A Little Bigger Here, a Little More Adjustable There, Still a Whole Lot of Awesome


The Takeaway: From
suspension, to geometry, to assist system, the new Heckler is a masterpiece of
an e-trail bike.

Larger 720Wh battery

Shimano EP8 motor.

29×27.5 or 29×29 wheels for most
sizes, with dedicated chainstay lenghts.

Smallest size rolls on two 27.5

Lower grade C carbon frame added
to the offerings and used on all but the highest-end build.

Complete bike prices start at

Price: $13,299 (Heckler MX
Weight:48.3lb. (medium, MX CC AXS RSV)

Would you believe there’s another
new e-bike? While the pandemic has slowed things down somewhat, the flood of
e-bikes hitting the market is still going strong. Today’s new e-bike is the
Santa Cruz Heckler. Wait, didn’t Santa Cruz launch a new Heckler, like,
somewhat recently? Yes, in February 2020 in fact. But as e-bikes are part
bicycle and part connected device—and a somewhat new category in general—the
development schedule is quicker, pandemics be damned. So, meet the new V2 Santa
Cruz e-Heckler.


Santa Cruz’s New E-Heckler V2
versus Heckler V1

While the motor and overall
positioning of the new Heckler is the same as the V1 e-Heckler, there are a
number of updates.

The biggest (literally) is the
new 720Wh battery, which offers a significant ride time bump from the V1’s
504Wh battery. For comparison, the Specialized Levo has a 700Wh
battery, Trek’s Rail has a 750Wh battery, Yeti’s 160E has a
630Wh battery, and Pivot’s Shuttle runs a 726Wh battery, so the Heckler is in
there with its competition. (Norco’s VLT e-bikes with the optional 900Wh
battery remain the range champion.) The Heckler’s battery drops out with the
twist of a hex wrench, so you can purchase additional batteries and swap them
out for extended playtime. I predict a hefty price for spare batteries though:
Between $750 to $1000. 

Larger too are the wheels. V1 was
either 27.5” front and rear, or a mixed bike (29” front, 27.5” rear). A note to
shorter riders, the size small rolls on matched 27.5” wheels. The mixed option
remains, but now alongside a 29/29 option. A 29” rear wheel rolls faster but
the rear ends are size specific, with the 29er rear end carrying an additional
15mm of chainstay length (460mm vs 445mm). The MX option with the shorter rear
end and slightly lighter rear wheel should provide a snappier feeling, but
slower rolling, bike.

Another thing that’s larger is
the travel. The V2 has 150mm rear travel, 10mm more than before, although 160mm
forks still hang off the front. Harder to see is the addition of a cartridge
bearing rear eyelet to the shock (replacing the standard DU bushing) which
might slightly improve suspension reactivity.

Santa Cruz Heckler—Geometry

The most significant geometry
change is the addition of a flip chip to the V2 Heckler. But as you’ll see, the
chip makes small changes the geometry, while also influencing the suspension.

Comparing the V2 Heckler MX in
low mode to the V1 Heckler MX, the reach measurement grows by good chunk (a
medium is now 452mm; a medium V1 was 436mm), the seat angle is steeper (76.6mm
vs 75mm), and the wheelbase stretches about two centimeters (size medium:
1227mm vs 1208mm), the bottom bracket drops about six millimeters, and the head
angle gets just 0.1 degrees slacker (now 64.5 degrees). The MX’s rear center
remains the same at 445mm. With matched 29-inch wheels the chainstays (and
wheelbase) grow by 15mm, but all other numbers remain the same.

Flip to high mode and the angles
get about 0.25 degrees steeper, the BB goes up four millimeters, and there are
some small (like, a millimeter or two) changes in reach, stack, top tube
length, and wheelbase. 

Santa Cruz Heckler—Flip Chip
Suspension Changes

While the flip chip doesn’t
massively alter the geometry, it also adjusts the leverage ratio: It’s more
progressive in the low position. However, when I tried to get the progression
percentages for low and high mode Santa Cruz refused to answer, “That’s in the
‘things we don\’t share’ file. Sorry.” The best I have is a
only-somewhat-helpful image taken from Santa Cruz’s launch deck (see below).


I’d wager it’s around 10-percent
more progressive in low mode than it is in high mode. A 10-percent progression
change, like the the geometry change, isn\’t huge but combine the two and there
is a just noticeable difference in the overall character of the Heckler. In the
low position the Heckler is a bit more suited to downhill laps while in the
high position its better for all around trail riding. For what it is worth, I
tried both and preferred the high position because it offers just a bit more
ground clearance: A benefit on an e-bike when you\’re trying to keep the cranks
turning as much as possible. However, the more progressive position makes the
V2 Heckler play better with coil-over shocks if that’s your preference.

Santa Cruz Heckler—Two Levels of
Carbon Frame

While the V1 e-Heckler came only
in Santa Cruz’s most-premium CC grade carbon, V2 gets a C grade carbon frame as
well. According to Santa Cruz brand manager Garen Backer, the difference is the
cost and weight of the frame, “They\’re built in the same factory, by the same
people, in the same molds, and they\’re tested to the same standards in strength
and stiffness. Same hardware, same warranty. [The C frame is] just a little
[329 grams] heavier.”

V1 Heckler CC’s opening price
point was $7,699. If you’re expecting the V2 Heckler in a lower grade C frame
to come in lower, you’re about to be disappointed. V2 Hecklers with the C frame
start at $8,199 (“R” build with either 29” or MX wheels). You can pin some of
that on everything bike related going up in price recently, but remember the V2
also gets that significantly larger 720Wh battery (up from 504Wh).


There are five total Heckler
builds. All use Shimano’s excellent EP8 motor and the 720Wh battery, and all
comes with Maxxis Assegai (front) and Minion DHRII (rear) tires with the medium
duty EXO+ casing. Four of the builds use the C frame and are priced at $8,199 (SRAM
NX Eagle, RockShox Lyrik Select), $9,699 (SRAM GX Eagle, Fox 36 Performance),
$10,399 (Shimano XT, Fox 36 Performance Elite), and $10,999 (SRAM GX AXS, Fox
36 Performance Elite). The final build comes in at $13,299 and gets the lighter
CC frame as well as Reserve DH30 carbon rims, SRAM X01 AXS wireless shifting,
RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock, with a Fox Factory 36 fork and Transfer
dropper. All frames fit a water bottle in the front triangle, up to a 2.6” tire
(with either the 27.5 or 29 rear end), use Boost 148 rear spacing, a SRAM UDH,
IS headsets, and run 200mm rotors front and rear (no adapter needed for the
rear which means you can’t run anything smaller than a 200mm on the rear).

Santa Cruz Heckler—How it Rides

With snow on my trails, I packed
up the car with my MX wheeled review bike and headed to one of the best places
to ride an e-trail-bike, Moab. With rough surfaces, steep climbs, and
challenging tech everywhere, it’s a great place to put a new bike to the test.


My first rides were on Slickrock,
a ride I haven’t done in over a decade. From the parking lot the ride (without
the practice loop) is about nine and a half miles ,with a bit more than 900
feet of climbing. Starting with a fully charged battery, I dialed up Trail mode
and did one loop (counterclockwise on the main loop) arriving back at the
trailhead with 70 percent battery remaining (you can access more detailed
battery information if you pair a Garmin Edge to a Shimano EP8-equipped bike).
Seeing all that battery, I turned around and busted out another loop (still
using Trail mode), this time riding the loop counterclockwise. Back at the
trailhead, my Garmin read 38-percent battery remaining; easily enough for one
more loop. Now battery life can vary wildly based on many factors, but based on
my Slickrock loops, the Heckler’s 720Wh battery is, in Trail mode, potentially
good for an impressive 30-ish miles with 3000 feet of climbing (my riding
weight was about 195 lbs. due, in part, to a loaded hydration pack). Your
mileage may vary.

Moab’s riding has a lot of abrupt
changes in speed and direction, as well as sudden changes in traction (from the
amazing grip of slickrock, to various kinds of sand and kitty-litter over
hardpack)—The only thing consistent about the trails are their inconsistency.
The Heckler handled all this gracefully; a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in
a mountain bike review. But it’s the word that rose to the top as I banged my
way around Moab’s trails. In the face of chaos the terrain can wreak, the
Heckler was predictable; surefooted when it was rowdy and my vision blurred
from the sustained impacts; quick enough to respond in kind when the trail
suddenly made an awkward turn; precise enough that I could confidently line up
and nail fins and ridges barely wider than a Maxxis tire.

The Fox 36 GRIP2 on the front
was, as ever, fantastic. Once I dialed in my preferred settings (I usually need
more damping on all four circuits and one more volume spacer compared to my
unpowered bike setup), the fork’s action is beautiful. Plenty of support for
hard braking and driving through corners with excellent small bump sensitivity
and big hit control, and little harshness anywhere. Sometime, somehow, Fox will
try to make this fork better, but it won’t be easy. I was initially concerned
that the Fox 36 on the front wouldn’t be enough fork for the Heckler—the Turbo
Levo and Yeti 160E both run the stouter 38—but it turned out not to be an
issue. It smashed through Moab’s slickrock and chunder without deflecting, and
offered good fore/aft support when hauling on the big front rotor with all the
traction slickrock offers (a lot).

The rear end, controlled by a
RockShox damper, was very good as well. Much like the Heckler itself, it is a
model of almost understated consistency. When all attributes perform at such a
high level as they do here—with no low points nor zeniths to grab your
attention—you can take for granted how well this rear suspension works. And it
wasn’t hard to get it to work well. Hit 30% sag on the shock—easy, thanks to
the sag gradients etched on the shock shaft—add a few clicks of low speed
compression, set the rebound to the slower end of the spectrum and you’re
there. Sensitivity, traction, control, and an even progression from start to
finish. Just brilliant all around.


As e-trail bikes evolve, they get
better. And as they get better, the performance gap between competing bikes
narrows. Is the Heckler a better bike than the Turbo Levo? Is the Levo a better
bike than the Heckler? What about the Trek Rail; the Yeti 160E? Will Evil’s
e-bike reshuffle the order? These are the tough questions to answer. I’m paid
to answer them and I struggle. What I do know is that when you’re comparing the
best e-bikes, you have to dig into some murky territory to declare on “the best”
because they’re all, on the trail, really good.

I think Specialized has the best,
by a small margin, motor, interface, and connected app. But I also
think the suspension performance and handling of the Santa Cruz is slightly more
preferable for all around trail riding. The Yeti’s more of a purebred race bike
that, I find, less preferable when I’m not riding at 10/10ths. The Rail is
super good on the trail, but some of the features are frustrating. They’re all
good, but I think the Heckler is the one to own at this moment.

The Heckler is the first
e-mountain bike I’ve been on that came somewhat close to the bike reviewer’s
“it disappeared underneath me” trope. It is a tricky bike for me to write about
because I got so comfortable on it so quickly I had to force myself to pay
attention to what it was doing. This bike just works.

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