Review: 2012 Santa Cruz HighBall Carbon 29er HT

2012 Santa Cruz HighBall Carbon 29er HT

I’m a full-suspension fan… in a big way. The comfort, the control, the “long- haul ability” of them and the way they absorb roots, rocks and landings just flat out makes me smile. When the Hard-Tail Santa Cruz HighBall 29 arrived I knew that I would have to look at and ride it with an open mind. Getting to spec this rig out was a treat and I chose a full XTR outfit to accompany the sexy lines of the black carbon and red decals of the HighBall. When I received the box, my apprehension turned to excitement and I stayed up a few extra hours the night and as I built her up I was conjuring up ideas of grandeur, climbing like a billy goat and leaving my competition in the dust!

Here’s how it went…

SPECS & WEIGHT:

  • Frame- Carbon fiber one piece front triangle with integrated fibers into rear triangle and tapered head tube
  • Fork- Float 29 100 Kashima FIT RLC Taper
  • Bars- Easton EC 70
  • Drivetrain and Brakes- 2012 XTR xc 29
  • Wheels- Mavic TN 719 disc rims laced to Chub 15mm front hub and DT 240S rear hub w/ DT 14/15 gauge spokes, alloy nipples
  • Size/Weight (sans pedals)- XL, 23.21 lbs
  • MSRP: $6776 as spec’d (XTR xc 29)

Tyler covered this bike at launch with a full technical breakdown of the frame technology and more. My review here covers only the riding impressions.

RIDE REVIEW:

The inaugural ride on the HighBall was on trails I’m quite familiar with, the trailhead being about 200m from my front door as a crow flies. They’re single track switchbacks followed by a steady climb to an overlook and then single track as well as logging roads for more than 50miles it total. “Stealth,” as I nicknamed the HighBall, was able to traverse the first few climbs rather well with a lighter front end than I am accustomed and a nimble rear triangle with just enough stiffness vertically and phenomenal laterally to ensure force being applied to the pedals went directly into the rear wheel without the frame flexing in the slightest.

2012 Santa Cruz HighBall Carbon 29er HT

I pointed the bike upward and onward and was enjoying every second and feeling as if I have ridden it for weeks, not for just one hour. I reached the top of the “mountain” at about 2000ft and here is where the ‘test’ truly began. I must admit that I enjoy any ascent and the hard work that goes into it. My downfall is typically with the descent. With the Santa Cruz Highball I had to back off significantly while descending and from any aggression as I am accustomed to a rear shock not only absorbing some of my mistakes but also absorbing the vertical oscillations. In other words, being “corn holed” is not that fun! I was death gripping the brakes for fear of pitching over the handle bars and had to stop a few times just to gather my wits. I knew then that I would have to practice a bit more with this new rig.

On subsequent rides I became much more comfortable with the descending abilities of the HighBall and actually felt myself choosing a better line and being more aware of my surrounding by default… perhaps using this HT was going to teach me to be a better rider? The Highball was my bike of choice for every ride where we/I planned on going vertical. I climbed better with this bike than most I have ridden. Its prowess on the climbs or on race courses requiring goat-like climbing will be difficult to match. However, when riding with friends who were on full suspension 26” bikes or even better, with those who were on FS 29’ers, they would pull away even if it was a few meters ahead simply because they could ride the bumps more effectively and more forgivingly.

Plain and simple, the HighBall is a cross-country racing bike. In Santa Cruz’s own words “The HighBall is a race ready hardtail…. The Highball is insanely light, razor sharp, nimble but surefooted, stiff as a plank, and designed to do two things: 1. Race. 2. Win.”

I could not agree more! Racing is its primary function and purpose, and a long-haul epic riding steed it is not. It’s design, for my body, does not allow for optimal long distance comfort. The slightly shorter stays and the bent seat tube lead to vertical stiffness and the ‘chatter’ that we “love” so much on rough terrain. This bike allows for tremendous force transfer and power production at the bottom bracket. There is no apparent loss of force through frame flex and it’s tremendously agile and quick in tight cornering situations. The 2012 XTR group performed flawlessly and without incident adding to the feeling of being on a real racing rig.

Smooth single track, steep ascents and rolling terrain is where this bike will excel. However, if in need of an “all mountain” or “all day” bike for epic style jaunts into the wilderness I would look into a non-racing rig of a different pedigree.

 

Comments

Ofir - 12/26/11 - 12:54pm

Two weeks ago I have completed a century ride in the desert riding a Highball (164KM, 2500M of total climbing). Although I agree with you that a full sus. rig would observe the bumps better, the power transfer achieved with this frame is one of the best thus the speed you achieve and the ability to maintain it is easier on the Highball (in my opinion). Did I suffer from the frame during the century? Nope. Did I feel that I wish to buy a FS because of the desert terrain? Nope. This frame absorbs some of the bumps of the road somehow (the design), and the riding feel is not that harsh although this is a carbon fiber frame (which cannot be said with regards to other carbon frames like the Niner A9C for example, which I have ridden previously).

Yes, this is a race oriented bike. But even on Epic rides you would like to be fast :)

Just my 2c
Ofir

bart - 12/26/11 - 2:15pm

I progressed the most in my riding skill when I rode a rigid bike for a year….my line selection improved and taught me a ton about what can be acheived when you push it. I am a faster rider, more well rounded rider. I highly suggest it to anyone looking at improving your skills.

Vodalous - 12/28/11 - 11:09pm

Sounds like the reviewer isn’t very confident descending to begin with.

Furious George - 12/31/11 - 12:28pm

For comparison sake, the XL sizeway Giant XTC Composite 29′er I just barely built up with the same fork (but in 120mm, 15QR), very similar drivetrain but with a pair of Hope Pro II’s on NoTubes along with a 4″ Gravity Dropper, 800mm Enve DH bars, King Cage and XTR pedals came in at 23.8lbs.

Coming from a gravity background I enjoyed the review and can’t wait to see how the Giant does. I’m hoping the sacrifice I took in standover (I’m 6’4″) will be worth slackening out the HT a bit. I guess if it feels sluggish I can always shim it down. (Photos and specs can be found on the website I listed.)

Velez - 01/02/12 - 10:05pm

I hate posting something that can be construed as negative, but i have to disagree. The HB is a superb handling bike in the twisties and descents. The bb height and overall geo makes for a ripper. It’s a xc weapon that rips singletrack and is uber stable on descents. Oh, and it’s not shabby on climbs either.

ErikD - 01/03/12 - 7:20pm

Vodalous- what would give you that idea? I did in fact say in the review that I enjoy climbing and that I had to back off due to my being used to a full suspension. I am honest when I say that I am NOT a descender!

Velez- I never said it was not an avid and agile bike at all. I will admit, again, that I am not a huge fan of bombing downhill without a full-suspension. Just my humble opinion gents.

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