Shredding the All New Santa Cruz Highball CC 29r MTB

Contrary to popular belief, you can shred a 29r – even a XC race-ready 29r. Those big wheels have a bit of a stigma attached to them and while they may not be as flickable as popular opinion would suggest, there’s a lot to be said about a lightweight rig being just as happy on flat as it is with a bit of rubber side up action.

Santa Cruz has kind of neglected their Highball over the years, not intentionally, but with the popularity of their Nomad, Bronson and even the Tallboy, they’ve been busy working on their all-mountain and trail bikes, while leaving the Highball sitting in the corner – void of dunce hat at least.

While the main silhouette of this bike reads the same – hey, it’s a hardtail, how different can it really be? – the Highball got a revamp from the ground up, including a new 27.5 wheelsize – more on that to come. For now, let’s just look at the 29r…

Santa Cruz Highball 29r Hardtail XC MTB

First of all and probably most noticeably, the Highball now has internal cable routing. Utilizing a new carbon layup allowed Santa Cruz to develop a fancy new routing system, with the brake line running through an integrated tube within the frame layup. In doing so, there is no knocking or rattling inside the downtube as you smash about the trails. This means there’s no finicky routing techniques or special tools needed. Simply thread the cables through.


Second of which, the angles. The Highball got slacker on the seat tube (from 73º *in the carbon L frame* to 71º) and steeper on the head tube (from 70º to 70.5º). With a 430mm chainstay, the new geometry offers a slightly longer wheelbase from the previous model, which in turn, brings more stability at higher speeds.


There’s also the 27.2 seat post, which steps aside from the 30.9 realm Santa Cruz has firmly been planted in. This is a total declaration of XC bikes and a firm reality of what exactly the Highball is… a no holds barred, lightweight cross country race machine.

Strangely enough, this was my main issue with the bike, yet Thomson’s 27.2 dropper is a perfect solution to this pinch in diameter. Although there are no cable guides for a dropper present, so you’ll have to zip tie the line to your top tube. Or, just leave this pure XC race machine as is, which I found to be quite enjoyable, even without a dropper.

Santa Cruz Highball 29r Hardtail XC MTB

As far as pricing is concerned, there are now two layup options, the C and CC. C being the standard issue Santa Cruz carbon layup and CC being the higher end option, resulting in around a 177g weight savings – CC size medium is 1193g and the C size medium is 1370g. The Highball is also available in aluminum, with easily converted SS bolt-on through axle dropouts, while the CC and C models have standard thru axle dropouts.

Santa Cruz Highball 29r Hardtail XC MTB

With a few build kit options, the Highball is ready for a 1x setup with a branded SRAM derailleur plate and a cover for that front derailleur cable stop port.

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

After one, rather long day on the bike, I felt that I had an understanding of what Santa Cruz was trying to achieve. While the internal routing is supposedly quiet and rattle free, it took a bit of adjusting initially, as well as keeping the cables on the front end from clapping together.


Once I spent a few seconds securing everything, it was noise-free for the entire ride.

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

The weight of the bike was immediately noticeable. It’s very well balanced with the 100mm FOX 32 Float CTD and XX1. It just wanted to lift-off on every single little trail jib spot. While it climbed great, the descents took a little getting used to, with the 70.5º head tube angle and lighter fork – I’m coming from a 69º and a Pike for reference.

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

Unlike a lot of lightweight carbon frames, there was very little noticeable flex, or creaking. The tubes feel solid and the construction is flawless. Since this was a shakedown ride, a few bolts had to be re-tightened but aside from that, the bike rode incredibly well, exceeding my expectations. Honestly, I’ve never really enjoyed riding carbon hardtails. The Highball changed that and it got even better with the 27.5 wheel size.

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

It wasn’t until attempting to descend and ascend tight switchbacks that I felt the steeper headtube and lack of a dropper post to be troublesome. Again, I don’t think Santa Cruz is marketing this as an all-rounder, AM hardtail, it’s clearly a more race-driven bike and XC races aren’t going to descend into trails like this.

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

For the extent of the day – more on that later – the Highball C was a great bike. I hardly had to adjust my riding style and its weight made the long climbs a bit easier. Best of all, with various build specs and material options, there’s something for everyone’s price range.

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

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 Aluminum starts at $1,699

The Santa Cruz Highball CC frameset is available in black or blue for $1,899.
Or, in a very affordable Aluminum frame for $750 USD

Santa Cruz Highball 29r Hardtail XC MTB

Highball 29r weight:
CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 kit: 19.92lbs / 9.03 kg
CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.63 lbs / 1193 g (for reference, the C carbon frame weighs 3.02 lbs / 1370 g)

See more information, including build specs at Santa Cruz.

  • pizza dude

    Before I even read the article, I have to say… The silhouette photo at the top is a perfect lead. It begs for the photoset to be clicked through and the article to be devoured. Bravo my friend. Okay now time to read!

    • John Watson

      Thanks, Pizza Dude!

  • John Watson

    Editor’s note: BB drop was intentionally left out. ;-)

  • D0rk

    As a guy trying to figure out the best option for a 27.2 dropper on his El Mariachi, the struggle is real! I don’t ever want another MTB that has a 27.2 post unless some major dropper breakthroughs hit soon for that size.

    • John Watson

      Like I said, the Thomson is pretty damn good. All my experiences on it have been just as good as a Reverb and let’s face it, a 27.2 dropper isn’t easy to find.

      • shapethings

        100% recommend the Thomson 27.2 dropper. Expensive? Yes. Transformed my steel XC hardtail into a more trail friendly shred-sled. My only regret is not buying one months earlier.

  • Jon B.

    Man, I’m kind of bummed SC didn’t skew this a little more towards a slacker AM geo, along the lines of a Pivot LES. I’d be curious to learn what a 120 fork and a Cane Creek Angleset would do to the geo.

    • John Watson

      I too prefer a slacker HTA, but they were going for a true to form XC race bike. Hence the 27.2 seat post and wheelbase / angles. For AM, you’d want 30.9, slacker front and tight rear, like the Honjo.

      • Jon B.

        For sure. I ride a Honzo, but a carbon version would be killer and a chance to support SC would be equally rad. Looking forward to Sea Otter and seeing what’s out there.

        PS. Photos are next-level.

      • Lowell

        Don’t forget the Chameleon! I hope they give it a face-lift like this, it already has changeable rear drop-outs for geared/SS use. Hopefully they can do something similar to the Transition Bandit and make it into a 650b/29er pick your poison frame.

  • Trenton South

    it would’ve been rad to see this bike shredding the 24 hours of old pueblo this past weekend!!

    • Dew Ber

      This is a PERFECT bike for that course.

  • Nathan Bartholomew

    What shirt are you wearing?

    • John Watson

      It’s a Mission Workshop / Acre ultralight Faroe hoodie. I never took it off the entire ride, it kept the bugs and sun off my arms and was light enough, even for the hot and humid ride conditions. I know it sounds like a ad, but it’s one of my favorite pieces to come from the brand.

      • mr. apodaca APODACA

        I went ahead and bought one since you’ve recommended it a few times and you’re right John Watson it’s pretty F#@%&*& rad.

      • Nathan Bartholomew

        Ad or not, you sold me. Thanks, man.

  • Trevor H

    While I like the idea of the internal routing being cleaned up and the lack of noise it will provide, this does take away from the opportunity to utilize that front cable housing entry point to run a stealth dropper when running a 1x drivetrain. Other than that, its a rad looking bike, and I’m sure they ride well. Great photos John!

  • boomforeal

    jesus jon, you really need to hire an editor

    • John Watson

      You want a part time job?

      • Kyle Campbell

        I’ll do it.

  • AndyS1985

    “…it’s clearly a more race-driven bike and XC races aren’t going to descend into trails like this.” Uh, what?

    • John Watson

      XC races don’t go into the “enduro” zone.

  • Tim Young

    How nice to see an XL size tested. Often it’s a medium and we are left guessing what the XL will look like. Would be even better to have some notes about sizing.

  • Nick

    I just ordered a large aluminum frame and am curious if my Roval Fattie rims (30mm internal width) with 2.35 IKONs will fit. Any input?