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First Rides – Santa Cruz Bantam & 5010

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There were a couple of reasons we wanted to add mountain bike content to the site when we began planning our 2014 summer calendar. First of all, a large percentage of competitors in many forms of snowmobile racing have taken up mountain biking in recent years, both recreationally and as competitive sport. It’s not only fun, but has very little in the way of maintenance costs, is great at sharpening track and trail focus and can be a little less risky as compared to riding moto and ATV.

The second goal we had was to provide insight into the various styles and configurations that dot the mountain bike landscape and how each plays a different role in the type of ride you experience. It’s one thing to commit to a bicycle that is going to set you back one, two or even up to four or five thousand dollars, but when you are often limited to pedaling the thing around the dealer’s parking lot, it’s very tough to know just what your are getting.

Now, obviously, there are plenty of mountain bike magazines and buyer’s guides out there to help get you on the right path, but mostly we wanted to experience a bunch of options and riding conditions to give you a frame of reference from a source that has similar needs from a bike.

Fortunately, we have been able to hook up with One On One Bicycle Studio, one of the premier bike shops in the upper midwest when it comes to having a staff that has ridden and raced pretty much everything and they have made it possible for us to demo bikes off all shapes and configurations from their Santa Cruz line.

Don't let the photo scare you. OOOBS offers way more culture and knowledge than what you're gonna find at any squeaky clean franchise bike shop.

Don’t let the photo fool you. OOOBS offers way more culture and knowledge than what you’re gonna find at any squeaky clean franchise bike shop.

Additionally, One On One or OOOBS, is very proactive in making their brands available for potential customers to demo in real world situations and will be working with us on industry ride days where you can meet up others from the snocross world and pound out miles on multiple bikes.

A couple weeks ago, my son and I set out on a working vacation through Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana and were able to evaluate the Santa Cruz Bantam and 5010, two entry/mid level full suspension bikes marketed for all-purpose use. The bikes retail in the neighborhood of $2500 and $3200 respectively and are very similar in geometry and components, with the biggest difference being the 5010’s dual pivot rear suspension that comes with the same FOX Float CTD shock, only upgraded from the EVOL to the Factory Kashima model.

The 5010s FOX Float CTD Factory shock with Kashima coating is a full adjustable air spring unit complete with rebound control. Top shelf stuff!

The 5010’s FOX Float CTD Factory shock with Kashima coating is a fully adjustable air spring unit complete with rebound control. Top shelf stuff!

Both bikes measured in with 130mm of front fork travel, a standard all-purpose grade that is capable of soaking up a respectable amount of rough terrain, yet not so tall that it has an adverse affect on cross-country rides. Suspension travel is one of the major considerations when purchasing a mountain bike of any variety. For our needs, a bike has to perform just as well on hard pack and gravel as it does on a whooped-out or high-speed downhill. Given the fact that time is always in limited supply, we need the ability to roll out of the garage at home and put on some road miles to get to a favorite ride spot. In fact, there are several 15-20 mile loops we can ride from the house that involve very little dirt or single track but are more than what would be fun or even survivable on a road bike.

One of the biggest items of intrigue with both of the bikes we tested was wheel size. Mountain bikes have forever been of the 26” variety, that is until the 29” revolution began about six or seven years ago. The 26ers always had the upper hand on the flickablity scale while the increasing popular 29ers have made a big impact due to their ability to roll over bigger irregularities in the terrain. Not to mention they climb like nobody’s business. Enter the 27.5” or 650B size wheel. Launched to be the best of both worlds, or at least create a whole new sales category in the mtb biz, the 27.5 is the wheel that is spec’d on both the Bantam and the 5010 and we were dying to try it.

Being a taller guy who normally rides a 29” hardtail, I found the intermediate wheel to be a definite bonus on our local trails and hardpack rides. There are a couple of five mile segments at the Cuyuna Recreation Area where I immediately posted quicker times, with what felt like similar efforts. I spent most of my time on the 5010, while my son turned the majority of his miles on the Bantam, but with similar resutls.

Our first day riding out west did give me cause for more consideration. We stopped at the Bike Park at Keystone and immediately headed for the double black diamond runs. Definitely a big mistake without warming up to the surroundings as we exceeded both the capabilities of the 130mm bikes and the riders. Greenhorn tip number one – Once you get in trouble on a real mountain black diamond run, it’s all over. The momentum just keeps building and there is rarely a 30 foot section that’s not rocky as all get out, so the chance to gather your goods just never happens. Oh, and some of the runs are a solid 45 minutes.

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30 minutes up and 45 back down. The lift runs at the numerous bike parks in Colorado are an absolute blast but also no joke. It was not unusual to see full body armor and probably a good idea.

A poorly timed flat front lead to a serious face-plant.  Always pack a spare rubber.

A poorly-timed flat front lead to a serious face-plant. Always pack a spare tube to finish the ride to the bottom. I didn’t and had to walk it down. Not cool!

Anyway, once we stepped back and worked up to the more challenging trails, I was still finding the smaller front wheel to be a bit prone to sudden resistance and potential endoing. Some of this may just have been the lack of front travel, but I will be thoroughly testing a 29er in the 130-140mm category before making my next purchase.

A few days later we spent some quality time on a really technical but more XC oriented ride spot in Grand Junction, Colorado near the Colorado national monument. It was here that both the Bantam and 5010 were in their full glory. Climbing and descending on switchback goat paths with sheer drops on one side were a blast on the confidence-inspiring bikes that were noticeably more maneuverable than a 29er.

With the promise of the long hours of the race season looming, it was awesome to be able to spend some quality time with my son and really get a new perspective on fun mountain biking can be as alternative source of training.

With the promise of the long hours of the snocross season looming, it was awesome to be able to spend some quality time with my son and really get a new perspective on how fun mountain biking can be as an alternative source of training.

Again, the two bikes felt very similar given the price difference. The 5010 with it’s dual pivot design did always have a more plush and planted feel, but also seemed like it was a bit more prone to clearance issues. Both our bikes were spec’d with a mix of Shimano and SRAM components. Both had SLX shifter and brakes and Deore cranks, however, the new specs on the Santa Cruz website show an adjusted mix with SRAM cranks and different levels of Shimano kit on the shifters and brakes.

We are not going to go so far as to give either of these bike a rating per say, but I will tell you that my son actually bought the Bantam as soon as we returned from out west. I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same with it or the 5010, but as stated, really want to evaluate a full-sprung 29er and and a couple of 140mm bikes before making the commitment.

The kid was so stoked on the Bantam being in his price range that he bought it. We upgraded our test model with a FOX Evol fork.

The kid was so stoked on the Bantam being in his price range that he bought it. We upgraded our test model with a FOX Float fork.

That opportunity will be available to anyone who wants to give it a try when we hook up with OOOBS and a fleet of their Santa Cruz demos on Wednesday September 3 at Cuyuna, just outside of Brainerd, Minnesota. If you’re coming this way for Hay Days, take an extra day and come out and try some great bikes on one of the most beautiful riding areas in the county. If you can’t make it, we will have you covered with a full report next month.