Santa Cruz Bicycles Nickel  2011 Mountain Bike Review

Santa Cruz Bicycles Nickel 2011

Reviews / Trail Bikes

Santa Cruz Bicycles 467,814

At a glance

Santa Cruz is a company with a fabulous heritage and an extensive line up of much loved and desired bikes. When they announced not only two new bikes, but new bikes sporting a new suspension system to their line up we got all excited.

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The APP system is Santa Cruz’s way of offering a bike that rides similar to their VPP range but comes in at a much more affordable price, around £1300 for frame and shock with the option of a shock upgrade.

The Nickel is the shorter travel of the two, sporting 125mm of rear wheel travel. The first thing that struck me was that the bike has a beefy look that suggests it is aimed at the all day rider that likes to tackle tough terrain at full gallop rather than at the light weight enduro racer brigade.

Tech heads

The Nickel has Santa Cruz’s APP suspension system, APP stands for Actual Pivot Point and is a somewhat tongue in cheek name that plays on the VPP name.

APP is a single pivot design that utilises a pair of links to create a variable shock rate, the rear wheel path follows that of a single pivot but the shock rate changes as the wheel travels through that path.

The system creates a shock rate curve that is similar to Santa Cruz’s VPP bikes. The rate falls during the early part of the stroke to give small bump plushness, then plateaus to firm up the mid stroke before rising at the end of the curve to resist bottoming out.

As for the frame, an oversized down tube merges with the top tube behind the tapered head tube making for a stiff front end. The top tube is kinked to allow plenty of standover and the rear triangle is more of a swing arm with raised chain stays. There are guides for a dropper seat post, though sadly there are no ISCG mounts for riders after a dual ring and bash guard set up. The Nickel does come with 2 bottle mounts although neither is easily assessable.

Our medium frame has a 584mm top tube, chain stays are 424mm, bottom bracket height is stated at 345mm but measured on our bike at 335mm and the wheelbase is 1102mm. Head tube angle is 68º with a seat tube angle of 72.5º.

The R specced version we tested came with the upgraded rear shock option, meaning that the Fox Float R was swapped out for the Fox Float RP23BV. Up front the Fox Alps 32 forks give 130mm of travel and use an open bath system that should prove reliable.

Shifting wise the bike is put together with XT mechs front and rear, SLX shifters and a M552 crankset.

Hope Pro2 hubs are laced to WTB Laserdisc XC rims, Maxxis Crossmark tyres round out the wheelset.

Avid Elixir 5 brakes are fitted, 685mm TruVativ Stylo bars are matched to the TruVativ Stylo 80mm stem. An Easton EA50 seatpost is topped by a WTB Rocket V Comp saddle.

Our medium sized test bike weighed 21.9lbs without pedals on our scales.

On the trail

Jumping on the Nickel I was looking forward to seeing if this bike was as tough and abuse hungry as it looked.

At first climbing on the Nickel was not as we had been expecting and we had to set the shock up on the medium Pro Pedal setting just to avoid the feeling of sinking into the travel. A few tweaks and some more air in the RP23BV later and things improved greatly, it is worth noting that we were now running the shock with just 10mm of sag.

With the Pro Pedal open the Nickel has good traction but due to its relatively high weight it is not as spritely up the trail as you would expect a 125mm trail bike to be. That said I do not think Santa Cruz have pitched the Nickel at up hill whippet riders.

On swoopy singletrack, the Crossmarks, being fast rolling help you get up to speed. Once flowing the bike starts to come to life, encouraging you to ride harder. Diving into turns and hammering through rough sections is what the Nickel enjoys and it nails fast semi technical descents with a combination surefootedness and enthusiasm.

We found after a fair bit of trial and error that our favourite setting for the Nickel was with the shock set just a little soft and then we ran it on the light Pro Pedal setting, this seem to bring the best from the bike making it fire through turns and hold its composure through flowing rooty singletrack. Climbing smooth trails in this setting felt pretty good too.

For rocky bone shaking descents we opened the shock up which allowed it to swallow up an impressive amount of punishment. Traction in this setting was plentiful, helping to conquer some very trying climbs.


Strong, stiff and ready for anything the Nickel turns beautifully and inspires confidence when you are pushing hard through sections that would unsettle more flighty 120mm travel bikes.

It is a Santa Cruz… Build quality is top notch and the suspension does a good job of being sensitive to small bumps yet never blowing through its travel.


The main issue we had with the Nickel is that it is just a little bit too heavy, at 7.37lbs for the frame and shock it is a good pound over the benchmark for a bike of this travel. With the moderate build spec of this model it all adds up to a bike that is a little heavy in comparison to its rivals.


As with all things mountain biking it is a case of horses for courses.

The Nickel is a solidly built bike that is aimed at the rider that wants a bike that can handle the rough side of the street as well as be an excellent trail bike.

That is a hard trick to pull off and Santa Cruz has come close, the Nickel is certainly able to mix it up in the rough stuff within the bounds of its travel and it does ride trails well but there is a slightly sluggish feel when riding below full speed that just takes the edge off what would be a sharp ride.

All in all the APP suspension does what it says on the tin, you get a quality ride that would benefit from a light build but that would compromise the strong frame.

It is worth mentioning that the 150mm Butcher weighs 7.45lbs for the frame and shock, costs the same and would perhaps be the better bike if you plan on tackling bigger terrain.

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This review was in Issue 10 of IMB.


By Nigel Garrood
Nigel Garrood was one of the instigators of the IMB project and has been with us since the very beginning. This loveable rogue has more stories than the Bible and is known to enjoy a beer or two. On the bike, he’s fast and loose and often puts younger riders to shame. Equally he’s been known to suffer from the odd crash and carries the scars to prove it. He was once referred to as being a robot sent from the future to save us all!

Tried this? What did you think?