Santa Cruz Bicycles Highball Carbon 27.5 R1 Complete Mountain Bike - 2017

Interrogating the real.

The Highball Carbon 27.5 R1 Complete Mountain Bike may not be the out-and-out fastest XC machine in Santa Cruz's stable. That honor falls to the Highball 29er—but only in the vacuum of a smooth ribbon of singletrack or a well-kempt fire road. There's no room for honor in the less-than smooth conditions of an actual XC race, and the Highball 27.5's ability to overcome small obstacles with a large angle of attack without sacrificing dexterity while climbing or getting hung-up while interrogating stretches of recalcitrant, enduro-worthy trail furniture mean that it's actually superior outside of virtual speed simulations.

Though speed is the focus here and squish tends to eat into that, the Highball does address the lack of rear suspension with a diminished seatpost, down to 27.2 millimeters. While this doesn't quite equate to the square-edge hit capabilities of the Nomad or Bronson, it does help to eat up trail vibrations that tend to accumulate over the course of a long ride. Up front, the 27.5 model has a more moderate head tube angle than the Highball 29er. At just 69 degrees, it rides the divide between slack stability and razor-sharp handling, keeping you in control while helping to control the terrain. Unsurprisingly, it also has shorter chainstays than the 29er version, which maximizes the hardtail rear triangle's efficiency while mashing.

As with the original 29-inch model, the Highball 27.5 is a single-piece layup of carbon fiber instead of a jigsaw puzzle of individually-cured carbon tubes. This allows Santa Cruz to wrap the fibers continuously around structurally important junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket, strengthening the frame, dissipating the force from impacts and pedaling load, and allowing for comparable strength with less material and a lower weight. Translated into trail talk, this means the Highball hits the bricks when you stomp on the pedals, dampen high-speed chatter, and hold lines like a cat on carpet — all with a low-weight that makes any full-suspension bike look like a bloated downhill-only machine.

Finally, Santa Cruz's approach to the carbon lay-up process deserves a quick mention before we sign off. The carbon is compacted from both inside and out, eliminating voids, preventing delamination, and creating a smooth interior. While that level of aesthetic perfection is a nice idea, even if we can't see it, the real-world benefits of a perfect interior include no resin pools or unintended material abnormalities, which can structurally compromise a frame over time.

  • A cross country bike with a nimble wheel size
  • 27.5in wheels balance agility with rolling aggression
  • Santa Cruz's carbon know-how leads the stiff and light game
  • Long reach and a short stem make for clean handling
  • Steep front end stays on point while grinding out climbs
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