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When you start with a highly refined chassis and mid-level parts, as resources and routine maintenance warrant upgrades, the opportunity exists to slowly and systematically unlock speed. Take this Santa Cruz Bicycles Highball Carbon R XC Complete Mountain Bike for an example.

It comes spec'd with an SLX 3x10 drivetrain, FOX FLOAT CTD Evo, and WTB i19 TCS wheels laced to Shimano hubs. All reliable and worthy components in their own right, but when it comes time switch drivetrain configurations to a one- or two-by, or you're able to spring for a carbon wheelset, you'll enjoy the experience of feeling those upgrades -- keep in mind that this is Santa Cruz's top-of-the-line race hardtail.

It possess the ability to push performance into a realm normally reserved for elite racers. We're talking pure speed here, not versatility -- that's where the less expensive and adaptable aluminum Highball comes into play. The Highball Carbon is a racer's rig that provides excellent handling dynamics, lively response, and energy-conserving dampening.

The secret to these appealing traits is the Highball's one-piece carbon layup and curing process -- as opposed to assembling joints that require bonding or wrapping. In structurally important locations like the head tube and bottom bracket, continuous fibers flow around the junctions and spread throughout the frame. The layers are compacted from the inside as they're applied, which eliminates voids, prevents delamination, and creates a smooth, stress-free interior with no waste. In short, it cuts excess material while making the frame stronger.

The resulting construction distributes lateral, vertical, and torsional loads throughout the frame in order to boost the Highball's ride quality. This design absorbs impact energy, while also efficiently and accurately transferring bio-inputs like steering and propulsion. Translated into trail talk, this means that the Highball loses nothing to flex when you stomp on the pedals, dampens high-speed trail chatter, and holds its line like a WRC champion.

To complement these inherent characteristics, without the need for a second job, you'll find Santa Cruz's R XC build. Starting out, a 100mm FOX FLOAT 32 CTD Evolution with a tapered steerer tube and the 15QR thru-axle ensures that the 29er's dreaded steering deflection is a thing of the past. The CTD damper provides three distinct settings: Climb, Trail, and Descend. Together, these setting create a simplified user experience and optimum performance, without demanding a degree in suspension dynamics.

The meat and potatoes of the R XC drivetrain consist of Shimano's unfailing 10-speed SLX components. The beauty of SLX is that you get XT/XTR trickle down technologies without the high cost of entry. A stiff Shimano Deore crank spins 24/32/42t chainrings which, through a HG75 chain, twists a HG81 11-36t cassette. The SLX trigger shifters' precise actuation quickly directs SLX derailleurs to the selected cog. Meanwhile, speed is kept in check with powerful Deore M615 hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors.

For wheels, Santa Cruz hand laces WTB Frequency Team i19 TCS rims to Shimano M746 and M716 hubs with 14 gauge spokes. Maxxis Ikon tires provide an ideal balance of low rolling-resistance with traction. Finishing off the build are a Race Face Ride stem, bar, and seatpost, which has been topped with a WTB Volt Race saddle.

The Santa Cruz Highball Carbon R XC Complete Mountain Bike is available in four sizes from Medium to XX-Large and the colors Matte Carbon/green and Matte Carbon/dark silver.

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