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What do you do when you have 3 new hardtails to introduce, and want to provide both an experience and a true test of the new machines? Well, if you're Santa Cruz, you might gather up a few journalists and head to New Zealand, for something a little bit different and off the beaten path. Vital's own Sven Martin was part of making it all happen, and of course, he was on hand to document the adventure as well (although all that meant he didn't actually get to test the new bikes!). Join the journey and find out more about these rad new rides below.

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Photos and story by Sven Martin

Towards the end of last year Santa Cruz Bicycles approached Anka and me with the challenge of putting a 3-day route together for a group of journalists to sample and test their latest offerings. The catch was that they needed to be suitable for hardtail bikes. While there are plenty of trails and tracks out here that are more suited to their long travel stablemates I was actually super excited as we had the perfect trail and itinerary in mind and by no means was it to be a smooth, tech-free experience.

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With the type of bikes to be ridden to be kept a surprise for the visiting journalists we set about the task of organizing a pack list so they would at least be prepared albeit slightly confused and intrigued.

  • Sunblock/GoreTex Jacket
  • Sandals/Thermal baselayers
  • Beach Towel/Alpine Insulated down jacket
  • Lycra/Baggies
  • Riding glasses with clear and dark lenses
  • Big hydration pack/water-bottle

You get the idea, a lot of conflicting items but all needed since this is New Zealand where you can and often will experience four seasons in one day.

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Will Ockelton, global marketing manager for Santa Cruz Bicycles shared our vision of a three day point to point journey rather than operating from a single base. Although these were race ready machines that many will use in the lap racing format we wanted to deliver a unique wild west coast experience, as there is nothing better than rolling into a new location at the end of each day. Joining Will from Santa Cruz to present the bikes and answer any questions from the journalists was Josh Kissner, product manager and Joe Graney, COO as well as SCB NZ distributor Mike Stylie.

After the visitors' trans Atlantic flights landed we had a quick bike set-up followed by a jetlag-clearing razz around the smooth and flowy Kaiteriteri Park on the doorstep of Able Tasman National Park near Nelson before setting off for the drive to the wild West Coast. We pulled over on the beach just North of Westport and unpacked the svelte Stigmatas.

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The first ride was a mix of beach, tarmac, singletrack, rail trail, steps, bridges, creeks and dirt backcountry roads, basically every condition you would ever expect to ride and rally a cross bike on, although I must admit we were most worried about this day's ride as we felt it may be a bit over the top and technical for the riders and possibly the bikes. Ultimately, with it being a Santa Cruz press camp we thought why the hell not.

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The grins and hoots hollers and laughs as the group made their way in to the Rough and Tumble Lodge to waiting G&T’s and West Coast beers had me sighing in relief. Pushing the boundaries and offering riders true challenges is what it's all about, but you never know until you go.

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The Rough and Tumble Lodge sits at the beginning of the Old Ghost Road (or the end depending on the direction you ride it in). At over 85km the Old Ghost Road is NZ’s longest continuous singletrack and is rated as grade four. It connects two old gold mining routes with an ambitious and staggering feat of trail building traversing through many different ecosystems from coastal rainforest to high alpine ridges then down again through ancient beech forests. Along the route are well-spaced and placed huts cleverly situated to offer trampers and bikers overnight refuge and comfort.

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The next morning it was time to hop on the new carbon Highball 29’r. At  just 19lbs the group left me far behind in no time at all. We rode as far as the trail would allow to a trail builder's camp where the current trail terminates. There is only about ten kilometers of trail left to build before the whole project is finished sometime in the next few months.

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Luckily for us we were treated to a Helicopter shuttle over the impassable forest which also gave us a mini-tour over some of the stunning single track built up and down the ridgelines.

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We were dropped off near the high point by Ghost Lake Hut, stunningly situated on a cliff side where a hearty meal awaited. After some meteor spotting (enhanced by some cider and whiskey) we were all soon fast asleep.

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Next morning after a golden sunrise the group had new 27.5” Highballs to ride that were magically swapped out overnight (when I say magically think helicopter, Santa Cruz does not mess about which made our job of logistics a little easier). The day's ride started off with a crisp climb and some long narrow ridgeline traversing where we were able to witness the trailbuilders hard at work, after a stop and a chat it was off for a two-hour-plus descent that never seemed to end.

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Three perfect bikes for three perfect days of riding made that much easier by the co-operating weather. There is more to New Zealand Mountain Biking than Rotorua and Queenstown. Get out there and explore no matter what your choice of weapon.

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For more, check out: www.santacruzbicycles.com,www.ridehousemartin.com, www.oldghostroad.org.nz.



2015 Santa Cruz Highball

The second-coming of the Highball sees it evolve into an ever-more versatile cross-country racer too. Now available in either 27.5-inch or 29-inch versions with C or CC carbon frame options, the Highball meets the demand of more riders' preference and budget.

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“The new Highball was pretty much re-engineered from scratch,” said Head of Engineering Nick Anderson. "We’ve updated the geometry by lengthening the front end about half an inch while shortening the chain stays around a third of an inch. To improve the ride further we’ve introduced a 27.2-inch seat post specifically for this model and tuned the carbon layup of the seat tube and seat stays to take full advantage of the enhanced compliance."

The Highball uses internally molded carbon tubes to route the rear brake hose (including connector) from entry to exit. Santa Cruz also added easy-to-thread guides and cable tunnels for full internal routing, future-proofed for Shimano Di2 compatibility. The Highball starts at $2,799 for a complete carbon model with the top-of-the-line XTR build coming in at $6,799. It is available in sizes S-XL in the 27.5-inch version and M-XXLin the 29-inch version. The CC carbon frameset is $1,899.

Even for a carbon XC machine, the Highball is impressively light:

  • 29"CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 Enve: 19.5 lbs / 8.84 kg
  • 29"CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.63 lbs / 1193 g (for reference, the C carbon frame weighs 3.02 lbs / 1370 g)
  • 27.5"CC carbon size M matte black w/XX1 Enve: 19.27 lbs / 8.74 kg
  • 27.5"CC carbon size M matte black frame only: 2.58 lbs / 1172 g

2015 Santa Cruz Highball Geometry

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For more information on the 2015 Highball, head to www.santacruzbicycles.com.

2015 Santa Cruz Stigmata

Made from Santa Cruz’s lightweight CC carbon fiber, the Stigmata frame features internally routed hydraulic disc brakes and a 142-mm thru-axle rear end. The Stigmata CC carbon fork was co-developed with the frame and features a 15-mm thru-axle and an internal headset for seamless integration.

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Available in five sizes, two colors, and three build levels, or as a frameset-only option, the Stigmata is designed as a versatile CX race bike with some latitude. Since they gave one to Peaty, that's probably a good thing!

Steve Peat rallying his Stigmata.

“The all new carbon Stigmata was born out of demand from our own employees, athletes and friends for a 700c bike that could crush cyclocross races and strike out on long dirt road crusades,” explained Santa Cruz Product Manager Josh Kissner. “It’s definitely a legit CX racer, but we’ve added small details to keep it versatile, such as a 160-mm brake rotors for long descents, a PF30 BB for maximum drivetrain compatibility and full 41-mm tire clearance.”

The Stigmata starts from $3,699 for a complete bike and is available in 52, 54, 56, 58 and 60 cm sizes. The CC carbon frameset is $2,299 and includes Stigmata CC carbon fork, axles and headset. In terms of weight, you could add two Stigmatas together and end up with a perfectly acceptable all-mountain MTB:

  • CC carbon size 56cm matte black w/ Red Enve: 16.35 lbs / 7.42 kg
  • CC carbon size 56cm matte black frame only: 2.23 lbs / 1013 g
  • CC carbon fork matte black: 0.93 lbs 424 g

2015 Santa Cruz Stigmata Geometry

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For more on the 2015 Stigmata, cruise on over to www.santacruzbicycles.com.

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