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Santa Cruz Stigmata CC review

3 Feb 2021
Verdict:

It may be at the racy end of the gravel spectrum but it has a playful side too

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Light • Nimble • Sharp and reactive handling • Excellent wheels
Against 
Expensive

Santa Cruz – the place not the bike brand (although the brand is based there) – has a decent claim to being the spiritual home of the gravel movement. Back in the 1970s, the city spawned a culture of adapting bikes to cope with the rugged terrain in the mountains and redwood forests of California. 

It’s how the mountain bike came into being, and the likes of Tom Ritchey and Keith Bontrager were building and riding drop-bar ‘gravel bikes’ long before anyone invented a term for them (they called them ‘clunkers’).

Santa Cruz, the brand, prides itself on making only off-road bikes, and the original Stigmata was created as an out-and-out cyclocross race bike. But as senior engineer Ty Buckenberger explains, there was a demand for it to broaden its horizons.

‘The feedback from dealers was that people wanted to put fenders on them, and they were certainly doing a lot more on them than just cross racing,’ he says. ‘Where we live, with the mountains and the trails we have here, people tend to want to push the limits of their equipment and their bikes.

Even looking around our own office there were all kinds of modifications people had made to try to adapt the Stigmata to make it more capable. So we wanted to sort of re-invent it and make it a more versatile bike straight out of the box.’

This, then, is that reimagined Stigmata. Some of the changes are easy to spot, such as the new tube shapes that Buckenberger says have been fashioned with comfort in mind, again reacting to feedback that the original was a bit on the harsh side. Tyre clearance has gone up, and the frame will now accept a 700c x 45mm tyre or 650b x 2.1in.

 

Less obvious are things like the slightly slacker 72° head angle. ‘We only went a half a degree slacker than before,’ says Buckenberger. ‘We didn’t want to completely lose the racers, so we’ve kept it towards the faster end of the spectrum.

That’s also why it doesn’t have top tube “bento box” mounts or any rack mounts. We did put on three bottle cage mounts, but it’s not what I’d call a full-blown gravel bike. It kind of straddles the line a little bit.’

Buy the Santa Cruz Stigmata CC from Leisure Lakes Bikes now

Long, fun days

That ‘straddling of the line’ really comes across in the way the Stigmata rides. Its cyclocross DNA is definitely apparent in its handling, and on my test rides the steering felt quick to react but importantly stayed the right side of skittish on the trails.

Its low weight – only 7.7kg – and stiffness combine to give it an animated ride feel too, quick to accelerate and deft at climbing, while extremely nimble darting in and out of tight woodland singletracks.

 

One of my most memorable test rides on Stig (as it affectionately became known) was an attempt to ride from my home in the New Forest to my in-laws in south London using as much off-road as possible.

I’d estimate I managed about 85-90% of the 200km on the rough stuff, yet despite the trip taking me more than eight hours I spent most of it grinning from ear to ear.

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Stig was simply perfect for this kind of varied ride, taking all manner of terrain and gradients in its stride, as did the 700c x 40mm Maxxis Rambler tyres. Set up tubeless and inflated to 35psi, they felt fast-rolling but with enough grip to help stay in control (and upright) on everything from damp chalk to deep sand and dusty loam on the trails. And, as a pleasant aside, I didn’t have a single flat during my entire few months of testing.

Santa Cruz recently launched its own wheel brand and Stig came fitted with the company’s gravel-focussed Reserve 22 carbon hoops. The number refers to the internal rim width, not the rim depth as is more often the case with wheel model names.

 

These wheels are a credit to the brand and undeniably had a positive impact on the ride. Their low weight contributed to the bike’s sprightly feel, even though Santa Cruz points out that weight was not the primary focus.

They’re strong (as any wheel ridden by YouTube sensation Danny MacAskill needs to be) and several times I felt the rims hit the ground over tree roots or on rocky descents but on inspection there was never any sign of damage, or even of the wheels being slightly out of true.

Buy the Santa Cruz Stigmata CC from Leisure Lakes Bikes now

Here for the gears

Debate continues to rage over whether 1x or 2x drivetrains are better for gravel bikes. The Stigmata came fitted with a double Sram Red eTap AXS (46/33t) chainset, but Santa Cruz has created its own band-on fitment for the front mech, which is simple to remove and won’t leave any unsightly bolt holes should you favour a 1x setup.

With Sram’s wireless eTap AXS components, you could feasibly switch between 1x and 2x in little more than the time it takes to make a brew.

That, combined with the 650b wheel compatibility, means Buckenberger has definitely delivered on his promises. This new Stigmata oozes versatility. I can’t say I tested it with a 650b setup, nor did I race cyclocross on it, but my hunch is Stig would be both fun and capable in both cases.

As a final thought, Santa Cruz says it doesn’t do road bikes. Well, I did slot in a pair of Zipp 202 Firecrests with 28mm tyres and take Stig out with the Saturday morning chaingang once.

With its weight trimmed back to below 7.5kg, let’s just say I held my own, rubbing shoulders with some expensive top-end road machines and occasionally showing them a rather fine set of seatstays.

Spec

Frame Santa Cruz Stigmata CC
Groupset Sram Red eTap AXS
Brakes Sram Red eTap AXS
Chainset Sram Red eTap AXS
Cassette Sram Red eTap AXS
Bars Easton EC70 AX   
Stem Easton EA90 alloy
Seatpost Easton EC90 SL carbon
Saddle WTB Silverado Team
Wheels Santa Cruz Reserve 22 Carbon, Maxxis Rambler 700c x 40mm tyres
Weight 7.72kg
Contact jungleproducts.co.uk

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews

Price: 
£2,199 frame, fork, headset; complete builds from £3,599; £8,999 as tested