Santa Cruz Bicycles was founded in 1993 in a space the size of a single car garage in the Seabright Cannery, in Santa Cruz California. From the very beginning, they innovated, producing a ‘simple yet advanced’ full suspension bike, the Tamzon, as their first bike. So innovative , that it would be several years before they even bothered with a hardtail and when they did, the Chameleon went on to define the hardcore hardtail genre for another two decades. Originally a ‘boutique’ brand, Santa Cruz is now recognized as one of the leading bike manufacturers in the world, setting the standard for suspension design, frame innovations, carbon fibre refinement and international race success.

The key to the success of Santa Cruz is their team. All bike nuts and all based in or around the eponymous hub in the coastal Californian hills. Lunch time team rides and continual innovation have always held sway, but so has common sense. Rumours of their VPP (virtual pivot point) suspension system abounded from the late 90s, but they waited until 2002 to launch the Blur – a complex single pivot XC trail bike that left everyone else in the industry struggling to catch up for a decade. By the time other manufacturers had cracked the secret of endless feeling travel and zero pedal feedback, Santa Cruz had already refined the VPP twice more. While some bike companies need to completely redesign their suspension system for every type of bike, VPP is smart enough to lend itself to every discipline. It also means that Santa Cruz don’t have to split their research teams for different disciplines and can therefore refine faster and more effectively. There is still no one who can match the legendary performance of the Virtual Pivot Point across all platforms from XC 29er to World Cup winning DH bike.

Speaking of downhill, this is where Santa Cruz have, perhaps, had the most widely published success. From the moment that they signed Steve Peat from Orange – a big risk, taking on a proven world cup winner could have backfired spectacularly, had he not gone on to win in his first season with Santa Cruz – the Syndicate team have been huge news on the world cup circuit. The first manufacturer to move to carbon on full suspension DH bikes (having already pioneered the material on other full bounce models while their competitors held back) the amazing V-10 Carbon was an instant success, both competitively and commercially, more than a worthy successor to the venerable Super 8. With more World Cup wins than any other bike and legendary names such as Steve Peat and Greg Minaar associated with it, the V-10 is one of Santa Cruz’s crowning glories. Available in C and CC carbon versions the V-10 is not just the preserve of professionals and can be found on slopes, race courses and bike parks all around the world, providing the same world class performance to amateur and pro riders alike.

The success doesn’t stop there though. Santa Cruz are also credited with effectively inventing Enduro racing, by designing the Nomad, as bike that had ‘ride me up, race me down’ written all over it, before the genre had even formed. Originally conceived as a replacement for the much loved, but slightly ‘one trick pony’ slopestyle oriented Bullit, while also bridging the gap from the longer travel variants of the Blur to the big hitting Driver 8, the Nomad was an instant hit with everyone from bike park junkies, to all mountain alpine riders. The real trick, though, was not just the mini-downhill handling, but the ease with which this bike went uphill. Riders can spin their Nomad up a fireroad and then hit the descents harder than on any other pedal-able bike around; this winning formula helped spawn the most popular race format for a generation – namely Enduro racing.

Gravity isn’t the only area in which Santa Cruz excel though. For years, the Blur was the go to bike for XC racers, trail riders and ‘just mountain bikers’ the world over. This blogger owned a Blur for 10 years and it is still going strong with a riding buddy. Latterly, with the 29ers taking over the XC competition and marathon market, the Tallboy has become a stalwart of the international and local race scenes. At the same time a couple of new arrivals – the truly magical 5010 (once named the Solo and still called that by a lot of shops) and the genre busting Bronson have filled the travel gap between the Tallboy and the 160mm Nomad (at 130mm and 160mm respectively) meaning that there is a carbon Santa Cruz for every rider.

While the VPP carbon machines provide for pretty much all riders, Santa Cruz also recognise that there is merit in simplicity. For the more budget conscious, several of their VPP bikes are available in aluminium as well as the grandparents of their range, the single pivot Heckler and Superlight – both bikes being 20 years old this year. Hardtail fans are catered for with the endlessly versatile Chameleon, another long termer that, apart from switching to 27.5” wheels three years ago, is little changed since launching in 1997 (if it ain’t broke…), while the 29er Highball meets the demands of wagon wheel fans (also available as a 27.5 option for those in search of a 650b carbon hardtail). Dirt jumpers can still pick up a gem with the Jackal , keeping 26” for strength on big/ wrong landings and for the truly masochistic lovers of cyclo cross the Stigmata allows them to get their fix.

Never a brand to be left behind, the most recent addition(s) to the Santa Cruz stable, alongside updates of the Tallboy (now in its third incarnation), Nomad (3) and Bronson (2) is the split personality Hightower. Available in either 29er fun bike or 27.5+ adventure configurations, the Santa Cruz Hightower shows just how versatile a well designed suspension bike can be.

Doing something as different as the Hightower is in Santa Cruz’s DNA, so it should be no surprise to find that, rather than creating a ‘women’s version’ of their machines, instead they have a whole separate company making bikes just for women. Back in 1999, in partnership with world cup XC legend Juli Furtado, Santa Cruz started their ‘Juliana’ range of bikes. In fact, they built the world’s first, ground up, women’s specific mountain bike. It’s not just about fitting a female saddle and painting it a ‘girly colour’ (known to those of us who care about getting bikes right for women as ‘pinkwrapping’) then slapping on a higher price than the equivalent men’s machine. For Santa Cruz women’s bikes – now Juliana Bikes – it was about grip size, top tube length, internal tube profile, gear ratio, suspension performance and, of course, great looking machines. With four great models to choose between, from carbon race hardtail, to trail centre bike, full carbon all mountain tamer and including a ‘just the right size’, 29er, female riders need look no further to find a bike that has been designed for them, rather than marketed at them.

So what makes Santa Cruz so special? Their answer is passion for riding and small scale development. Biketart also believe at hand assembling every bike in house means that each and every Santa Cruz gets a personal touch that mega brands can’t offer, while 20+ years of design experience give them the edge over newer boutique brands. That and the understanding the every rider is an individual and needs a bike to match their riding style. Covering everyone from first timers on a hardtail, to marathon racers, to alpine adventurers to world cup downhill racers and everything in between, Santa Cruz have ensured that there is a bike for whichever rider you choose to be.

There is something slightly magical about riding a Santa Cruz. An indefinable quality that is borne of hard graft, research, Californian sunshine and countless hours of riding to get things ‘just right’. Hang around any riding spot long enough and one is sure to zip by, its rider confident in their bike’s ability to handle the rough stuff, the climbs and the swoopy singletrack with equal aplomb. Listen to any bunch of mountain bikers chatting and you are sure to hear Santa Cruz mentioned, either as a benchmark by which to judge other machines, or as a dreamy wishlist machine. When it comes to wishlists, you will always find one in the top ten for any biker, whether it be the most recent model, a bygone bike on a retro bikers ‘wish I’d had’ or a teenagers dream bike collection. Santa Cruz is firmly lodged in the consciousness of the mountain biking world and, with a history as interesting, varied and innovative as theirs, we predict a bright future. Santa Cruz fat bike, E-bike, hover bike? Who knows? But you can bet Santa Cruz have given it some thought.

Pop into Biketart’s showroom near Canterbury, Kent, to check out one their current models. Amongst our current favourites are: The 5010 and Bronson for trail riders, the Enduro defining Nomad and the amazing new Tallboy 3 for XC racers and marathon riders. You can even explore 27.5+ on the brand new Hightower. For incredible performance and truly innovative bikes, Santa Cruz offer the complete package.