter weight is thanks to the experience Santa Cruz's design and development departments are gaining with each model. It's plenty strong in all the right places. Find and watch Santa Cruz's frame testing videos and you'll see there isn't much to concern yourself with in regards to their carbon frame strength. Carbon done right can be incredibly strong. For the weight conscious reading, all said and done this fully built bike (as pictured) weighs in at just 27.8-pounds - we think thats pretty impressive!
Our Rockshox Lyrik was initially lowered to ~140mm for this build (Solo Air can be lowered via internal adjustments), leaving it with an axle to crown of approximately 530mm, roughly 11mm above Santa Cruz's recommended max height of 519mm. To be honest, the bike rode well at this height, but once lowered down to 130mm of travel (an axle to crown height right around the recommended 519mm), it really came to life. This put the bike right around the specced 68-degree head angle, and with our tire combination, the BB height reads bang on 13-inches (spec is 13.1-inches). The 68-degree head angle was a little concerning before riding the bike, having not ridden anything that steep on the trails in my hometown of Squamish, BC, but the overall geometry inspired confidence on the gnarliest rides. I don't see an Angleset going into this frame anytime soon.
Setup of the rear shock is made extremely easy with the accompanying booklet. If you want to nerd out (as I did), do yourself a favor and download the FOX iRD app - a super clever piece of software that will help you setup any bike that has a FOX shock (or fork) with an ID number on it. The best part about this app is the ability to store your setups, ridding your garage of the oily, grease stained sheets of paper with chicken scratches that are supposed to represent your bike settings. At 155-pounds and with wet, semi-casual winter riding originally on the menu, the shock was initially set a little softer. Although fine for this initial break-in period, once the spring drew closer and more hours were spent on the bike, the higher speeds meant a need to firm it up, at which point the shock was set to 139psi - right around 30% sag. Being a bit lighter, running a slightly slower rebound is commonplace. The TRc is currently set at 6 or 7 clicks (dependent on conditions) and feels pretty money.
Somewhat surprised that the underside of the downtube came bare, clear tape was put in place to make us feel better about it - knowing full well it wouldn't do much in the event of a rock strike or ramming into something in awesome hack style. Despite these concerns, we are yet to be convinced that it actually needs more protection, having thrashed it for the better part of 5 months on a variety of trails and conditions in the PNW, British Columbia, and Santa Cruz, CA. Santa Cruz does provide a carbon deflector at an extra charge if you feel it's necessary.
The frame does not come with ISCG mounts, something many were hoping to see on this updated version. It does have the trusty ol' threaded bottom bracket, allowing for the use of a BB-mounted chain guide or an ISCG adapter plate. This does mean that you may end up with a spun guide after a big hit, but it's a small element to deal with and probably means you need to either a) stop hacking and work on being smoother (as we were reminded of once or twice) or b) its time to do some work on the bike, and what better excuse? The upper link was updated from a carbon version on the first incarnation of the TRc to aluminium and the rear was changed to a 142x12 through axle, rather than a 135x10mm quick-release.
With the bigger fork some may be curious why I didn't just jump on the Blur TRc's bigger brother - the Blur LT. The answer to this is simple. The TRc has three things that are somewhat prerequisites in a frame from a guy who digs numbers more than wheel sizes and materials - a steeper seat angle for climbing (especially with slacker head angles), a lower bottom bracket, and a longer reach/top tube length. Add to this my preference to lead towards shorter suspended bikes. Finding a bike with all of these attributes can prove difficult, even with the variety of small travel rippers out there. The TRc achieves these requirements.
Enough on the build, how does the Blur TRc ride?
On The Trail
Because this was the first carbon frame I'd ridden for any decent chunk of time, the advantages of the "fantastic plastic" were something I was focused on seeking out, and they shone through early on. The frame is stiff, allowing you to hold some ridiculous lines with ease. Suddenly off-camber sections of trail became even more fun, as I danced across them, pushing to see what could be gotten away with. Where this Santa Cruz's unique material, geometry, and the construction process excited me most though was in the Blur TRc's ability to change line in a section with minimal effort and the speed it can exit corners with. The bike, while incrediblyagile down the trail, is also exceptionally stable at speed thanks to its longer length and lower height. This has made for some of the most enjoyable riding in some time - allowing me to get out of trouble when needed, or simply add to the experience, placing the bike wherever I wanted on the trail.
It's not all thanks to the carbon construction and frame geometry though. The TRc's suspension characteristics are not shy in this area, and Santa Cruz achieved a ride that tracks like a serpent, yet remains 'poppy' and 'snappy' like a Ritalin infused jack russell - controlled, but awesome. This suspension results in a bike that exhibits exceptional climbing abilities while holding its own in loose, rough terrain. There is very little pedal bob with a single ring 1x10 setup (34-tooth ring in the front), and we experienced no discernible pedal feedback.
Although the bike climbed amazingly well, I feel like the seat angle, while decent, could get an extra half to one-degree steeper from the static 72.5-degrees and it would climb like a bloody mountain goat! The 68-degree headtube was more capable than I gave it credit for, and although I wouldn't be surprised to see a number of these setup with an adjustable headset and riders pushing the front end out to 67-degrees, it really isn't that necessary and will most certainly hinder the TRc's climbing abilities. You have to go up to get down, after all. The Blur TRc is completely capable with the current numbers and slays any trail out there, but these two angles are something to consider when looking at the bike.
The 'downhillers trail bike' comment is the one I was most interested in, and the bike gave me a glimpse of its brilliance from the first descent in the depths of winter on Vancouver's North Shore. Pointing this carbon animal down the mountain it became evident why it aids so well in getting up - it wants to rip back down the other side sooner rather than later! The traction displayed by the Blur TRc's refined VPP suspension makes this one hell of a capable descender. Rough sections of trail become nothing more than a couple of bumps, with the bike gliding across them, accelerating through such sections rather than getting hung up and ultimately slowed down. The amazing traction has made for a confidence inspiring, thrilling ride and ultimately, faster times (look out Strava…). The only downside was an apparent inability to utilize all the travel, even on the roughest of trails, hucks or "Dear God, I'm going to hang on and hope the bike rides me out of this" moments. I continued to very rarely use all the travel, even while running the bike with extra sag, leading to discussions on more efficient use of the bike's travel, which we'll touch on in a moment.
The frame's ability to take large hits in rough terrain is the reason we feel the slightly bigger fork is totally justified. At no point have we felt like one end of the bike is overwhelmed by the other's ability. The rear is extremely capable for trail use, and to be honest, sits in a modest package in most builds. Although the Blur TRc can be set up as a lightweight XC race machine, it is incredibly capable as a downhiller's trail bike, completely living up to its latest moniker. It is for this application that I was interested in the bike and this application that I decided on the (lowered) beefier front end - a decision I don't regret in the slightest, happily taking on the weight penalty. In spite of these successes, I have found myself at the bike's limit on a few occasions - something I have been working on overcoming, though cognizant of the fact it is the nature of a smaller travel bike.
The TRc supports 'lazy' riding quite well, but really shines when you get aggressive, pumping and working every last bit out of a section of trail. If you're looking for any backsides you can find, this bike will reward you, gaining momentum from every one you plant the wheels into. However, if you get it wrong, or fatigue and become static, you will notice the trail becoming quite rough all of a sudden - a common attribute when not working the trail well. With the shorter travel and firmer suspension than say, a Nomad, it is pronounced. After some time I noticed that the trouble was not always mistiming sections, and that the roughness in areas of the suspension's travel, most notably beyond 3/4 of the way through the stroke, could probably be improved. After chatting with some FOX suspension ninjas in Vancouver, I learned that inefficient use of travel was a common complaint with the TRc. More discussions led to some great information from a member of the Nomad's Race Team, who have raced the TRc all over North America in 2012, and I sat down to take notes.
The Nomad's discovered that the 2012 TRc, (which came stock with a FOX RP23), performed better with the pressure in the shock's IFP (Boost Valve), lowered to about 150/155psi (stock is 175psi). This meant upping the air can approximately 20psi to compensate for the sag, but overall afforded them more efficient use of the travel and more traction, especially at the low end due to a lower break off, creating a more supple ride. Given that our test frame has the updated FOX CTD, we did note that it felt slightly more compliant in the low end with the stock tune, but still had trouble gaining efficient use of the suspension through the entire stroke. This, and the fact that I think an air shock needs all the help it can get for a supple low end, led me to test out this tune on the FOX CTD, even with the fear of losing mid-stroke support.
So where am I now? The IFP has 155psi and the can is set to 168psi - slightly less than 30% sag. It has made for a more exciting ride, with increased traction, higher speeds and smoother trail. I did lose a little firmness in the mid-stroke, and flicking the compression dial to Trail or Climb displayed slightly less noticeable changes. However, it has remained quite solid and a completely capable, strong climber. Although I haven't had the same amount of time on this shock tune, I don't feel that this was a bad move and will likely continue to run it this way. The bike still maintains all of the exceptional characteristics noted above, only traction has improved more! It's still poppy and agile, but without the occasional spiking (unless left in trail mode on particular sections of singletrack). Stock, the TRc will get you out of trouble and rides fantastic, but this update to the IFP will grant you more confidence in the bike's handling and allow you to get away with riding a little more on the edge for longer sections of the trail.
Long Term Durability
After more than five months of beating on this frame through a nasty, wet, and at times snowy winter in the PNW, to ripping dry dusty trails in Santa Cruz, we have yet to develop any issues. The occasional check (three) on the torque of the VPP links has shown bolts loosening off ever so slightly, but a half turn at most has gotten them back to the recommended specs. The pivots also needed grease once while in California, and thanks to the built-in nipples and supplied grease and gun the process was simple. These elements are totally acceptable for a bike that has seen over 1,200km (750 miles) in the time it has.
The finish of the matte frame results in a little bit of muck sticking to it more than a gloss finish would, but the upside is that any small blemishes it does get will hardly be visible. It helps to spray the bike down with some special cleaners that help deflect the mud and muck if keeping it fairly clean without washes after every ride is key for you.
The only issue with this frame has been from the FOX Float CTD shock, which has a bit of play internally between unweighted to weighted - a common trait with the TRc and apparently due to the leverage ratio of the frame. This isn't noticeable on the trail, nor does it affect the bike's performance. We have also gone through a DU bushing, opting to replace it with a needle bearing under the recommendation of our LBS - a tidy recommendation and one where we noticed a little improvement in the initial actuation of the shock. We'll report back later on the length of service from that upgrade.
Yes, we fell in love with the Blur TRc the moment we built it up, but riding the bike sealed the deal. Nevertheless, there are some elements we think could improve the ride. For some it won't be an important factor but as mentioned, if the seat angle were 73-degrees or even 73.5-degrees it would be an invincible climber in this category (and likely challenge pure XC machines). The rear shock could see more testing in an effort to achieve the ultimate tune - one that will grant efficient use of travel while remaining zesty.
Should it come with ISCG mounts in newer incarnations? Perhaps, but for us it isn't a big deal. It may be something we see in the future, which would be great for those that wish to run a full guide or a bash to protect their chainring. Ultimately something along the lines of SRAM's new XX1 would sit on this bad boy, perhaps with a top guide like e*thirteen's XCX for safe measures - dialed!
What's The Bottom Line?
Santa Cruz has pre well hit the ball out of the park with an incredibly versatile frame that can be built up as anything from an exceptional XC race bike through a mini-DH sled. They've also done it with a weight that leaves others blushing. Some won't dig it because it doesn't contain a half breed wheel size or some fancy new press fit bottom bracket, but what it is, in addition to its versatility, is a reliable, consistent, exciting and pretty darn close to bombproof weapon. The refined VPP is a great system that requires little more than the periodic bolt check and squeeze of a grease gun (which they give you). In the stock configuration it's still supple enough to soak up small chatter via the rearward axle path (through to the sag point), but this controlled path is not so rearward that it will have your chain screaming with every compression.
The carbon construction is amazing and it without a doubt improves the quality of the ride. Despite the fancy plastic, the frame is available now in a stout aluminum package, which most definitely carries through most of the characteristics of its fancy older brother, but with ISCG mounts to stand up to its sibling. No matter which material you go for, know that the geometry and suspension work amazingly well - the really important elements of a frame.
Forget all the banter and hype over wheel sizes, frame materials and whether it's an "Enduro" bike or not. If you're in the business of riding bikes as much as possible, on machines that reward an active character more than being sat in a dark corner sulking, the Santa Cruz Blur TRc is hard to pass by.
Visit www.santacruzbikes.com for more on the Blur TRc.
About The Reviewer
AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.