Dirt Rag Magazine

Santa Cruz Stigmata returns, along with a refreshed Highball carbon

Photos by Sven Martin.

After much speculation, Santa Cruz dropped a somewhat unexpected pair of bikes on the public, with a return of the Stigmata cyclocross bike and a refreshed Highball carbon hardtail with new geometry and a second wheelsize.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

The bikes were introduced on the South Island of New Zealand, perhaps the most picturesque place I’ve ever visited, and a warm respite from the bitter cold back at Dirt Rag HQ. Our guides for the week were Anka and Sven Martin, who get the eternal summer every year, splitting time between the race circuit in the Northern Hemisphere and the rest of the year down south. They also somehow find the time to run HouseMartin All Mountain Adventure guide service, and I’d be happy to recommend them.

I am also quite jealous of their 4×4 adventure van:

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

On to the bikes….


About a decade ago, Santa Cruz released an aluminum cyclocross bike which became an instant favorite. Long after it ceased production Santa Cruz still received regular requests for frames and sponsored riders like Steve Peat were still riding their old Stigmatas for training.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

The new Stigmata is full carbon fiber with all the modern standards, including a first for Santa Cruz, a press fit bottom bracket shell (we are as shocked as you are). All cables are routed internally and in true race bike style, there are no fender or rack mounts. Tire clearance is generous, with room for a 41 mm tire, so this could be a hell of a dirt road bomber as well.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

After lunch in Nelson, we all headed about an hour out of town to stay at the Kimi Ora eco resort located inside the Kaiteriteri Mountain bike park. A small group of us took a quick rip on the Stigmata to get dialed in for the next day’s ride. Stateside, we know a bike park as ski resort/downhill trails, but this bike park is mostly purpose-built cross country tracks, with a few faster and more technical trails.

We took most of the next day to ride a abandoned mining rail line, ending up at the Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge in the early evening.

Our ride covered a ton of different terrain, from pavement to short bits of technical trail. The Stigmata handled it all in stride, feeling best when pushed hard, as a race bike should. I’m curious to try it with bigger tires, but I was impressed with the stock Maxxis Mud Wrestler 700×33 cross tires. These were set up tubeless on WTB i19 rims, and even at 60 psi they provided decent traction, and zero flats. Props to Santa Cruz for shipping these bikes (and most all of its bikes) set up tubeless.

Stigmata photos

I rode the CX1 model, and much like a 1×11 mountain bike drivetrain, I didn’t miss a second ring on my crank. I wouldn’t have minded a smaller chainring than the stock 42, but this is a race bike, and a 42×11-36 sounds like race gearing to me, so I should just HTFU.

Frame and fork will be $2,300, with complete bikes from $3,700 to $6,800. All bikes use SRAM drivetrains and hydraulic brakes.

Highball carbon

Day three was on the new Highball 29, the CC XX1 model to be exact. We took on the almost complete Old Ghost Trail. When complete it will be New Zealand’s longest singletrack. More importantly than length, this is a stunning place to ride a bike. It is a 50-mile-long point to point trail that uses old mining trails and rail lines combined with some very modern trail building that snakes around, up and over some seriously amazing mountains.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

The Highball 29 is now 10 mm shorter in the chainstays (430 mm) and longer in the top tube (24.6 in the large I was riding) with a steep 70.5 degree head angle with the stock 100 mm fork. This gives the bike a somewhat high-strung racy feel. Santa Cruz is aiming this bike at the cross country and endurance race crowd, and this geometry should appeal to that class of rider. I swapped out the stock 90 stem for a 70 mm and felt very at home after that.

All cable routing is internal, the head tube is tapered, rear dropouts are 142×12 and the bottom bracket is still threaded. A port at the bottom bracket area should help installation of all the cables, along with internal carbon fiber tunnels that add considerable cost (and engineering) to the frame, but it is an extra step Santa Cruz thinks is worth it to make maintenance less of a pain in the ass.

Modern disc brakes use a connector so the caliper can be installed, the hose is threaded through the frame with a connection made near the lever without the need for a brake bleed. This improves assembly times but all openings in the frame need to be big enough to handle the oversize connector and those carbon tunnels inside the new frames need to be oversize as well, which means the brake hose can rattle on rough terrain.

Highball Carbon 29 photos

In testing, the hoses were kept quiet by the grommets where the hose entered the frame, but on the bikes we rode many of them rattled. While at the media camp, Santa Cruz decided to make a running change to the assembly, adding some o-rings to the brake hose inside the frame. This is only possible because Santa Cruz still handles all assembly at its U.S. facility, and since parts are still waiting on ships due to the labor disputes in California, every production bike should ship with o-rings installed. I was glad to see Santa Cruz address this issue quickly. I almost didn’t mention it, but it was refreshing to see this handled so well.

Since the trail wasn’t finished up to the hut where we planned to spend the night, we called for an assist.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

This made people very happy.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

We spend the night at Ghost Lake hut. While the lake itself was more of an pond that looked overgrown with algae, the hut was built on the edge of a cliff, with views of the trail leading away in both directions.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

Highball Carbon 27.5

Day four was all about getting down off the mountain, and the Highball 27.5 was just the ticket.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

For the first time ever, I actually preferred a 27.5 hardtail to a the 29er version. The slight differences in geometry ended up with front centers that are almost identical, but to me the day was won by the more reasonable headtube angle (69 degrees) of the 27.5. Or maybe it was the dropper post on the smaller wheeled bike? While these hardtails are aimed at the cross country race market, even that is seeing more riders on droppers. There were zero issues installing the 27.2 mm Thomson dropper, but the zip ties on the top tube were unsightly on such a clean bike. If 27.2 droppers get an internal routing option, riders with a 1x drivetrain (or using a single shifter on a XTR Di2 2×11 set up) can use the empty front derailleur port to route a dropper cable.

Once I learned to trust the diminutive 2.2 Ikons, the 27.5 Highball was a blast on the rolling descent. It felt a little more trail-bike-like than the 29 version, but don’t be mistaken, this is also very much a race bike.

Highball Carbon 27.5 photos

For a company that is so focused on trail bikes, these bikes come as a surprise, but not a bad one at all. Expect to see Santa Cruz represented at more cyclocross races this year, and I would expect to see plenty of Highballs lined up at cross country starting lines in the future. A Highball 27.5 followed me home from New Zealand, so expect a more in depth review of that bike in the coming months.

There are two levels of Highball frame offered, the high-end CC or less-expensive C. Santa Cruz claims there will be little difference in ride quality, just more weight for the C frame. There will be five complete bikes, two C-level and three CC-level. Prices start at $2,800 for the base model to $8,800 for the full XTR/Enve bling bike. Bare frames only come in the CC level, for $1,900. Prices are the same for 27.5 or 29.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

Highball Aluminum

With zero fanfare the new aluminum version of the Highball was released a few months back, with the same geometry as the new carbon bikes. While the aluminum bikes won’t have internal routing, they still have the swappable dropouts that can now run a thru axle as well as a singlespeed setup. A bare frame is $750, with complete bikes offered at $1,700 and $2,000.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

There is NOT a 27.5 version of the aluminum bike, just 29-inch. Santa Cruz figures the 27.5 Chameleon should keep most riders happy. Personally, I’d love to see a 29er version of the Chameleon as well, but much like much-rumored Santa Cruz fat bike, we’ll have to wait and see.

I shot a lot more photos than I usually do, but when I looked through my photos and what Sven Martin provided, I thought my readers would be better served with his work. Thanks Sven!

Even pro photographers can’t resist a helicopter selfie:

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.

Due to the slowdown at West Coast ports, these bikes are still a few weeks out, but keep an eye on the Santa Cruz website for details and right here at Dirt Rag for our bike test on home soil.



Trail Talk With Cush – Going to the junkyard


Bilenky’s Junkyard Cyclo-cross celebrated its ninth anniversary and as usual, it was a scene like no other. It’s the first and only race held entirely in a junkyard.

Bilenky crop-1

More than just a legendary North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania party, it’s a signature of all that’s great with bike riding. A true gathering of tribes from not only every style and discipline of biking, but spectators as well. Given the nature of the course, namely a tough circuit around a junkyard complete with car jumps, oily concrete turns, rhythm sections made from truck and tractor tires, a giant teeter-tooter, ruthless heckling and beverage hand-ups, it’s no surprise that guys and girls with mad mountain bike technical skills and dudes on BMX bikes routinely ride away from the Lycra-clad ‘cross racers who try to make a showing. To say it’s a fun event is like saying Jesus Christ was a well known carpenter.

The man himself, Stephen Bilenky began building frames in 1983 and he still makes award winning bikes in all disciplines from a small shop nestled next to Big Guy’s Used Auto Parts, which serves as the race venue. If you don’t have this on your bucket list, you should. Next year will be the diamond celebration so bring your flask, leather jacket and anything with two wheels. See you there.

Stephen Bilenky keeps tabs on the day.

Stephen Bilenky keeps tabs on the day.

Barriers look different at a junkyard race.

Barriers look different at a junkyard race.

The Huxtable Hut heckle pit.

The Huxtable Hut heckle pit.

Officer Dangle showed up.

Officer Dangle showed up with his cat.

Care for a drink...

Care for a drink…

...from the bar...

…from the bar.

There was dirt...

There was dirt…

...and a proper pit zone.

…and a proper pit zone.

This is a door bike. it didn't handle so well.

This is a door bike. it didn’t handle so well.

The teeter-totter was a crowd pleaser.

The teeter-totter was a crowd pleaser.

And too all, filthy Santa says, have a Merry Bilenky Holiday.

“And too all,” filthy Santa says. “Have a Merry Bilenky Holiday.”


Ruckus Composites hosting NWSSCX race for ladies only

Courtesy of Ruckus Composites:


(Click here and you’ll understand the cow image.)

Calling All Single (Speed) Ladies! Everyone knows SS ladies have more fun. If ya didn’t, now ya do.

And girl oh girl do we have a race to prove it. We’ve built a special course with interesting twists and turns, a few kegs of great beer, great people, and – dun dun dun – Huge payouts for the Women’s field! Gals bring your guys, but there’s no payout for guys except a super fun course and gag prizes.

Ruckus Composites is excited to announce the first annual NWSSCX race featuring a women’s single-speed category during the Corvallis Cross Classic on November 15, 2014. We have reworked the schedule a bit to have the women’s SS field race at 3:30 during the open SS field.

We have worked hard and came up with an awesome prize list that includes

  • a limited edition SSCXWC frameset from Raleigh Bikes
  • All-City SS hub set laced to Velocity rims by Sugar Wheel works
  • Castelli’s awesome winter gear!
  • Yakima racks and schwag
  • PDW lights!
  • a bag of Stumptown coffee for everyone woman that pre-registers for the SS field

The women’s field gets all the prizes. Guys will get various gag prizes.

Registration: $20/$10 adult/junior preregistration; $25/$15 day of.

Head on over to www.nwsscx.com to register.



Inside Line: New GT Grade action/adventure/anywhere bike


Photos by the author and Dane Cronin, courtesy of GT Bicycles.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of us are never going to need the kind of elite-level performance that modern race bikes are designed for. We want other things, like bigger tires, maybe some fender mounts, and a slightly more comfortable ride for our real-world behinds. GT is jumping into the fray with a new model aimed at the core the recreational road bike market with the new Grade.

The frame is built around GT’s famous Triple Triangle design, with carefully shaped tubing to create a compliant ride. There’s also room for tires from 23c to 35c knobbies and fender eyelets front and rear. Featuring carbon and aluminum options with complete bikes starting at just $799, there is likely to be an build spec for everyone.

Get all the details here.


First Impression: Pivot Vault cyclocross/gravel bike


I’ve been a drop-bar, off-roading rider for a couple decades, so the whole ‘gravel’ category is a little late-coming and a bit cliché for me. Who wouldn’t want to ride a properly-specced and comfortable performance bike anywhere and everywhere? Isn’t that the point of adventure seeking?

What’s new for me and others is the marriage of drop bars and disc brakes, which makes perfect sense for many reasons, including better speed control and less hand fatigue. I’m more comfortable on drop bars, and make use of all the hand positions afforded by the extra real estate, so having better control at the levers gives me more confidence. The Pivot Vault caught my eye as a modern carbon all-rounder to stack up against my 24-plus years of off-road riding experience, and it offers several interesting features.

Read the full story


First look: Asylum Cycles and the Meuse CX


If the name Asylum sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In its first go round, Asylum Cycles was building one of the first full-suspension 29er mountain bikes, peddled by Chris Currie and his shop Speedgoat Cycles.

In the past decade, both Asylum and Speedgoat have faded from the scene, but when Currie moved to Portland, it was an opportunity to resurrect his brand. The Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of cyclocross and he knew his latest project would be a great fit.

Enter the Meuse, named for the mighty river that flows through the French Ardennes, on to Liege in Belgium and finally into the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea. It’s a part of the world that lives and breathes cyclocross, just like its Pacific Northwest counterpart.

Read the full story of the Meuse CX and Asylum Cycles here.


More cowbell! 2013 Moots Ti Sticks now available


Cyclocross season may be winding down, but if you’ve got Holiday Fever, the only solution might be MORE COWBELL. Moots is happy to obliged with the annual release of Ti Sticks, a noisemaker made from excess or scrap tubing from Moots frames.

The titanium tubes are cut and finished in just a way to provide the perfect resonance for heckling your favorite racer. They will undoubtedly ride faster and farther thanks to your assistance.

Each year, 100 percent of the proceeds from the Ti Sticks goes to charity or advocacy groups. For 2013, the recipient is the Great Colorado Flood Relief, a natural choice after the devastating floods along the Front Range in Moots’ home state. Each of the 2013 tubes is also marked with the Great Colorado Flood Relief logo for extra specialness. There are only 31 being built this year, and with Cyclocross Nationals coming up in January in Boulder, these are likely to go fast. Order yours here.


Photo Gallery: Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships 2013


This is it. The main event. After Friday’s party, Saturday’s qualifying rides and Junkyard ‘Cross, then Saturday’s party, it was time get some racing on for the Golden Speedo and tattoos. The first SSCXWC to be held on the East Coast, Philly was an amazing host for the weekend. Despite some horrible weather for driving to and from along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it was 48 hours I will never forget.

Click here to read more and see the photos.


Photo Gallery: Bilenky Junkyard ‘Cross


A long-standing Pennsylvania tradition, Bilenky Cycle Works has hosted a… unique cyclocross race each winter through a salvage yard. There are no UCI officials measuring tire widths, the barriers are not to spec, and #handupsarenotacrime.

This Saturday the annual event was pushed to new levels with the influx of humanity (and inhumanity) in town for the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships. The Junkyard Cross was tapped as a qualifying event for the Big Show, with heats of riders dualing for a finale and a chance to race in the Sunday’s main event. If you favored style over speed, you could still enter Sunday’s Everyone’s A Winner race, complete with universal #1 number plates.

There were a few scary moments, and likely some flat tires, but overall the event was one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen. Until Sunday that is…

Stay tuned for more!

Click here to see the gallery!


First Impression: Specialized CruX Elite EVO Rival Disc


By Mike Cushionbury

For a great many of us, road riding isn’t a dedicated endeavor of criterium racing and hill repeats. It’s a combination of long days on the pavement, as many dirt roads as we can find, a training race here and there and maybe even a cyclocross race. This of course begs the question, is there just one do-it-all bike for all of the above?

The answer according to Specialized is, in fact, yes. Taking what it learned from the successful CruX cross line, Specialized has been dabbling in creating the ultimate gravel road bike, a concept that seems to be working as team riders Rebecca Rusch and Dan Hughes both won the Dirty Kanza 200 this year on specially outfitted editions of the “gravel” Crux. The production model, dubbed the CruX EVO, is a $3,200 road/gravel/cross machine that could be the only drop bar bike you’ll ever need. Or want. Read the full story

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