I think to properly do a bike review you need discipline, very good riding skills and an ability to translate what the bike is doing into terms relevant to the audience.
I possess none of those qualities, which is why I ultimately veer back towards a narrative about life with a particular bike that’s laced with as much authenticity as I can conjure given my wildly partisan brand affection, which may possibly gush out from time to time in this post. But when it comes to this particular review however, there’s one thing I can do to facilitate it correctly: Suffering.
Yes, for those that landed here expecting me to reveal my Nomad 5 build, I apologise profusely and aggressively right now. I think it’s fair to say that I don’t expect people to be charging through no mans land with fixed bayonets looking for the low down on an XC bike, but as I will try to detail through this journey, simply pigeonholing the Santa Cruz Blur 3 (Pronouns; Fast, faster, fastest), as an XC bike might be doing it a disservice and robbing some people of the experience they actually need.
As I’ll try and convey in this ‘life with a Blur’ update, in the guise I have it in, it’s more a serial trail killer in uncomfortably tight XC clothing, suitable for terribly weak arms.
I’ve now punched well past the usual 1,000km mark which I consider essential for really getting to know a bike and all its quirks, closing in more around the 2,000km at time of pulling this post together. To establish my credentials, this has included the Blur 3 and I suffering through a range of leg destroying bandito exercises which included:
- Pioneer one week stage race
- Whaka 100 in 2019 and 2020
- Karapoti classic
- Arapuke classic
- A range of smaller XC events where I usually got my head kicked in by actual specialists
And luckily for me, this campaign of lycra and fatigue fuelled rage that is Blur life kicked off a few days before rolling out on the Pioneer prologue. I think I got one shake down ride in post build right before flying to Queenstown, taking a very messy shit all over my standing advice about not changing equipment right before a big event.
But what a change it was, allowing me to unleash the freshest of weapons on an event which was all designed around punishing man and machine.
I covered a lot of the initial OTT frothing about the Blur in the first look post, then again when I crashed the tech yoghurt truck while summing up the Pioneer, so I will try not to regurgitate all that messiness here. Unfortunately for the both of us it appears I have used some of my better material in those posts to vigorously stroke on the Blur.
But that was then and this is now. This is about life post that insane trial by bandito fire, the fixed bayonet variety. It’s all well and good to roll one of these bikes when you’re frantically trying to hold wheels for 6 days through the bad lands of Central Otago, but what happens when you get home and commence the process of getting that lycra & gel orgy fuelled PTSD out of your head?
As it has turned out, the racing whippet has made quite the pet when you bring it home from the track.
When a Blur is not a purebred Blur
First caveat here is that in it’s current guise, my Blur isn’t the XC Thoroughbred it could, or perhaps should be. Indeed, Santa Cruz would refer to my set up as the ‘Blur TR’. The addition of a 120mm Fox 34 Stepcast fork (The SC released model has a 110mm fork), and a dropper post moving it away from pure Bandito territory, much to the horror of people who weigh the ingredients of their meals:
And that would be because I will obviously never be a pure Bandito. First up, I have about as much desire to get rid of the dropper as I would have for slathering myself in Eric Trump smegma scented cologne for date night. Sure, it would save a bit of weight to run a straight post (And I have seen a few people rolling this on Blur’s), but it would detract so much for me personally from it’s exceptional descending performance, which let’s face it, is where I need to try and make hay when I’m subjecting myself to a XCO flogging.
I have wondered about running a 100mm Fox 32 on there, but the bike rides so well with the bigger fork that it’s only been a fleeting thought. Yes, I know I’m slackening the seat tube angle and likely impacting climbing performance, but realistically I’m not suddenly going to turn into Nino Shurter if I drop the fork down.
However, there are of course some sins to pay for with that gratuitous over-forking. On the most extreme of steep climbs, the front end started wandering like your drunk bosses eyes at Friday night drinks, and the position just didn’t feel that nailed, so I knew I needed to go lower than a crazy person trying to subvert democracy. The end result was this loco negative rise number from some small company down the road from Santa Cruz’s HQ:
If climbing ridiculously steep shit is your bag, then this is the way to go. Sure, it may add some spice to the descending game, but I’m yet to meet a Blur owner who isn’t already handy in that department anyway.
In my head, the Blur would get cleaned up and then likely sit around a bit while froth was redirected to new longer travel toys (I.e. Megatower) that were starting to be squeezed out of the Californian honey hole of Santa Cruz HQ. Oh fuck yes, it was time to be back on big bikes with ridiculous Geo numbers and travel to match.
But then strange things started to happen… When I thought about the trails I had time to ride, I would invariably find a way to justify taking the Blur out instead of something else which marketing videos had told me had ‘More firepower’. There was something invigorating about heading out the door in an unbuttoned shirt with just a flick knife looking for a gunfight.
And thus we arrive at the first surprise of this bike – It has an intoxicating nature… Like an office affair, or now as I should say in 2020, like furiously masterbating during roll call on a Zoom meeting, there is something about this bike that I didn’t expect to find in terms of how much I wanted to ride it away from the race track.
Like with the Tallboy 4, if you’ve spent years on bad muthafucka Enduro bikes getting lazy on shit, then finding yourself on tamer terrain atop a lightweight lunatic can be an extremely refreshing experience. Suddenly everything feels fast, direct and demanding of you in a way that feels oddly rewarding. The sense of speed is different, the risk management parameters get reset and your senses feel like they’ve been rebooted or awakened from a big bike slumber.
Getting on this bike and hitting some climbs or any undulating singletrack and you suddenly feel like you’re on the cycling equivalent of a vaccine for eBikes. Make no mistake, this genre of bike is stripped back and as thoroughbred as it gets now in a world which is quietly having a battery shoved up its downtube.
Sure, going fast on a big banger is great, but going fast on a little bike and surviving is like having sex on a plane and not being arrested – Invigorating.
Granted, the first time you step off that big bike onto the minimalist platform it can feel as terrifying as sex toys that incorporate razor blades, but once you normalise to the whippet short travel lifestyle, you’ll quickly start to appreciate refreshing your senses and the way you interact with a trail now that ‘Plow control’ has been turned off.
The top things I love about the Blur
As you’ve probably already calculated, I’m rather enamoured with the B3, but I will try and distill that down into something more succinct rather than just a general rave-fest. There are a few specific things that stand out when I sit back and mull over my performance review notes after the shared suffering we’ve embarked upon.
- The Sizing – I’ve been overanalysing and obsessing about geo recently, given a developing theory I have about new style long reach bikes versus the more modest reach numbers from the past few years. In reflecting on why I feel so comfortable and spot on atop the Blur, it suddenly occurred to me that it’s 460mm reach was slamming my honey hole sizing wise. This is pretty much the perfect fit for me, even if I have fucked about with the fork and stem.
- It doesn’t respect its weight division – It’s light, maybe not scary feathery light like some other machines in this segment, but the best thing about the Blur is that it feels light without feeling fragile. It’s happy to dance uphill for an hour, but then also bomb the fuck out of the other side like a B52. It’s like a crazed 45kg Thai kick boxing champion who’s spent a week mainlining the original Red Bull in syrup form, ready to whip serious ass on a heavyweight contender.
- It’s high energy romp – If you’re coming off Enduro bikes, or even mid travel trail bikes, the get up and go of Blur is utterly intoxicating. Kick it and it rares up, translating all your effort into track position. It eats up most of the single track you’ll find in forests around you and wants to be sprinted and hammered endlessly. It’s the work colleague that is totally up for a quickie at lunch time before rushing back to a meeting together. The only downside to this? It may make some of your other bikes feel like cardigan wearing plodders at times.
- DT Swiss XMC 1200 wheels – Feels odd to sing the praises of a wheel set that aren’t Reserves, but these things really are fucking sensational. You’d probably expect that from a wheelset that won an Olympic gold medal, but I have been surprised at the thrashing these wheels can take without a single issue. Bear in mind these are the older 25mm internal versions too, and I case a lot of shit, so it’s a small miracle (and a legit endorsement) that they’re still going like it’s their first day.
The weakest link
In my initial impressions of Blur lyfe, I may have mildly overextended with waxing lyrical about the Garbaruk cassette 50T hack that I proclaimed to not only be lighter than anything else available, but to also work extremely well.
So, in hindsight, that would be a lot like saying supermarket sushi is better than a Tokyo Michelin star sushi restaurant offerings. Yes, that’s both the perfect analogy for the drivetrain situation, but also lubricates our segway to slide into a tech sidebar about the star upgrade in this Blur journey; XTR M9100 12 speed:
Ok, so I already knew from the Megatower that the newest XTR is fucking sensational (Yes, you AXS of Evil fiends, even though it has cables blah blah), and that the XT was also on par, but without the kings ransom aspect. However, it wasn’t until I bolted it onto the Blur that I really got a full appreciation for just how good it really is.
Tech sidebar – So, while we’re talking almost a full XTR set up here, the glaring gap is the Crank and chainring. Turned out that Wolftooth made an excellent Shimano 12 speed ring and spider adapter for SRAM cranks, which was a low cost hack option to convert to Shimano 12 speed that’s impossible to look in the mouth.
In my amateur opinion, the drivetrain gets more of a hiding on an XC rig, in terms of time on the bike, utilisation of the full range and just how you ride it when you’re a flogged out pile of cunt.
Desperately punching gears up and down the block as your gums start to hurt as you go down a suffering rabbit hole which doesn’t operate safe words, opting instead to provide the embarrassment of solitude if you can’t hold the wheel. Its a better test of a drivetrain as you try insane gear shifts, try to pedal out of things that you might normal walk and generally ride like you’re trying to avoid a pegging.
But in this scenario, it’s not just about how good the drivetrain is, or how it can shift under any conceivable scenario you can invent, no, it’s more about the partnership it forms with the rest of the bike.
With the Garbaruk I felt I had to ease some of the gear changes, that I couldn’t really trust it in the foxhole next to me when shrapnel started to fly or, as I found out in the worst possible situations, if the chain would stay on. Yes, technically it worked ok and given I didn’t know any better, I may have even said it was great, but the change when we rolled out on the XTR was pronounced.
Zero hesitation, instant power transfer, crisp, smooth and providing a sense of absolute quality, the XTR set up just felt like it brought the Blur to its full potential. It was like training out a bad habit of a champion to make them absolutely dominant. The overall feeling from switching across not only eliminated the weakest link in the weapon system, but also allowed the Blur to muscle back in on the “Fucking ride me!” stakes vs the TB4 and Megatron.
Mind games and Limp Wriscuit
Funnily enough, after a long summer of Enduro, pre-Pandemic we’re talking here, I had it in my head that I didn’t want to jump back on the Blur quickly as it just wasn’t as capable as the other bikes.
When I finally did mount up the XTR and I realised that I had to get cracking for the Whaka 100 in 2020, I realised my own BS about capability was about as valid as a news story the Russians have passed to crazy uncle Rudy. Excuse me while I adjust my shirt here, but in many locations I have somehow managed to ride the Blur faster on downhills than it’s two more illustrious and muscled siblings.
While I’ve never mounted real tires on it, or a DH bar, I have pondered from time to time what it would be like to muscle up your Blur for extra trail abuse. Many purebred Banditos would look at my set-up and claim thats already been done, but I’m still just scratching the surface. Maybe a DHF 2.35 on the front? Or a One Up bar?
I digress, but the conclusion from getting back into some heavy Blur riding post lock down was I had to go hunting fairly hard to find terrain where bike capability became an issue.
One issue that did crop up again though, admittedly something I had been in denial about since Whaka 100 2019, was a limp left wrist. Yes, thank fuck I am right handed then… But I was finding that after 2 or 3 hours I could barely hold onto the bars on the left hand side, not to mention my hand felt shredded.
Oddly this wasn’t something that came up in the Pioneer, which probably highlights my tendency to death grip in single track while riding the Blur like it’s an Enduro race bike. In the end, I narrowed the issues down to one culprit – The lock out set up:
Before you dismiss me as an on the record SRAM hater, yes, I initially disliked the concept of having a Gripshift polluting my bars, but I quickly embraced it when I realised how well it worked. But, consistent with my experiences here, ultimately it came full circle when I realised I needed to run my preferred grip set up (Ergon GA3 – The aptly named ‘Old Cunt Grips’).
But, as any Blur owner will know, how to navigate the grip/lock out remote/dropper remote minefield so you don’t end up with a handlebar arrangement which looks like a commuter eBike from hell.
In a bizarre plot twist, the lock out remote I didn’t know I needed ultimately came from an unexpected source… Bontrager! While The Creator assures me they make a high quality bumbag (frown), I didn’t anticipate that they would also dish up piping hot Bandito handlebar harmony. 2020 just keeps getting more and more fucking wild:
Listen up Blur 3 owners who want to run their own grips – This is abso-fucking-loutly the remote you need in your life. The upper paddle controls the shock lock out, rear only in my case, but it also handles the front fork too for those of you radical banditos that way inclined whilst the lower lever activates the dropper naturally.
Aside from hitting my neat freak OCD right in it’s G Spot, this thing actually works really fucking well, with a great lever feel, short throw and some legit quality behind it. Honesty call, when I was a bit fucked in Whaka 2020, I may have stabbed the wrong channel a couple of times.
Whaka 100 – 2020 edition
Speaking of getting stabbed, how about a mini race report for this years edition of what has to be the best Marathon XC Bandito froth fest in NZ, the Whaka 100. After some beginners luck at this event in 2018 in the run up to the Pioneer, I arrogantly returned in 2019 atop the Blur and expected to romp in under 7 hours.
However, the race of races had other ideas and I promptly got my back wheels smashed in, ultimately submitting to a melt down of a day which saw me blow out to 7.30, some 20 plus minutes slower than my debut.
With my face thoroughly fucked, it was time for some payback in 2020 and given Covid fingering all racing options, the Whaka was the only canoe in town.
A near front row start in an early start wave meant that I wasn’t swallowed into a heaving mosh pit of Giant Anthem mounted riders wearing lycra lathered with sponsorship from a real estate company. A flick of the lock out lever for the usual frantic XCO style start and the Blur was humming as we surged to the pointy end in the mini race to the first of 86km’s of Vegas singletrack for the day. It was time to let the Blur cook.
With the Blur ironing out the trail before me and the XTR seamlessly making it’s way up and down the block, I could relax and focus on a more disciplined implementation of the 2020 strategy: Not blowing my fucking bandito load in the first half of the race.
We quickly formed an ideal partnership agreement, I would manage my effort on the climbs and rolling sections, then the Blur would let rip on the downhills to gain back time lost as a result of my still suspect climbing form which was partly powered by my highly variable commitment to dieting, not to mention and aversion to structured training plans.
Aided by some PRO level encouragement from Professor A Badd, we efficiently and quietly went to work erasing the memory of the 2019 surrender monkey scenario. The Blur, which had been immaculately prepared by The Hub, was insanely flawless all day. Not a single thought entered my head other than how great the bike felt, especially in the last 20km’s of the race where the plan came together and we powered to our best split result of the day enroute to a sub 6.30 finishing time. Job fucking done.
After a lean patch of Blur time, the build up and execution of the Whaka was an excellent reminder of how great this machine is when you want to power out miles and miles of Bandito style action.
But you may have a question quivering on your dehydrated lips, so let’s jump across to try and sort that out.
Blur 3 or Tallboy 4?
If you’ve bravely stepped out of the ranks of middle management and decided to buy a short travel bike which won’t consign you to obscurity, your next first world decision point & dilemma will likely be exactly which Santa Cruz model to unbox… Given 27.5 wheels are on life support, your Brazzers level curiosity will lead you to this natural decision box:
Indeed, this is the question I think I’ve been asked the most about these two bikes – Which one to buy. Naturally the correct answer is both, but if you’re not that kind of cunt, then the best way to break it down generally is:
“If you’re a lycra only Bandito who likes to trail ride* occasionally, then buy the Blur. If you love to ride everywhere fast and may very occasionally race, buy the Tallboy”
*Trail riding is the concept of riding on your local trails in a so called ‘fun’ manner which in no way relates or pertains to a set of training parameters, a TSS score, power or heart rate zones or particular Strava segments. Wild.
So the above isn’t fool proof obviously, and really comes down to the terrain you have, your riding style and how seriously you take your racing. I also can cloud this further, as if you wanted to run two sets of wheels and maybe bar swap around on a Blur with a 120mm fork, it would make the case for a TB4 slightly harder to be honest.
Personally I can’t imagine racing a TB4 in a lycra fuelled Bandito mosh pit, but I could imagine turning my Blur into a trail weapon with some part changes. That may answer the question for some of you. No intention of racing? Like some additional margin for your shred? Treat yourself and get a Tallboy still I think. Either way, you’re going to have a fucking great time.
The Blur of a Pandemic world
With the Cuntovirus still fingering travel and high alpine Enduro racing, the local Bandito scene is calling and the Blur is ready to answer in 2021. The lycra calendar of eyebrow raised suffering is already being built out, with the Blur 3 getting some heavy activity scheduled for it to work through, so it won’t take long to clock up its next 1,500km’s or so. I know they call the TB4 the ‘Downhillers XC bike’, which can’t help me wonder if the Blur then fits as the Enduro riders XC bike?
I can tell you who this bike is not for – Its for any person who has started the sentence to me, as my eyes glaze over and I start to delete them from my mind “yeah, but I can get X, Y or Z bike for the price of a Blur frame” Bingo, you can, so please fuck off and acquire one of the middle manager sleds that dribbled out your chapped lips, as this machine is definitely not for you. Much like a Rusty Trombone, if you have to ask or analyse it, then you’re in the wrong aisle.
It’s for people who want to go full gas, but cloaked in a high quality finish and with an understated style to the whole endeavour, whilst avoiding the throng of middle management lemmings who are jumping off the smallest cliffs they can find, after asking if they should have their dropper posts lowered.
I assume this is why you don’t see that many around, as they’re for people who want to take the high lines in an XC race and do so on a machine they know will have them covered. Want to slay your local climb? Tick. Want to ruthlessly crush resistance from your local rolling singletrack? Yup. Or perhaps you want to thrash yourself and records on something seriously mental? It’s all out there waiting for you atop a Blur. Enjoy the thrash.