First impression: two new 29er models from Santa Cruz

By Josh Patterson

Santa Cruz invited Dirt Rag along with a gaggle of other journos out to Sedona, Arizona, to unveil four new models. We didn’t stumble across any vortexes, but we did have a great time testing four new bikes.

Superlight goes big

Photo by Dan Barham

The venerable Superlight gets big wheels this year. The addition of 29-inch wheels is the biggest change to this cross-country full suspension bike since its introduction in 1999. No VPP, no ABP links to adjust the shock rate, just a straight-up single-pivot XC bike with 100mm of front and rear travel.

According to Santa Cruz Bicycle’s marketing honcho Mike Ferrentino, the growing popularity of 29-inch wheels necessitated the development of a budget-minded full suspension platform for the masses. “The Superlight is the ‘gateway drug’ to Santa Cruz for many riders,” said Ferrentino. “Many first time buyers are now buying 29ers. These riders don’t want to buy a $5,000 mountain bike.”

The Superlight 29 has geometry that is identical to the Tallboy model. (We reviewed the carbon Tallboy in issue #148 and the aluminum version in issue #161.) Unlike the Tallboy, the Superlight 29 will be offered in a size small, with an impressively low stand-over clearance of 27.2 inches. Frame weight is respectable: 5.9-pounds for a large frame with a custom-tuned Fox Float RL—over a half-pound lighter than the aluminum Tallboy.

There’s ample tire clearance in the back. Note the additional guide for a dropper seatpost. The single pivot uses a 15mm axle with collet head. Small and medium Superlight 29er frames run a shorter shock (6.5×1.5 versus the 7.875×2-inch shock found on the large and extra-large sizes.)

The shock’s leverage ratio is higher on the small and medium frames than the large and XL frames.  According to Santa Cruz, this can benefit smaller riders, who generally tend to weigh less. “Lighter riders may find a low leverage bike feels overdamped. A higher leverage ratio can help with this,” said Santa Cruz head of engineering Joe Graney.

The Superlight has a standard 135mm quick release rear end.

The Superlight frame retails for $1,050, complete bikes will start at $1,850. Complete bikes are available now but it will be several months before the frame-only option will be in stock.

While carving through the red Sedona dirt I felt the Superlight 29 did most everything one looks for in a cross-country full suspension.

The rear suspension is firm enough for out-of-the-saddle mashing. The single-pivot design did not feel as active as the company’s VPP bikes, and the suspension stiffens just a hair while grinding away in the granny ring—not a bad thing for a cross-country bike. The Superlight’s rear end did not feel as stiff as the Tallboy’s, though I didn’t consider the flex significant enough to be detrimental to the bike’s handling.

Full suspension does not get any simpler, nor lower maintenance than this. The Superlight 29 could be a good choice for new riders looking to buy their first full suspension, and a great option for up-and-coming NICA racers.

Highball Aluminum

Photo by Dan Barham

Last year Santa Cruz introduced their first hardtail 29er, the carbon Highball. This year the are following suit with an aluminum Highball.

Frame geometry is the same as the pricier carbon version. The addition of interchangeable dropouts is a nice touch, allowing the rider to run gears or singlespeed. Santa Cruz does not plan to offer the carbon version with the interchangeable dropouts at the present time, citing the weight savings. (I would gladly take this small weight pentalty for this versatitlity.)The large aluminum Highball frame weighs 3.9-pounds.

Santa Cruz developed some very swank looking swinger-style dropouts. The sliders have 13mm of adjustment. The singlespeed dropouts will be sold separately and will set you back $80.

With the exception of the size small, the Highball frames have two water bottle mounts.

The Highball frame retails for $650, with complete bikes starting at $1499. Complete bikes are available now. It will be several months before the frame-only option will be available.

Santa Cruz really has their big-wheel geometry dialed. Good hardtails seem to be overlooked these days. I immediately felt comfortable on this bike. On the trail there was no unwanted flex, the handling is best described as neutral. It takes the smallest amount of rider input to get this bike to do what you want. I see a singlespeed version in my near future.

More to come 

Are we missing something? Well, yes. Two new bikes actually. There are big things in the works. But we can’t spill the beans just yet.





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