Santa Cruz Highball 29er (frame only) - First ride review

Tough and versatile big-wheeler chassis

BikeRadar score3.5/5

Santa Cruz’s new alloy 29er, the Highball, delivers the super-stiff, big-wheeled performance of their Highball Carbon hardtail with the affordable price and singlespeed options of the 26in Chameleon.

Ride & handling:

While you can tune the head angle with your fork choice, the Highball is naturally sharp and attentive up front. Combined with the mid-width bar and mid-length stem on our test bike, this sometimes produced a nervous feel when really walloping the Fox front fork through rocks. Each bar twitch feels more significant when you’re fighting the trail too. 

What it does give is great ‘reach-around’ on tighter trails where 29ers will often run wide unless you deliberately pre-compensate. Add a skim of rear brake to kick the back end out and some aggressive shoulder work, and you can really rip the Highball through tight singletrack. Like most 29ers it loves to surf a slide too, letting you really push the tyres without ending up on your arse.

High stiffness throughout the frame means it kicks really hard for a 29er too. There’s inevitably a bit of lag as the heavier wheels light up, but this is no wilting violet when it comes to dealing with wattage. There’s also very clear tyre feedback to make the most of the increased grip area.      

That stiffness does come at the expense of comfort. Even with the big tubeless tyres on our sample bike running at low pressure, our hands and feet stung if we hit the chunky local geology flat-out. However hard we rode there was no deviation or deflation though, and you can certainly hammer the Highball through the rough harder than a 26in-wheeled hardtail. 

Frame & equipment:

The relatively steep 70.5° head angle with 100mm-travel (3.9in) fork is straight off the Highball Carbon but this frame is strong enough for a 120mm (4.7in) or even 140mm (5.5in) fork if you want to go slacker. Standover and mud clearance is impressive even with a big 2.25in Maxxis Ardent tyre fitted. You’ve got the option of standard or adjustable, singlespeed friendly, geometry adjusting swinging dropouts bolted onto the back. 

Bare frames are £499 in either blue or white stock colours, with access to a vast custom paint/decal menu for £150 extra. The frame is a claimed 1.77kg (3.9lb), so you can still put together a reasonably light and versatile complete bike with a DIY spec or Santa Cruz’s complete bike options. 

Even with nearly a kilo of heavy-duty tubeless tyre either end (normal build kits will use the significantly lighter, skinnier Maxxis CrossMark 2.1in), our medium frame with Shimano Deore XT based build came in at 11.33kg (24.98lb). Prices for complete bikes start at £1,499/US$1,499, with options all the way up to full XTR with a Kashima-coated Fox fork.

The new alloy version of the highball is tough and versatile: the new alloy version of the highball is tough and versatile
The new alloy version of the highball is tough and versatile: the new alloy version of the highball is tough and versatile

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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