Santa Cruz Highball - first ride review$7,999.00

Lighter and more comfortable than its predecessor

Hot on the heels of the new Blur, Santa Cruz is also releasing a revamped Highball to cater to cross-country riders who want to toe the line on a modern lightweight hardtail. The company managed to shave a half pound off the carbon frame while also making it more forgiving than its predecessor. 

Santa Cruz Highball highlights

  • Carbon only, no alloy version
  • 1x specific frame design
  • 73mm threaded bottom bracket
  • Top build weight: 19.1lb / 9.9kg
  • Frame-only weight: 2.5lb / 1,140g
  • Complete bike pricing: $2,799 - $7,999 / £2,799 - £6,599
  • Frame only pricing:  $1,899 (UK pricing TBC)
  • Available now

A softer approach to a hardtail

The new Highball is lighter and more forgiving that its predecessor
The new Highball is lighter and more forgiving that its predecessor

Updating the Highball wasn’t just a matter of hitting refresh on the bike’s frame standards. While the new Highball does feature Boost spacing, the primary driver for this update was to improve the ride quality of this hardtail.

To that end, Santa Cruz lowered and kinked the seatstays. According to company engineers, these features added compliance to what had been a very stiff-riding chassis.

In addition to softening up the back end, Santa Cruz also reworked the Highball’s geometry with longer reach measurements across the four frame sizes.

The new Highball sees half-degree changes to the seat tube and head tube angles as well. The seat tube steepens to 73 degrees, while the head tube angle is a bit more relaxed at 69.5 degrees.

In keeping with the times, there’s no provision to mount a front derailleur. 

Unlike the previous version of the Highball, there won’t be an alloy version. According to Santa Cruz, the trail-oriented Chameleon will best serve riders seeking an affordable alloy hardtail.

First impressions

As expected, the Highball shines on the climbs
As expected, the Highball shines on the climbs

The proving grounds for this first ride were the Wilder Ranch trails near Santa Cruz’ head quarters. High-speed buff singletrack with stretches of embedded rocks was the terrain of the day. 

It should come as no surprise that a lightweight carbon hardtail jets forward under power. It’s also relatively forgiving on descents, not to the same degree as the new Blur, though the Highball’s slacker head angle and longer front center will help to forgive poor line choices. 

The rear end has a noticable amount of vertical compliance on chopping downhill sections, which results in more traction (and less fatigue)
The rear end has a noticable amount of vertical compliance on chopping downhill sections, which results in more traction (and less fatigue)

Make no mistake, the Highball is still a hardtail, but it is markedly more comfortable than its predecessor. The improved rear end compliance was most noticeable when cornering on choppy, embedded rocks. In these situations, the Highball’s rear end did a better job of tracking the terrain, rather than ricocheting off the rocks and beating up its pilot.

Early verdict

If eggplant isn't to your liking, the HIghball is also offered in a
If eggplant isn't to your liking, the HIghball is also offered in a

The Highball is a fast-paced machine that handles best under a skilled and fit rider. If you’re looking for an easy-riding hardtail for casual rides in the woods, the Chameleon will be a better companion. But if you have a race calendar, and that calendar is filled with cross-country and short-track racing, the Highball is an excellent choice.

Josh Patterson

Tech Editor, US
Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 170cm / 5'7"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 72cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA

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