Santa Cruz 5010 R1 AM review

Metal middleweight that’s big on full-gas trail attitude

BikeRadar score4/5

Can’t possibly afford a carbon Santa Cruz 5010 CC at £2,899 for just the frame? Don’t worry, its alloy sibling does a brilliant job of delivering the same sort of trail-dominating, grin-propagating performance at a much more attainable price, and at first glance you won’t even be able to tell the difference.

Up close, the weld seams and up-and-over lower linkage plates make it obvious this isn’t a composite with its cunning ‘pizza oven’ recess for the lower linkage. Colours and geometry are exactly the same, though, and as a frame it’s £1,200 cheaper than the CC. The R1 AM bike is an excellent example of cost-effective kit at its best.

The bike has 780mm bars and a 50mm stem
The bike has 780mm bars and a 50mm stem

The Fox 34 Rhythm fork punches way above its price and SRAM’s NX 1x11 transmission is the relentlessly real-world reliable transmission equivalent of an AK47. SC has even saved a ton of weight and restored a full 10-42t ratio range by upgrading to a GX-spec cassette and matching XD driver.

The excellent Maxxis Minion DHF and CrossMark 2 tyre pairing come set up tubeless as standard; the RaceFace Aeffect crank uses a direct mount Cinch ring; and the 780mm bars and 50mm stem are 35mm in diameter to make the most of the accuracy and authority of the muscular frame. Long-term reliability is enhanced by grease-injection ports into the fully adjustable and serviceable collet bearings and a conventional screw-in bottom bracket.

RaceFace Aeffect crank and a direct mount Cinch ring
RaceFace Aeffect crank and a direct mount Cinch ring

And it’s a good job it’s designed to survive a ton of hard riding, as that’s exactly what the 5010 doesn’t so much encourage as flat-out demands. A fast but grippy front tyre, a smooth fork action and a sturdy, wide-span cockpit give clear and confident communication on what’s happening at the far end of the naturally self-correcting, but not stubborn to turn, 67-degree head angle. The forged linkages and Boost rear axle mean equally clear feedback from the rear wheel, too.

This bike is seriously fun on the trails
This bike is seriously fun on the trails

What really brings the 5010 alive, though, is the instinctively rider-responsive VPP3 suspension. By stiffening and steepening under power but smoothing out and slackening if you relax or smack into serious trouble, it naturally mimics the reaction you want. And while not everyone will like the occasionally obvious pedal kick-back or power spin, its ability to pop and hop off every opportunity and power out of corners or up climbs gives it an inspirationally visceral character that aggressive riders will love.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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