Full throttle at all times.
Not something to ride gingerly, the Santa Cruz Highball Carbon S Mountain Bike prefers you go full throttle at all times while racing and blasting around your local forest network. This purebred XC bike proves its worth when you're racing against the clock and every split-second is absolutely crucial, shaving time from your climbs, which is ultimately where cross-country races are won and lost. However, it's been revised to deliver higher levels of compliance, so it won't beat you to a pulp when you're settling into a strong and steady cadence during long-distance efforts and endurance races alike.
As we've seen year after year, Santa Cruz always manages to push the envelope in the design of their bikes and this third-generation Highball Carbon 29er is no different, weighing a half pound lighter than previous versions in their high-end Carbon CC lay-up. You read that right, the newest version of the Highball Carbon CC 29er is a half pound or some 200 grams lighter, meaning this Carbon S build weighs just over 22 pounds, which is absurd for a hardtail in this price range. Santa Cruz's composite engineers achieved this absurdly low weight through a meticulous application of carbon in zones critical to stiffness and structural integrity, trimming the bike down in all other areas for the utmost in weight savings.
Because the Highball had the reputation as being one of the stiffest bikes in Santa Cruz's line, the engineers had a few tricks up their sleeves in muting trail chatter and excess vibration from this third-gen model. Low-angle seat stays meet the seat tube just below the top tube junction, plus there's a bridgeless seat stay to absorb incoming vibration over rugged race courses. Santa Cruz then uses a 27.2-millimeter seat post diameter to impart even more compliance, so you don't feel every terrain inconsistency in your lower back for days afterward.
Although the third generation of Santa Cruz's Highball makes no qualms about its dedicated racing purposes, it's distinctly Santa Cruz in nature, meaning you can dare to tackle more technical lines on the XC course that would leave you questioning your sanity on other cross-country bikes with steeper head tube angles. For this third-gen Highball, Santa Cruz slackened it out a hair. Instead of the previous head tube angle of 70/70.5 degrees, it's now 69.5 degrees for a bit more confidence on descents and rough course sections, but without compromising the razor-sharp handling of the last generation. Another geometry figure to note is the 44-millimeter fork offset, which increases the bike's trail and subsequently makes it a touch more stable when you're picking your line across more technical courses with rocks and roots aplenty.
Other notable geometry changes include a moderately longer reach and wheelbase (increases in reach and wheelbase for a size medium are 0.9 and 1.4 inches, respectively) for a bit more composure on descents, plus the ability to run a more modern bar/stem combo. Santa Cruz realized the low-slung 12.4-inch bottom bracket and snappy-short 16.9-inch chainstays made the previous Highball an absolute hoot to blast around corners and hairpin turns, so they retained these figures, as to not dramatically alter its spirited handling characteristics.
Despite these changes in the frame's geometry and ability to mute incoming vibration, Santa Cruz managed to preserve the high levels of torsional stiffness and reliable strength you've come to love from the Northern California brand. High levels of stiffness means every ounce of rider energy will be directed into rocket-like acceleration and its reliable strength is backed by a lifetime warranty —all without rider weight limits imposed by other manufacturers. And because racing speed isn't the only thing desired on a bike of this pedigree, you'll find all the thoughtful design features that define a Santa Cruz. These features include a threaded bottom bracket for creak-free reliability, three bottle mounts, internal dropper compatibility, and internal routing of all cables to keep everything looking tidy.
- Purebred XC race bike is lighter, more compliant than ever
- Santa Cruz shaved a 1/2 pound from previous Highball frame
- Bridgeless seat stay and 27.2mm seat post mute trail chatter
- Carbon C frame retains ample torsional stiffness for racers
- 69.5° head tube angle balances snappy handling with composure
- Fox 32 Performance Step Cast 100mm fork with remote lockout
- Threaded bottom bracket for creak-free reliability
- Three bottle mounts and internal dropper routing