Mountain Biking has been cancelled. The final episode ended early Tuesday morning, at midnight Pacific time. It will not be moving on to streaming platforms. We had a good run, though. What was it, 40 years? Maybe 50, depending on how you measure it. But now that Santa Cruz has made an e-bike, there’s clearly no point in going on. There are no more icons and no more heroes. No more history to be made and no more stories to be told. We proud few must step aside and let the alluring march of progress pass us by. Sure, there will be people who will deny this. Some will go on with their lives like this doesn’t change what they love about riding. As if mountain biking were still all about freedom and personal expression. As if it didn’t matter how everyone else plays their game, as long as you like how you play yours. But if you believe that, you’d have to believe the Santa Cruz Heckler is simply a machine. Something with no more power over us than our microwaves or our self-cleaning cat-litter boxes. A bit of technology that you can either take or leave. In other words, an e-bike.
Abandoning its single-pivot aluminum roots, the new Heckler is now built on a carbon-only 150-millimeter rear-, 160 front-travel chassis with 27.5 x 2.6-inch tires. Santa Cruz is using Shimano’s E8000 Steps system with a 504-watt-hour battery, and is offering the Heckler in four build options.
The Heckler is still built on the same lower-link platform that has become the new shape of VPP. And the shape of the Heckler itself is pretty similar to that of the Bronson. Wheel size and travel numbers are the same, head angle is within less than half a degree, reach is within less than 10 millimeters. The chainstays are 15 millimeters longer because it’s an e-bike, and the seat angle is a degree steeper because it’s 2020, but the Heckler appears to be aiming at the same sort of precision-oriented brawling as the Bronson or, for that matter, the original Heckler.
That was a brief telling of the “what” behind the Heckler, but Santa Cruz is making a point of covering the “why.” Why would a brand that has sustained (and earned) a hard-core soul-rider image risk it by releasing an e-bike in the U.S.? Santa Cruz bikes are sold all over the world, in places where there’s far less stigma around e-bikes. The Heckler could have followed the lead of the Rocky Mountain Powerplay and, at least at first, limited its sales to outside of the U.S. Of course, there is wide domestic demand for a Santa Cruz e-bike, but Santa Cruz is calling our attention to a particular type of demand. One that emerged not far from Santa Cruz itself.
Downieville, California, takes a lot of zooming-in to find on a map. It’s a remote blip in the northern Sierras that has amassed far more of a blip’s worth of significance in the mountain bike world. The Downieville Classic has built such a following, you wouldn’t believe it’s named after a town of fewer than 300 people. And according to Downieville Classic founder, Greg Williams, the region’s remote nature presents some unique access issues.
Beyond just the Classic, Williams is in charge of the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, which has built an enviable model for trail management. Its domain comprises thousands of miles of incredible singletrack, right there for the taking in the sprawling mountains around Downieville. But most of those trails are remarkably difficult to reach. They also happen to be OHV-legal. None of the restrictions that limit e-bike use in much of the rest of the country are anywhere in sight here. Of course, the Heckler will be sold throughout the U.S., often nowhere near such an oasis, but it’s settings like Downieville that e-bikes were made for. And that’s why Williams has been impatiently waiting for Santa Cruz to produce an e-bike. Williams and Santa Cruz go way back, with the brand having supported the organization since its founding in 2003. Santa Cruz is the Downieville bike, so it only follows that, eventually, one of them would be an e-bike.
This article originally appeared on Bikemag.com and was republished with permission.
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