Santa Cruz Bicycles today unveiled three all-new models for 2012 — the Highball Carbon 29er hardtail, Tallboy Aluminium and 5in-travel Blur Trail Carbon (TRc). They're also set to launch yet another new bike at next month’s Sea Otter Classic.
Two of the new models — the Highball and Tallboy 29ers — have been built due to customer demand. The third bike, however, like many of the machines in the Santa Cruz line, was built more because it was a type of bike that the designers and engineers wanted to ride.
This all-new 5in-travel (127mm) model splits the difference between the Blur XC Carbon and Blur LT Carbon, with the slack angles of the 5.5in-travel LT and Nickel (the 5in APP bike launched last year) yet a weight that's barely more than that of the 4in-travel XC. Its official name is the Blur Trail Carbon or Blur TRc, but Santa Cruz staff affectionately refer to it as the TRc.
Santa Cruz will start taking orders for the new models in April, with the first shipment due to arrive at the end of May. The bikes will initially be available with 2011 components, but they'll make a running change into 2012 dress in June.
Highball Carbon 29er
Keeping in line with the nomenclature that spurred the name of their original 29er — a Tallboy is an oversize 24oz can of beer — Santa Cruz’s new all-business hardtail cross-country race bike is called the Highball. The name is decidedly more refined and debonair — think Madmen’s Don Draper drinking an Old Fashioned out of a highball tumbler — and so is the bike. If the Tallboy is about fun with your buddies, the Highball has a much more cut-throat agenda.
Highball’s tumbler and good clearance for a 2.1in tire
Earlier this year, Santa Cruz leaked the majority of the specifications of the new bike on their 104 Bronson blog, leaving little but the name for us to impart today. We're hoping to get a bike into review soon, as this model seems poised to make a wave on the cross-country race circuit, especially with privateers.
A medium Highball frame — with all of its peripheral items: seat clamp, bottle cage bolts and derailleur hanger — has a claimed weight of just 2.4lb, which translates to just under 1,100g. That puts the bike in the realm of a stockier, yet still respectably weighted, road frame. Despite this feathery weight, Santa Cruz claim that, like all of their carbon bikes, it sets new benchmarks in terms of stiffness and strength.
The Highball uses the same molding technology shared by all of Santa Cruz’s carbon bikes, which is said to be a style of tooled monocoque molding that allows extreme precision in regards to tube wall thickness. The frame is molded in three sections (front triangle and rear stays), then bonded together. “It takes two people working together two hours to get a bike into a mold,” said Michael Ferrentino, Santa Cruz’s marketing manager. “It’s a very laborious, very carefully monitored process that requires a lot of precision.”
The new Santa Cruz Highball in matte carbon grey
Santa Cruz have eschewed in-molded carbon headset bearing races – instead fitting the tapered head tube with an inset upper and external lower type headset – saying that the weight to be saved is less than most would expect. They've also specced the bike with a standard threaded alloy bottom bracket shell. The latter, it might be noted, is considered by just about every other player in the super-light carbon 29er hardtail game as a dinosaur that needed to be left behind for weight savings.
Nick Anderson, Santa Cruz’s design engineer, said they could have dropped another 75g or more by using a press-fit design, but it was decided by internal committee that riders would prefer the more convenient compatibility the standard offers. “We do a lot of frame-only sales and we feel like our customers like having a bike with a threaded bottom bracket because it makes it a little more versatile,” said Anderson. “We spent some time talking about whether or not we wanted to make it singlespeed compatible with either an eccentric [bottom bracket] or adjustable dropouts, but you just pay too big of a weight penalty to do that and so we decided just to keep it as a geared race bike."
“It wasn’t important for us to be the absolute lightest,” he continued. “ But we wanted to be lighter than mostly everything. At a certain point there’s a weight/durability trade-off and if you make a bike 10 percent lighter, it’s not 10 percent weaker, it’s like half as strong. So we tried to find a balance where we were as light or lighter than the competition, but not to the point that it’s a road bike.”
Still, Santa Cruz claim that, equipped with an XTR drivetrain, a Fox F29RLC tapered steerer fork and a 32-spoke wheelset (with tubes), a medium Highball weighs just 21.93lb (9.95kg). That's light, considering that plenty of room is left for weight weenies to shave grams. Of note, the Highball is compatible with SRAM’s narrowest XX crank Q-factor of 156mm. The frame comes in two colors — matte carbon grey or gloss carbon red — and costs US$1,899. Complete bikes start at $3,099.
We needn't say much about the new aluminum Tallboy; it’s simply a replica of the carbon version that’s welded from Santa Cruz’s custom drawn and butted aluminum. “The Tallboy is continually blowing away our expectations in terms of how it’s selling,” said Ferrentino. “The market, right now, is screaming for 29in-wheel bikes.
"With the exception of the Blur XC, we’ve generally paired carbon and aluminum — we come out with an aluminum bike and then we come out with the carbon bike. Now we’re at the point where there’s enough demand for the Tallboy and enough people who'd like to have a similar but less expensive option that it was pretty much a no-brainer.”
The Tallboy has been so popular in the 29er segment that Santa Cruz has now molded it from aluminum as to further broaden its reach
The aluminum Tallboy features the same 4in-travel VPP suspension design complete with angular contact bearings, oversized axles and grease ports as the carbon version, the same geometry and tapered head tube. “The only real difference is that we didn’t make a double extra large, which we do make in carbon,” said Josh Kissner, Santa Cruz’s product manager.
While the difference, on paper, between the two bikes simply comes to material and weight, the actual difference to the discerning or punishing rider is said to be greater. “By going to carbon, it weighs less, it's stiffer and it's stronger,” said Ferrentino. "Any time with aluminum, you’re going to have a heavy frame that probably isn’t going to be as strong.
The aluminum Tallboy features the same 4in (100mm) travel VPP system as the original
"[However] we still have desired ride and handling characteristics that we have to hit, minimums of strength... and our previous experience with aluminum gives us a pretty good idea of where we want to aim things.” Trading aluminum for carbon adds a bit of weight, which brings a medium frame up to 6.6lb (2,993g), but reduces the price to $1,850.
Complete bike prices start at just $2,299 with Shimano’s 10-speed Deore drivetrain and a RockShox Recon fork, while the mostly Shimano XT 'SPX XC' build kit with Fox F29 120 RLC fork costs $4,199, with a claimed weight of 27lb (12.2kg). The aluminum Tallboy is offered in Santa Cruz’s complete range of powder coated colors.
“The TRc is a VPP 5in trail bike that fills a hole in our line-up and at the same time is another twist on what a trail bike is,” said Ferrentino. “[The Blur] LT is a little bit more bike than some people might want. This thing is a 5lb frame, 5in-travel bike, but it has this kicked out 68-degree head angle, very similar to what the Nickel is in geometry."
The swoopy frame packages cross-country weight with slack all-mountain angles
“It’s a bike we wanted to make,” he continued. “I’m not sure where the race market is going, but it’s light enough and it pedals well enough that it would be fine as a race bike for marathoners and such. But I don’t know if they’re still stuck wanting steep twitchy bikes; the head angle on this bike, being as relaxed as it is, might trip some people out.”
Equipped with a 130mm-travel fork, the TRc sports a 68-degree head tube. Its bottom bracket keeps in line with the gravity-bred nature of the bike at 13.1in, while many of the other angles skew toward the cross-country side of the spectrum, including a 72.5-degree seat angle and 23in top tube. The TRc is reminiscent of the late model Blur 4X, a bike which some at Santa Cruz say was ahead of its time.
That discontinued model, with 115mm of travel, was stiff — it shared a down tube with the VP Free — and slack, as is the new bike, but was missing one key feature that Santa Cruz’s carbon manufacturing now allows: a super-light weight. Like all of Santa Cruz’s carbon models the TRc features carbon dropouts, as well as molded carbon upper swing link, disc brake and shock mounts. Finishing details include a secondary carbon chainstay protector (for both top and bottom sides) and stainless steel chainstay chain-suck plate.
The Blur TRc’s frame is built to be stronger and stiffer than that of the XC model, but has a claimed weight of just 5lb (2,267g) with shock. We weighed our medium demo model after our first ride on it and – with Shimano XTR, Formula the One brakes, a DT Swiss 240 level wheelset, Fox RP23 shock and F130RLC fork, RockShox Reverb dropper post, Shimano XT pedals and some Utah mud – it weighed 25.33lb. Santa Cruz claims 24lb even, without the Reverb or pedals.
Like all of Santa Cruz's carbon VPP bikes, all of the shock and linkage anchor points are molded from carbon
It’s a unique bike that's primed to find place in a gravity rider’s stable as a cross-country bike or as a progressive trail rider’s all-rounder. It's at home anywhere speeds are high and terrain is too tame for the travel of an LT or Nomad. “My personal bike is a Nomad,” said Anderson. “If I were to pick two bikes, I’d pick a Nomad and an XC, which are kind of at the two extremes of the kind of riding I like to do, but if you can only afford one bike, something like the TRc starts to make more sense.”
“It’s all about finding the perfect bike for your conditions,” said Kissner. “I’d argue it’s the perfect bike for Santa Cruz (California), the trails that we ride. They’re steep but they’re fairly smooth, with jumps and tons of corners, and the thing rips. The Nickel does fill that niche, but you get pretty spoiled riding the carbon stuff and you want that.”
Santa Cruz have two schools of fit within their line; the TRc has a longer top tube that falls in line with their endurance oriented models (basically anything with less than 140mm of travel), while bikes like the Blur LTc and Nomad, along with the Butcher and the even bigger bikes in the line, have substantially shorter top tubes.
Essentially, the TRc fills the same space at the Nickel trail bike, but in carbon and with VPP rather than APP suspension. It's considerably more expensive, however, at $2,699 for a frame with Fox RP23 rear shock; complete bikes start at $3,799. The Blur TRc will be available in matte carbon with green details or gloss carbon with orange details.