It’s not all about the full suspension at the Santa Cruz launch in Sedona, the other big news is the release of an aluminium version of the carbon fibre framed Highball 29er hardtail. The Highball has had plenty of people (including our Dave, who has one as a Long Term test bike) raving about the ability of a seeming cross country hardtail to cope with terrain that falls into a burlier category.
The Highball Alloy takes the same geometry of the Carbon bike but uses a hydroformed aluminium frame, the tubing even having outwardly similar and svelte profiles. There’s a load of neat detailing too, from the forged yoke on the chainstay that offers decent tyre clearance to the dinky tapered headtube. It’s dropper post compatible with a 30.9mm seatpost and possibly the neatest feature is the interchangeable dropouts which allow you to run a standard geared or specific singlespeed dropout.
Santa Cruz design engineer Nick jokingly claimed that the singlespeed dropout took almost as long to design as the rest of the frame – and for the presumably low amount of people that’ll end up buying the optional dropout it’s obviously been a labour of love, possibly obsession.
The singlespeed dropout bolts onto the frame with a pair of sturdy but neat bolts, the lower having a square nut that runs in a curved channel. Fore and aft adjustment is with a captive threaded mechanism; no ugly bolts poking out anywhere. Special attention was paid to the amount of lash in the system, the amount of play between the forwards and backwards engagement point. It sounds a bit like overkill but it does mean that the dropout is highly unlikely to move under pedalling or braking forces.
Headangle runs at 70.5° with 100mm forks though you can run the frame with 120mm forks should you so desire, Santa Cruz saying it’s easily strong enough to deal with the bump in travel. There’s a pick of two standard colours, the pictured ‘traffic blue’ with orange decals and a pearl white finish with green decals.
Riding a hardtail on rocky trails can sometimes feel like an exercise in self hate, even more so if you’ve been bouncing about on longer travel suspension bikes for a while. The Highball does accelerate with real vigour and thanks to the bigger wheels it has impressive traction mid-corner and on less scrabbly climbs. It doesn’t feel brutally stiff and punishing despite the construction and there’s no noticeable twang in the back end.
You’ll need to dust off some riding skills to hustle the Highball in rougher terrain; on my first lap of the Slim Shady trail in Sedona I was bouncing off line and having heart thumping moments with depressingly regularity. Come the second time round I’d remembered the importance of making an effort with body movement, knew where some of the bigger rocks were and the difference was immediate.
The Highball could be skittered into bends and with a bit of effort to lean the bike over and a surprising amount of rear weight bias
it fired itself merrily out of a corner. I could almost convince myself I was on a short travel full suspension bike until off-line adventures or an unavoidable square edge hit jolted a sense of proportion back. It gets really fun when you’re on the fast and smooth, sweeping dusty corners were highly entertaining, the immediacy of the bike making
Angles and reach feel spot on; though a dinky stem and wider bars definitely help you muscle the bike around (especially if you’re a smaller rider or lack Arnie-like upper body strength) something most big wheelers respond well to. If your favoured trails are filled with smaller chatter and can be ridden at speed – trail centres and woodsy riding spring to mind instantly – then the Highball is a lively and involving partner that’ll munch up the miles. Crank it up and it’ll zip through corners with lightspeeder-esque glee. That’s not to say it won’t cope with rougher terrain. For a bike with a seeming cross country amount of suspension it’ll let you get away with a lot but your margin for error is reduced.
A mild grumble is the lack of dropper post cable guide mounts – for the kind of riding the bike will do a dropper post makes a lot of sense unless you’re going to confine it to a lifetime of seat-in-the-air racey riding, which would be missing out on the bike’s potential.
Overall then, if you’re willing to work for it and don’t mind the weight penalty (claimed at 3.9lbs frame only, opposed to 2.7lb) over it’s carbon sibling then the Highball Alloy will provide visceral thrills aplenty. It doesn’t hurt that it’ll be a bit of a steal, the frame priced at around £499. If one gear tickles your fancy then the dropouts will cost a bit more on top of that – we’ll confirm proper UK pricing as soon as distributor Jungle Products has it.
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