With ebikes becoming more and more popular, I’ve been hitting the gym, so I have the upper body strength to lift them in and out of the back of my truck. Turns out that was a big waste of time, and I can just stick with these little noodle arms. Santa Cruz dropped the Heckler SL today, so we’re going to talk about it. It’s light, easy to ride, fast, fun, and incredibly purple. So stick around to see if it’s the eMTB for you.
Heckler SL Geometry, Drivesystem, and Build Details
Let’s start with the Heckler SL itself before we get into the e-parts. The SL shares a lot of DNA with its bigger, full-power brother, the Heckler. Like the standard Heckler, the SL has 150mm of VPP rear wheel travel and a 160mm fork. The SL only comes in an MX variation, however. Its geometry is also a bit slacker and longer, but still in the same ballpark. We have a 64° head tube angle, a 497mm reach (XL), and 447mm chainstays (XL). That brings our wheelbase to 1295mm (XL). My Heckler SL came in at 40 lb when weighed on my ultra-precise $7 Walmart special. The claimed weight from Santa Cruz is 41 lb.
The Heckler SL uses the Fazua Ride 60 drivesystem. It’s the drivesystem I have the least experience with, but I’ve enjoyed it on this bike and the transition Relay. As its name implies, it offers 60Nm peak torque. The Fazua system is near the top of the midweight range regarding power output. Most other midweight bikes are a bit lower than this, with 50Nm or less, except for the Orbea Rise, which has the same output. The battery is smaller at 430Wh, but with less power drawn from the motor, it’s closer to a 630Wh equivalent battery on a big dog. I’ve been really impressed with the range of this system so far. One of the most impressive things is the lack of noticeable motor drag with the battery off or disconnected. You’ll be slightly happier pedaling this back to the car if your battery dies than most other bikes. Fingers crossed, that never happens to you. The Heckler SL has an integrated battery and is not designed to be removed easily — you’ll need tools, a beverage, and someone to hold the flashlight steady. I go back and forth on removable batteries. On the one hand, swapping batteries trailside for big rides is nice. On the other, having a sleek downtube without any giant holes cut in it, making it flexier, can be nice too.
One of the complaints I had with the Fazua Ride 60 when I rode the Transition Relay was the ring controller. It would get stuck and not return to its baseline position. The Heckler SL has the newer ring controller that fixes this problem. I’ve had no issues with it so far.
You had better like carbon as the Heckler SL is only offered in C and CC frames, with prices on full build ranging from $7299 to $12999. Today, we have a GX AXS build, which retails for $9699.
Now, let’s get to the fun part.
Heckler SL Review
The Heckler SL feels unmistakably Santa Cruz from the minute you throw a leg over the top tube. The front end is high, the suspension is active, and there’s traction for days. It has a comfortable fit and feel, that paired with the Fazua Ride 60, which is great for long days on the bike. It’s a competent climber that starts to shine when things get rough.
Starting with the suspension performance, the Heckler SL is on the active side of things — just where you’d want an ebike to be. Efficiency is less of a priority when there’s a motor involved. Instead, traction becomes the name of the game, applying the extra juice from the drivesystem to forward progress. The Heckler SL provides gobs and gobs of traction, helping propel you up some rough, steep, and loose climbs. In fact, I spent a day trying to climb various moto trails. Our long winter and high spring runoff did a number on those trails, making them particularly heinous. While I wish I could say I cleaned them all, I did clean far more of them than I would have imagined. The bike’s ability to smooth out bumps and keep both wheels on the ground is impressive, even on the climbs.
The Heckler SL’s geometry is on the slack and long side, with a relaxed riding position. Despite the tall front end, I didn’t find the front wheel wandering too much or lifting when things got steep. Ebikes are particularly sensitive to light front ends as there’s more torque trying to lift them. The Heckler SL stayed planted and was easy to control. I would imagine the longer rear center could come into play here, keeping my weight centered over the bike better, especially when the grades were steep.
The Heckler SL is roughly 8-12lb lighter than most full-power ebikes. That does become noticeable on the climbs both in terms of handling characteristics and the e-parts, which we’ll talk about in just a bit. Now, I’m not much of a weight weenie, but a 10lb difference is something I’ll certainly notice. The Heckler SL’s handling is light, quick, and natural. It’s not a wrestling match around every corner or any time to need to unweight and change lines. It’s very much like a pedal bike in that regard.
Now, talking about the e-parts, the Fazua Ride 60 is quickly becoming a contender in the mid-power category. I understand there had been some reliability concerns when it first launched, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time riding it on a handful of bikes over the last few months with no problems. I’m impressed by its range and noise output — it’s a quiet little energizer bunny. My biggest ride on the Heckler SL so far has been about 16 miles with 4,000 vertical feet of elevation gain. I finished the ride with roughly 15% battery remaining. Remember that I tend to ride ebikes in full boost all the time. That range is plenty for full-boost weekday rides and should do just fine on longer weekend missions with more judicial use of the battery.
The interface is sleek with the top tube-mounted display and ring controller. I also like how the motor is fully nestled inside the downtube. It keeps the bike extra stealthy. It doesn’t have the most refined and natural motor feel, however. It’s a bit more on/off than it is a smooth ramp-up to full power. Other drivesystems seem to match the rider’s power output better and provide a more natural ride experience. That said, the Fazua will provide enough assistance in a reliable way to get you to the top of the mountain.
The power-to-weight ratio is spot on here. The power output is enough to keep the bike quick when paired with a lightweight frame and build. One of my full-power riding buddies commented, “You’re not that slow on the climbs.” It’s certainly not my chicken legs making up the difference, either. With some extra effort on your part, you could hang with the big, full-power dogs — at least for a while.
Overall on the climbs, the Heckler SL does a good job of getting you to the top of the mountain. It offers enough power, especially considering how much it weighs. The traction and control it offers makes it an excellent technical climber.
This is where the reduction in weight and power really pays off in my mind. This is where it becomes worth having 20Nm less power and a smaller battery. The Heckler SL’s downhill handling characteristics can’t be beaten. It’s easily one of, if not the best, handling eMTBs I’ve ever ridden. Between the suspension design, geometry, and lightweight platform, it’s some of the most fun you can have on two wheels.
Starting with the suspension design, the Heckler SL offers an unrivaled, plush, smooth, and controlled ride quality. It feels soft off the top, likely with a little help from a bit more weight on the frame than a pedal bike. It gets into the midstroke easily enough without feeling dead and boring. And there’s plenty of ramp-up at the end to smash the bike into big hits with no regard for human safety. The suspension is probably my favorite thing about the bike. It handles high-speed, rough terrain well, yet it somehow handles smooth terrain and jumps just as well. Just like the big, full-power Heckler, it’s a bit of a unicorn.
The Heckler SL’s geometry is on the long and slack side, putting the bike squarely in the middle of the all-mountain and enduro categories. It’s slack enough to handle steep and rough descents, yet not so slack it becomes a chore to ride on mellow terrain. It hits that sweet spot for me for a bike that I can take anywhere and ride any trail. You’ll unlikely ever feel outgunned and only feel overbiked on the easiest and flattest trails. While it certainly skews to more aggressive riding, I still enjoyed it on smooth, cruisy blue trails. With a smaller back wheel, the handling remains quick and agile, making corners a blast.
Let’s talk a bit more about the Heckler SL’s cornering ability. If you’re a fan of cutties, smacking berms, and hitting corners faster than you have any business doing, you’re going to be a fan of this thing. On my first ride out, I couldn’t stop giggling in every corner. I think it comes down to the even weight distribution, smaller back wheel, and the traction provided by the suspension. Whatever it is, the bike corners incredibly well. I thought the same of the 5010, and the Heckler SL just might even be better. It has a degree of stability and control that, when combined with the Heckler SL’s cornering prowess, is tough to beat.
For an ebike, the Heckler SL logs some serious air miles. I should probably restate that. For any bike, the Heckler SL is really good at getting off the ground. It wants to unweight and hop over everything. It’s easy to bunnyhop, which is a bit rare for an ebike. The lightweight platform certainly helps, but I think the suspension plays a big role here too. I had so much fun jumping the bike that I ended up getting myself into some pretty dumb situations. I’d jump into nasty rocky landings and tight corners with no regard for future Conor — present Conor wanted the airtime. These stock tires aren’t going to last long.
Overall the Heckler SL is one of the best handling ebikes I’ve ever ridden. It feels distinctly unlike an ebike in all the right ways on the descents.
Heckler SL Comparisons
Let’s chat for a quick minute about some of the other bikes that came to mind when riding the Heckler SL. I don’t want to dive too deep here, as we are currently working on a lightweight eMTB showdown. You’ll want to stay tuned for that.
Relay vs Heckler SL
Who is the Heckler SL for?
I like the heckler SL for three different rider groups. The first is the group that I fall into. I love ebikes for their ability to open up new terrain and maximize downhill riding time. I don’t want my bike to feel like a school bus, however. I want a fun, lively bike with excellent handling. The Heckler is just that. It’s just enough “e” on the climbs without compromising the fun on the downhills too much. It’s one of the most analog-feeling descenders I’ve ridden.
The next group is the gateway ebikers. These riders aren’t fully committed to the ebike life — they aren’t sure it’s for them. The Heckler SL is a great option for dipping a toe in the water. It isn’t as heavy as the big dogs, and it doesn’t ride too unlike a pedal bike. It could have a bit more natural feeling motor, but as far as the ride quality goes, it’s very familiar.
The last group is the small folks. Now, I’m a bigger guy, so riding a full-power and heavy ebike isn’t as overwhelming as it might be for a small rider. I weigh 195 Lb, so a 50 Lb bike is roughly a quarter of my body weight. A petite, 125 Lb rider on a 50 Lb bike is a different story, with that bike being 40% of their body weight. That’s a pretty big difference. If you can take 10 Lb off of that bike, it’s getting a bit more reasonable. I think smaller riders who are looking for an ebike will enjoy the Heckler SL for the weight savings, as well as the tire-to-butt clearance from the 27.5” rear wheel. It will be less of a wrestling match both up and down the mountain.
The bottom line
Let’s wrap this bad Larry up with a one-line bike review. The Heckler SL provides some of the best handling and most fun characteristics of any eMTB on the market.
Thanks for sticking around. Stay tuned for way more comparisons. We’ll see you next time.