Issue 98’s bike test features three fast hardtails, all with 27.5in wheels – one carbon, one steel and one aluminium. Here’s what Chipps and Jason thought of the new Santa Cruz Highball CC 27.5…
The Highball Carbon CC is a completely new model for Santa Cruz. The designers set about keeping the ride feel of the 29in Highball, but the smaller wheels allow several things – not least a 16in small size – but also give the bike a bit more of a playful, trail-bike feel. The ‘CC’ in the name denotes a higher modulus carbon used than on the more affordable/less expensive ‘Carbon C’ model that comes as a complete build only.
One criticism of previous Santa Cruz bikes has been a cramped top tube, but our medium test frame has a more modern feel and measures 23.6in in the top tube. Where previous versions were always on the short side for a true ‘racer stretch’, this new version is much roomier and feels much more like a cross-country race bike. The 27.2 seat tube is also narrower than before – Santa Cruz presumably making the assumption that not many dropper posts are used in cross-country races and racers would prefer a flexy, thin post over a dropper. Not even having the cable stops for one seems remiss though. The 27.5in bike gets a direct mount front mech over the clamp-on of the 29er, but apart from the obvious wheel size, there aren’t many differences. If you don’t love the blue (and who doesn’t?) there’s a subtler black colour too.
Of the three bikes here, it won’t come as any surprise as you look at the XTR components and factory-upgraded ENVE M50 carbon wheelset, that this is by some margin the lightest and by a similar margin, the most expensive. Our bike also came with full 2×11 XTR and matching race brakes. This made for lightning quick shifts, front or rear, and a range of gears that felt appropriate for a bike that’ll get thrown into two-hour Alpine climbs and long, flat fire road bashes.
It’s easy to see where the expensive bits are, because there’s not a single inch of this bike that isn’t mega-high quality and low weight. As well as the now-familiar tapered headtube, thru-axle at the rear and chainstay-mounted rear brake, the frame features internal routing for all cables and brake hoses and includes internal sleeves to guide things into the right place without too much swearing. There are also Di2 routing options in case you want to spend even more money. The brake hose runs in its own carbon tunnel inside the downtube to stop it rattling or fouling gear cables. Our bike even came with Santa Cruz’ own wide flat bars for that proper racer attitude.
Our test bike came tubeless with 2.1in Maxxis Ikon tyres and while you could go a little bit wider than that, clearances will be tight. There aren’t many cross-country races where you’d needwider tyres than that though… The dropouts are not interchangeable to allow a single set-up as they are on the aluminium version, so singlespeeders should either look elsewhere or use a tensioner.
Handling is very quick. The sharper steering characteristics of the 27.5in wheels compared to the 29in version are obvious and can be a surprise if you’ve spent the past few years riding a bike with the larger wheels. The ride quality was as good as you’d expect for such a high-end bike; however, the responsive, but super-stiff wheels did seem to contribute to a somewhat bumpier ride in certain situations. It wasn’t a big problem and the bike never felt out of control, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re thinking of going for the posh rims – they’re not there (just) for weight saving, they’re there for stiffness and durability.
The low weight of the bike (just over 20lbs) means that while it wasn’t any faster than the Scott on our test lap, show it a hilly or longer race and it’ll leave everything else behind with the same amount of rider effort. Having spent this amount of cash on a bike too, you’ll want to use it for more than racing and we’ve found that it also makes a great, wicked-fast singletrack bike; it’s stiff and the medium-sized, carbon ENVE wheels are very responsive to power input – while they won’t match a 29er for roll-ability, they change speed and direction instantly at will.
Versions of this bike start at a more sensible £2,399 for the Carbon C frame and entry-level, Deore and SLX build kit. The Carbon C frames are the same stiffness and feel, but use a slightly heavier (around 280g) construction to do so. Apart from that, the frames are identical.
At this top-end spec, though, it’s obviously going to be a lifelong investment, or a statement. And you’ll have run out of excuses for not winning.
|Product:||Highball CC 27.5|
|Price:||£1,699.00 frame only, £6,568.00 approx. as tested|
|Tested:||by Chipps and Jason Miles for four months|