Santa Cruz has launched new 27.5 and 29er versions of the Highball hardtail and a reworked Stigmata cyclocross bike. Both bikes have been updated for 2015, with a variety of geometry and spec changes, and BikeRadar met the guys from Santa Cruz near Nelson, New Zealand, to try the new rides out.
The Highball is now available in both 27.5in and 29in wheel sizes, as well as carbon and alloy options, while the cult-followed Stigmata has been totally redesigned and in a carbon, disc-only flavour, and is sure to be a hard hitter in the cyclocross scene.
Highball 29 and 27.5
The Highball has had a total redesign, with geometry updates and an option of CC or C-level carbon on the full build bikes.
The biggest update is that it is now available in both 27.5 and 29er sizes, though the small frame is 27.5in only and the XXL comes only in 29in.
You now get a choice of wheel sizes on the Highball – 27.5 or 29in
Frame and equipment: internal routing and comfort concessions
The Highball is Santa Cruz’s first frame to feature entirely full internal cable routing – the design team spent a good while putting different ideas through the grinder, with the result effectively moulding a separate pipe into the down tube of the frame to house the rear brake hose. This means routing the hose is easy, with no clattering in the frame while riding. The shift cables run through the down tube to the bottom bracket, where a specially moulded piece of plastic sits as a cable guide, with a bolt-on cover to keep the elements out (time will tell how it holds up to the kind of wet and grit our test machines get subjected to).
Although it’s designed to be an out-and-out XC race machine, the Highball 29's chainstays have been shortened by 10mm. With the frame’s geometry changing to accommodate each wheel size, the chainstays only shorten by 5mm on the 27.5in version, while the head angle slackens by 1.5 degrees.
The chainstay-mounted rear brake may be slightly harder to mount and adjust, but a massive amount of the frame’s vibration absorbing ride quality comes from being able to reduce the amount of material in the seatstays – which couldn’t be done if the brake was mounted there. The 27.2mm seatpost – a first on a Santa Cruz mountain bike – also adds compliance.
The frames are available in both Santa Cruz’s top level CC carbon and the one-step-down C level carbon, although the C level is only available on the two full build options below XT spec. The alloy Highball is still in production and takes the geometry of the new Highball as a running change, although cable routing is external and the brake is still mounted to the seatstay. This keeps the option open to run the optional singlespeed dropouts that the carbon frame misses out on.
The Highball C frame carries around a 200g weight penalty over the CC, but the two full builds that use it come in about $500 cheaper than with the top-end carbon. The C uses a larger overlap area between layers of carbon and therefore has marginally increased wall thickness. Santa Cruz claims this doesn’t affect ride quality.
The new Highball is available in two grades of carbon, as well as aluminium
The builds are identical between the 27.5 and 29in frames (obviously aside from wheels and fork). The 27.5in model has a fully integrated headset while the 29er uses a standard (semi integrated) one.
The Highball C’s R build uses a mix of Shimano SLX and Deore kit, with a RockShox Recon Gold fork, while the S build upgrades to a mix of SLX and XT gear, with a Fox 32 Float CTD Performance series fork up front.
The three CC full builds come in XT, XTR or full XX1 groupset flavors, and all have an option of upgrading to an ENVE wheel setup from the DT Swiss/WTB i19 rim version.
The claimed weight for a Highball 29 CC carbon matte black frame in size Medium is 1.193kg (2.63lb). The same frame built with SRAM XX1 and ENVE wheels has a claimed weight of 8.84kg (19.5lb). The Highball 27.5 CC carbon matte black frame weighs a claimed 1.172kg (2.58lb) in size Medium, and the XX1 and ENVE build brings that claimed weight up to 8.74kg (19.27lb).
Highball 29 ride and handling: svelte and very snappy
Swing a leg over the Highball 29 and the bike’s capabilities are obvious. Its svelte form is a breeze to accelerate and climb on. The medium size bike’s 600mm effective top tube does feel a tad on the short side, though the 90mm stem on the test machine we rode made up some of that lost length. Santa Cruz’s own 720mm wide carbon XC bars looked to have a slightly odd shape, but on the trail were as comfortable as we could have wished for in shape, and had enough flex to keep any vibration from dampening our spirit, even riding scarily fast on rumbly hardpack descents.
The overall feel is incredibly comfortable for a carbon hardtail that accelerates with such pace, with the combination of the rear triangle design and 27.2mm post giving enough comfort to stay in the saddle for long rides without any numbing effects.
Handling is snappy thanks to the 70.5 degree head angle, but means that winding through tight trees on singletrack descents at pace can be done with ease and confidence once you’re in tune with the feel. The 430mm chainstays give some stability too, without hindering front wheel lifting ease in technical sections. The Highball 29 has a remarkably central, stable riding position considering its XC pedigree.
Highball 27.5 ride and handling: point and shoot precision
Hopping from the Highball 29 to the 27.5, the consistency in handling and ride quality between the two bikes is impressive. The 27.5 machine’s 69-degree head angle gives steering that feels in line with that of the 29er, while the 425mm chainstays give similar, if slightly livelier, rear end feel, making the front wheel easy to pick up.
The 5mm loss in rear end length is more than made up in the front-center, with the bike’s overall wheelbase 15mm longer (in the Med size) than the 29er despite keeping identical top tube lengths and BB heights between the wheel sizes. The central riding position is still there, though as with the 29er, the top tube does feel as if it could benefit from a small length increase.
BikeRadar's Jake Ireland test-rides the new Highball in New Zealand
The 27.5in bike still has the vibration-absorbing comfort of the 29er, although the smaller, stiffer wheels marginally increase harshness over rough sections. Luckily, the trade off gives some extra confidence at speed, with less flex over really rough sections of trail, and a more point-and-shoot feel when things get really twisty.
Acceleration is blisteringly fast, with the only downside being that slowing down quickly took some skill, especially thanks to the harsh bite of the XTR brakes, super light wheels and minimal tread on the Maxxis Ikon tires.
It’s safe to say we’re looking forward to spending more time on both Highballs to really see what they’re capable of.
The previous alloy Stigmata had a strong following – and a large proportion of the Santa Cruz factory workers race cyclocross – and the SC team have set about a careful reworking of the bike.
The Stigmata is back but in an all-new extra competitive carbon form
Frame and equipment: performance-oriented rework
The Stigmata is squarely aimed at the top of the CX podium – there are no fender or rack mounts and it’s only available in top-grade CC carbon for the lightest possible frame. Full internal cable routing uses the same system as on the Highball, with a tube moulded into the frame to carry the brake hose.
While it’s Shimano Di2 compatible, the Stigmata’s redesign embraces the advantages of 1x drivetrains – though a clamp-on front derailleur mount is included with the frame. The fork is also Santa Cruz designed, using an integrated crown race in line with the frame’s integrated headset to keep weight minimal, and both fork and frame are disc only.
The Stigmata rotates on specially modified RockShox Maxles
The thru-axles have also been specially made for the Stigmata – they’re modified Rockshox Maxles – using the 15mm front and 12x142mm rear wheel standards. In a first for Santa Cruz, the Stigmata uses a press-fit BB in the shape of the PF30 standard. The design team made the decision thanks to the industry’s adoption of the PF30 standard in cyclocross and the availability of high-end SRAM CX1 cranksets.
After a long development stage testing geometries, the Stigmata doesn’t deviate a huge amount from the old model, instead taking on a few tweaks to improve handling and stability. The head angle slackens to between 71 and 72.5 degrees, depending on frame size, while chainstay length drops to 425mm.
The Stigmata is available in a frame-and-fork only option, or in full SRAM Rival, Red or CX1 groupset builds, and comes in 52, 54, 56, 58, and 60cm sizes.
The 56cm CC carbon frame in mattte black has a claimed weight of 1.013kg (2.23lb), and the CC carbon fork matte black weighs a claimed 424g (0.93lb). The same frame built with SRAM Red and ENVE wheels comes in at a claimed weight of 7.42kg (16.35lb).
Ride and handling: confidence inspiring, even on MTB trails
We rode the Stigmata on some of Kaiteriteri’s mountain biking trails, giving it more of a workout than we initially thought we would be! We didn’t get to spend a huge amount of time aboard it, but first impressions certainly hit hard.
The Stigmata offered predictable handling and a comfortable ride experience
Despite riding a frame one size too large and trying to keep up with mountain bikes, the Stigmata inspired confidence and although out of its depth (as any CX bike would be) through big root and rock gardens, handling was predictable and the ride was comfortable, with little nasty vibration making its way to the bars or saddle.
The CX1 groupset gave a wide enough range of gears for any off road situation and the hydraulic Rival brakes gave more power than we could have wished for as well as enough modulation not to be accidentally locking wheels up.
Downhill racer Steve Peat and Santa Cruz' Scott Chapin ride the Stigmata CX bike in the snow
Pricing and availability
All the above bikes should be shipping from Santa Cruz immediately.
- Highball C R: $2,799
- Highball C S: $3,199
- Highball CC frame only: $1,899
- Highball CC XT: $4,299 (ENVE option +$2,000)
- Highball CC XTR: $6,799 (ENVE option +$2,000)
- Highball CC XX1: $6,299 (ENVE option +$2,000)
- Stigmata CC frameset: $2,299
- Stigmata CC Rival: $3,699
- Stigmata CC Red: $6,599 (ENVE option +$2,000)
- Stigmata CC Force CX1: $4,699 (ENVE option +$2,000)