2018 Santa Cruz Highball first ride review

100mm lightweight hardtail racer that won't beat you up

29er Cross Country News
2018 Santa Cruz Highball

The new Highball cuts a stunning silhouette against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean near Santa Cruz HQ. Photo by Gary Perkin

Hardtails don’t have to be harsh. At least not overly so. That was the thinking as the Santa Cruz design team went to work on revising the Highball 29er, which after 3 years was ready for a refresh. The result is the new Highball launched today, which sheds a half pound of frame weight, and sees the seatstay-seat tube junction drop by about 2 inches, now residing well below the top tube junction.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

These low-angle stays are designed to work in tandem with a bridgeless seatstay to help absorb trail chatter. Photo by Gary Perkin

These low-angle stays are designed to work in tandem with a bridgeless seatstay to help absorb trail chatter. Combine that with a 27.2mm seat post and 100mm of front suspension, and you get a lightweight racer that won’t leave you feeling completely battered after a long day in the saddle.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

Smooth singletrack (and steep hills) are the Highball’s happy place. Photo by Gary Perkin

Santa Cruz also ever-so-slightly slackened the headtube angle, moving from 70.5 degrees to 69.5, then compensated by steepening the seat tube angle a half degree to 73 degrees. Elsewhere, reach jumped from 429mm (size L) to 450mm, and wheelbase went from 1100mm to 1140mm. The goal of course was to make the bike a little more downhill friendly without sacrificing uphill efficiency. Indeed, a size medium with a top-end SRAM XX1 drivetrain and Santa Cruz Reserve carbon wheels weighs a KoM killing 19.1 pounds. Here’s the full geo chart.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

Other notable features include internal dropper post compatibility, three bottle cage mounts, a bolt-on downtube protector, internal cable routing, a threaded bottom bracket, boost axle spacing, and four frame sizes – S, M, L, XL. All frames are 1x drivetrain only, and the new Highball comes in two colors, eggplant and fog (aka off-white).

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

The revised frame is claimed to be a half pound lighter than the outgoing Highball. Photo by Gary Perkin

Outgoing Highball

Here’s the old Highball for comparison sake. Photo courtesy Santa Cruz

There are six builds plus a frame-shock option for $1899. At the upper end is the aforementioned Highball 3 CC XX1 Reserve with Fox Step-Cast 32 Factory fork for $7999. Racers on a budget can get the lower priced C carbon frame built up with SRAM NX, WTP STP i19 wheels, and a Fox Rhythm 32 fork for $2799. Whichever you choose, it’s backed by a lifetime frame and carbon wheel warranty.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

The new Highball is made for going hard uphill. Photo by Gary Perkin

First Ride Impressions

Truth be told, our two-hour, 2400-feet-gained test ride along the Pacific Ocean was the first time I’d been on a hardtail in I can’t even remember how long. So it’d be disingenuous to make too many declarations about how the new Highball stacks up against this or that bike.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

The seatstay finishes with a bend, while the rear derailleur housing peeks out from the well-protected chainstay. Photo by Gary Perkin

What I will say is that this visually stunning frame with its slightly more relaxed angles didn’t scare the shit out of me anytime I went down something steeper than a sidewalk curb. And that’s not the way I remember hardtails of years past. Instead, the new Highball has a touch of friskiness to go along with its hyper-aggressive climbing abilities. And while I can’t say I felt any flex from the seatpost of seatstays, I also didn’t have any kidney issues at the end of our ride, which included one extended teeth rattler that otherwise would have had my eyes rolling into the back of my head it was so bumpy.

2018 Santa Cruz Highball

The rear brake caliper tucks neatly between the chain and seatstays. Photo by Gary Perkin

Bottom line, while the revamped Highball is not among the new generation of super slack, plus-tired trail hardtails, it can still go downhill reasonably well. And with its well-dialed geo and lightweight frame, climbs will continue to be an exercise in ruthless efficiency.

To learn more, race over to www.santacruzbicycles.com.

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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  • josh says:

    Looks very well executed. Have always been a fan of the SC hardtails, and I’m glad to see this one get a bit more relaxed.
    Thinking about seat posts: 27.2 to provide a bit of leaf springiness to the saddle, assuming the post will yield a bit. The dropper options for this size are limited still, yes? Should owners expect comfort benefits from a smaller diameter dropper as well, or is it assumed that owners who take advantage of the dropper routing have different intentions for their Highball?

  • Justin says:

    unfortunately won’t take 27.5 plus

  • Alfredo says:

    Three bottle cage mounts, great.

  • SpeedyChix says:

    What’s the clearance for rear tires, would a 2.4 be possible?
    Thinking of it as an alternative to a slimmed down Stache.

  • SpeedyChix says:

    Have a wheel set with 36 internal rims, looking for slightly fatter tire XC rig, boost, with room to make use of the wider rims/tires.

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