Dirt Rag Magazine

New Santa Cruz Tallboy 29 and 27plus

The original Santa Cruz Tallboy is arguably the bike that signalled 29ers acceptance into the mainstream/cool kids’ cycling club. That’s not to say there wasn’t good 29er before the Tallboy or that it had the most revolutionary geometry. What is had was a certain something that was well loved and well used.


Fast forward a few years, and the Tallboy is looking dated. There was some internal debate about what to do with the Tallboy. With the new Hightower pedalling so well for a “big” bike, it might have made sense for Santa Cruz to push the Tallboy into cross-country territory. Maybe if there was a Santa Cruz Syndicate for XC racers, and maybe if the staff at Santa Cruz wasn’t always tinkering with longer forks and custom linkage for more travel on their personal Tallboys, maybe this new Tallboy would be much steeper and racier.

HyperFocal: 0 HyperFocal: 0

But that isn’t what Santa Cruz is about, so the new Tallboy is a modern trail bike that gets the trickle-down geometry changes that started on the Nomad. Think of it as a 5010 for 29 inch wheels (or 27plus). Geometry changes tremendously starting with the reach/top tubes which get much longer. Also, the head angle drops 2.2 degrees (which is huge!). Chainstays get shorter, seat angle steepens a little over half a degree, and the bottom bracket drops by 1 mm. Travel also bumps up to 110 mm in the rear, from the previous 100 mm. Suspension is updated to the latest VPP design, which has proven to be an excellent performer on the other bikes in the lineup.

Just like the Hightower, the Tallboy is compatible with 27plus and 29 inch wheels. Boost spacing  front and rear combined with a flip-chip and a 10 mm longer fork keeps geometry almost identical when switching between wheel sizes.

 4.26.16 SCB Tallboy Launch Deck

Parts spec leans towards traction and stiffness, not light weight. A FOX 34 is up front, replacing the 32. Aggressive tires, wide bars, short stems and dropper post on all builds point to a bike that loves being pushed harder than its travel numbers would suggest. Unlike the Hightower, the Tallboy can run a front derailleur on a removeable direct mount tab.

Tall boy specs 1 Tallboy spec2

Unfortunately, due to component supply issues, we didn’t get a first ride on this bike when it was revealed to the press before Sea Otter. BUT! We’ve been promised one soon and will hit you up with first impressions as soon as we get it out of the box and on the trails.

In the meantime, get down to your dealer because you might be able to ride one before I do. Santa Cruz timed this release with availability, so you should be able to plunk down the cash and walk out with a bike right about now, assuming you have the scratch. Santa Cruz neither confirmed nor denied aluminum frames, but I bet this bike will get a metal frame version at some point in the future.  Prices are in the pics above. Expect frame-only options soon, as well as less expensive Tallboy C-framed builds.

More info, as expected, at santacruzbicycles.com.


CERES - March 23 2016 - during the TB3 photoshoot with Greg Minnaar in Ceres, Koue Bokkeveld in South Africa.

CERES – March 23 2016 – during the TB3 photoshoot with Greg Minnaar in Ceres, Koue Bokkeveld in South Africa.



Bell Builds Community Through the Joy Ride Ambassador Program


Photos: Josh Sawyer and Emily Walley


A community is a village, a town or a city, but a sense of community is not defined by proximity. It’s the nurse and the lawyer, the photographer, designer and the park ranger; it’s the social media specialist, the bike shop salesperson and the mom all pursuing a common goal.

Joy Ride (27 of 27)

A few years ago Jessica Klodnicki, Bell Helmet’s executive vice president and general manager, found herself standing alone at a bike shop. She’d expected to join a scheduled group mountain bike ride but no one else showed up. Ultimately, she made her connection, but the experience wasn’t what she’d hoped for. As a relatively new rider, she was looking for a group ride that was committed, organized and fun; she was seeking community.

If you mountain bike, you’ve likely heard a friend say, “I really want to start mountain biking, but…”

Fill in the blank: I don’t have a bike; I can’t afford a bike; my bike doesn’t fit; I don’t know what to look for in a bike; I don’t know the trails; I don’t have anyone at my level to ride with; I’m afraid to join a ride. And so on. These are huge hurdles associated with mountain biking. Whether the reason is social, economic or psychological, the barriers seem to be just a little bit bigger for women.


To mitigate some of these challenges and grow the sport of mountain biking among women, Bell Helmets has implemented the Joy Ride Ambassador Program. Historically, Bell has been perceived as a masculine company, but Joy Ride aims to open doors to the female consumer.

The program is motivated by and modeled after Girls Rock, a Santa Cruz all-women’s mountain bike group founded by Klodnicki not long after that lonely morning at the bike shop. With her tireless dedication and passion for the sport, an eager following of burgeoning and advanced female riders, and the support of the ever-present Santa Cruz bike industry, Girls Rock has grown from merely four women to 400 since the spring of 2014.

“It showed us that there was a real need for women of all levels, everything from beginner to advanced to come together and have the opportunity to ride,” said Klodnicki.


I spent this past weekend observing the Joy Ride kickoff with Bell’s Ambassadors and had the pleasure of meeting many of the Girls Rock members at social events. There was a unanimous wave of excited chatter about what has developed from four ladies in a parking lot.

As an outsider, I could see and hear the joy throughout the room. Girls Rock was certainly born out of desire and drive. Perhaps Klodnicki’s personal hurdles are what gives this program its energy. She wanted someone to ride with; she assumed other women did as well and she made it happen.


The Joy Ride Ambassador Program

With the support of Bell, eight women from Nashville, Tennessee, to Edmonton, Alberta, will build a community of female mountain bikers within their respective locations. Each ambassador is expected to offer a regular all-women’s mountain bike ride every month for one year. Bell wants to expand this program in the future, but it wanted to “start small.”

Inevitably, challenges will present themselves for each of these women and limiting the group size allows the company to be connected, involved and supportive throughout the ambassador process, seeing that each of these women succeed in their programs.

Bell received over 200 applications for the Joy Ride Ambassador Program, many hailing from epic ride destinations, but opted to move forward with some less-traveled locations. “We really wanted to find spots where there was opportunity,” said Klodnicki.


While Bell had several bike companies offer to sponsor the Joy Ride program, it declined, wanting to be flexible and keep doors open to all of the bike industry. Essentially, Bell chose not to team up with anyone so it could team up with everyone. Each of the Joy Ride Ambassadors is encouraged to do the same in her own community.

Ibis, Blackburn, Camelbak, Giro and Luna Bar all provided generous support for the kickoff weekend. While Bell certainly wants strong brand recognition at each Joy Ride event—the ambassadors have all received Joy Ride helmets, apparel and pop-up tents—the ladies were encouraged to seek support from everyone they know, including friends involved in other ambassador programs. It’s important to Bell that the Joy Ride program is all-encompassing.

The name “Joy Ride” and the associated apparel is the result of surveying 750 women about why they ride, their style preferences, wants and needs. Bell heard the word “joy” repeatedly throughout the process. You’ll notice that while the apparel has a feminine quality, it tastefully stands out from much of what you see for women. With the Joy Ride gear, Bell was striving for “purpose built while being aesthetically beautiful.”

The Joy Ride program is focused on the four following pillars:

1. Obsessed with dirt
2. Welcoming and inclusive
3. Fun! (and sometimes educational)
4. Organized, but flexible

Bell is providing a “prescriptive tool kit” for the ambassadors which included a vast array of suggestions for building a community: pre- and post-ride activities; educational programs; partnering with local shops, brands and businesses; giveaways; social media accounts; trail etiquette; volunteers and role assignments; ride levels and more.

Klodnicki emphasized the importance of the ambassadors dividing the women into self-identified ride levels. The ability to challenge yourself is present when you ride with others at a similar or slightly more advanced level than oneself. It’s the “if she can ride it, I can ride it” philosophy. I’ve personally found this beneficial to my own growth as a mountain biker.


Ultimately, these eight women must tailor their programs to fit into their respective communities. Terrain, weather, personalities, riding level and personal preferences will all be factors of how these programs evolve.

From frigid cold to unbearable heat to moisture, the fourth pillar: “organized, but flexible,” may be the biggest challenge for some of the ambassadors. For instance, after three weeks of 70 degrees and sunshine, Bell hadn’t expected a weekend of heavy rain and high wind. We spent the first day in Santa Cruz having a blast on the new Ibis Mojo 3 in a steady drizzle, but riding on day two was out of the question.

Meet the Joy Ride Ambassadors

A 20-year age gap spans the youngest and eldest ambassador. Through their diverse careers and backgrounds, they represent a small cross-section of the U.S. and Canada. While they have some connections, most of these women do not have a background in the bike industry. Perhaps this makes them a better fit for the ambassador role. A few of the ambassadors have already held their first Joy Ride and they were stoked to share their successes.

Joy Ride (20 of 27)

Isabelle Jacques, North Vancouver, BC: Isabelle raced mountain bikes as a kid, but was always training with boys. It wasn’t until a few years ago that she started riding with women and that’s when she saw her riding skills really progress. She’s a certified Professional Mountain Bike Instructor and enjoys sharing riding strengths with friends, i.e. swapping downhill techniques for cross country skills. “I find that this program is almost something I’ve been waiting for … let’s just get out there and have a good time.”

Joy Ride (15 of 27)

Samantha Jones, Kansas City, MO: When returning to her hometown of Kansas City, Sam was the only woman at the Lawrence MTB Club weekly rides. She started a Thursday night women’s ride, and the ride grew to 16 people before winter.

Joy Ride (18 of 27)

Nina Karpoff, Edmonton, AB: As a resident of Edmonton, Alberta, Nina’s mountain bike rides are currently challenged by cold temperatures and unfavorable trail conditions, but she left the Joy Ride weekend feeling prepared. In addition to being a skilled rider, she’s also a talented photographer. Be sure to follow her on Instagram.

Joy Ride (17 of 27)

Amber Krueger, Madison, WI: Amber lives 15 minutes from singletrack, but she expressed that Madison needed the Joy Ride program to encourage women to explore the area’s trails. She completed her inaugural Joy Ride event in February with a seasonally appropriate fat bike ride. Seventy women gathered at the Quarry Ridge trailhead for coffee and doughnuts before hitting the trails on Surly demo bikes. The trail offered a short loop for all riding abilities. As a representative of the midwest, Amber is one of the ambassadors that will be challenged by cold and wet trail conditions. As a Wisconsin native, I can appreciate the brisk, negative-8 degree event but Amber thoughtfully combatted the cold with a heated tent and a bonfire.

Joy Ride (21 of 27)

Karina Magrath, Coeur d’ Alene, ID: Karina is Professional Mountain Bike Instructor certified. She was accustomed to large women’s riding groups when she lived in Seattle, but the percentage of women on her Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, group rides was small. She’s looking forward to her August Joy Ride camping event at Farragut State Park, in Athel, Idaho. Women will ride from the campground to trails that offer opportunities for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders. She’s already received 100 RSVPs.

Joy Ride (16 of 27)

Veronique Pardee, Tucson, AZ: It’s been over a year since Veronique and a fellow cyclist started the program In Session. The group was inspired by the Trek Dirt Series and developed from the realization that she hadn’t spent much time “sessioning” trail sections and features. She had up to 13 women at the rides and as they neared its anniversary, she wondered how it would grow. At Veronique’s first Joy Ride event, she gathered 55 women. She was really focused on the social aspect of this ride, so she shuttled people out and back from a local brewery where they were offered $1 post-ride beers.

Joy Ride (22 of 27)

Missy Petty, Knoxville, TN: Missy is a sponsored racer. Her home city of Knoxville won the Bell Built grant in 2015, and the Appalachian Mountain Bike Club is using the funds to build a gravity trail at Urban Wilderness. The location already has up to 40 miles of trail and this challenging terrain will offer Missy’s Joy Ride group trail access for all skill levels only a few minutes from the city.

Joy Ride (19 of 27)

Kendall Ryan, Richmond, VA: Kendall learned to ride from Luna Chicks, an all-women’s team, and she’s convinced that’s why she’s had such a positive riding experience. Richmond was the recipient of a Bell Built grant in 2014 for the Richmond Regional Ride Center, and they’re continuing to expand on this trail network of beginner and intermediate friendly trails.


Why do we need programs like Joy Ride?

The Joy Ride Ambassador program provides a sense of camaraderie and community. It fosters motivation, builds relationships and keeps people moving, but there’s more.

To get a little perspective on how the Joy Ride program would affect mountain bike advocacy at large, I spoke with Laurel Harkness, IMBA Region Director for Northern California. Laurel has been riding since 1987, but it was three years before she rode with another woman. For her, it’s inspiring to see a program like this and it’s a great gathering place for stories that she can retell at a later date. She also sees tremendous value in terms of hierarchy of engagement. It’s where beginners start.

“I see this demographic as being very important and untapped,” said Harkness. As a veteran mountain biker and a single mom of two kids who also ride, she represents a less-publicized demographic at land manager meetings and seeks to help change preconceived notions of who a mountain biker is. Her son rides to find the next best fishing spot and her daughter goes out seeking a great photo spot. Currently, IMBA memberships are 80-percent male and 20-percent female. Harkness would love to see that level out. A program like Joy Ride is the springboard.

Congratulations to this amazing group of women that will inspire, promote and grow women’s rides in their communities. These eight women are planting the seed for a future of ambassadors across the nation and, hopefully, across the world. Follow all these ladies on Instagram, check out their ride pages on Facebook, and be sure to attend a Joy Ride if you’re in their area.

Become an advocate for all women’s rides by helping Bell build a map. Drop a pin so you can connect with women across the U.S. and Canada; host a ride, find a leader, build a community.


First Ride – Santa Cruz Hightower 27plus/29 inch trail bike


Junket- a free trip by a member of the press to a place where something (such as a new bike) is being promoted.

Let’s get that out of the way first. The new Santa Cruz Hightower was introduced to select members of the media on a trip to Chile for the first running of the Rally of Aysén Patagonia, a four day bike event. More about that later, just wanted to be clear that I’m well aware trips like this might be enough to cloud one’s judgment about a new bike. Fortunately, Santa Cruz isn’t making any turds.



The Tallboy LT quietly disappeared from the Santa Cruz line-up recently, so it came as no surprise that the new bike was a replacement. Mid-travel trail bikes with 29 inch wheels are a solid slice of the market, and Santa Cruz wasn’t about to miss out.

In a nutshell, the Hightower is a carbon-fiber-framed 29 or 27plus trail bike with 135 of rear travel, a 140 or 150 mm fork, the newest Virtual Pivot Point suspension design and thoroughly modern geometry.

hightower_red_29_hero hightower_black_275plus_hero

What is changed from the Tallboy LT? Save for the 135 mm of rear travel, everything is new. Imagine the attitude of the Nomad, Bronson and 5010, scaled for big wheels and even bigger days.

Head and seat tube angles go from 69.4/72.6 on the TBLT to a much more aggressive 67/74.3 on the Hightower. Bottom bracket height drops about a quarter inch to 13.27 and chainstays shrink from 17.7 to 17.1 inches. Top tubes and reach grow as well. This numbers are with 29 inch wheels, the 27plus option has very minor differences. Geo chart is found here.

How about those big tires? Since the 27.5×2.8 Maxxis Ikon/Recon tires are a little smaller in diameter than the 29×2.3 Maxxis Minions, those opting for 27plus get a 150 mm fork, and a small flip-chip in the upper suspension link gets moved to the high setting.

hightower_details_red_2 hightower_details_red_1

All bikes use the excellent RockShox Pike platform, but the air-spring design of this fork means there is no way to adjust travel without swapping out the air-shaft for a longer fork. So if you want to keep geometry mostly the same while swapping wheels, you’ll either need two forks, or spend the time swapping out the air-shaft. Or, just do what most of the Santa Cruz crew does, and run a 150 mm fork all time and deal with a bit more slack and a wee bit of bottom bracket height. Considering how often I scraped a pedal, and how I never, ever wanted a steeper bike, this seems like the winning plan. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is how all the bikes come in six months or so.

Hub spacing is 148/110 (Boost) for both wheelsizes. The bottom bracket is threaded with good-old English threading and ISCG tabs. Cable routing is a mix of internal and external. Rear derailleur and dropper go through the downtube, the rear brake is routed externally on the left side.


No front derailleurs need apply here; like the Nomad, suspension linkage and chainstay length leave no room for a front shifter. If the rumors of a single ring, 12 speed, 10-50(!) cassette group from SRAM prove to be true, those with deep enough wallets might never have to worry about sacrificing the range of a double for the simplicity of a single. In the meantime, the stock 30 tooth ring and 10-42 cassette seems like plenty of gears about 90% of the time.

(Aside: Some riders on bikes with no front derailleur compatibility are running a standard narrow-wide ring, a granny ring and no front derailleur. Shifting is via your hand, so it isn’t really enduro-approved, but an interesting idea for those rare times a single ring drivetrain isn’t enough range.)

hightower_details_black_2 hightower_details_black_1

Do I hear the question about an aluminum frame? I heard that question in my own head, and the answer is: nope. Carbon in CC and C versions only, with the frame only in CC, at $2,899 with Monarch LT. A shame, and it certainly keeps these out of the garage of many riders without a solid chunk of disposable income.

All bikes come with a 150 mm RockShox Reverb Stealth, either Maxxis Rekon/Ikon 27.5×2.8 EXO 3C TR/ or Maxxis Minion 29×2.3 DHR2 TR  tires, an 800 mm Santa Cruz carbon handlebar, and Santa Cruz Palmdale grips. Get your ENVE carbon upgrade on for $2,000, with M Series 60 Forty HV rims and I9 hubs, 29 inch only.

Colors are Sriracha Red or Matte Carbon & Mint

Hightower C – $4,599
  • S AM 27plus or 29
  • Carbon C frame
  • Rock Shox Monarch RT
  • Rock Shox Pike RC
  • SRAM GX 1×11 RD
  • Shimano SLX M675 brakes
  • SRAM MTH hubs
  • Easton AR 40/29.67/29.72 lbs.

Hightower CC – $6,499

  • XO1 AM 27plus or 29
  • Carbon CC frame
  • Rock Shox Monarch RT3
  • Rock Shox Pike RCT3
  • SRAM X01 Carbon 11sp RD
  • SRAM Guide RSC brakes
  • DT 350 hubs
  • Easton ARC 40 / ARC 27 28H
  • 27.96/ 28.05 lbs.

Hightower CC – $7,799

  • XX1 AM 27plus or 29
  • Carbon CC frame
  • Rock Shox Monarch RT3
  • Rock Shox Pike RCT3 150
  • SRAM XX1
  • SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes
  • Industry Nine 15/110mm 28H
  • Industry Nine 148×12 28h Rear hub XD
  • Easton ARC 40/ARC 27 28H
  • 27.18/27.26 lbs.

Hightower CC VPP Frameset with RockShox Monarch RTS – $2,899

  • Weight: 2,678g / 5.88 lbs.


The Ride

The trip to Chile wasn’t solely about the new bike. Santa Cruz is throwing its support behind a new event in southern Chile, a not-quite-a-race called the Rally of Aysén Patagonia. A bunch of us media types, some of the Juliana team, various photographers and Cedric Gracia got a four day tour around Coyhaique, which is about 1,300 miles south of Santiago.

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

We covered all kinds of terrain. Shale scree fields. Dusty doubletrack. Hot gravel roads. Dozens of barbed wire fence crossings. Freshly cut loam. Miles of cow paths. Hike-a-bikes. Steep, loose singletrack descents. In fact, this may be one of widest-ranging, and highest mileage of any press event I’ve been to.

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

The Hightower took it all in stride. It has the downhill chops to be ridden quite hard, but pedals well enough that I could have happily ridden it without ever messing with the platform lever on the Monarch rear shock. I never really felt like I got in the grove down there, so I won’t even pretend that I even close to the edge of performance on this one. I can say it most have been stiff enough, because I never thought about it.

Climbing was great, although on the real steep stuff, those short chainstays take more work to keep the back wheel biting and the front wheel down. There is room for a bottle inside the front triangle on all three sizes.


We rode miles of new trail, with no idea what was around the next corner, and I came way impressed with how well this bike handled that type of stuff. Enough stability to ride out bad line choices, but enough fun-factor to be able to pull-up hard and hop over those hidden logs. It even did a fine job meandering around on the cow-path sections.

The parts kit is a no brainer these days, all these SRAM bits work very well. I only rode the 29er version, with ENVE wheels and XO1 kit.

I flew home with a 27plus version of this bike, and few rides on it make me think I’d want both wheelset. The 29er for most of the summer, and some aggressive tires for the 27plus wheelset for the sloppy season and snow.

Stay tuned for a full review, and more info on the Rally of Aysén Patagonia.

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 22 January during the fourth day of the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 22 January during the fourth day of the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 19 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 22 January during the fourth day of the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 22 January during the fourth day of the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE - 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin

COYHAIQUE, PATAGONIA, CHILE – 20 January during the inaugural Aysen Rally Patagonia for Santa Cruz Bicycles launch of the Hightower. Photo by Gary Perkin.




First Ride: Ibis Ripley LS


Last year, I reviewed the Ibis Ripley. I liked it well enough, but my tastes in mid-travel 29er leans towards low and slack, while the Ripley is more long-travel cross-country. I also got yelled at (via email) by for being too soft on the bike. Which was a valid complaint, as I had inadvertently cut a paragraph in editing that talked about my problems with the through-the-headtube cable routing, not super-stiff rear-end, and less-than-generous tire clearance in the rear end.

I did not know at the time that Ibis was working on an updated Ripley, but when I did, I was pretty stoked to see what Ibis had been up to:

From the Ibis website

– Two geometry options: The nimble geometry of the original or a new school long and slack version called the Ripley LS
– Internal cable routing using our flexible and easy to setup port system
– Increased tire clearance
– Threaded bottom bracket
– Seat mast lowered by 1/2” to accommodate today’s longer droppers
– Choice of Boost 148 (staring in November ’15) or 142mm x 12mm Shimano through axle (now)
– Stiffer eccentric cores
– New rubber molded chainstay and seatstay protection
– Two new colors (let’s call them “Tang” and “Black”)

I was very interested to try the LS version, and on a recent trip to Santa Cruz, Ibis was kind enough to loan me one of the few rideable production samples to take for a rip through some local trails.


Much better cable routing.


Plenty of tire clearance.


Is there a more elegant full-suspension design on the market?

Ibis_Ripely_LS-12 Ibis_Ripely_LS-8

Ibis branded handlebar, stem and wide carbon rims.

I’d ridden the almost exact same route the day before on a loaner Santa Cruz Nomad, so the baseline was set pretty high for the Ripley LS.

As expected, the short-travel dw-link rear end pedaled very well, and offered more small bump comfort than I remembered, perhaps due to the 2016 Fox Float DPS EVOL rear shock. Or maybe all those acronyms confused me into a state of befuddled compliance.

Other than one super-fun rock garden, there wasn’t much on this ride to test rear-end stiffness, and to be honest, I was too busy trying to find a clean line to worry if the claims of increased rear end stiffness were true or not. More riding is needed. More riding is always needed.

The long and slack geometry was very easy to notice, and to me, there is no question what option I would choose. What little “nimbleness” is given up with the increased wheelbase and front center is more than made up for with confidence when things get steep. The 17.4-inch chainstays are pretty middle of the road, and seem to offer a good compromise between stability, climbing ability and play-ability.

This isn’t meant to be a full review; we plan to get a bike in for a proper long-term relationship as our first date was quite intriguing.


Ibis is making a pretty bold move here, offering two geometry options for the same bike, especially considering how small its product line is.

I appreciate Ibis listing the geometries for both Ripley and Ripley LS in the same chart, making it easy to see the important differences.

More details, as expected, on Ibis’ website.

State with 130mm fork (537mm axle to crown)

Nominal Size Medium Medium (LS) Large Large (LS) X-Large (LS)
Seattube A 419 (16.5″) 419 (16.5″) 470 (18.5″) 470 (18.5″) 521 (20.5″)
Toptube B 587 (23.1″) 600 (23.6″) 607 (23.9″) 619 (24.4″) 640 (25.2″)
Headtube C 94 (3.7″) 93 100 (3.9″) 102 107
Chainstay D 442 (17.4″) 442 (17.4″) 442 (17.4″) 442 (17.4″) 442 (17.4″)
Seat Angle E 72.2° 73° 72.2° 73° 73°
Head Angle F 69.2° 67.5° 69.2° 67.5° 67.5°
Wheelbase G 1105 1140 1125 1167 1187
Standover Height (mid toptube) 745 (29.3″) 740 (29.1″) 745 (29.3″) 740 (29.1″) 750 (29.5″)
Stack 620 619 625 625 632
Reach 390 411 406 428 448
Trail 85 97 85 97 97
BB Height (2.1″ tires) 331 (13″) 325 (12.8″) 331 (13″) 325 (12.8″) 325 (12.8″)
Sizing Guide (rider height) 163–175 (5’4″–5′ 9″) 163–175 (5’4″–5′ 9″) 175–188 (5’9″–6’2″) 175–188 (5’9″–6’2″) 183–198 (6’–6’6″)
100mm KS seatpost minimum saddle height (center BB to center of saddle rail) 59cm 59cm 63cm 63cm 68cm
125mm KS seatpost minimum saddle height (center BB to center of saddle rail) 65.5cm 65.5cm 66.5cm 66.5cm 71cm
150mm KS seatpost minimum saddle height (center BB to center of saddle rail) 71cm 71cm 72cm 72cm 75.5cm

Field Tested: Santa Cruz Highball 27.5

From Issue #186

Earlier this year, the Santa Cruz Highball 29er welcomed a 27.5 little brother to the family, and the siblings are like two peas in a pod. The 27.5 Highball is designed to mimic the cross-country-oriented trail manners of its 29er predecessor. Sure, 27.5 and 29 bikes inherently “feel” different. But that’s exactly the point: Let riders choose the wheel size that best suits them.

SC Highball-2

Highballs come in a base-level “C” carbon frame and an upgraded “CC” version. Both frames share the same geometry and functional features, but Santa Cruz judiciously trimmed the CC layup and shaved 280 grams. Complete bikes range from $2,799 to $6,799. Bare frames only come in the CC version for $1,899.

Our CC model retails for $6,299 with a SRAM XX1 build kit that features a Fox 32 Float 100 Kashima fork, SRAM XX1 rear derailleur/shifter, Race Face Next SL cranks/bottom bracket, Shimano XTR M9000 brakes (160 mm rotors) and DT Swiss 240 hubs laced to WTB Asym i19 TCS rims. The Maxxis Ikon 2.2 TCS tires come set up tubeless with Stan’s NoTubes sealant.

SC Highball-4

The clean-looking frame features internal cable routing, and the rear brake hose gets an internal guide tube to keep it from rattling. A detachable plate on the underside of the bottom bracket allows convenient access to the cable guides. The tapered head tube, 142×12 mm rear end and 73 mm threaded bottom bracket ensure wide-ranging component compatibility.

With a 27.2 mm seatpost and no cable guides for a dropper post, the Highball probably won’t tempt many rowdy riders. Its racy, cross-country vibe is more likely to attract those who view droppers as unnecessary complexity and weight. Santa Cruz claims that the 27.2 mm post affords some compliance, compared to larger-diameter seatposts. So there’s that.

SC Highball-5

The Highball 27.5 feels fast and light on its feet. I’m not only talking about the sub-20-pound weight; with its 69-degree head angle and quick-turning 16.7-inch rear end, the Highball 27.5 threads through
twisting terrain with instinctive ease. And she loves to run! Flick her into the corner, exit on the gas, mash the straightaway, repeat. It’s worth mentioning that the feathery carbon frame felt flex-free when cornering or accelerating.

There’s a long-and-low feeling of stability that inspires confidence in fast, sweeping curves or when descending. I credit the longish 24.6-inch top tube (which stretches the wheelbase out to 44.1 inches) and low-slung 12.4-inch bottom bracket for providing just the right amount of stability to balance and complement the Highball’s quickness without overpowering it.

SC Highball-1

Despite a relatively short rear end, the Highball is no wheelie monster. The long front end stretches the rider out into a position that distributes rider weight relatively evenly between the front and rear wheels. Better for hammering than stunting. Great for keeping the rear wheel digging in and the front planted on steep climbs.

The Highball 27.5 is ready to roughhouse in the rocks and rubble. While 27.5 wheels can’t match the sheer rollover prowess of 29ers, they still inspire confidence. Overall, I prefer the snappier, more nimble character of 27.5 wheels to the monster-truck vibe of 29ers.

SC Highball-3With the new Highball, Santa Cruz has coaxed out the best traits of the 27.5 wheel size and created a cross-country hardtail that balances spry handling with an underlying sense of stability. That blend should appeal to racers as well as everyday riders looking for a nimble ride that’s well behaved at speed and ready to rumble over rocks.

Tester age: 58 // height: 5’10” // weight: 150 lbs. // inseam: 32″

  • Price: $6,299 (with XX1 build kit)
  • Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
  • Online: santacruzbicycles.com
  • Wheelbase: 44.1″
  • Top Tube: 24.6″
  • Head Angle: 69°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.4″
  • Rear Center: 16.7″
  • Weight: 19.7 lbs. w/o pedals (Specs based on size tested)

First Ride: New Santa Cruz Bronson and 5010

Roughly two and a half years after the initial release of the Bronson and 5010, both bikes have been updated with more progressive geometry and the third iteration of Santa Cruz’s VPP suspension design. The 5010 and Bronson have been hugely successful for Santa Cruz, so updating these popular models was a serious undertaking.

Last year’s release of the Nomad was, in hindsight, an indicator of the direction Santa Cruz is headed. The previous version of the 5010 and Bronson offered arguably middle-of-the-road geometry figures within their respective categories. Since the release of these bikes, the trail segment has marched steadily in the direction of longer, lower and slacker. This current redesign pushes both bikes to the progressive end of the scale.


Dirt_Rag_2016_Santa_Cruz_Bronson_WEB (1 of 11)

Version one of the Bronson was a killer bike, and I greatly enjoyed my time aboard. But, when the new Nomad came to town, I was left wondering how much it would cut into Bronson sales. After all, the Nomad was nearly as light and its updated suspension arguably pedaled nearly as well as the Bronson. Not only that, but the steep seat tube angle and resulting up-over-the-pedals riding position really facilitated climbing.

The Bronson’s update has certainly leveled the playing field. Like the Nomad, the Bronson has been given 20-25 mm longer top tubes, a slacker 66-degree head tube angle, steeper 74-degree seat tube angle, lower 13.4-inch bottom bracket height and shorter 17.0-inch chainstays. The wheelbase on a medium Bronson is now a rangy 45.8 inches.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 12.22.09 PM

Similarly, the revised suspension design utilizes a new recessed lower link and upper swing link configuration. Combining the recessed lower link with 148 x 12 mm rear hub spacing (Boost 148 standard) allowed Santa Cruz to trim 0.3-inches from the chainstays. Speaking of Boost, bikes will begin shipping with Boost 110 equipped Pike forks in November. Unlike the Nomad, the Bronson will accommodate side swing front derailleurs.

Suspension kinematics have also been revised to retain good small bump compliance while providing a more supportive and progressive mid-stroke. Ramp up to bottom out has also been increased.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 5.38.41 PM

Three versions of the Bronson will be offered. The lightest CC model, the slightly heavier and less costly C version as well as aluminum in April of 2016.

Santa Cruz has hit its stride with the “mild” and “wild” paint schemes. This year the Bronson will be available in the understated black and grey combo as well as the stunning Kalimotxo.

Bronson Black Hero Bronson Kalimotxo Hero

Bronson First Impression

Santa Cruz chose to show off the new Bronson on the legendary Downieville Classic course. This descent drops nearly 5,000 feet in 14 miles over a mix of terrain from flowy to rowdy, with around 660 feet of gain to give us a taste of the Bronson’s climbing prowess.

From the first moment I swung a leg over the new Bronson, I felt immediately at home. All of the geometry changes make for an up-over-the-pedals riding position that’s ready to attack climbs, while the other geometry changes, 800 mm-wide Santa Cruz handlebar and 150 mm-travel dropper post encourage more aggressive descending.

Speeding down Butcher Trail really highlighted the Bronson’s versatility. From large, chunky rock fields to jumps and drops to the occasional smooth section, the Bronson was composed and very confident. The new geometry blends high-speed stability with low-speed maneuverability very well.

The revised suspension design offers a ton more mid-stroke support, which helps to keep the bike settled in aggressive terrain. The new Bronson rides higher in its travel, being much less eager to venture deep into mid-stroke until called upon to do so. It also offers quite a bit more bottom out resistance. The liveliness of the rear suspension really encourages popping trail obstacles at every opportunity.

The previous Bronson was no slouch when it came to turning pedals up hill, but the new bike is a marked improvement. Throughout our limited climbing, I never felt compelled to switch out of Descend mode as there was very little pedal-induced motion and the traction and small bump absorption was excellent. According to Santa Cruz, small bump compliance has been improved thanks to a higher initial leverage ratio.

No doubt the previous Bronson is a stellar bike, but the new version is a pretty significant step forward. Very early on in my ride it was clear this new bike has been improved in every way. The sum total of many incremental changes add up to much more than the sum of their parts.

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For many riders, bikes like the venerable 5010 are the Goldilocks trail bike. Just enough travel and stability to tackle a wide variety of terrain without feeling under- or over- gunned for much of it. All of the lower, slacker, longer updates that have trickled to the 5010 strive to maintain that same balance, while keeping pace with the progression of both bikes and riders.

The 5010’s head tube angle is now 67-degrees (same as the previous Bronson), seat tube steepens up to 73.8 degrees, bottom bracket drops to 13.1 inches and chainstays have shrunk to 16.7 inches. All numbers that make this 130 mm-travel bike sound like a whole lot of fun. The 5010’s wheelbase has grown to 44.9 inches on a size medium.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 12.30.27 PM

Similar to the Bronson, the 5010 utilizes the 148 x 12 rear hub standard, and will ship with Boost 110 forks beginning in November.

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Rear wheel travel has been increased from 125 mm to 130 mm and the kinematics have been tweaked too. A higher initial leverage ratio increases small bump compliance and the spring curve is much more progressive to improve mid-stroke responsiveness and bottom out resistance.

Like the Bronson, the 5010 is compatible with side swing front derailleurs.


Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 5.39.04 PM

Three versions of the 5010 will be offered. The lightest CC model, the slightly heavier and less costly C version as well as aluminum in 2016.

The 5010’s color options may be a little more subdued than the Bronson’s, but they’re both great looking bikes.

5010 Black Hero 5010 Blue Hero

Justin 5010-1

5010 First Impression

Like the Bronson, I quickly connected with the 5010. Climbing or descending, the revised riding position inspires confidence and efficiency.

Our day aboard the 5010 took to us to the relatively new Mills Peak trail, which starts above the ridge between Downieville and Graeagle, California. From the shuttle drop off, we climbed for 20-30 minutes before dropping into the singletrack that runs mostly downhill into Graeagle. We have the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship (SBTS) to thank for this amazing trail. If you have a chance to ride this trail, don’t miss the opportunity. And, if you do, consider supporting SBTS.

On the way up, it quickly became apparent the 5010 is a stellar climber. Even in the Fox Float EVOL’s open setting, the revised suspension moves only ever so slightly while pedaling. Trail and Climb settings firmed things up to suit various tastes, but I never felt compelled to swap out of Descend mode.

As you’d expect, the real fun started when we dropped into the singletrack off of Mills Point Lookout. For “just” a 130 mm-travel bike, the 5010 sure rips. All of the changes make the bike a very confident descender, without hampering its versatility in any way. The shorter rear center certainly makes it feel very lively, happily manualing through any dip in the trail. With a considerably longer front center, the 5010 certainly rewarded conscious weighting of the front wheel in the dry and loose terrain of the launch.

Justin 5010-2

Not only does the revised suspension pedal better, but it’s much more responsive through the mid-stroke and ramps up at the end of stroke to prevent bottom out much better too. Overall, the rear suspension feels much livelier than previous iterations of VPP.

With just one day’s riding aboard the 5010, this verdict is far from conclusive. However, my first impression was extremely positive. These changes yield improvements to every aspect of a great bike and add versatility with no discernible drawbacks.


With the release of the new 5010 and Bronson, Santa Cruz has created a potent trifecta of bikes when you factor in the Nomad. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of these machines, simply pick the bike that best fits your riding style and terrain and ride off into the sunset.

Carbon Bronson and 5010 models will begin shipping to dealers on Monday September 14, 2015. Aluminum models will ship in the beginning of April 2016.

More Photos

Action photos courtesy of Santa Cruz.

Keep reading

Santa Cruz’s women’s brand, Juliana, also released its versions of the new bikes today. Read more about them here.


Video – ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 7

The final World Cup race of the year capped a very successful year for the Syndicate riders! Greg finished 4th overall and Josh 5th. Despite early-season injuries for both, consistent, solid results (including 3 wins out of 7 races) kept them both on the series podium for 2015. Only the Syndicate and Aaron Gwin won World Cup races this year, and Gwin took the title after Greg crashed trying to grab a win in Val di Sole.

In this weekend’s qualifying, Greg placed 4th and Josh 8th, after both felt they had marginal runs. With lots of improvement to be had, both riders charged as hard as they could on that last run of the series with mixed results. Josh landed another podium with a 5th-place run and said, “This track is so physical and there is no place at all to rest. After training all week I woke up this morning and my arms felt like I had already done a run. I gave it everything I had and towards the bottom it was all I could do to hold on. I’m satisfied with my run, and I’m fit and healthy going to World Champs in 2 weeks.”

Greg set himself up to charge hard in the final but hit the deck when he pushed too hard and lost the front wheel. He had to straighten his bars before he could get going again, costing him precious time and resulting in 54th on the day. The lack of points dropped him from 2nd place to 4th overall, but he was happy that he gave it his all, and said, “I knew if I was going to challenge Aaron for the title I had to give it everything. I’m satisfied that if I was going down I went down swinging. I’m happy with my season and I’m looking forward to Andorra in a few weeks.”

Val di Sole also saw the return of the legenedary Steve Peat. Steve is coming back from ACL reconstruction and decided to give it a go at one of the hardest tracks on the circuit. He took some stitches to the shin in practice, but didn’t back down. He gave it his best in qualifying but missed the cut. He looked great, with his skills still shining, but the track was just too physical on the arms, and on a track that challenged the very fittest to their limits, not having peak downhill fitness was the missing link.


Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 6

After last weekend’s win in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Josh Bryceland and Greg Minnaar were looking to turn back to back World Cup weekends into a North American double for the Syndicate. Both looked strong in qualifying with Greg finishing 4th, and Josh 6th. In the finals, Josh’s front wheel got a little wild on the dusty fire road section, which cost him some time, putting him into 7th. Greg laid down a smooth, clean, and fast run that put him in the hot seat. It looked like he might stay there until Aaron Gwin came flying down the mountain, taking the home win for the USA. Greg’s result moves him into second place in the series, 135 points behind Gwin, and within striking distance for the World Cup, which finishes in Val di Sole, Italy in two weeks.


Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 5


A healthy Rat is a fast Rat! After getting up close and personal with a tree in Ft. William, and dislocating his finger in Lenzerheide, Josh was on the hunt for his first World Cup win since WIndham, last year. Despite dry weather earlier in the week, the rain got turned on just before qualifiers, and hung around for race time, making the rough and rocky track all the more challenging.


The racing was incredibly tight, with Josh beating Loic Bruni by just two-tenths of a second, and Troy Brosnan by a quarter-second — super close, and even closer for a track as long as Mont-Sainte-Anne. Greg Minnaar finished just behind Brosnan for fourth place, which nets him some valuable World Cup points. Greg’s sitting in third overall, just 70 points behind Aaron Gwin, heading in to next week’s race in Windham, followed by Val Di Sole to close out the season.

Watch this week’s episode to see Josh singing on the podium, maple syrup tasting, and Greg’s dreamy steaks. And don’t miss Josh’s helmet cam video of the Mont St Anne track either.


Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 4

The World Cup’s first trip to Lenzerheide, Switzerland, was a smashing success. Making it look easy on the Steve Peat-designed track, Greg Minnaar stepped to the top of the box once again, taking his record-setting 18th World Cup win! Greg’s won two of the four World Cups so far this season, and sits in third overall, just 12 points behind Loic Bruni. Josh Bryceland continued his string of injuries with a dislocated ring finger sustained during practice, and got the finger re-located just hours before qualifiers. He put down a strong run in the finals and finished 12th, which moved him up to 7th overall. Watch the fourth episode of The Syndicate to see how the weekend unfolded behind the scenes, including Josh’s dining-table finger relocation!


Santa Cruz Bicycles sold to Pon Holdings

Santa Cruz Bicycles, founded in 1993 and still led by Rob Roskopp, has been sold to a Dutch conglomerate that controls several major bike brands, including Focus, Cervelo, Gazelle and others. While the entire Santa Cruz management team will stay, as will its headquarters in Santa Cruz, the new venture will likely be able to streamline production, distribution and presence in markets other than North America.

Nomad Launch, Chile, Mantecillo,

Here’s the press release:

With immediate effect, Pon Holdings acquires Santa Cruz Bicycles, the California-based market leader in high-end mountain bikes. Their product range currently includes 16 models are sold in 70 countries did under the brand names of Santa Cruz and Juliana.

The company which Founded in 1993 by former professional skateboarder Rob Roskopp and his associate Rich Novak. The first bicycle rolled out of Their California factory a year later and the design, testing and assembly has Remained in Santa Cruz ever since. Under this new agreement, the company will continue to be based in Santa Cruz and Rob Roskopp will stay on as CEO. The current management team will remain in place and therefore continue to be the driving force behind Further success at Santa Cruz Bicycles.

Pon Bicycle Group

Within Pon Holdings, Santa Cruz Bicycles will become part of the Pon Bicycle Group. With the acquisition this year of Earlier BBB Cycling, to internationally operating manufacturer of bikewear, accessories and parts, and the addition of Santa Cruz, the Pon Bicycle Group is making important steps in its development. The portfolio is now composed of: Santa Cruz, Juliana, Cervélo, Focus, Gazelle, Union, Kalkhoff, Univega, Rixe and BBB Cycling. The Group has production facilities all over the world, Including in The Netherlands, Germany and the United States, and is active in over 80 countries. This year, some 800,000 bicycles Will Find Their Way to customers around the globe, generating on expected turnover of over 600 million euros.

About Pon Holdings BV

Pon, one of the Largest Dutch family businesses, is an international trading and servicing company, with a great variety of activities. With Approximately 13,000 employees spread over 450 branches, Pon is active in 32 countries.


Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 3

Riding high after Greg Minnaar’s victory at the Ft. William World Cup, the Santa Cruz Syndicate heads to the second of back-to-back races in Leogang, Austria.


Rayboy’s race run

What’s it like to go warp speed? Check out Josh Bryceland’s helmet cam from his race run.


Keep watching

Catch up on all the episodes of ‘The Syndicate’ here.


Video: ‘The Syndicate’ – Episode 2

While Aaron Gwin is getting all the headlines this week about his jaw-dropping chainless win, the weekend prior there was some big news as well, as Greg Minnaar matched his Santa Cruz Syndicate teammate Steve Peat for the most all-time World Cup wins with number 17 coming at Fort William, Scotland. In the meantime, Peaty and Josh Bryceland are on the mend after some recent injuries.

Catch up with the team in Episode 2 of The Syndicate.



First Impressions: Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 CC XX1


As we reported in February 2015, Santa Cruz has added a 27.5 option to its 2015 Highball lineup. The original 29er model also received minor geometry tweaks, but in both wheel sizes, the hardtail remains true to its cross-country, racy roots.

The CC designation denotes an upgraded carbon frame that, thanks to some nips and tucks, shaves 280 grams compared to the base C model. My very first impression came when I hung the Highball 27.5 CC XX1 on our scale and rubbed my eyes at the 19.7 pounds on the display (w/o pedals). A sub-20-pound mountain bike is not front-page news, but even as a spoiled-rotten magazine guy, it’s not every day that I get to ride such a svelte steed.

On the trail the feathery carbon frame felt flex-free when cornering or accelerating hard. It’s almost expected that each new generation of carbon frame ups the light-yet-stiff ante, but I still find myself shaking my head when I stop to think about the engineering that goes into a bike like the Highball.

The Highball 27.5 CC is available in a frame-only option for $1,899 (all that gee-whiz technology doesn’t come cheap). Complete bikes start at $4,299 (with an XT kit) and max out at $6,799 for the XTR build—with our XX1 review bike not far behind at $6,299.


Highlights of the XX1 build kit include: Fox 32 Float 100 mm Kashima fork, SRAM XX1 rear derailleur and shifter, Race Face Next SL cranks and bottom bracket, Shimano XTR M9000 brakes (160mm rotors) and DT Swiss 240 hubs (142×12) laced to WTB Asym i19 TCS rims.


This is my first review bike with SRAM’s 1×11 gearing. So far the XX1 rear derailleur has flawlessly run the chain up and down the 10-42 cassette. The shift-lever’s action felt a little “heavier” than I’d expected, but I’ve gotten used to it and haven’t thought much about it since my first few rides.


The carbon Highball frame has provisions for a high direct-mount, bottom-pull front derailleur. Of course, the 1×11 model we have in for review requires no shifty bits up front. Rather, there’s a Race Face Next SL crankset that features a 32t narrow/wide spiderless chainring. Haven’t yet dropped a chain, and really don’t expect to.


The derailleur cable (or cables, depending upon the drivetrain/model) and rear hydraulic hose are internally routed, with the later getting its own internal guide tube, which keeps the hose from rattling. With the 1×11 drivetrain keeping chain slap in check, the Highball glides with ninja-like stealth.


Here’s a look at the underside, showing the detachable plate that allows access to the internal cable routing. Also note the external bearings of the threaded Race Face bottom bracket.


The size large 27.5 CC XX1 model that I’m reviewing has a 69 degree head tube angle, 16.7-inch chainstays, a 24.6-inch top tube, 12.4-inch BB height and 44.1-inch wheelbase. While this is not a full-blown bike review—that’s coming soon in print—I will say that my first impression is that the geometry translates into a well-balance ride.

The Highball’s snappy steering response and short rear make it a joy to flick around at low-to-moderate speeds—while at higher speeds the bike has a long-and-low feeling of stability that inspires confidence in sweeping curves, or when pointed straight down a chute.

I’m still racking up the miles on the Highball and will have more to say in print. In the meantime, pop over to the Santa Cruz website for all the gory details on the Highball lineup (they’ve even got an aluminum version for metal-heads).



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.



First Impression: Santa Cruz Bantam D

Editor’s note: This is one of six bikes we’ve gathered together that fall between $1,900 and $2,600. Read our introduction to see the other five and watch for our long-term reviews of each in Dirt Rag #182, due on newsstands and in mailboxes in February. Subscribe now and you’ll never miss a bike review.


Santa Cruz markets the Bantam as the 5010’s single pivot brother, but I can’t help but see a lightweight Heckler hiding in there. Because I owned and loved a Heckler back in the day, I’m excited to see how it matches up to its forefather on the trails.

The Bantam D features 125mm of rear travel, 27.5 wheels, thru axles fore and aft, a decent SRAM/Shimano mixed component set, and among other bits a 130mm Rockshox Sektor Gold fork. All for $2,499—stellar.

My first couple rides have shown great promise.


With a nice beefy rear triangle, the Bantam is stiff and responsive. The RockShox Sektor Gold feels way above its pay grade, and even though the brakes are the entry level SRAM DB1s which still use the problematic TaperBore design, they respond well.


I’m really digging the inclusion of a matched set of 2.3″ Maxxis High Roller IIs. These tires are just awesome. Snow, sleet, mud and dirt can’t phase ’em.


So far, so good I’d say. Make sure you keep up on your subscription so you don’t miss the Bantam’s long-term review and all the other great stuff we’ve got lined up this year.



Shimano XTR vs Deore: Getting By With Some Help from Our Friends

Joe Cocker passed way December 22. Say what you will about his singing, but there is no denying that man put his heart and soul and body into his performances.

It was against that backdrop that I unpacked boxes this Christmas Eve, the help from our friends to get the XTR and Deore groups we have in for a side-by-side review. Check out the introduction to this project and the unboxing and comparison of the individual parts here.

heckler tease-1

First up, and the key to the project, a pair of size large Santa Cruz Heckler frames. Reliable, versatile, and well-loved around here, the Heckler is ideal for this project.

heckler tease-6

Up front, each has a new, 150mm Fox Float 36 fork. We reviewed the current fork in the pages of the magazine, and praised it highly, but unless it was being pushed hard, it could feel harsh compared to its main competition, the RockShox Pike. Fox has been listening to feedback, and the forks we have here have revised damping rates, and claim to offer more small pump plushness without losing mid-stoke support. At some point we’ll install the fork we previously tested on one Heckler to do some side-by-side comparisons.

heckler tease-5

I love Continental Tire’s Black Chili compound this time of year. Grippy for wet roots and rocks, but still firm enough to dig in when the ground is soft. We got in two sets of the Trail Kings, 2.4 for the front, 2.2 for the rear.

heckler tease-4

Cockpit parts are courtesy Shimano’s little known (in the U.S.) component arm, PRO. We’ve got aluminum Tharis bars, stems and clamp-on grips. I haven’t ridden them yet, but the grips feel awesome. Thin, tacky and no outside metal clamp to make my hands hurt. Saddles are Condors with the anatomic cut out, chromoly rails in 134 mm width.

heckler tease-1-2

Santa’s elf was getting tired by the time the bikes looked like this and gave up on getting better pictures. Those looking closely will see all four brake hoses need to be trimmed to length, and the proper front derailleur (top swing, top pull, 34.9 mm clamp) for both bikes are still in transit. And the dropper posts don’t match, which is the one thing I wasn’t able to source from a single company. Right now the green Deore Heckler has an X-Fusion and the black XTR Heckler has a Fox.

Stay tuned for weights, better pics and more detailed build specs. In the meantime, watch this video and have a safe and happy transition from 2014 to 2015. Cheers!



Girls Rock in Santa Cruz County


By Joh Rathbun. Photos courtesy of Jessica Klodnicki.

Still in its infancy, the Girls Rock ride, organized by Jessica Klodnicki, general manager and executive vice president of Bell and Blackburn, hosted its monthly ride at Ibis Cycles last month. More than 70 women showed up to take advantage of the free Ibis demo fleet and to ride with international superstar Anne-Caroline Chausson.

The day started at Ibis Cycles headquarters in Santa Cruz, California. It was overwhelming to see the warehouse overrun with women.

“[I] was essentially a complete beginner when I arrived in Santa Cruz, so I would say I have really only been riding about two and half years,” Klodnicki said. Since she was new to the sport, with “an old, crappy bike,” she “was embarrassed to ride with some really good riders.” (a.k.a., her coworkers.) Riding “anonymously,” she met a few woman at different trailheads. Banding together, they’d talk up their rides to their buddies, and the ride grew organically from there. “I have gone from complete beginner to riding down anything that gets in my path.”

Inside, women milled about, and the social aspect of riding was undeniable. Jenna Majchrzak, head wrench for the demo fleet, hustled to adjust bikes to riders, while swag like day-glo green socks and hats adorned with the Ibis logo was handed out.

After a few words from the Ibis women, the group was then stratified into smaller groups based on skill and fitness. We had more than 20 women on the “beginnermediate” ride with Klodnicki. An easy paceline to Wilder Ranch broke up once we got to Engleman’s Loop—the first uphill of the day. As sweep I ensured that no one was left behind, and that everyone maintained a pace that they were comfortable with long-term. Danielle Ynostroza, the only person on a hardtail said throughout the ride, “I’m so happy.”


Catching up with Jessica, I asked her, for any woman looking to cultivate a ladies’ ride in their cycling community, what should she do?

“My experience shows me that there is a real demand. Just starting something up informally and sticking to a regular rhythm is where you can begin,” Klodnicki said. “We started with four and we had seventy five people today. I didn’t do anything but send out emails, organize a time and location and make sure there would be good ride leaders for different levels. It happened very organically.”

I also think women like riding with a group that is at their level. If you are a beginner, it is scary to show up to a ride not knowing who will be riding, what the route is, and if you be in over your head. On the other hand if you are an advanced rider you want to ride at that level and challenge yourself. So, a critical point is making sure people are paired up appropriately to enjoy the ride. I have some terrific female ride leaders from beginner to advanced. They have been a big part of the draw—great, enthusiastic women!

“As a mountain bike fanatic, I’m well-connected to the bicycle community. However, I was amazed at the number of women I didn’t know today,” Megan Melack, the advanced ride leader added. “It’s truly beautiful to see such a mix of riders with varied skill levels who all showed up with the sole purpose of enjoying single track in a harmonious group of strong women.”

Klodnicki followed up: “Exactly. Ibis was amazing—they had people sign up for demos in advance and Anne-Caroline Chausson is here. So, we had some really exciting reasons to show up, but I had no idea that we would have seventy five women today. Their team was terrific and made it a really fun event… I had about sixty RSVP’s so I almost panicked. I wasn’t sure how to handle that many women on the trail at the same time. We took over a whole state park that day. Thanks to the amazing help from my volunteer ride leaders, we pulled it off.”


And for women looking to break into the industry?

“Check out the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition—a great resource for women looking to break into the outdoor industry in general—including the cycling business,”Klodnicki said. “Just apply! I always wanted to work in the industry and thought it was too late in my career. It wasn’t! If you have the right skill-set for a position and a passion for the category, there are many opportunities available.”

“I’ve never ridden with this many ladies before,” said Anne-Caroline when I chatted with her post-ride. This fierce competitor had a different demeanor when dining with the ladies, humble and quiet. While exhibiting introverted qualities, she was receptive to folks approaching her, and the ladies kept her talking and laughing.

A cool day with inspiring women, on great bikes, followed by food and beers made for a great day. The next ride is Sunday, December 14 at Pogonip Park. With the skilled Coach Lorraine Blancher joining in on the ride, the only disappointment would be a deluge. For more info visit the Girls Rock Facebook Group or keep an eye on the San Jose Mountain Biking Meetup page.

Joh Rathbun, owner of Ride On!, is a mountain bike coach and action sports writer currently based in Santa Cruz, California. To stay up-to-date on West Coast events, like her Facebook page.



Sixth-generation Santa Cruz V10 now available


We saw it make its debut under the Syndicate riders back in July, and now it can be yours — the sixth generation of what is likely the winningest downhill bike ever is now on sale. Now you can ride what Ratboy rode to a World Cup overall championship and bone-crunching second place at the World Championship.

Meribel UCI MTB World Cup

While the VPP suspension layout remains largely unchanged, the bike is completely new, from the handlebars to the larger, 27.5 wheels. It moves 216mm through its travel in two adjustable geometry positions: High, with a 64-degree head tube angle and 360mm bottom bracket height, and Low, with a 63.5 degree head tube angle and 353mm bottom bracket height.


Santa Cruz says the shock rate is less progressive than the previous model, leading to a more consistent feel throughout its travel. It also has a longer reach in each of its four sizes, as is the current trend, and since it’s a Santa Cruz you’ll still find a threaded bottom bracket.

Customers can build a bike however they desire, starting from a bare frame (in the higher-end CC carbon) with either a Fox DHX RC4 or RockShox Vivid R2C shock for $3,599. The standard C carbon frame built up with a Shimano Zee group and Fox 40 R fork it will set you back $5,699. The CC carbon frame with the downhill-specific, 7-speed SRAM X01 group and Fox 40 Float Kashima is a cool $8,799. And don’t forget there is always the ENVE wheel upgrade option…


The V10 is available in white with red trim and black with white trim. Santa Cruz had the Syndicate team in the office for the annual Holiday party, and the red and white of the new V10 looked right at home.

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