Which MTB Hardtail: Canyon or Santa Cruz?

Hi all -

Two options: Canyon Exceed CF SL 7.0 - OR - Santa Cruz Highball S ???
Both are Carbon with GX Eagle at ~$3,100. Both weigh 22.5#.
…for training and racing 30-100 miles in Michigan.

Any concerns or passions with either of these bikes or brands?


Both really solid bikes. Any difference in the quality of wheels on the two?

How important is local dealer support for you? If it is, then use that to factor into your decision.

I do not know “wheel quality” very well. Both are 29rs and the specs are:

Exceed = Reynolds TR 249C 24mm rims (Carbon) w/ Maxxis Rekon 2.25 + Maxxis Aspen 2.25 Tyres.

Highball = Race Face AR Offset 25 w/ Maxxis Aspen 2.25 Tyres front and back.
…Highball indicates “option” for Santa Cruz Reserve 25 Carbon Rims. Unsure of cost for that.

Either of these seem better than the other?

I would totally go for the Canyon but do whatever it takes to step up in price to $3,999 for the Exceed CF SLX 9.0 which list is $499 more than the Highball. 20.5#, XX1, SRAM Level TLM brakes. I already have the Lux in this basic setup (SRAM) and for the money I’m so tempted to buy the Exceed for the tamer XC races or climby races where weight really matters. Really love the Canyon, would buy another in a heartbeat.

I would consider the carbon wheelset of the Canyon a pretty big benefit over the aluminum stock set on the Santa Cruz, with the big caveat that I have not ridden either. Santa Cruz’s carbon wheels are well respected, but I suspect it would be a decent jump in cost for them, but worth checking into.

@stringwise makes a fantastic point about spending a little more to get a higher spec. It’s almost always cheaper to do that at the time of purchase rather than paying for more upgrades later.


I have a Santa Cruz Hightower with carbon reserve wheels. About a $1000 upgrade and worth it. I don’t ride real hard but good to know if I break one ever they’ll replace it free.

I also like having a local bike shop to support and support me.


No dropper on the Santa Cruz (27.2, droppers are heavy and crappy at that size, really made to not have a dropper post). A dropper may or may not be an issue. Can take 2.4 tires.

Canyon has a smaller cockpit (tad less reach means longer stem), press fit BB (not really an issue unless it is for you). Should be able to take a dropper post, but the seat tube is longer (meaning less drop). Max tire size is 2.25, according to Canyon vs 2.4 of the Santa Cruz.

If those weights are correct, Canyon, heavier with a carbon wheel set. Santa Cruz, lighter with an alloy wheel set. Can get a bit lighter with carbon wheels.

FWIW. The 9.0, as Stringwise said, is a better spec.

Tradeoffs. Canyon is cheaper per spec, but personally I would go for the Santa Cruz. The wider stays will have more mud clearance, it’s a tad longer reach with a shorter stack, and if no need for a dropper, the 27.2 seat post would be better. Also, for the original buyer, Santa Cruz has a lifetime frame warranty. It may or may not be an issue for you.


I agree here regarding the 2 bike choices. However, I would seriously consider how much money you want to put into a hardtail, considering your age and the amount of MTB 100s you plan on doing. Once you get over $3,000 for a hardtail you’re getting into some pretty high end components that don’t have a massive improvement over the step down. Racing hardtails in MI/Midwest are for two types of people, those fighting for the podium, looking to maximize efficiency and shave grams; and/or the under 40 yr old crowd. I guess a third category would be for those on a limited budget.

Having started racing with a carbon hardtail and now on a XC full suspension, you couldn’t pay me to ride/race a hardtail again. Although it may be more efficient for some of the XC races in MI, it also beats you up especially for MTB 100s. I’m racing Expert in MI on a full suspension as are most of my competition. I would consider your purchase of this hardtail as your first race bike and you may be in the market for a full suspension in the next year or two. If it were my money I’d be looking for a used hardtail for $2,000 or a used full suspension for around $3,000-$4,000, rather than a new hardtail for $3,000+. Hell, I’ll sell you my 2018 Scott Spark RC 900 WC next year as soon as Scott releases the 2022 version, lol.


I got that exact Canyon Exceed a few months ago for Michigan races as well and the thing is an absolute rocket. I absolutely love it. The Reynolds rims are extremely stiff and zippy, and they are tubeless ready without any tape. The bike comes with valve stems. The whole bike is very responsive and I love the matte black and green/blue look. Support from Canyon has been superb as well. If you order over the phone they are usually willing to drop the $90 shipping charge and possibly throw in other add-ons.

I will say, at least for my size L, the bike ships with the stem flipped down -6 degrees, which put my shifters at risk of hitting the top tube in a bad crash. I would not count on the IPU to stop the bars from spinning into the top tube in a high impact crash. I flipped the stem and there’s adequate clearance.

Coming from 2.35/2.25 Ardent Race’s, the Aspen/Recon have taken some getting used to on some of our dry/sandy trails, but I’m dialing in on the proper PSI and it’s forced me to improve my cornering technique as I really have to force the smaller side knobs into the ground.

Good luck with your decision, let me know if you have any specific questions about the Exceed.


Your cockpit setup should be about comfort and performance, not if it will clear the top tube. My shifter/brake leavers hit my top tube and I’ve had numerous very hard crashes. You can put clear tape (3m or helicopter tape) where it makes contact, but I wouldn’t sacrifice fit for clearance. Also make sure your shifter/brake leavers aren’t so tight they they don’t move in a crash. You should be able to move them with some force at all times.


Another vote for moving to FS unless you are young, a serious racer, or just riding smooth paths. Even then, there are a lot of advantages to FS, even with the weight penalty. I’ll also never buy another bike without a dropper.

I’m also a big advocate for buying local if you can when purchasing a brand new bike. I bought from an online retailer once (the one that was huge and constantly posted in all the chat groups a decade ago). It wasn’t Canyon, but any little change is a PITA. If you buy local and want to swap the stem, no problem. They’ll fit you, help you figure out the correct suspension settings, adjust your cleats if needed, give you a few free tune ups, and throw in a nice discount on the bottle holders, new grips, pedals, saddle, etc. that you will buy to go with the bike. There is a cost savings to ordering online, but not as big as it looks when you don’t look at the full picture.

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I have the Exceed SLX 9.0 and it’s a rocket.

My main concern was with only 100mm up front it would be too stiff, but there is a surpsing amount of vertical compliance built in at the rear. Lat year I did a 7 day stage race on with with no comfort problems at all.

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Have you looked at the Scott scale?

Nothing wrong with either of your options though either.

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fyi…My original post incorrectly stated the weights at 23# (Exceed 7.0) and 22# (Highball S).
Both are actually 22.5#. This has been updated.

@UKCarl @Austinin What are your thoughts about the Exceed being a bit rough on a 45+ year old body? Does the geometry + material + tire pressure absorb a lot of the chatter and battering? I think of the Michigan terrain as mostly up-and-down dirt, sand, roots and rocks with some dicy sections here and there; nothing extreme like killer descents or massive rock gardens. Still, I am on the bike for a while, and need the body to hold up through it all.

The HT vs FS is a debate with no clear answer, definitely pros and cons of both and you do need to take cost into account.

Last season I rode a very light Niner Air 9 RDO HT with a Fox SC 100 up front from the spring all the way though to August (Leadville). Like a lot of modern HT, the Air 9 RDO does have some compliance built in to dampen the ride a bit. I’m based out of Ohio, so ride a lot locally, most commonly Mohican. The HT was fine, and I do believe it helps to develop your bike handling skills, but it does expose you to a little more of a pounding. Getting up and out of the saddle and absorbing the trail with your legs helps. I think though, cumulatively over a lot of rides, so of the stresses do add up.

After Leadville, I switched back to my full suspension Niner RKT 9 RDO. It is similar spec’d to my Air 9 RDO but has a Fox SC 120mm up front (90 mm rear travel). My fitness was high at that time, but I wasn’t any slower on the FS and hit a series of PR’s at Mohican in the fall. Mohican at 25 miles of singletrack is always a good measure of where things are at. Did the RKT climb quite as well at the Air 9 RDO? I’d say not, but it was close, but it did pretty much everything else better.

This year I opted to split the difference and got the Trek Supercaliber. I’ve only gotten a couple of rides on it so far, but I really think Trek nailed it with this one. It does feel like it climbs like a HT, yet has enough travel to smooth things out. At 23lbs with dropper it is still a couple pounds more than my HT, but I can’t say this hurt performance. First ride out I PR’d the big climb at Mohican after the covered bridge, and I really wasn’t “going for it” on that ride. Plan was to take it to Leadville this year, but that is going to have to wait.

Look carefully at your budget. It’s easy to make suggestions but they have to be right for you. A racy modern FS is going to cover a lot of bases and may ultimately serve you better. Both Canyon and Santa Cruz have good options, but so do a lot of other manufacturers.


@jdb The Exceed will be OK for a 45yr old, I’m 49…

There is some vertical complaince in the rear that absorbs alot of the “trail buzz”, although the Cannondale FSI is a little better in this respect.
I run tubeless 2.25 /2.35 tyres at approx 25psi which also removes alot of the minor trail bunmps.

Geometry wise it’s not twitchy at all, I’m 6’2 and was half wan inbetween L and XL bikes, in the end I went for XL and swaped the 100mm stem for a 60mm one. The grips it came with were rock hard plastic so I swaped for some Ergon grips.

Last yr I did a 7 day stage race on it on the Alps, total of 45hrs on the the bike and it was perfect :+1:

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@jdb; regarding HT vs a full sus, the point I’m trying to make is this. Both will do and accomplish what you want to do. I equate it to traveling across the country in a basic car or in a luxury SUV. It’s flying overseas in coach or first class. You will reach your destination either way, it’s just that one will be a different experience and possibly a better choice depending on your goals. So I would’t spend a bunch of money making that basic car fancy, when you may change your mind and want to purchase something different in the future. You can always change out components later (new drivetrain, AXS, dropper, carbon wheels, etc.). There is no “need” to do that up front and spend a bunch of money that you won’t see on resale.

I took my 100mm f/r XC race bike to CO, UT and Scotland with a group that was on trail bikes and Enduro bikes. I rode everything they did and my XC bike was capable. I had a blast and never needed anything more. However, I can’t deny that a bike with more travel would have been more capable, enjoyable and forgiving. Then again, if you’ve never driven a luxury SUV or flown first class and compared the difference, you never know what you’re missing.


What are your thoughts about the Exceed being a bit rough on a 45+ year old body? Does the geometry + material + tire pressure absorb a lot of the chatter and battering? I think of the Michigan terrain as mostly up-and-down dirt, sand, roots and rocks with some dicy sections here and there; nothing extreme like killer descents or massive rock gardens. Still, I am on the bike for a while, and need the body to hold up through it all.

I’m not in a position to give a very good answer on this. For one, I have only ever ridden hardtails. I’m also 27, so theoretically better able to handle the supposed abuse that HTs give over a long day. Either way, I have found the Exceed to be incredibly comfortable on Michigan trails. There is definitely some compliance to the frame, and the SID is fantastic at eating up chatter in the front. Paired with tubeless tires at a low PSI and it’s the perfect amount of feedback and absorption.

That said, even though this bike is only a few months old, I already have my eyes on a Canyon Lux a few years down the line. I’m a bang for your buck kind of person and the value you get with Canyon just gets me all kinds of jazzed.

I’m 52 years old and regularly podium in XC races in the 50+ category while riding a hardtail. I won a Winter short track series of 3 races in February 2020 by taking two second place finishes and one win. These races were about 45 minutes long. I have only used 100mm hardtails my whole life so I don’t miss a full suspension because you can’t miss what you don’t know. I’m currently on a 2020 Specialized Epic Hardtail with a 68.5 headtube angle and room for 2.4 size tires. It’s the best XC race bike ever. As long as my body is strong, I don’t want to deal with the extra weight and complexity of a full suspension. Also, a hardtail is good for bone density. :grin: