A wave of long-travel 29ers have made their way into our quiver of test bikes over the last year, and while those burly beasts are a blast to crawl up the mountains and shred back down on, it’s trail bikes that seem to have the next big comeback story—case in point: the all-new Santa Cruz Hightower. Launched shortly after its big brother, the Megatower, the new Hightower positions itself as a do-it-all trail bike. In an almost “Honey, I shrunk the kids” fashion, from a distance the Hightower looks identical to the Megatower.
The lower-link VPP design is also shared with 27.5-inch wheeled bikes, including the Bronson and the Nomad. The idea behind the lower-link VPP platform comes from the Santa Cruz V10 downhill bike; however, tweaks were made to aid climbing performance. The goal behind this design was to give these bikes a more linear feel through the travel, making it easier to set the suspension in motion while also offering a more supportive midstroke. Now with multiple models featuring the same design, it seems like Santa Cruz has found a recipe for success.
The all-new Hightower not only looks meaner, it also comes with all the standard features we’ve come to expect from Santa Cruz. The question we asked ourselves is, “Could this bike back up its beastly appearance with top-notch performance?” That was exactly what the wrecking crew set out to discover.
Short chainstays make the Hightower very maneuverable.
The Hightower is offered in three different frame materials and eight build kit options to best suit a wide range of price points. This includes an aluminum frame, as well as a C-and a CC-level carbon frame. The base model aluminum build starts at $2899, while the top-level CC carbon frame and build kit sell for $10,499.
The Hightower received a full list of features, including a redefined cable routing system, downtube and shuttle protection, a threaded bottom bracket, a shock fender, and a noise-canceling chainstay guard. Additionally, the Hightower was given a Flip Chip, allowing for a high or low position; however, the Hightower lacks the chainstay Flip Chip seen on the Megatower.
The Hightower model we tested came with SRAM’s X01 drivetrain, along with Santa Cruz Reverse Carbon wheels. Our bike featured a full RockShox and SRAM build kit that left little to be desired. Every component helped deliver performance to our ride, from the Lyrik Ultimate 150mm-travel fork to the Code RSC brakes and, last but not least, the Santa Cruz cockpit.
In back, the Hightower uses a RockShox Super Deluxe shock to control its 140mm of suspension travel. Riders looking to set up the Hightower with a larger shock may run into issues since this bike is not compatible with coil shocks or larger air-can shocks. That said, a rider looking to beef up the Hightower would likely be better off purchasing a long-travel smasher like the Megatower. The Hightower is said to be a more versatile and playful trail bike, balancing its ascending and descending performance.
The Hightower isn’t exactly big in the travel department, but it uses its 140mm of travel quite well. Throughout our testing, the Hightower provided mid-stroke support, aiding our confidence no matter what type of trail we faced. We set the sag on our rear shock just past 30 percent after experimenting with 25 percent, only to find that setting to be a touch harsh. Being harsh dialed in at around 30 percent allowed us to push deeper into the stroke, soaking up big hits and small, chattery hits with ease. When it came to drops or highspeed jumps to flat ground, the Hightower resisted bottom-out well. Overall, the updates made to the new Hightower make it a more capable and playful bike out on the trails.
DOWN AND DIRTY
Climbing: VPP suspension designs often aid in climbing performance, and although the Lower Link design draws inspiration from the downhill scene, its climbing performance shouldn’t be overlooked. The Hightower proved to be one of those bikes where the little blue (lockout) lever is completely unnecessary. Other than on the occasional commute to the trailhead, our shock’s compression lever was left in the open position.
Considering the needs of trail riders, we sought out hourlong climbs that led to ripping singletrack descents. We mixed in technical climbs with mundane fire roads to get a feel for the Hightower’s abilities. Thanks to the 170mm crankarms, we experienced minimal pedal strikes with our bike set in the low position. Riders who frequently ride technical ascents might find the added bottom bracket clearance of the high setting to be a better setup for their trails.
The Hightower isn’t exactly a lightweight trail machine, but its suspension offers a solid platform for pedaling. Whether in or out of the saddle, the Hightower presses on. As with most modern trail bikes that feature steep 76.5-degree seat tube angles, the saddle can be a bit in the way during out-of-the-saddle climbing. This can be easily resolved by using the long, 170mm-travel dropper post to nudge the saddle out of the way during out-of-the-saddle climbing.
Similar to other trail bikes with modern geometry, the standover height between sizes is nearly identical, while the reach measurement grows roughly 20mm per frame size. This allowed our 5-foot-9 test rider to fit a size-large frame and reap the rewards of a long 470mm reach. While our bike was a bit long for tight switchbacks, it blasted down high-speed trails with precision and control. It ultimately comes down to terrain and riding style when determining whether you should size up or down.
Regardless, our Hightower proved to be a true ripper. It’s the kind of bike you want to go out and spend all-day riding. The slack head tube provided confidence when the trails got rowdy, and the short chainstays offered a snappy feel. The Hightower might find itself categorized as a trail bike, but it never felt limited in its ability to tackle rough and raw descents.
MODS AND UPGRADES
If you can afford the model we had the pleasure of testing, then we can assure you that your bike will be ready to rip right out of the box. Our test riders had zero complaints about the build kit, and instead spent the majority of their time adjusting and tweaking the settings to get the most out of the Hightower.
The lower price-point models should offer the same performance, but with the added weight of less-expensive components. At the end of the day, any Hightower model is destined to put a smile on its rider’s face.
The Hightower is an all-around trail bike built to handle whatever you plan to throw at it. From long climbs to rough descents, the Hightower charges on with its head held high. It’s a bike that fits right in the middle of Santa Cruz’s lineup and is arguably one of its most versatile models to date. The burly frame and long, slack, low geometry excel when the trails point down, while the 140mm of VPP suspension offers a stable platform for charging back up the trails for another lap. If a do-it-all or, dare we say “all-mountain,” type of bike is in your future, go ahead and check out what the all-new Hightower has to offer. www.santacruzbicycles.com
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