In Love With A Santa Cruz Bantam

A Midwestern transplant discovers the perfect bike for his new home in Santa Cruz Bicycles' light-but-tough Bantam.

Words and photos by Maciek Otto-Smuga

Jan. 26, 2015—Coming to Santa Cruz from the Midwest, I quickly discovered that I had brought along the wrong bike. My trusty Surly Long Haul Trucker is perfect for long rides through rolling hills along the empty backroads of Wisconsin, but I’ve only taken it out a handful of times since moving here: Coastal California’s backroads are long stretches of grade going up, up, up or, if you’re facing the other way, down, down, down; No gently rolling anything, and car traffic galore to boot. There’s no way I’ll be doing any long bike tours around here (although I see that many others do, and more power to them). Sure I could use my Surly to commute in-town, but I almost always end up taking my wife’s cargo bike for short trips – it’s a far more practical and comfortable ride for the short haul.

However, the mountain biking trails in the mountains here are breathtaking, and I’ve been dying to, as the locals say, “shred” them since the day we arrived. After a less-than-fun attempt at taking the Surly up the mountain, I quickly realized I needed a bike built for this place. And what bike better for traipsing around the Santa Cruz mountains than one with “Santa Cruz” emblazoned in nice retro-futuristic chunky font on its sides, assembled right here in town?

The Santa Cruz bike company makes several models of mountain bike, ranging anywhere from shred-tastic to ultra-badass. Since I knew from bitter experience that I’m not going to be doing anything too, uh… “rad”, I ordered one of the more restrained models, the Bantam.

It’s probably their least-well known bike, being a new model without the storied history of the Superlight or the Heckler, and is on the low-end of their budget scale, thus unlikely to be written up in bike magazine reviews. But it’s still quite a lot of bike by anybody else’s (especially my) standards. Heck, it doesn’t even remotely resemble the mountain bikes from my youth.

When I was trying out the Bantam at the bike store (Capitola’s super-friendly Family Cycling Center) I felt that it just disappeared out from under me: The geometry and controls are such that I was able to forget I was on a bike, and left me feeling like I was skipping along the road super-fast without any effort. I know that sounds cheesy, but I haven’t felt that way about any other mountain bike I tried, and I test-rode quite a few. Continue reading.

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