Santa Cruz Redesigns their Highball Hardtail MTB to the 27.5 Platform and It’s Rowdy!

Sometimes, it’s the unexpected that delivers the most fun. Wheel size, when it comes to mountain biking, is a polarizing topic. People will swear allegiance to the 29r platform, without a blink of an eye and admittedly, I’m one that errs on that side. Being tall with long legs, I’ve kind of sworn off 27.5 hardtails.

They’ve either felt too squirrely for me to coerce or not big enough to roll out of hairbrained situations I often find myself in. If my riding ability were to be described in a word, it certainly wouldn’t be “finesse.” I need something that offers a larger diameter to correct little nuances in my riding habits. 29rs seem to deliver that.

Like a bucking bronco, those small wheels ain’t for this limestone cowboy. Or so I thought.

As previously stated in the Highball 29r post, Santa Cruz put a lot of work into developing their new 27.5 wheelsize option. While the general look and feel of the 27.5 version is almost identical to the 29r, all it takes is a few moments on this bike, particularly while descending, to tell that it is indeed, a different beast from its larger-wheeled sibling.

Ok, maybe it’s not all that different, but there are a noticeable points.

For one, the headset. While it’s a small detail, the bottom cup is a standard, press-in on the 29r and integrated on the 27.5. Because of the smaller wheel size, the chainstays could be shortened, thus the wheelbase loses some length, as well as steepening the seat tube angle to a 72.5º. But what I noticed, almost immediately, was the slacker head tube angle.

It seems like 69º is the magic number for hardtails (I should add that the Chameleon is also a very fun bike with a 67.3º head tube). It takes them from the category of XC race-specificity and dangles them over the all-rounder, “stunt” zone.

A 69º head tube angle is just right: not too slack to drop it into the AM range, or to make climbing a battle fought with a wandering wheel, nope. It’s just slack enough to make descents a complete blast. Even with the lower stack height (604mm versus 633mm on the 29r) frame, I never felt like I was going to fly off the bike descending. For reference, I rode the XL model.

Whereas I felt a lot of apprehension to fall in love with the Highball 29r, the 27.5 was love at first flight… It just whipped around so well.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

The Highball 27.5 has all the technical advancements as the 29r, it’s just in a different realm in terms of handling on descents but we’ve already discussed that. Let’s look at the frame.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

With the new layup, the lines are cleaner than ever and without the external routing, you can really focus in on the body language this bike is throwing around. Even sitting still, posing for a photo, it appears to have a meaner stance than its sibling.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

Granted, having ridden the rather stealth-like black and red bike with XX1, this blue frame with XTR looks a bit flashy. Although, with a price. Take note: with the ENVE wheel upgrade, suddenly you’re in the $8,799 water… Thankfully, the XT package without ENVE is only $4,299 with the CC-grade carbon.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

Another great detail on the Santa Cruz Highball is the new disc caliper design and placement. This new position eliminates the need for a chainstay / seatstay bridge. Although it does make it a slight pain in the ass to adjust on the trail with a compact tool.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

Now onto what seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of people, just based on internet chatter and commentary over the 29r. The 27.2 seat post. Since there are so few options for a 27.2 dropper and no cable guides or internal routing for a stealth post, you’re pretty much stuck with a Thomson dropper post and some zip ties, which is what almost everyone did on the media launch.

Personally, I can ride a 100mm hardtail just fine without a dropper, although it does add a certain amount of versatility to the bike, especially if you throw a 120mm fork on the front end.

Before to write off Santa Cruz’s decision to go with a 27.2, attempt to understand their rationale. Ever ride a standard 30.9 post for hours on end during a marathon on a hard tail? Yea, it ain’t comfy. The 27.2 diameter does allow the seat tube to be elegantly reduced, resulting in a lot more compliance, which is a good thing for your butt.

That’s really the only initial concern I felt the need to address.

Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 Hardtail XC MTB

With a rowdy, confident stance like that, the new and improved Santa Cruz Highball CC 27.5 drew me right in. After an afternoon descending singletrack, I was sold. Maybe XC-oriented 27.5 hardtails aren’t that bad afterall? Or maybe the Highball is just that good.

Santacruz Bicycles Stigmata and Highball NZ press launch.
Photo by Sven Martin

If I were to chose between the two, based on ride quality alone, I’d lean more towards the 27.5, without discrediting the 29r’s confidence-aspiring ride characteristics. The stability and shredability of the 27.5 platform translates so well to the Highball and all I needed was one, 10-mile descent to change my opinion.

The Santa Cruz Highball CC XX1 starts at $6,299 ($500 cheaper than the previous model)
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XTR starts at $6,799
The Santa Cruz Highball CC XT starts at $4,299
The Santa Cruz Highball C S starts at $3,199
The Santa Cruz Highball C R starts at $2,799

The Santa Cruz Highball CC frameset is available in black or blue for $1,899.

One thing to note is the 27.5 Highball has a size small, while the 29r does not. In return, the 29r has an XXL, while the 27.5 does not.

…and for or those seeking a weight comparison…

Highball 27.5
CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 kit: 19.61lbs / 8.89 kg
CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.58 lbs / 1172 g

Specs and other information can be found at Santa Cruz. You can also compare my notes to the 29r version at Shredding the All New Santa Cruz Highball CC 29r MTB.

  • Erik B

    The internal routing on all these new SC frames is such a gorgeous feature. Something I’ll definitely be choosing as an option for any bike I purchase in the future.

    • Doug M.

      Internal hydro hose is the biggest PIA in all the land.

      • John Watson

        These are super easy to setup, especially with the SRAM Connectamajig fitting. There’s no need to bleed while you feed the line into the carbon tube that’s integrated with the frame. Kinda hard to see, but here’s the carbon sheath. All you do is push the line through and it pops out of the rear brake line port.

        • John Watson

          another detail… photo by Sven Martin

          • Agleck7

            at first I thought that was a multi-tool, ala Specialized SWAT. Would be cool, but would need a different way to secure that cover ;)

        • Spencer Olinek

          That’s some slick shit. Nice work.

  • Micah Markson

    The truth is that if you really want a dropper, the Chameleon would probably be a better choice. The KS Lev 272 is another skinny dropper option.

    • John Watson

      the Chameleon is a fun bike. Good to know about the KS post. Thanks!

      • GioFio

        I’m running a KS Supernatural currently, and have run both a 27.2 and your ‘standard’ 30.9 dropper both from KS and they are by far the best dropper i’ve used in terms of ease of use and service.

    • boomforeal

      gravity dropper is another option in this size. actually, if price, reliability, weight and customer service are considerations, it’s the only option ;-)

      • John Watson

        How’s the copy editing on this one?

        • boomforeal

          honestly jon [sic], not great. better than the 29er one but there are a number of typos, syntax and grammatical errors, and incorrect facts. i know from first hand experience that it’s REALLY hard to edit your own writing, which is why having an external editor for published material is so important

  • edIT

    Wouldn’t it be possible to internally run a KS Lev Integra 27.2 if you had the bike set up 1 x 11? In theory you should be able to run the cable down the same hole for the front derailleur cable right?

    • John Watson

      No, because that’s a cable port, not a tube port.

      • edIT

        Hmm…. But all of the KS stuff is not hydraulic. Still no dice?

        • John Watson

          Hrmmm. Not sure, but my initial answer would be no, because I think someone asked that in our presentation.

  • Carl Roberts

    No built in XTR Di2 compatability with these frames?

  • Patrick Dowd

    Love the idea of a more technical quicker 27.5 vs a faster rolling 29er. Santa Cruz did right playing to the wheel sizes strengths.

  • Greg Biché

    sick… this thing looks like an absolute blast

  • Adam Finck

    Greeting from Texas!

    Couple of quick questions, if I may. How tall are you and what is your inseam? I’m 6″1 with and can’t quite decide if a large or extra large would be best on the 650b platform. I’ve noticed on the 29er you rode a large while on the 27.5, you went with the XL. Did you find the XL to fit a bit better with the 27.5 wheels?


  • Adam Finck

    Any input on sizing?