Santa Cruz Highball

Santa Cruz Highball XX1
Price: $7,999
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
Online: santacruzbicycles.com

Tester: Scott Williams
Age: 32
Weight: 170 lbs.
Height: 5’ 11”
Inseam: 32.5”

Reach: 17.7”
Stack: 24.2”
Top Tube: 25.1”
Head Tube: 69.5°
Seat Tube: 73°
BB Height: 12.4”
Chainstays: 16.8”
Weight: 20 lbs. (with dropper)

Long known as a trail bike company, Santa Cruz isn’t ignoring the cross country market. The 2018 Highball gets a full overhaul for the Lycra class. In addition to an update to current frame standards, the primary focus of the new generation Highball is to soak up a bit of trail chatter by modifying the shape and angle of the seatstays in combination with a bridgeless seatstay design. Other changes for 2018 include eliminating the aluminum and 27.5 frame options. The Highball is available as a frame-only option for $1,900 or five complete builds starting at $2,800 and going all the way up to $8,300 with the new Shimano XTR 12-speed groupset.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to ride the new Highball in Santa Cruz, California, during the initial launch. The stock 2.25 Maxxis Aspens and 100 mm fork took me back to my Lycra days, and it felt like unfamiliar territory. Chalking up the lack of cohesion with the bike to unfamiliar trails and/or not setting the bike up properly,  I was eager to see how the Highball would fare on my home trails with proper tires and a real fork.

Confirming with Santa Cruz engineer, Brian Bernard, that the Highball is designed to handle a fork up to 120 mm and 2.4 tires, I mounted the Fox 34 120 mm SC (reviewed in this issue) to slacken up the head angle and instill a touch of rowdy to go with the 27.2 mm internally routed dropper post. Seeking a balance of trail and cross-country for tires, I opted for a 2.35 Schwalbe Racing Ralph and Nobby Nic combo mounted to the stock Santa Cruz Reserve 25 wheelset. Just keep in mind that not all rim and tire combinations are equal. For reference, a Maxxis Rekon 2.4 on a 28 mm internal rim has less than 5 mm of clearance between the tire and chainstays.

Even after a few trail friendly mods, I stand by my initial impressions that the Highball may not be the best option for those riders whose primary focus is not to stand on top of the podium.  Santa Cruz specifically built the Highball as the company’s hardtail race thoroughbred, and it is exactly that. With the minor setup tweaks I made, the bike became fun on those days that I wanted to rekindle the racer-boy in me and hammer, but it’s not my first pick for someone who is just out on the trail having a leisurely group ride or seeking to tackle a wide variety of terrain on their hardtail.

The modern geometry, stiff chassis and ability to mount a 38T chainring screams speed, and the Highball does a damn good job doing so as long as the course is flowy and buff.  However, even in the cross-country race world, the Highball finds itself in a unique niche. There, I would be more apt to take the 2-pound penalty and choose the Santa Cruz Blur for its equal climbing prowess with the dual remote lockout while allowing more power delivery and control that the rear suspension offers on the choppy descents.

For the rider that wants a trail bike in a hardtail package, the Santa Cruz Chameleon provides a more relaxed riding position, sliding dropouts and is 27.5×3.0 compatible. If you so desire, it’s the jack-of-all-trades kind of bike. Or, if you want a nicer (more expensive) package while having a fun everyday trail bike that can equally slay the cross-country race course, the Santa Cruz Blur could be your number one pick. Unlike some other carbon hardtails that can double as weekend race bikes and weekday trail bikes, the Highball is best suited to manicured cross-country course or rough-road rambles. The redesign might have taken some of the sharp edges off of the Highball, but don’t mistake this for anything but a race bike with a razor-sharp edge.