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Santa Cruz Mountain Bikes Buyer's Guide: XC, Trail, Enduro - Which Is Right For You

Santa Cruz’s range of high-performance bikes will satisfy everyone from long-distance adventurers to World Cup downhillers. This overview covers all current Santa Cruz mountain bike models. 

Written by: Bruce Lin

Published on:

Posted in:Guides

From downhill runs to backcountry singletrack to cross-country races and even gravel, you'll find riders on Santa Cruz Bicycles. Though not a large bike manufacturer, Santa Cruz has created some of the most popular, well-reviewed, and desirable bikes of the last decade.

Its bikes are known for clean design, durability, great resale value, and excellent ride characteristics. Since being founded in 1993, it has helped pioneer the development and production of durable, high-quality carbon frames and pushed mountain bike design to build bikes that allow riders to go further, faster, and higher, for longer.

Santa Cruz’s range of high-performance machines will satisfy everyone from long-distance gravel adventurers to World Cup downhill racers. This overview covers all current Santa Cruz mountain bike models on sale.

Like any bike, your next Santa Cruz should reflect your needs as a rider. What sort of terrain will you ride? Are you interested in style or speed? Do you want to race XC or enduro? Hopefully, this guide helps you make an informed decision when buying your next bike.

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For more information on all brands of mountain bikes, you can check out our Mountain Bike Buyer’s Guide.


Santa Cruz XC mountain bikes

Cross-country mountain bikes are lighter, easier to pedal, and have quick and responsive handling. They are good for riders focused on fitness, speed, climbing, endurance, long-distance rides, and XC racing.

Santa Cruz Highball

Santa Cruz Highball

Frame options: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 100mm front

Who it's for: Cross-country racers and climbing- and endurance-focused riders who want the light weight and efficiency of a hardtail.

The Highball is the lightest and most efficient mountain bike in the Santa Cruz line-up. While it's a race-oriented hardtail that will appeal to XC purists, the geometry has been tweaked and relaxed to make it more capable and composed than traditional XC race bikes. The carbon layup is fine-tuned to calm trail chatter, and, combined with the bridge-less seat stays and 27.2mm seatpost, it takes hardtail comfort to a new level. The Highball is a bike that will climb fast, go far, and do it with confidence.

Santa Cruz Blur

Previous-generation Santa Cruz Blur

Frame material: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 100-110mm front / 100mm rear

Who it's for: Cross-country racers. Climbing- and endurance-focused riders who want the extra compliance of rear suspension.

The Blur was recently revamped, making it even more race-oriented. The 1,933-gram CC-level frame is the lightest full-suspension frame Santa Cruz has ever made, thanks to a new flex stay suspension design that does away with the brand's typical VPP layout. With fewer pivots and linkages, this is an efficient, stripped down, racing machine. The Blur comes standard with a dual lockout remote for racers who need to quickly firm up their suspension for hard pedaling efforts. Part of the new school of XC bikes, the Blur has been developed with a slacker head tube and longer reach to match current trends. A trail version called the Blur TR is also available with a beefier 110mm fork and a dropper post, for XC riders who want a little more downhill capability than the standard 100mm bike.


Santa Cruz trail mountain bikes

Trail mountain bikes are all-rounders that can handle uphills as well as downhills. They are usually the best choice for the majority of riders looking to have fun on a variety of trails.

Santa Cruz Tallboy

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 130mm front / 120mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Joplin

Who it's for: Riders looking for a versatile trail bike that pedals efficiently on climbs and long rides, but has the travel and geometry to outperform XC race bikes on descents and technical trails.

The Tallboy is a bike that muddles the line between XC and trail. The 2020 Tallboy 4 model has 120mm of rear suspension that provides just enough extra travel to take to edge off of rougher trails. Its predecessor, the Tallboy 3, has an upper-link-mounted shock with 110mm of rear travel and a 120mm fork.

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Santa Cruz designed the Tallboy for those who want an efficient bike but aren’t hardcore XC racers. With extra forgiveness in the suspension and a slightly slacker front end, riders can attack technical trails just a bit more confidently. The Tallboy fits very nicely into the do-it-all bike category, able to transition between XC riding and big climbs to harder descending that might overwhelm most short-travel bikes. Previous Tallboy models are compatible with 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires but currently it is offered as a 29” model only.

Santa Cruz 5010

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 27.5”+
Travel: 130mm front / 130mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Furtado

Who it's for: Riders looking for a playful trail bike that maximizes agility and poppiness.

The 5010 is designed to be the most fun trail bike possible. The new version, launched in 2020 has a low-link-mounted shock and 130mm of rear travel paired with a 140mm fork. Its predecessor, shown above, also had 130mm of travel.

In both cases, the bikes were designed with enough travel to handle hard hits and landings, while the responsive geometry and smaller wheels keep the bike nimble and make it easy to pop and jump off every trail feature. It’s the do-it-all choice for riders who are more interested in thrashing their bike and having a good time than racing or competing. The newest 5010 has slack and long geometry, in keeping with the rest of Santa Cruz's trail bike lineup. 

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Santa Cruz Hightower

Santa Cruz Hightower

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 150mm front / 140mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Maverick

Who it's for: Riders looking for a versatile trail/enduro bike that is better equipped to effectively handle steep, technical, and gnarly terrain.

The Hightower is a bigger do-it-all bike that's aimed at trail riders more interested in downhill prowess. It features more travel than the Tallboy to help it excel on steeper and chunkier trails. The previous generation Hightower came in two flavors. The original Hightower had 135mm of rear travel, making it an ultra-versatile trail bike with compatibility for 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires. It was followed by the 29” only Hightower LT which increased rear travel to 150mm to satisfy enduro riders. The newest version of the Hightower splits the difference with 145mm of rear travel, a 150mm fork, and a slack head angle. It's a bike that sits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone of downhill capability — efficient feeling, but just forgiving enough to save you on descents when things get out of hand.

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Santa Cruz Bronson

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 27.5”+
Travel: 160mm front / 150mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Roubion

Who it's for: Riders who want a stable and confident trail/enduro bike that is not too heavy-duty.

The Bronson uses 27.5” wheels and 150mm of travel to maintain a more playful feel, but it can still buckle down and plow through technical terrain when needed. Santa Cruz designed the Bronson to ride the edge between agility and stability, to make it as fun and capable on downhill trails as it is on flow and jump trails. The newest Bronson has moved to a lower-link driven shock and gone from a 150mm fork to a 160mm fork to increase its downhill capabilities. It can fit standard 27.5” wheels and tires up to 2.8” 27.5”+ wheels and tires. 

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Santa Cruz Jackal

Frame material: Aluminum
Wheel size: 26”
Travel: 100mm front

Who it's for: Dirt jump, slopestyle, pump track, and skatepark riders.

The Jackal is a classic dirt jump bike that allows riders to play on jumps, pump tracks, at skate parks, and on urban features. It’s made to take abuse and be dead simple to maintain. Dirt jump bikes are great for everyone from adventurous kids to veteran riders looking to sharpen their riding skills.

Santa Cruz Chameleon

Chameleon hardtail

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C
Wheel size: 29” / 27.5”+
Travel: 120-130mm front

Who it's for: Riders looking for a simple, fun, and capable trail hardtail.

The Chameleon is a trail hardtail with a relaxed and fun-loving spirit that can still be pushed to shred. Some riders simply don’t need the complexity or cost of a full-suspension trail bike. The Chameleon uses modern geometry and affordable components to give riders a simple, no-fuss option. The Chameleon can change to suit its environment and is compatible with both 29” and 27.5”+ wheels and tires. Swappable dropouts allow it to convert between geared and singlespeed drivetrains. With three bottle cage mounts, it can gear up for epic adventures far away from civilization.

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Santa Cruz enduro mountain bikes

Enduro mountain bikes have more suspension travel, aggressive geometry geared toward downhill stability, and heavier, more rugged components. They are good for riding steep and technical terrain, bike parks, and enduro races.

Santa Cruz Megatower

Frame material: Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29”
Travel: 160mm front / 160mm rear

Who it's for: Riders looking for a big travel 29” enduro bike for riding gnarly downhill terrain at race speeds.

The Megatower combines the rollover of big 29” wheels with 160mm of travel to produce a heavy-hitting enduro machine. It's the primary choice of Santa Cruz’s Enduro World Series racers. It offers some of the most progressive geometry in the Santa Cruz line-up to help maximize rider confidence when attacking trails at race speed. It can pedal uphill, but with the big wheels, big travel, and the lower-link shock, it encourages riders to plow through gnarly terrain as fast as possible. An additional flip-chip in the rear dropouts allows riders to lengthen the chain stays for extra stability in extreme downhill situations. It’s suitable for die-hard enduro racers and riders looking to conquer downhill KOMs on their local trails.

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Santa Cruz Nomad

Santa Cruz Nomad

Frame material: Aluminum / Carbon C / Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5”
Travel: 170mm front / 170mm rear
Juliana equivalent: Strega

Who it's for: Riders who want the maximum amount of suspension travel in their enduro bike for big hits, gnarly downhill terrain, or bike park riding.

The Nomad is aimed at riders whose primary focus is attacking gnarly downhill terrain and hitting big features, jumps, and drops. The 170mm of travel make the bike plush and forgiving, 27.5” wheels keep it maneuverable. The ultra-slack headtube and long reach help inspire more confidence when trails get super steep and technical. The Nomad has the most suspension travel in Santa Cruz's line-up other than the V10 downhill bike. The lower-link shock design is progressive enough to be compatible with air and coil shocks and it helps the bike soak up big hits and bad landings, encouraging riders to send bigger and bigger features. Its intentions are definitely downhill focused, but the VPP suspension will give it enough of a pedaling platform to get you back to the top. 

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Santa Cruz downhill mountain bikes

Downhill mountain bikes are designed to go downhill as fast as possible — pretty straightforward, right? Downhill bikes don’t pedal or climb well and are best suited to lift-served downhill bike parks and shuttling.

Santa Cruz V10

Frame material: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5” / 29”
Travel: 203mm front / 215mm rear

Who it's for: Downhill racers, dedicated bike park riders, and freeriders who need the burliest mountain bike possible.

The V10 is legendary. It’s one of the most successful downhill bikes ever made with numerous World Cup wins under some of the best downhill racers in the world. With a massive 215mm of rear travel, the V10 is the biggest weapon possible for tackling the gnarliest terrain or biggest jumps a rider might ever face. It has also helped change the face of World Cup downhill racing as the first downhill bike to use and win on 29” wheels. Over its long history, the V10 design has been constantly fine-tuned and whether you’re a racer or a park rat, it will help maximize your downhill potential.

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Santa Cruz e-bikes

E-bikes give beginner riders a little boost to keep up with their friends, and they can help expert riders cover more ground. While there are e-bikes for every type of riding, Santa Cruz chose to focus on its bread and butter: mountain biking.

Santa Cruz Heckler

Frame material: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 27.5”
Travel: 160mm front / 150mm rear

Who it's for: Mountain bikers who want a little power boost for fast and fun trail rides.

Recently, Santa Cruz joined the electric revolution with its own entry into the e-mountain bike category. It revived a legacy bike, the Heckler, and outfitted it with a Shimano electric drive unit. In keeping with the Heckler's heritage, this long-travel 27.5"-wheeled bike is designed to shred. It has the same progressive geometry that makes the rest of the Santa Cruz line-up so capable.

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Santa Cruz Bullit

Santa Cruz Bullit

Frame material: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 29" front / 27.5” rear
Travel: 170mm front / 170mm rear

Who it's for: Mountain bikers who want to self-shuttle to the top of the rockiest, steepest trails in their area.

Santa Cruz revived another legendary name with the new Bullit e-bike. The Bullit is more downhill-focused than the Heckler, with 170mm of travel and a mullet (MX) wheel set-up. The big 29" front wheel will monster truck over obstacles, while the 27.5" rear wheel keeps things nimble, making it the perfect rig for conquering downhill trails that are traditionally shuttled.    

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Santa Cruz gravel bikes

Santa Cruz Stigmata

Santa Cruz Stigmata

Frame options: Carbon CC
Wheel size: 700c / 650b
Juliana equivalent: Quincy

Who it's for: Riders looking to explore dirt, gravel, and paved roads, gravel and cyclocross racers, and long-distance endurance riders.

The Stigmata is Santa Cruz’s gravel or cyclocross bike - depending on who you are and how you ride it. The geometry is slightly more relaxed than a road bike to make it more stable when riding dirt, but it still remains quick and responsive for competitive gravel or cyclocross racing. It can handle rough dirt and gravel roads and even some smooth singletrack. It's also light and efficient enough to transition comfortably to smooth pavement. The Stigmata has large tire clearance to fit high-volume gravel tires. The current version can fit up to 45mm 700c tires or 2.0” 650b tires. It also has fender mounts to make the bike more versatile for different riding and weather conditions. The Stigmata is perfect for those who want a Santa Cruz bike to ride beyond the mountain bike trails. 

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For more information on gravel and cyclocross bikes see our Gravel/Cyclocross Bike Buyer’s Guide.

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Still having trouble deciding which Santa Cruz bike is right for you? Reach out to a TPC Ride Guide at (866) 401-9636 who can better help you understand the pros and cons, and ultimately find the right bike for you. Do you already own a Santa Cruz MTB? Let us (and other cyclists) know in the comments what you love about it.