Santa Cruz launch Superlight 29 and Highball alloy

29in ‘wagon’ wheels take price-point spotlight for 2012

Santa Cruz Bicycles descended upon the bluffs and buff singletrack of Sedona, Arizona —an area that’s inspired and served set to many a western movie — to roll out two new 29in ‘wagon’ wheel options: the 29in wheeled Superlight, and an alloy version of the Highball hardtail.

Superlight 29: a contemporary single pivot

The single pivot swingarm Superlight has been the evergreen XC entry bike into the Santa Cruz line up for years and the 29in version follows the established template closely. The bike’s curved seat tube allows for the same 100mm travel as the 26in version, while geometry is born from the proven balance of the Tallboy. Like the Tallboy and the 26in wheeled Superlight, the 29in version also willingly accepts a 120mm fork if you want to lean it back a little.

Our initial ride proves the short tapered head tube keeps tracking keen and trustworthy, whether whipping round the backside of bushes or trying to stay inside of Sedona’s big cactus stands on loose sweeping bends. Despite our concerns — and those of Santa Cruz when they started the project — the swingarm doesn’t get too out of shape even when you’re properly pushing it sideways despite the conventional 135mm quick-release dropouts.

There’s definitely flex between the main frame and tyre contact patch, but it’s friendly and predictable. In other words, it actually helps trail conforming traction and contributes to the bike’s playful feel rather than loading up during corners then catapulting you off line as soon as you unweight.

Santa Cruz's Superlight 29

Santa Cruz meld the bikes mainframe and swingarm with their well-proven adjustable 15mm axle collet bearings. Tyre clearance is more than generous, even with a stout 2.25in 29er tyre. Our test rig sported a relatively conservative mid-length stem and mid-width bar, which mated with the geometry to produce a balanced, agile, and attentive feel on the often zero tolerance ledge trails and sandy outer edge corners of Sedona. Complete bikes also come with the option to change the stem and crank length without increasing price.

Frame and shock weight is claimed at 5.9lb for a large size, while the Shimano Deore, Easton EA30 based R XC29 kit and heavyweight Maxxis Ardent 2.25in tubeless tyres bring total bike weight to 12.75kgs/28.12lbs for our medium. Even so, our Superlight still didn’t feel sluggish out of corners and it cantered up climbs nicely.

Suspension action is as predictable, intuitive, and rider referencing as you’d expect from a single pivot, too, with the larger wheel and tyre size chamfering the edges of Sedona’s ledges very nicely. We found it to G-out and take last minute ditch slams acceptably well, and while it doesn’t feel as sophisticated on the trail as the alloy Tallboy, it’s significantly lighter and much cheaper.

In terms of other details, the top tube gets dropper post cable/hose guides and gear cables use continuous outer housing. Santa Cruz now specifically identify thread-in, external bottom bracket cups as a bonus — a fair point considering the sometime bewildering minefield of different press-fit standards.

Smaller swingarms on the small and medium sizes minimize the kite tail effect on the smaller bikes and the hammock curved top tube of the small is claimed to have the lowest standover for its class at 692mm/27.2in.

The shock length on the smaller bikes are also shorter to increase their leverage ratio. While this may sound like a drawback, it is a move calculated to give even the lightest riders a useful range of rebound adjustability from the shock, due to their higher operating pressures.

Pricing is promised to be very close to the 26in models, right through the range, with the D XC kicking off the complete bike options at US$1,850, and the R XC bike we rode at $2,399.

Big wheels rolling on Sedona's ribbons of singletrack

Highball 29 alloy: new sub-US$1,500 complete bike

The long running “gateway drug” in the Santa Cruz line up used to be the Chameleon hardtail. However, that stalwart is surely to be overtaken by the new US$650 Highball 29 alloy ($1,499 for the DXC complete bike).

The new 29er adopts Chameleon’s geared or singlespeed-friendly personality but switches to a neater pivoting-type dropout style with vertical slots and integrated IS-style brake mounts for easier and faster wheel changes.

At 3.9lb the alloy Highball can be configured as XC or hardcore as you like. A medium version in XT spec hangs off the scales at 11.33kgs/24.98lbs, which is certainly very competitive compared to many complete bikes, considering the Maxxis Ardent 29er tubeless tyres add nearly a kilo each.

Highball alloy proved to possess race-inspired stiffness, just like the carbon version

Back to back first rides show the handling to be as attentive and balanced as the Superlight, turning in accurately on the tighter sections of trail without shaking its head at higher speeds. The tapered head tube is also cleared for running a 120mm fork too if you want to slack it out a bit.

According to Santa Cruz design chief, Joe Graney, a 140mm fork is no problem strength-wise, although he reckons, “it’ll handle like sh*t.” While ride feel is definitely on the firm side, the massive tyre clearance makes plenty of room to plush out the ride pneumatically, if you find your soles and spine are taking too much of a beating.

In other news, standard colours across the whole Santa Cruz range now switch to either black or white (and one stock colour) with a palette of 470 custom colours available for an upcharge of US$175 on hardtails and US$300 on full suspension.

Santa Cruz's Highball alloy comes, stock, in blue or white

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