Heckler Found - Thumbs Up!
There is a bike shop that I hope is better than that in San Jose that sells Santa Cruz: Reeds Cyclery. They also sell guns and other outdoor stuff...I was there awhile back at a race (Anybody remember "THE SIZZLER"?) they were real nice. If not go to Family Cycling Center in the Santa Cruz area (not to far from you). They have like 100 or 200
Santa Cruzes it seems on the floor at one time. Good luck!
Great Bike Shop Recommendations for Hecklers, Mr. djkellycx !! I found both bike shop recommendations to be superb. The mechanics at both shops were VERY helpful (they were antonyms to the Los Gatos store) and spent an hour giving detailed expert technical advice.
Reed Cyclery had one medium Heckler built up and another half dozen Heclker frames on the wall. Although the medium was too small and weak in supsension to be uesful for a ride evaluation, the mechanics detailed discussion and suggestions were very useful. The mechanics (Mike and Jesse) at Reed Cyclery went out of their way to help me with every detail. For example, they even mentioned that Shimano was coming out very soon with it's "Hone" high strength component line between XT and Saint that may be perfect for me at my large weight (250+gear), even though they knew it may cause me to delay my purchase to wait for it.
The Family Cycling Center in Santa Cruz that I went to this weekend (combined trip with my wife and kids at the Boardwalk) was a Santa Cruz bike mecha. They had lots of Santa Cruz bikes and frames, with about 5-6 Hecklers built up for sale and another dozen or more Heckler frames on the ceiling. Best of all they had another couple demo Hecklers that could even be rented.
One of them was a Large frame that I checked out in the the surrounding (flat) neighborhood. Testing on hard-beaten demo bikes was also good as I could evaluate "worn" bikes and the play or problems that may exist after some hard riding.
What follows is my review on the Heckler after my test ride at Family Cycle Center:
I quickly decided the Large Heckler frame was too small for me at just over 6' but with long arms and legs, and the XL was indeed the right size. They put some swept back angle dual crown fork on the front of the Heckler, designed for serious DH. For my weight, they pumped up the air (no coil) Fifth Element but it had a broken seal and could only get 180 before the air would leak out fast with the pump still on the bike whereas he was trying for about 250 lb (not sure if I got it right). The salesman/mechanic said about 20-30% of the Fifth Elements come back in just a few short weeks with busted seals and parts such as I saw. He said at my size I should steer away from Fifth Element reliabilty/strength issues. As such, the rear sag was over 1.5" by my estimate, whereas I was told the recommended sag is only 5/8". So it was still a bit soft for me - which I tried to take into account. Since I was at the flat area near the beach and couldn't find anything to climb, I checked for bobing by holding the brakes lightly as needed to pedal very hard in the lowest speed (1,1) gear. The only small bobbing appeared to come from the front fork, and if I sat off the back of the bike, it was damm near solid as a hard tail, even with he softer rear shock setting.
I found the Heckler was very responsive and could easly turn around at moderate speed in less than the two car open parking space in a lot (without sliding or Trial type stunts). If any lateral play existed in the frame, I wasn't good enough to feel it in sharp turns. I tried going off and up curbs (3-4"?) and over the parking lot tire stops (another inch or so). At first, I was used to my Trek Fuel's Manitou Black shocks, even with extra firm springs, that nose dive and bucking me off on these smaller size obstructions. So to start I was offloading and pre-bouncng up these small obstacles. Then I gradually used less and less front pull-up and finally just rode over them sitting down like they weren't even there! Going for skin rash, I even took them without any front off loading at 45 degree angles and again no effect!
I also found the frame was quite firm. In fact, my butt hurt from the crummy seat on the bike (and I had regular non-padded pants) after just 30 minutes of playing around. I tested for lateral flex by trying to push the frame sideways at the seat post hard with my hand while holding the handlebar stem. But the only lateral flex I saw (1/4" maybe) was from the rubber tires. Trying to understand the lateral flex Ventana bikers condem on the Hecker, I held the bike on it's side at 45 degrees and put most my weight on the XT crank arm. Again, the only flex I saw was about 1/2" of bending of the crank arm relative to the bottom bracket (which I limited because of the nervous look of the sales guy) but nothing observable in lateral flex the frame. I don't think the Ventana were exaggerating, but I could have a newer model with bigger bushing, or not doing the same test they suggest in the same way. But I thought my tight turn riding and sideways crank pressure tests were appropriate tests for real conditions and I couldn't perceive any effect whatsoever of lateral play.
So it was not a perfect test due to imperfect fit of frame and parts, as best to be expected. But from my tests, I'd say the Heckler is definiately a thumbs up for my riding style. I'm going to order an XL Heckler soon.
I still need to check out the components. I worry about the Fifth Element unreliability (also widely reported by the product forums here) and need to decide on other rear shocks. The mechanic suggested the Fox DHX5 or Vanilla RLC. But they seem to be so new I can't find them anywhere on this product site and only snippents on the web, even though he pulled them out and showed them to me in his shop. The DHX5 looks and has specs like a 5th Element clone but done right.
As for the drive train and other components, I get mixed opinions on going to the Saint Freeride Kit for greater strength with my weight. I figure if I don't break parts over the next several years, it's a bargain. Some say it's overkill (which is true) but the added cost is low ($200) and others say that's a good reason to just go ahead and get it. There's not much downside other than the extra 5 lbs of any freeride system and the added hassle of removing the wheels around the axle mounted rear derailleur and big axles. But then if as usual for me, I put extra thick thornproof tubes in the Kevlar tires, the wheels may never need to come off the bike. [However I did blow out this bullet resistant tire combination a few months ago when going steep long downhill with my large weight and clincher brakes on my commuter bike while my Fuel 90 was having it's broken frame replaced. The rims turned red and then white hot, then the tire rubber tire bubbled up and had what looked like sweat on them. Then finally the inner tube rotated and broke off at the stem. I let the wheels cool down for a while so I could touch them, then put in a spare inner tube. This happened AGAIN a week later on my second trip down the mountain. But then I got my bike back with disc brakes and only had problems with burning out the hydraulic fluid and complete fade out to the point my bike moves freely with both brakes held tight until the brakes cool down over a few minutes! I now stop on downhills periodically for brake cooling.]