2001 Santa Cruz Bullit
The ultimate go anywhere bike
The Santa Cruz Bullit is an icon. First produced in 1999 it was the first real all mountain bike. You could build it for XC, freeride or downhill. Over the years the Bullit has had minor changes and an increase in travel. The Bullit was unavailable in 2006 while the model was being revamped for relaunch in spring 2007.
Back in 2001 I had the idea to build the ultimate freeride bike and take it to Europe for 4 months to see how it stacked up. Firstly I will point out I am not a mechanic and don't want to be one. I can do the basic stuff and fine tune the bike to the way I like it. I was expecting to get a little help here and there.
I chose a basic 2001 X disc kitted Bullit as all the kits had something I didn’t want and I figured this would work out cheaper. First mistake. You had a good choice of forks suitable for the Bullit back then but wanted something a bit more plush and racy. I went for the Rockshox Boxxer as it was, and to some extent still is the top race fork. At the time the fork wasn’t approved for the Bullit as it was over its 152mm travel limit. Second mistake.
In the end both these mistakes worked out but in building ‘unapproved’ parts you end up reaching into your wallet to fix your errors.
I started building the bike by getting the bottom bracket and headset fitted at a reputable dealer with a good set of tools. No damage or cross threading for me. Next the forks went on no problem. The wheels were another thing. Bontrager rims with Real hubs and disc mounts and Shimano QR. The back is fine, the front is not 20mm axle compatible. On further investigation I figured the wheels a bit weak and so ordered some black Mavic 531's, black Hope bulb hubs with black DT Swiss spokes - nice. Originally I was told by a few UK dealers that black spokes were either not available or incredibly that they were weaker than silver ones ! Speaking to DT Swiss and Mavic both these rumours turned out to be unfounded. After talking Extreme Sports into getting me the spokes they did indeed build me a fine set of wheels although with the 321 Mavic rims. I guess that 531's would have been lighter.
Now damn me if the 20mm Boxxer axle didn't fit the 20mm Hope hub. Not even close. I checked with a couple of dealers and it turned out to be a common problem as both are exactly 20mm and consequently don't fit. I spoke the UK Rockshox distributor who really didn't want to know. He said I could send it back to them to measure but he was sure it was 20mm, or I could buy another for 80 UK pounds ! Not great customer service and not a fix. Hope Technology on the other hand were more than helpful and I sent them the wheel and axle and they polished the axle and sent it back for zip.
Next I put on some Nokian tyres with some difficulty - a real tight fit, fixing a flat would later be 'interesting' and involve strength testing the 321's. So the wheels went in over a month from starting. The seat, post, stem and bars all went on then the brakes. The Hayes brakes come 'already built' you just have to bolt them on. Which with the back wheel I did just that using the cable run adapters which initially looked a little flimsy but have stayed on with no problems. Setting up the back with the one sheet of instructions wasn't as easy as it said. The pads would rub the disc in varying places and to different degrees as you tightened the caliper mount bolts. Eventually I used washers to space them better and eliminate the rub. No mention of this in the instructions or on their website and they didn't supply any washers in the kit but later on a dealer told me they always do this. The front was again another problem. The disc and caliper mount don't fix a Boxxer fork (surprise, surprise) so I had to get a Boxxer specific 6" disc and a mount adapter. Again with the washers and then I had brakes.
Fitting the Shimano gears, cranks, rings and cassette was easier than expected. After the first ride the cassette came loose and had to be tightened. Even the 9 speed gears didn't take too much fiddling after reading that they were hard to adjust compared to 8 speed. After a few easy rides I replaced the crank bolts with some tasty X-Lite ones, but after harder rides some months later I suffered creaky cranks and ended up putting originals back in (as you can't tighten the X-Lites' too much). The bolts still loosened until I replaced the bottom bracket and cranks a year later.
I was shocked on the first ride. It all worked. The frame felt stiff, the suspension supple, the brakes worked and the gears changed. The gears had to be fiddled with a bit over the first couple of weeks and a month later. The only problems I had was the chain dropping off the big ring when downhilling regardless of the end stop setting. The cranks as mentioned were a bit creaky and look very second-hand after 4 months of hammering. They were only LX though. (Both these problems resolved by updating).
The brakes have been mostly awesome. Haven't had many problems with squeal that many people get, although the front does on occasion become a little firm and grabby. Shaking the caliper seems to fix it. Performance has been impressive in all weathers and the pads last about 3 alpine months.
The Boxxer forks for all their difficulties in fitting, ride superbly. They feel stiction free with a smooth action from day one. I haven't really messed with the settings, they seemed to work for me out of the box. The only problem that has cropped up was with the bolts that tighten onto the spindle. To remove the front wheel you have to loosen 4 small bolts and the bolt on the spindle itself. The more you take it out the more you loosen/tighten the small bolts. One of mine de-threaded.
I was gutted, these were the most expensive forks on the market. I spoke to the Rockshox support people who tour with the World Cup and apparently it is a common thing when you over tighten the bolts. Nothing you can do unless you know a really good machine shop to re-thread it, but you have to be careful as it's near the oil, one slip and splosh. Unless you use a torque wrench every time you put the wheel in you are in danger of eventually having no bolts in the fork except the spindle retainer.
As for the Bullit frame itself, it looks sweet and rides as good as it looks. The Fox shock is very adjustable and I quite often find myself clicking a bit harder here and a bit softer there on rides. 152mm of travel works for me. It takes hits in it's stride, although you can feel overwhelmed by the settings if you mess it up. The bike has worked from day one, this more than anything has surprised me the most. Even though it costs a lot more than a pre-built mass market bike, I wasn't expecting to build my first bike and ride it without something playing up.
The bike has been used mainly for it's purpose of freeriding, but has also been used for cross country, World Cup class courses proved no problem - climbing is hard work but it builds your legs up and scares people on hardtails in lycra when they can't shake you. I have raced it and used it for the hardest kind of activity, downhill marathons. I used it on World Cup downhill courses and with a chain guide it would make a light downhill bike. I guess its a bit heavy for some people but that doesn't bother me. With three rings you can go anywhere on this bike.
It’s had a hard time away from its native California. In Europe with the mud, rocks and riding the ski lifts, the paintwork has bruised. The chain stay in particular is difficult to protect as the change smacks right on the back where a Lizard skin can't get to.
Would I build again? Yes. Even though some companies I dealt with hadn't heard of customer service or just weren't interested after selling you the product, I would build another bike. Should you build a bike? Sure. It will take you more time and cost you more money than you planned, and you should make friends with a mechanic if you aren't kitted up.
A minor rebuild in 2002/2003 consisted of all gear and drive chain parts LX to XT. Cranks, bottom bracket to Raceface Prodigy DH and all bits and bobs. The Bullit seems to get better with age I still enjoy riding it. On reflection the original build kit wasn't up to the quality of the frame and forks. Raceface and at least XT parts should be specified for freeriding. The Boxxer forks are still smooth but have now lost 1 screw and two are dodgy. The frame paint-work is in a bad state.
In 2005 I nearly got rid of the Bullit. Nearly. Instead I got it repainted, fitted Marzocchi 66 RC (150mm) and had the Fox Vanilla RC (152mm) serviced and tuned. The rear shock was serviced and had custom damping by TF Tuned who run a very efficient turnaround but who can be busy. The Azonic saddle snapped on one of the rails. I replaced it with the same model. I also replaced the swingarm bearings and fittings with the Pro Pack although they didn’t appear worn.
The bike feels quite different at the back, firmer but still compliant. It doesn't run through its travel as quick as before but still takes the hits. The front fork is very different to the Boxxers. The turning circle for a start. They are also a lot different to the old Z1 bombers I had years ago. They feel stiff and the travel is smooth and handles small and large bumps with a bit of tweaking. The build quality is ok but they are not as straight as the Boxxers and the axle is a lot harder to get in and out.
The only problem is where as before the bike could go uphill, do singletrack and downhill racing, it has lost the downhill racing ability. It has of course improved on the up and tight singletrack.
I'd like to thank Rob at Santa Cruz Bikes for supplying the original frame and kit.