First Ride: 2021 Santa Cruz Bullit – It’s Electric

by | November 17, 2020

Santa Cruz’s Heckler was the brand’s first foray into the e-bike market and took a few people by surprise only 10 months ago. Last week it was joined by a short travel version with the mullet treatment, a change that originated with Loris Vergier, chief puzzler and man of many bike noises. His requests for a MX wheel concept on the DH bike sparked Santa Cruz’s designers to think about applying this to their e-bikes.

Where the Heckler had more of a focus on agility and a playful character, it’s again with the Syndicate that Santa Cruz took inspiration for their new e-bike, the Bullit, and sought to inject the no-limits character that runs deep in the veins of a DH bike.

Bullit Details
• MX wheel size – 29″ front 27.5″ rear
• Carbon fibre composite mainframe and rear triangle with aluminum links
• 170mm front and rear travel
• Shimano EP8 drive system
• 630Wh removable battery
• Sizes M – XXL
• Lifetime warranty, lifetime bearing replacement
• €7,699 to €11,699 or $7,499 USD to $11,499

Coming out swinging and ready to brawl, the Bullit revives another legendary Santa Cruz name and packs a 170mm right hook with a big wheel up front for confidence and composure at speed, and a smaller rear wheel to make the Bullit dance around the ring, and corners, with ease and sprite.

It’s not just the new Bullit frame, but the complete spec of the bike that Santa Cruz focussed on to deliver a bike that they say reminds of a full-on DH bike yet climbs to the top of the hill without any trouble. We had two glorious days of riding in, around and over the Swiss-French border, just after the lifts had shut, to take a closer look at the Bullit and see if Santa Cruz had indeed captured that brutish character and if it would leave us describing the bike with just KA-KA-KA-esque noises.

Frame & Drive System Details

First off, it looks like, well, a Santa Cruz. With the brand one-by-one moving almost all their bikes over to the same layout in recent years it isn’t much of a surprise to see them use this layout and frame design for the Bullit. And with good reason, as the lower link driven shock gives a good foundation for the suspension curves while keeping a lot of the mass of the bike low and centered. It leaves room for water bottles inside the main frame on all sizes, and makes the bike unmistakably a Santa Cruz from 100 yards amongst the sea of other options out there. If it ain’t broke then don’t fix it, and Santa Cruz seem to have found their flow with this layout and frame construction.

The Bullit might lead to many a reader reminiscing to when the Bullit was in the Santa Cruz line-up, actually from 1998 all the way to 2011, as a single pivot freeride bike. As with the Heckler, Santa Cruz have revived the name for their new bike. Knowing how hard it is to come up with a new name for a bike, let alone trademark it, it’s quite clever of Santa Cruz to revive the old names that they probably already own and give the new bike some built in heritage to boot.

The Bullit is Santa Cruz’s biggest and burliest e-bike with 170mm travel front and rear and it uses Shimano’s EP8 drive system.

The 630Wh Shimano battery is housed in the down tube with access to it via the cover and the use of a hex key. Alternatively, the bike can be charged with the battery in place via the charge point down on the non-drive side just in front of the motor. The on button for the bike is also situated down in this area, just under the shock, cutting down on the length of wires running around the frame.

All cables are internally routed, with only a short span around the shock between the main frame and rear triangle. Inside the main frame the cables are all zip tied into the down tube to keep them in place and quiet. The other sections in the mainframe use moulded tubes to guide the cables.

Santa Cruz also has their own Di2 handlebar that hides the drive system cables from the display to the motor. It’s also available aftermarket in an 800mm width and 35mm diameter clamp with 25mm and 35mm rise options.

The Bullit is only available in a CC carbon fiber option – there’s no lower priced frame option at the moment. Santa Cruz have cleverly stashed all the bearings in the aluminum links to avoid the need for bearing seats in the composite frame parts. All those bearings are part of the lifetime bearing replacement programme, and the whole frame comes with a lifetime warranty for some serious peace of mind. Added to that, Santa Cruz also guarantees at least 10 years of small parts availability.

The frame has many small parts and details that are well thought out. There’s extensive, quiet and well secured frame protection on both the underside of the down tube belly and inside the rear triangle around the chain slap areas. It uses SRAM’s Universal Derailleur Hanger and there’s a fender protruding out from the seat tube to protect the shock from debris and mud.

All sizes and versions of the Bullit use the MX wheel idea with a 29″ front wheel and 27.5″ rear to take advantage of the split in ride characteristics between the two wheel sizes. The larger front wheel giving better front end traction and roll over with a quicker responding smaller rear wheel with more trouser clearance.

Geometry, Sizing & Suspension

The Bullit is available in sizes M to XXL spanning 450mm to 515mm reach all paired to a 449mm chain stay. There’s a 64° head angle and an effective seat angle hovering around the 77° mark with the M size having a touch steeper seat tube than the XXL.

BB height to the ground is 348mm with a 6.5mm or 25.5mm drop from the front and rear axles respectively. That BB height measurement being probably the one to compare when looking at MX, or mullet, bikes. Interestingly, the Bullit forgoes the adjustability seen on other Santa Cruz bikes and has only one position for the shock and rear axle.

The Bullit uses the same tried and tested layout from the other bikes in the range with a four-bar system using two short counter rotating links. The shock is driven off the lower link and all the links are noticeably longer to give smoother changing suspension curves in the 170mm travel.

Santa Cruz say the Bullit’s leverage ratios are progressive enough to run a coil shock yet still linear enough to be good with an air shock, something that is reflected in the spec of the bikes, with the coil and air versions of the RockShox Super Deluxe being options. All those options use a bearing eyelet on the shock at the lower link end where there’s more rotation.

Options, Price & Availability

The Bullit is only available in the CC carbon fiber frame option and in Gloss Lavender and Matte Copper color options. One hides the muck really well and the other certainly stands out in the crowd. It’s available in build options ranging from the Bullit R, through Bullit S and Bullit XT to the range topping Bullit X01 Reserve.

Bikes are specced with a Fox 38 for the most part, with the Bullit R using a Zeb, up front and a RockShox Super Deluxe shock in the rear, with the R and S models being air only and the XT and X01 Reserve options having the additional option to spec a coil shock.

A nice touch, and one that shows the intention of the bike, is the spec of 2.5″ Double Down Maxxis tires on all the bikes leaving you to only pump the tires up and ride when you get the bike. There’s an Assegai up front in 3C Maxx Grip and a Minion DHR II out back with 3C Maxx Terra.

Other nice touches include the Burgtec stems and axles and Peaty’s tubeless valves to finish off the otherwise faultless builds. SRAM builds feature a 220mm rotor up front and 200mm out back. Shimano builds run with dual 203mm rotors.

The Bullit S, XT and X01 Reserve use the Shimano EP8 (EP800) drive system, while the Bullit R uses the E7000 system. The Bullit R and S both use the E7000 display with the XT and X01 Reserve builds using the EM800 display.

Bullit CC R – Shimano E7000 drive unit and display, RockShox Zeb fork and Super Deluxe Select shock, SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain and Guide RE brakes, SDG Tellis dropper. Wheels TBC – €7.699 or $7,499 USD

Bullit CC S – Shimano EP800 drive unit and E7000 display, Fox 38 Performance fork and RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ shock, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and Code R brakes, SDG Tellis dropper. Wheels TBC – €9,099 or $8,899 USD

Bullit CC XT – Shimano EP800 drive unit and display, Fox 38 Performance Elite fork and RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ shock, Shimano XT 12-speed drivetrain and brakes, Fox Transfer Performance Elite dropper and Race Face ARC Offset wheels – €9,699 or $9,499 USD

Bullit CC X01 Reserve – Shimano EP800 drive unit and display, Fox 38 Factory fork and RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, SRAM X01 drivetrain and Code RSC brakes, Fox Transfer Factory dropper and Reserve wheels with DH rear and 30 front – €11,699 or $11,499 USD

Ride Impressions

At 188cm tall and with some gangly arms I took the XL bike and felt pretty comfortable on it, both standing and seated. I could have also taken the L size, with its 20mm shorter reach, for something that could be maneuvered with less effort, but still found the XL to be a nice mix of maneuverability and composure. It’s not often that I find myself able to do this in bike sizing and some people might be clearly on a single size rather than spanning two. So it’s good to consider the whole bike and its designed character when you’re picking sizing, not just looking at the on-paper geometry.

For the bike’s launch we spent two days riding all manner of known and much less known trails around the Portes du Soleil resorts of Morzine, Les Gets, Champéry and Crosets. With the lifts having closed only the week before the mountain sides were a stark contrast to the bustling trails that are commonplace with the easy lifts back to the top.

Over the two days we clocked up just shy of 90km of riding and 4300m climbing, with our guides doing an expert job of avoiding as much tarmac as possible and allowing us to test the capabilities of the Bullit not only on the downs, but also on technical ups. The wet autumn was in full swing and with us luckily not being rained on while riding, the trails were definitely on the exciting side of damp.

With only a relatively quick setup of pressures and a quick bounce around in the car park, the Bullit felt remarkably comfy from the get go. When standing, you’re already in a comfortable position that leads to you riding the bike with little conscious thought to maintaining a good riding position. You’re always in it. So too when you’re seated, and the long days in the saddle were met again with comfort. I found that there was a good window to move my weight around with the speed and exaggeration that is needed to keep traction on the rear wheel while climbing seemingly impossible grades and turns.

On the way down the bike really does have the flavour of a DH bike. I’m not going to say it is one, as the limits of a DH bike still far surpass anything else. But there’s definitely that flavour of composure there and the movements and aggression needed to move the bike around follow that theme. You can passenger the bike if you want, without it running away from you, but where’s the fun in that?

Grabbing it and being a pilot results in a rewarding ride that eggs you on to lean the bike and push hard. It’s an addictive ride and one that was not once phased by any of the challenges we threw at it. Many of those were on my home trails that I’ve ridden a bunch on different bikes and many more riding blind behind one of the Syndicate or Santa Cruz employees. In all those situations the bike was stable enough to charge and reacted wonderfully when told what to do.

Perhaps the only downside I found was the very noisy EP8 motor, or more specifically the freehub system between the chainring and the motor. When under power the freehub is engaged and so runs silently. But when coasting and at lower speeds, that don’t demand most of your concentration, the rattling is amplified by the voluminous carbon frame and is the prominent sound on the bike. Not a problem with the Bullit per say then, but still something worth noting.

The remainder of the EP8 system is a smooth joy to use and goes quietly about its job. We spent most of our time in the Trail mode, which seemed to effortlessly meter out just the right amount of torque for the available grip. That grip did depend heavily on how you positioned your weight on the saddle and where the saddle was positioned in the travel of the dropper. Only the absolute nastiest of climbs needed an almost slammed seat, Boost mode and some serious body language to make it to the top. But these were ridiculously steep, damp and root filled climbs that I normally ride in the opposite direction. We were lucky enough to have not only our human batteries but our bike’s recharged at lunch, and even a few older Shimano systems in the riding group that showed just how much bigger the range is on the new EP8 drive system. For the times you want to put more effort into your legs the Eco mode works well, but the great thing is that you can alter the assistance in the modes via the E-Tube Project app to make them cater more to your personal needs.

The rest of the bike on our XT build was faultless. It’s really nice to see non-plus rubber on an e-bike and really speaks volumes (ha) about the bike’s intentions. The drivetrain and brakes never skipped a beat over the two days, but it would be good to see how they fare after a much-prolonged season of riding and grinding in the mud, especially with the added torque and mass to the bike. And the nice finishing touches from the likes of Burgtec and Peaty’s show a good attention to detail and that no stone was left unturned when speccing the bike.

Riding home on the second day I looked down to realise I’d forgotten that I wasn’t on my own personal bike, and showed me just how well I’d gotten on with the Bullit. It is a lot of bike, but for the terrain round the Alps and countless other aggressive terrain in the world that demands more travel and composure from a bike, the Bullit is an impressive bike. So impressive that I was pretty bummed to have to hand it back after the two days. Perhaps we can sneak back over the border and get one for a long-term test to see if the honeymoon period is a short or long lived one.