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With mid-sized wheels, Shimano's durable, race-ready XT drivetrain, and Santa Cruz's peerless Carbon CC construction, the Highball Carbon CC 27.5 XT Complete Mountain Bike boasts a versatility equal to the brutal climbs and twisting, techy descents of XC courses like Albstadt, but at a price point that's more palatable to the self-sponsored racer. After all, we don't all get to tour the Euro pro scene, but that doesn't mean that the trails and courses in our backyards — and our own efforts on them — are any less worthy of the same level of world class racing platform.
The latest Highball Carbon CC frame is built with the same Carbon CC construction as its predecessor. It features a higher modulus carbon than the Carbon C model, so less material is required to hit the same strength and stiffness numbers. Less material equates to a lighter chassis that needs fewer watts to propel, and the watts that you do pour into it are transferred with greater efficiency courtesy of the increased stiffness.
The whole frame is also a single piece 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, buttressing the frame and dissipating the force from impacts and pedaling load. Translated into trail talk, this means it hits the bricks when you stomp on the pedals and dampens high-speed chatter — all with a low-weight that makes any full-suspension bike's climbing and sprinting feel as sharp as an overripe banana.
Santa Cruz justifies retaining the 69-degree head tube angle for the new model year by citing the line-holding benefits of high rake combined with mid-sized wheels. Compared to the original 29er Highball, the 27.5-inch model has a lower, longer geometry, so it's tethered to lines both on the way up and the way down. Despite its long wheelbase, the Highball 27.5 has shorter chainstays then the 29er, so it capitalizes on the stiff, carbon hardtail and 12x142mm rear axle for efficient power transfer that lends itself to pushing through grades and carrying speed out of switchbacks.
The Highball XT's new Shimano XT M8000 drivetrain isn't just a cosmetic makeover. Of the group's new updates, most notable may be the side-swing action of the front derailleur, which is classic Shimano in that it addresses an issue that we all though was just part of riding a double. The derailleur's actuation moves with the chain's motion, swinging forward and out as it pulls the chain up into the big ring for shifting that's as sharp as the rear derailleur. The build is finished with some standby kit: WTB rims mated to DT Swiss's legendary hubs.
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