The beauty of hardtail XC racing is that you can be competitive without all the expensive gadgets and doodads that big travel enduro sleds need just to operate, let alone stay frosty for an entire race. We're hard pressed to think of a single bike that illustrates this fact better than Santa Cruz's Highball Carbon 29 R Complete Mountain Bike. Given the success of its elongated top tube, aggressive rider tilt, and a wheelbase that maintains stability across lines that typically buck hardtails, Santa Cruz is bringing the Highball Carbon R back with virtually no changes save a few tweaks to the Shimano drivetrain. If you're more into 29er speed than the latest high-travel toys and tech sheet bling, then the 2015 Highball will let you save some money for entry fees.
Despite a new paint job, the latest frame is still the same defiant answer to the enduro marshmallow trend dominating the industry. The carbon Santa Cruz uses for the Highball Carbon C frame is a lower modulus of carbon than that used in the top-end Carbon CC models, so more material is required to achieve the same stiffness and durability. Depending on size, the frame weighs around 250 claimed grams more than the Carbon CC model, but it costs a lot less. The whole frame is a single layup instead of a jigsaw puzzle of individually-cured carbon tubes, so the fibers wrap continuously through structurally important junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket. This strengthens the frame by dissipating the force from impacts, and it also more efficiently channels pedal input.
In order to accommodate its big wheels, the Highball 29's chainstays register at a hair under 17 inches, but a steep head tube brings the wheelbase to over a half-inch shorter than the smaller-wheeled Highball 27. The Highball 29 is nimble enough to gently pick through trail furniture and it tracks through berms like a cat on carpet, but it still shines brightest when the throttle is fully open. The 12 x 142mm rear axle is the stiff rear triangle's best friend, ensuring that every possible watt goes straight into the trail, but the slimmed-down 27.2 seatpost helps to alleviate chatter from the countless more miles of trail you'll be able to cover compared to the hulking six-inch bikes your buddies are on.