Review: Juliana’s Wilder is a Wildly Capable XC Mountain Bike

With the 2022 Blur and Juliana Wilder bikes, Santa Cruz took the best of its popular Superlight and Blur models to create an all-new 29-inch XC racer, re-invented for the modern-day rider. 

Even in cross-country, the terrain is becoming more technical and more demanding. One is expected to fly up the climbs and also tackle rockier, burlier features on the way back down. The Juliana Wilder and Blur are Santa Cruz’ answer to these demands. The bike is super light and slack, yet billed as “a full-on lightweight XC race rig”. 

Light like an XC racer, capable like a trail bike, and stocked with additional eyelets for carrying an extra bottle or light gear. Is this another N-1 bike or a quest for the do-it-all unicorn, not unlike the previously revamped Juliana Furtado and Santa Cruz 5010 trail bikes?

I’ll admit that I struggled to place this bike. Here’s why. 

The 2022 Juliana Wilder X01 AXS TR with Reserve Wheels

Juliana is the younger sister to the Santa Cruz brand, and it’s well known that their bikes share the same frames, albeit in different colorways. The size options, contact points, suspension tuning, and built kits, however, differ depending on the brand name. In this case, the Santa Cruz Blur has notably more model options than the Juliana Wilder.

While both frames are available in the usual two carbon options we’ve come accustomed to from Santa Cruz, the Blur also has a staggering 12 different built kits, while the Wilder is limited to five. Additionally, those interested in the Blur have a choice between a race-ready 100mm suspension package or a bigger 120mm/115mm “TR” suspension package. The Wilder, meanwhile, is only available with the party-light package of 120mm in the front and 115mm in the rear. 

We received the top-of-the-line Juliana Wilder X01 AXS TR, complete with Santa Cruz’ fancy carbon Reserve 28 wheels.  

This premier build also includes SRAM’s Eagle AXS wireless 12-speed package and wireless dropper post along with a Fox 34 Step Cast Fork and Fox Float Factory rear shock. The pricey package surely helped get the weight low, but the true weight savings are in the new Superlight™ suspension system.

For two decades now, Santa Cruz and Juliana have built their bikes around their tried-and-true Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension. It’s a twin-link, multi-pivot system that connects the rear and front triangles and allows the rear triangle to smooth out the bumps while maintaining pedal efficiency. Their new Superlight suspension uses a single pivot design paired with flex stays. In simple terms, the chainstays are now directly connected to the front triangle, and flex in the seat stays makes up for the missing linkage. It is meant to provide more traction while the reduced number of moving parts, bearings, and linkage shaved 289g (over half a pound!) from the previous Blur frame.

With my top-of-the-line model coming in at 24 pounds, it’s indeed a pretty lightweight full-squish. 

This fourth iteration of the Blur also comes with a new geometry. Times are a-changin’, and this geo is reflective of the more technically demanding courses we now see in competition, and/or a desire to meet the demands of a customer who may not already have multiple bikes in their shed. 

The Wilder is slacker and notably longer than any XC bike I have ever raced, but that length is all in the rear. The head tube angle (67.1°) is a little steeper and the reach a little shorter than its older sister, the Juliana Joplin. The Wilder’s seat tube angle is slacker and the chainstays are longer as well. What you get is a bike that is responsive and aggressive enough for the climbs while stable and capable on the descents. 

The bike’s wilder side is also apparent in the solid downtube protection, a hard rubber chain guard, and a chain guide to hold on to your chain when things get bouncy. There are mounting bolts for a total of three bottles — two inside the frame and one on the downtube. 

The only thing not rowdy about this bike is the tire selection. The Maxxis Rekon doesn’t have much in the way of knobs, which in the wet climates of Oregon makes for a slippery ride. 

On the trail

Having sold my 23-pound XC race steed in favor of a trail bike last year, I was eager to ride the Wilder. I promptly took the bike to all my favorite climby trails, hoping to chase down my former PRs. Now imagine my surprise when I didn’t come close to my former times on the uphill but PR-ed some of the downhills! Wait, what? I have been bombing down these descents on my very capable, squishy trail bike for months now, and yet… the clock doesn’t lie.

What can I say, the Wilder likes to get rowdy. The 29er wheels will eat up rock gardens and bomb down anything, but the slacker geo and little bit of extra length keep the rider firmly planted. The bike handles capably and predictably. As a Juliana Furtado owner, I couldn’t shake the feeling of how familiar the two bikes feel. 

The modern geo, paired with a 120/115mm suspension package, allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable riding all the trails at my usual trail networks. I was whipping around the berms and taking small jumps, completely forgetting that I wasn’t on my trail bike. 

Perhaps my surprise of the bike’s capability was in part due to the company’s marketing and positioning of the bike as a “carbon XC race rocket” and a “full-on lightweight XC race rig.” I’d argue that sells the bike short. Built as is, it is not a pure race steed, and that’s a good thing. However, for those looking to race XC, I do wish Juliana would also provide a 100mm suspension option for the Wilder, just as Santa Cruz does for the Blur.  

Cross-country races do still tend to be won on the pedaling sections. It’s a test of fitness for the riders, and a challenge of shaving weight and maximizing pedal efficiency and responsiveness for the bike manufacturers. For many, the 120/115mm suspension package may simply be too much. 

For me, the Wilder creeps into the all-day trail fun side of the spectrum more than the pure race performer. Or perhaps it’s in a new spectrum altogether: XC Trail. Which, for the majority of riders, is a fantastic new development. 

For the pedal-happy and trail-curious riders out there, the Wilder comes pretty close to being that “one bike to do it all”. It should meet the needs of those looking to rack up the miles in all-day comfort, those racing epics, and multi-day stage races, as well as those who are in the market for their first full-suspension bike to take their skills to the next level. This XC wild child is inspiringly capable, light, fast, and — most importantly — a joy to ride. 

The Juliana Wilder is available in five component builds ranging from $4,599 with Fox Performance suspension and a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, to $9,449 for the CC frame with Fox Factory suspension, SRAM X01 AXS electronic gruppo, and carbon rims. 

⭐️ The Juliana Wilder is available for purchase online at evo.

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