By Brice Minnigh
Photos by Dan Barham
My first full-suspension bike was a Santa Cruz Superlight. I bought the spartan grey frame with Fox Float shock third-hand, from a Swiss Frenchman named 'Fred' whom I used to ride with on Hong Kong's mountainous Lantau Island.
I'd already been living in Hong Kong for several years, and rode the cobra-infested trails of the outlying islands every chance I got. My ragtag crew of riding buddies consisted mostly of Mad Dog Englishmen—some of whom insisted that riding hardtails was mountain biking's purest incarnation.
Of course, much of their bluster about hardtails—and against the advent of dual-suspension bikes—was simply due to the fact that my mates had not yet ridden a bike with front-and-rear suspension. And the main reason they hadn't ridden them was because these bikes took ages to arrive in Hong Kong.
The technological advancements that were recognized in North America and Europe generally took a year or two to make their way down the commercial food chain to Asia. And general acceptance usually lagged a year or two behind that. All of this meant that I had been eagerly awaiting my opportunity to try a full-suspension bike for several years.
So when Swiss-French Fred informed me that the size-medium Superlight frame he had bought secondhand from our riding buddy (an English-Chinese chappy named Ping) was too small for him, I jumped at the chance and bought it after only the most cursory of inspections.
This was the bike that changed mountain biking for me. Its stripped-down, single-pivot suspension design was easy to wrap my head around. Compared to the aluminum hardtails I'd been ricocheting through Hong Kong's extended rock gardens, the Superlight felt plush, allowing me to charge faster, with much less attention to line choice.
And it wasn't just descents that came easier. Once I got used to the way the Superlight enabled me to pedal through technical climbs, I realized that this bike had exponentially expanded my riding horizons. On our go-to trails, my riding buddies could no longer keep up with me. Full-suspension bikes were suddenly in their immediate futures.
Of course, by contemporary standards, my old Superlight—which I sold to yet another riding buddy before I left Hong Kong in 2006—has been eclipsed by the generational advancements of suspension technology. In many ways, Santa Cruz's old single-pivot staple has had its thunder stolen by the advent of the company's more sophisticated VPP models.
Enter Santa Cruz's updated version of the Superlight—a 29-inch-wheeled adaptation with the same single-pivot linkage and geometry that is almost identical to that of the company's popular Tallboy 29er.
Last week, Santa Cruz unveiled the new Superlight29 to a crew of mountain-bike journalists at a 'press camp' in Sedona, Arizona, and the bike's simple, single-pivot design didn't prevent these journos from plowing through endless rock gardens, negotiating steep sections of slickrock and even sending it off some pretty sizeable drops. It seems that the new Superlight's big wheels and updated geometry have allowed it to segue gracefully into the current era of mountain biking.
Despite the advancements, the Superlight felt remarkably familiar, and by the time I had ridden the bike up to the more exposed sections of Sedona's renowned Highline trail, memories of my first Superlight ride in Hong Kong were flashing blithely through my head.
The parallels between my experience and that of anyone entering the mountain-bike world at this juncture should not go unnoticed. For probably the vast majority of riders entering the sport at this time, their first mountain-bike experience is very likely to be on a full-suspension 29er—or whatever wheel size the broader market ultimately accepts.
For those who settle on a full-suspension 29er, the Superlight29 could be an ideal entry-level bike, given its proven suspension performance, contemporary geometry and reasonable price tag. The complete bike will be available for a price ranging from $1,850 to $2,350.
Here's a look at some of the bike's noteworthy features:
Santa Cruz stuck with its classic single-pivot design for the Superlight29.
The cable routing for a dropper post, low-slung toptube and updated geometry means that this bike is ready for all-around trail duty.
Santa Cruz went with standard 135-millimeter dropouts to help keep the price reasonable and wheel options aplenty.
The tapered headtube keeps up with the trends and helps to boost front-end stiffness.