Gravel can be anything, right? “Yes!” say the folks at Santa Cruz, presenting the fourth iteration of their gravel bike, which promises to serve as a versatile platform for everything from racing to adventure. However, the dropper post and suspension fork point to a rather specific use case. How does it fare on adventures?

This bike was tested as part of our 2024 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and the test field here:

Santa Cruz Stigmata | 40 mm (f) | 9.20 kg in size L | Manufacturer’s website

What actually is “gravel”? It isn’t just the critics of this booming, trendy genre who ask this, but also the bike brands, with their widely differing interpretations of this rather vague category. The definition of gravel also depends heavily on where the gravel riders come from, both in terms of geography and discipline. Santa Cruz Bicycles hail from California and have deep roots in mountain biking, and this is clearly evident in the design of their gravel bike, the Stigmata. The American brand released the fourth iteration of their interpretation of a gravel bike just recently. It’s not made for just one specific discipline, but to perform well in a wide variety of scenarios – including adventure. Does it deliver?

Dropper post, suspension fork, and… glove box? The adventurous features of the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata

Having too many choices can get overwhelming, and Santa Cruz obviously don’t want to overwhelm anyone. That’s why the new Santa Cruz Stigmata is exclusively available in orange – Matte Brick Red if you’re from California. The frame design looks incredibly smooth! There are no hard edges or corners, with smooth transitions and tube shapes as far as the eye can see. It looks timeless and makes a very high-quality impression. Only the externally routed cables at the cockpit make it look a little less clean. Although the storage compartment in the down tube is neatly integrated, the bezel in the frame makes it stand out. The combination of a 40 mm travel RockShox Rudy Ultimate XPLR suspension fork and 75 mm Travel RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR dropper post also define the overall look, giving the impression of a capable off-road gravel bike.

Travel of the devil
The RockShox Reverb AXS XPLR dropper post with 75 mm travel provides added freedom of movement when the going gets rough. However, this can also make you overconfident.
Send it!
The Rudy fork lets the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata cut a fine figure on the trails.

Most of the remaining components are also supplied by the same corporation. The SRAM Force XPLR AXS 12 Speed groupset is responsible for shifting and braking. Unfortunately, the 160 mm brake rotors aren’t ideally suited to the bike’s off-road character – we would have liked at least a 180 mm rotor up front, offering heavier riders added reserves on long descents. The same applies to the gear range of the 1x drivetrain, consisting of a 10–44 t cassette and 40 t chainring. A mullet drivetrain would be the better choice considering the otherwise off-road focused spec. The 44 cm wide Zipp Service Course SL-70 XPLR handlebar with 5° flare is a good deal more off-road appropriate, especially in combination with the short 70 mm Zipp Service Course stem. The MAXXIS Rambler tires with their closely arranged tread pattern are an excellent choice for a mixture of different off-road terrain. The Santa Cruz Stigmata offers only the most important mounting points: two bottle cages inside the front triangle, and another down by the bottom bracket.. Definitely not enough for bikepacking ultras. However, you can fit mudguards. It costs a whopping € 8,299 and weighs in at 9.2 kg.

The chain guard on the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata makes no secret of this off-road gravel bike’s intentions.
How wide?
The frame will accept up to 50 mm wide tires. That’s considerable compared to the other bikes on test.
Snake charmer
To get the tool snake out of the frame, neither sleight of hand nor a flute are necessary.

Tuning tips:
– Down tube protector
– bikepacking bags with straps for long hauls

Santa Cruz Stigmata

€ 8,299


Fork Rock Shox Rudy 40 mm
Seatpost RS ACS Dropper
Brakes SRAM Force 160/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Force eTap AXS XPLR 1x12
Stem Zipp Service Cource SL 80 mm
Handlebar Zipp Service Cource SL 460 mm
Wheelset Reserve
Tires Maxxis Rambler 28"

Technical Data

Weight 9.2 kg

Specific Features

Front suspension and dropper post
Outstanding off-road performance
Glovebox integrated storage compartment
High quality in appearance and craftsmanship

Top tube 552 mm 570 mm 592 mm 610 mm 631 mm
Seat tube 455 mm 485 mm 515 mm 545 mm 575 mm
Head tube 105 mm 120 mm 145 mm 160 mm 180 mm
Head angle 69.5° 69.5° 69.5° 69.5° 69.5°
Seat angle 74° 74° 74° 74° 74°
Chainstay 423 mm 423 mm 423 mm 423 mm 423 mm
BB Drop 78 mm 78 mm 78 mm 78 mm 78 mm
Wheelbase 1,043 mm 1,063 mm 1,087 mm 1,108 mm 1,130 mm
Reach 390 mm 405 mm 420 mm 435 mm 450 mm
Stack 564 mm 576 mm 600 mm 612 mm 631 mm

Trail surfer and bikepacker at the same time? Can the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata really do it all?

As expected, the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata doesn’t just perform well on rough terrain, it’s more and more in its element the rougher things get. It’s a ton of fun to blast down trails. The dropper post is worth its weight in gold here, offering increased freedom of movement so that you can absorb big impacts with your arms and legs, or throw your weight over the back. The riding position is comfortably upright yet dynamic, ultimately feeling very balanced. The bike is also suitably compliant for tough terrain. Of course, most of the bumps are absorbed by the Rudy fork, but the rest of the frame also plays a noticeable role.

Weighing in at 9.2kg, it’s relatively sluggish to accelerate, so things could get tight on the finish line sprint. However, the transfer of power from your legs to the wheels feels efficient enough, nonetheless, and it feels relatively light-footed on the climbs. The MAXXIS Rambler tires, on the other hand, rein the acceleration of the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata back in. Although they generate a lot of traction through the corners, thereby instilling you with confidence, they don’t roll very well, especially on compacted ground, robbing you of speed. If you want, you can ride the off-road oriented gravel bike actively and throw it into the corners. However, the balanced handling also allows for relaxed descents, giving you the confidence to build some speed. There’s no sign of nervousness on the straights either. The Glove Box (a.k.a. integrated storage compartment) is one of our absolute highlights. The large opening makes it easy to access, and opening and closing the lid is quick and hassle-free.

Considering its heritage, it’s hardly surprising that this bike is so off-road focused.

What adventures is the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata destined for?

In general, the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata can serve a wide range of purposes. That said, our setup with dropper post, suspension fork and close ratio gears makes less sense for bikepacking and multi-day adventures. It lacks the gear range and mounting points to cover any significant distance. It’s better suited to day trips on rough off-road terrain. Equipped with a rigid fork and seat post, it can also be used for longer bikepacking trips with all of your gear. However, you’ll have to strap your bags to the frame considering the lack of mounting points.

Helmet Specialized S-Works Prevail 3 | Glasses Delayon Line Tracer | Bib GRAN FONDO | Shoes Dromarti Sportivo Touring Terra | Special SPECIALIZED X FJÄLLRÄVEN Aventure Vest

Our conclusion on the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata

Santa Cruz tout the Stigmata as a super versatile gravel bike for everything from racing to off-road adventures. In essence, it is, but in reality, the build leans more towards having fun on technical terrain. With our setup, the 2023 Santa Cruz Stigmata excels on a wide range of off-road terrain – iIt’s here that it’s the most fun. For easy-going gravel paths, you’ll be somewhat over-biked, or just well prepared for any eventuality, depending on your viewpoint.


  • high-quality, classy design
  • comfortable and fun handling off the beaten track
  • confidence-inspiring thanks to plenty of damping and grippy tires
  • Integrated compartment in the down tube offers onboard storage space


  • Limited gear range for steep off-road climbs or long, loaded drags
  • lacking mounting points

For more information visit

The testfield

This bike was tested as part of our 2023 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and the test field here:

All bikes on review:Argon 18 Dark Matter | BMC URS 01 ONE | Cannondale Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty | Canyon Grizl CF SLX 8 Force AXS Trail | Falkenjagd ARISTOS TRAIL GRAVEL | Focus Atlas 8.8 | Ghost Asket Advanced | Giant Revolt X | Merida Silex 10k | Mondraker Dusty XR | Orbea Terra M21e Team Custom M | Ridley Kanzo Adventure | Rose Backroad AL Plus | Santa Cruz Stigmata | Scott Solace Gravel eRIDE 10 | Specialized Diverge STR Pro | Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS | Wilier Adlar | YT Industries Szepter Core 4

Did you enjoy this article? If so, we would be stoked if you decide to support us with a monthly contribution. By becoming a supporter of GRAN FONDO, you will help secure a sustainable future for high-quality cycling journalism. Click here to learn more.

Words: Martin Staffa Photos: Jan Richter