Penny-Farthing for Your Thoughts: A Mixed-Wheel Santa Cruz 5010 Review

The current mixed-wheel wave started in the gravity racing scene. And that seems to be where it’s set its roots too, given that most options are clustered near the long-travel end of the spectrum. But Travis Engel believes that this oft-misunderstood configuration is better suited for mid-travel bikes like the Santa Cruz 5010 and Juliana Furtado. In his review below, Travis covers the unique way the 5010 balances business and party, but he refuses to call it a “mullet.”

Change is hard. Especially when it’s a change you didn’t ask for. If you mourn the steady fall of 27.5-inch bikes, then the steady rise of mixed-wheel bikes is probably no consolation. When the Santa Cruz 5010 joined that exodus, it marked the end of a pretty special bike. I’ve written reviews of the previous three generations of 5010, and I probably bled dry looking for synonyms of the word “fun.” There’s something about the directness of steering a small front wheel on a moderate-travel bike that really makes you feel alive. Just look at John’s review of the matched-wheel Yeti SB135. The 27.5-inch front wheel is not dead, but you can’t deny that they’re marching off to oblivion in droves, like the Elves sailing west to the Gray Havens. Their time has passed.

And I’m sorry, but I’m totally here for it. My current short-travel bike happens to be a mixed-wheel Guerrilla Gravity Shred Dogg. It’s the most fun-focused bike I’ve ever owned, but despite the brand’s cringy heavy-metal schtick, I refuse to call it a mullet bike. “Mullet” is a tired pop culture idiom that wore out its welcome twenty years ago. If mountain bikers hadn’t chosen that word, I think the mixed-wheel concept would be more credible today, and I wouldn’t have needed Guerrilla Gravity’s modular frame concept to hack mine together. But once I did, I ended up with a pretty well balanced package. In my mountains, the benefits of a 29-inch front wheel are far greater than those of 27.5. “My mountains” comprise rocky, sustained, often steep descents. There are tight turns, but those are usually switchbacks that require nose wheelies to navigate. It helps that I’m 6’2″ and 190 pounds, but the steering responsiveness of a smaller front wheel is not necessary.

Mixed. Nuts.

What is necessary in my mountains is stability and traction. And if you also want to maximize playfulness, there are two simple reasons why a mixed-wheel bike has an edge over matched 27.5-ers. We already know the first reason: A bigger front wheel swallows obstacles better. Sure, within a given frame geometry, a smaller wheel can offer room for more obstacle-swallowing fork travel, but that brings me to the second reason: Bigger front wheels offer more optimal geometry at bottom-out. An over-forked 27.5-inch bike looks great on paper, but we don’t ride on paper. As things start to get rough, that extra travel starts to disappear, and the front end gets lower and steeper. A big front wheel with shorter travel might reach bottom-out sooner, but the geometry will be more forgiving when it does. That makes it feel safer to lean over the front end for steering traction. And even if you run out of suspension, the 29-inch wheel is still down there, hitting bumps at its trademark shallow attack angle.

The benefits of sticking with a 27.5-inch rear wheel are more subtle. Lighter, stiffer, stronger, sure. But the role that rear-wheel size plays in bike handling is more about the rider than the bike. For some of us, a 27.5-inch rear wheel is still just rudder, only smaller. For others, it makes for easier manuals and quicker responses to lateral input. By that, I don’t mean “skidding”, exactly. More like those little blips where you allow the wheel to shear across a rut or rock or off-camber highside in whatever direction is most helpful at the time. Those actions are more instant and intuitive without the slight added flex of a 29-inch rear wheel.

Enough About Wheel Size

But it all depends on how the bike approaches the mixed-wheel concept. Most notably, the Santa Cruz 5010 approached it as a 130mm rear-travel, 140mm front-travel trail bike. That’s the same as the previous generation 5010, whose 2020 launch video nodded to its playful intentions with an oddly impressive finger-bike edit. Beyond the new version’s 29-inch front wheel, there are a few more capability-focused tweaks. There’s a half-degree slacker head angle, a 15-20mm increase in stack height, and a 4-10mm increase in chainstay length, depending on size. I’ve got thoughts on those chainstay lengths, but we’ll save them for the ride impressions. Really, other than the mixed-wheel update, the current 5010 still embodies the fun-first focus that the bike has had for years, just with a few quality-of-life improvements.

I know I went on about how the SCOR 4060 ST was the most beautiful full-suspension bike I’d ever seen, but I think the modern Santa Cruz frames are all tied for second. Well thought-out linkage hardware, clean tube-in-tube routing, and ample frame protection are all on display on the 5010. But now there’s also the Glovebox downtube storage, which I hope to see more and more brands adopt. The garage door isn’t as big as the Specialized SWAT, but it’s plenty functional. Geometry-wise, the new 5010 gets a steeper seat angle in most sizes and the curious addition of a 521mm-reach XXL option. Speaking of options, the 5010 comes in both Santa Cruz’s “C” and higher-modulus “CC” carbon. Each has a few build kits available, but pricing is kinda wonky at the time of writing this due to some deep discounts and the whole SRAM Transmission changeover. It looks like bikes will start in the $5,500 range. But of course, they sent me the $8,999 model.

My XL-sized Reserve-carbon-wheel-equipped test bike tipped my scale at a “this-is-what-trail-bikes-weigh-now” 31.1 pounds without pedals. It’s barely worth talking about spec when we’re up at this price point. Everything is pretty outstanding. My only real nitpicks are that I’d like to have at least seen the new lifetime-warranty Reserve Alloy wheels on the “less expensive” versions, and maybe 200mm front rotors all around. There’s a discrepancy in seatpost spec, with my test bike using a Reverb Stealth. But going forward, models will run a OneUp V2. Talking suspension, I’ve really been liking the updates RockShox made last year. But that’s bringing me dangerously close to actual ride impressions, which would require an out-of-the-saddle-uphill photo, followed by a new paragraph and a clever subhead about climbing.

Clever Subhead About Climbing

If you haven’t ridden a Santa Cruz since they went to their lower-link VPP platform in 2018, the best way I can describe it is “Diet VPP.” Early VPP models relied quite a bit on chain force to keep you high in the travel and your wheel spinning forward. That’s essentially what people mean by “high anti-squat.” It’s a phenomenon that results from a slightly rearward-arching axle path at a given point of the travel. That can add efficiency in predictable circumstances, but earlier VPP bikes would tend to get hung up when high torque met tall bumps. The new lower-link VPP bikes don’t rely quite as much on high anti-squat values to make them pedal well, especially as you dip below sag point when you’re likely to be pushing hard through technical terrain. On the flipside of the less intrusive anti-squat is a straighter progressive leverage curve. I talk about what that phrase means in my Canyon Spectral 125 review, but lower-link VPP essentially steadies the increase in support throughout the shock stroke, making for a predictable platform for pedaling and pumping, no alliteration intended.

All of this applies to the 5010, and puts its climbing performance somewhere on the supportive side of calm. I still believe that the well-designed DW links of Ibis and Pivot are the benchmarks for perfectly isolating pedal force from suspension motion. But this version of VPP is a good way to cater more to the mashers. Those with an anti-VPP confirmation bias may feel some nagging kickback, but I felt none. It helps that this is only a 130mm-travel bike, and I’m never going to be that far from the sag point where things are more likely to get weird. When I pushed down to get more power, all I felt pushing back was the supportive leverage curve. And that’s without adding any volume spacers to the rear shock. I happen to run my sag on the slightly softer side, compromise being that I would sink a little in seated climbs. But the relatively steep seat angle kept things neutral. That’s helped by the familiar-feeling stack height. In contrast, the also-mixed-wheel Santa Cruz Bronson has an especially tall-feeling front end. That made sense for such an aggressive bike, but I’m glad the 5010 stayed at least somewhat conservative. If I wanted a more aggressive climber (which I didn’t) I could have slammed the stem and swapped in a flatter bar, and this bike would have a nearly downcountry demeanor.

The only thing about this bike that wasn’t on my side when climbing was the low bottom bracket. I guess I could have left the flip chip in the high setting, and if I had a lot of technical ascents to deal with at home (which I don’t), that’s probably where I’d run it. And during the short time that I did spend in the high setting, it was pretty cool. That got me an even-steeper 77.3-degree claimed effective seat angle, and a not-insulting 65.2-degree head angle. The bike became a noticeably more energetic climber. And this is noteworthy. Every brand aside from Evil seems to treat their flip chips’ high setting as a sort of throwaway. It’s only the low setting that brings the bike to life. In the case of the 5010, either approach is equally valid. But I know myself. On a bike with this much potential on the descents, I was only ever going to run it in the low setting.

Downhill Bias

So, another quick soap-box sidebar on mixed-wheel bikes. There’s a lot of questions about whether they’re “faster.” The answer, of course, is “sometimes.” When I have faster runs on mixed-wheel bikes, it’s not necessarily because the trails are more twisty or more steep. It’s usually because I just know them better. The bit of extra handling precision is more likely to save me seconds if I’m familiar with the really cruxy sections where a wrong decision will slow me down the most. This goes double for a shorter-travel mixed-wheel bike like the 5010. Despite all my bluster about preferring the more point-and-shoot, low-and-slack setting, this is a bike that worked best when I stayed active and engaged. Not unlike the Spectral 125, the 5010 has got the potential to ride enduro-level terrain, as long as you’re okay not reaching enduro-level speeds. A lot of that is thanks to the forgiving geometry, but it didn’t hurt that the current RockShox lineup made a significant leap last year. In a nutshell, the independent high- and low-speed compression damping adjustments are even more independent. I was able to run the high-speed nearly wide open and the low-speed a bit firmer, and one did not compromise the other. It helped the bike ride beyond its category.

It’s hard to define what “beyond category” means in a category this unique. Amid my local jank, I guess it means that I feel a sort of supreme control. It almost didn’t matter that I was occasionally under-biked. That control made up for an inability to monster-truck through things. There was a more direct response when I was rear-wheel steering. I was more engaged with the trail. Try not to roll your eyes here, but riding certain sections became more cerebral. Like, I could be more intentional about the lines I was choosing without losing speed. I would say there was some placebo effect here, but I had multiple moments when I was able to snake around rocks or carve high-sides that I’d never done before, or at least never done gracefully.

Unfortunately, Santa Cruz puts a slight handicap on this for taller riders: Size-specific chainstay length. The idea makes plenty of sense on a 29-inch bike. But not on a mixed-wheel bike, where the whole point is to have some more precision behind your legs. And as with most bikes with size-specific rear-center lengths, the 5010’s rear triangle isn’t actually any different between frame sizes. The front triangle’s pivot locations are simply positioned forward or rearward relative to the bottom bracket. That keeps suspension kinematics consistent, and eliminates the need for multiple rear-triangle molds. But it means you can’t adjust geometry by mixing and matching triangles. I get that Santa Cruz wants to keep it proportionate, but in that case why stop at the chainstays? The travel doesn’t change. The bottom bracket height doesn’t change. The wheel size doesn’t change. And what really stings is that Santa Cruz used to have a solution for this. A few of their bikes once specced multi-position dropouts that would allow the rider to pick their chainstay length. Santa Cruz killed that, in part, because they thought the system’s 10mm jump was too drastic. But you know what else killed it? The Trojan Hanger itself, SRAM UDH. Sure, Santa Cruz could technically do a whole sliding dropout that accommodates a UDH. But that would mean extra complication and extra unsprung weight. I’m not saying UDH and Transmission should not have happened. You can now get a hanger for $15 when you used to have to pay three times that much. And I think the Transmission drivetrain is going to usher in some great things in the coming years. But the sometimes-maddening proliferation of hanger configurations did allow brands to innovate in ways that UDH does not.

Thus concludes this review’s rant about The Industry knowing what’s best for us. The fact remains that, even though I wish the chainstays were 12mm shorter, I did have a lot of fun when managing chaos with the 5010. But you know what was even more fun? When there was no chaos at all. I spent a week riding the 5010 in California’s Northern Sierras, where two frightening trail features abound: Traction and flow. Frightening, because I’m not used to them. My home trails were built by hikers, and are only maintained by mountain bikers. They’re also usually loose and dry. But up in the meccas surrounding Tahoe, things are engineered, directional, and pure fun. The 5010 was absolutely perfect on, for example, the short, twisty, intrasuburban secret stashes of Grass Valley and Nevada City. Or on the endless knee-high jump lines in the Parliament network. Or the dirt roller coasters around Truckee. I’m sure there’s plenty of jank there too, but I was on vacation, so I kept to the flow trails. On the choppy messes that make up my entire home trail network, the 5010’s capability-focused approach to the mid-travel mixed-wheel platform makes it about as practical as can be. But if you live somewhere without a lot of flow, be sure you’re ready to commit to a bike like this. Personally, the novelty of my own mixed-wheel bike sometimes wears off and I need to take a break. But if I lived somewhere that also had smooth, jump-filled, purpose-built mountain bike trails, I couldn’t think of a better bike to own. The 5010 is just versatile enough to handle some abuse, but isn’t so worried about it that it forgets you’re here to have fun.


  • Mixed-wheel and moderate-travel perfectly complement each other
  • Refined linkage behavior, uphill and down
  • Both geo settings are actually useful
  • Downtube storage
  • A way for shorter riders to get big-wheel benefits
  • Six sizes


  • Long chainstays on large models add capability, but subtract maneuverability
  • No alloy model