Note: You can read about Santa Cruz’s other new offering, the Blur Carbon here.
(L to R: Santa Cruz staff Josh, Nick, Ariel, some fellow journalists, and Mike, giving his "serious face")
By Karen Brooks
Two other bikes that debuted at Santa Cruz’s Gooseberry Mesa camp were of the big-wheel variety. One is a dedicated speed weapon, the Highball 29er hardtail. This is an unabashed XC race machine with a feathery 2.45lb. carbon frame and aggressive geometry. In keeping with the Santa Cruz ethos of bikes you can beat on, however, it’s no fragile flower. The Cruz wizards have used their meticulous carbon layup process to strengthen crucial areas, such as around the head tube/down tube/top tube junction, and the frame has a tapered head tube as well.
Here is possibly the best bike photo ever taken (I say with obvious humility), thanks to the backdrop view off the Mesa:
I chose the Highball to ride on the fairly technical North Rim Trail that skirts the edge of Gooseberry Mesa on some convoluted slickrock formations. Some of my fellow journalists might have thought I was bringing a knife to a gunfight, but I figured this technical trail option would give me a quick read on the bike’s capabilities for the more rocky race courses we’re used to in the East.
The Highball has stiffness in spades, which proved very useful for heaving myself up on the many shoulders of rock on the trail, especially given my flagging energy at that point – not one calorie was wasted on frame flex. Yet the friendly 70.5-degree head tube angle meant the bike didn’t feel like a total road-racer wannabe. The Highball’s chainstays are the minimum length that the Cruz wizards could manage given the constraints of a front derailleur, at 17.3”, so it felt nice and compact.
Here is a Highball frame cut open to show its pretty innards:
The MSRP on the Highball frame is $1,900, and complete bikes start at $3,100.
The final dish to be served was a new aluminum version of Santa Cruz’s first foray into the 29er world, the Tallboy. The carbon Tallboy has been wildly popular, so Santa Cruz is graciously making this less-expensive aluminum version to invite more people to the party. Maurice tested the carbon Tallboy for issue #148 and said it was "just what I was looking for." Santa Cruz arrived somewhat beyond fashionably late to this particular party, but it’s obvious that they spent that time well and did a lot of research into what they liked, and perhaps more importantly what they didn’t like, about competitors’ 29er offerings.
It was interesting to talk to my fellow journalists, some of whom hadn’t yet found a 29er they were all that into – that is, until they rode the Tallboy. Some said that the oversteer they typically had issue with when riding 29ers was absent from this bike. I rode the aluminum Tallboy on the final day, on the fast and flowy Gould’s Rim and J.E.M. trails, and agreed that it would take little to no adjustment in handling style for someone transitioning from a 26-inch-wheeled bike. It could be flicked from left- to right-handed swoopy turns with the greatest of ease, and its steering feel was perfectly balanced between fast and stable.
Here is one of our expert guides, Bobby from Rim Tours, posing next to one of the new bikes:
Tallboy Aluminum cans – er, frames – will go for $1,850, and complete bikes start at $2,300.
My final mission after this camp is to choose which bike of the three to grab for a long-term test. I’ve entered myself in the Trans-Sylvania Epic stage race coming up at the end of May, and will be racing (or simply hanging on for dear life) atop a Santa Cruz test bike. So I’ve got a tough choice between the Blur TRc, the Highball, and the Tallboy Aluminum. Care to weigh in on which you’d prefer to see reviewed in the pages of the Rag? Leave a comment here.