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.
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.
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.