Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Santa Cruz Highball Carbon 29er Review

I've had a few months of riding and racing, about 700 miles total, on the new Santa Cruz Highball frame so I wanted to share my impressions of this new rocket.  And that's exactly what it is.

I transferred build directly over from the Giant XTC 29er I was on previously, which was a great bike in itself.  It was extremely quick handling, like a BMX bike.  It made for a very fun time and gave you a lot of feedback.  You had to stay on top of it though as it could very easily be described as "twitchy."  But I actually liked the super quick handling.  The head angle on the XTC was 2 degrees steeper than the Highball and I was interested to see how much it was going to slow down the handling.

The new Highball frame was 1.3lbs lighter than the XTC!

So here's my build spec:

Frame- XL Santa Cruz Highball Carbon
Fork-2011 Fox F29 100 Terralogic, 15mm axle
Drivetrain- Shimano XTR M980, 1x10 with FSA 36t chainring and MRP 1x guide. (later switched to triple)
Brakes- Formula The One
Rotors- Ashima 160mm
Bars- Easton EC70 Riser 680mm
Stem- Shimano PRO XCR 100mm
Headset- Cane Creek Taper
Seatpost- Crank Brothers Cobalt 11
Saddle- WTB Silverado SLT
Wheelset- WTB Stryker 29
Grips- ODI 'O' Grips
Pedals- Crank Brothers Candy 4ti
Tires- WTB Nano

All that built up came to just 21.24lbs!

So it's pretty to look at... how does it ride?

In short, it's exactly what you'd expect in a hardtail from Santa Cruz.  Stiff, firmly planted, and easy to control.  The steering is slower than the XTC, but it is not sluggish in the least bit.  You can still rip it around corners, berms, and flick it around rocks with ease but it is much more "stable" feeling than the Giant and it's much easier to conserve energy.  A very good thing for a long XC race.

With the head angle a bit slacker, it takes the bumps from the front and absorbs them into the frame horizontally (rearward) more than vertically.  Same with the 73 degree seat tube, allowing a good carbon post to flex and absorb chatter.  It's really easy to stay seated and pedal on this bike.  The rear seat stays are flattened and shaped in a wishbone style which allows for vertical compliance as well, all while keeping incredible lateral stiffness.  That stiffness holds true in the BB (power) area and up to the tapered head tube, making it incredibly responsive to rider input.  When it's time to get out of the saddle and really lay the power down, it just launches forward and says "this all you got!?"  It's every bit as stiff as other carbon hardtails I've ridden (Cannondale Flash 29er, Specialized Sworks Stumpjumper 29er HT, Leopard 29R), but to me felt more compliant than the Flash and Sworks Stumpy.

Another nice touch from SCB is the use of a standard threaded BB instead of press fit.  Which gives you more options of BB's and cranks (you can just transfer from an old bike if you upgrade the frame) and you can also run a BB mount chain guide.

I've raced this bike plenty and it's a fantastic weapon.  I rode it to 24th at XC Nationals this year, and a number of wins and podiums closer to home.  I'm getting more and more used to hardtails in general (used to be just a suspension guy) and the range courses where I still choose this bike over the Tallboy is broadening more into the rough category.  Just because it is so stable over the rough and chatter.  I've also had the pleasure of taking this bike out on 3-4 hour training/fun rides and it totally rips.  I never thought I'd choose a hardtail over my Tallboy for a fun ride but with this bike, sometimes I do!  It isn't the lightest frame in the category (still incredibly light!) because the Santa Cruz brand to me also represents durability.  They made it strong too.  You can have some serious fun on this bike, racing or just riding, mashing into rocks as much as your wheels and wrists can take, taking drops and even jumps.

Ride, race, or look at this bike and it will bring a smile to your face!