Highball 27.5 Carbon C Mountain Bike Frame
In the era of huge enduro sleds, the term "all-mountain" has come to paradoxically refer more and more to just the downhill part of riding. The Highball 27.5 Carbon C Mountain Bike Frame from Santa Cruz refuses that narrative direction, though, replacing the gee-golly suspension and exaggerated angles of many six-inch bikes with a hardtail platform that climbs as well as any bike on the market but is still nimble enough to dice surprisingly techy sections of trail furniture. Where bikes like the free-for-all Nomad are the equivalent of taking an ax to rooty chutes, the Highball is a scalpel, giving a skilled user the precision to perform surgery when things get techy.
Given its twin focus of climbing and speed, this second generation Highball is well-served by its ability to run 100-120mm travel forks. Build it up 100mm if you're a dedicated racer or prize the lightest weight, most efficient ride, or toss a 120 up front for more rugged races or a little more off-season fun.
The Highball does address the lack of rear suspension with a diminished seatpost, down to 27.2 millimeters. While this doesn't quite equate to the square-edge hit capabilities of the Nomad or Bronson, it does help to eat up trail vibrations that tend to accumulate over the course of a long ride. Up front, the 27.5 model has a more moderate head tube angle than the Highball 29er. At just 69 degrees, it rides the divide between slack stability and razor-sharp handling, keeping you in control while helping to control the terrain. Unsurprisingly, it also has shorter chainstays than the 29er version, which maximizes the hardtail rear triangle's efficiency while mashing.
As with the original 29-inch model, the Highball 27.5 is a single-piece layup of carbon fiber instead of a jigsaw puzzle of individually-cured carbon tubes. This allows Santa Cruz to wrap the fibers continuously around structurally important junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket, strengthening the frame, dissipating the force from impacts and pedaling load, and allowing for comparable strength with less material and lower weight. Translated into trail talk, this means the Highball hits the bricks when you stomp on the pedals, dampen high-speed chatter, and hold lines like a cat on carpet, all with a low-weight that makes any full-suspension bike look like a bloated downhill-only machine.
Finally, Santa Cruz's approach to the carbon lay-up process deserves a quick mention before we sign off. The carbon is compacted from both inside and out, eliminating voids, preventing delamination, and creating a smooth interior. While that level of aesthetic perfection is a nice idea, even if we can't see it, the real-world benefits of a perfect interior include no resin pools or unintended material abnormalities, which can structurally compromise a frame over time.
- A cross-country speed machine built for the climbs
- Carbon hardtail platform blends low weight and stiffness
- Moderate geometry angles balance stability and aggression
- Short chainstays and 27.5in wheels add agility for dicing terrain
- The 27.2mm seatpost helps filter out trail chatter
- Santa Cruz Bicycles has been rewriting the hardtail book since 1993