SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER REVIEW: THE LINES HAVE BEEN BLURRED
A trail bike refined
SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER REVIEW: THE LINES HAVE BEEN BLURRED
Santa Cruz has been updating its product lineup, and the Hightower is no exception. An all-mountain bike, the Hightower is poised to take on any trail you can throw at it with grace and efficiency. The goal for the Hightower has remained relatively the same—to offer a bike that can do it all. Of course, there are always upgrades to make and things to add to bring a design just that much closer to perfection. The Hightower has been tweaked to include some of the things we have learned to expect on any modern bike.
Santa Cruz didn’t want to change the entire identity of the already very solid platform that is the Hightower. Santa Cruz slackened the head tube angle by 0.7 degrees in both flip chip settings. A few other changes include a steeper seat tube angle, longer reach, higher stack height, and size-specific chainstay lengths to keep the sizing more consistent throughout the range. It comes in two carbon configurations—Carbon C and Carbon CC.
Santa Cruz introduced its new frame storage system, or the “Glovebox,” in the new Megatower and has carried it over to the Hightower as well. The small, out-of-the-way latch is easy to flip up to open and back down to close. Inside the frame, there are two small bags to store tubes, tools, snacks or even a hot dog if you really want to.
Santa Cruz provided us with the Hightower GX AXS RSV build, which features a SRAM GX AXS wireless drivetrain paired with a GX 10-50T cassette and GX cranks with a 32-tooth sprocket. SRAM Code RS brakes paired with Avid Centerline 180mm rotors are in charge of braking. The wheels are Santa Cruz’s carbon Reserve rims laced to Industry 9 1/1 hubs with 29×2.4-inch Maxxis DHRII EXO tires with 3C MaxxGrip rubber compound up front and MaxxTerra in the rear. The cockpit is made up of Santa Cruz carbon bars and grips, a Burgtec 42mm stem, a WTB Silverado Saddle, and a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post.
A Fox 36 Performance Elite fork with the GRIP2 damper set to 150mm of travel at a 44mm offset sits at the front of the Hightower. Santa Cruz chose a RockShox Super Delux Select+ with a climb switch to work with the linkage in the rear.
The suspension has changed by just enough to be noteworthy. First off, it is a lot easier to set sag on this new frame with the inclusion of a “sag window” in the lower seat tube that allows you to read the sag indicators on the shock. In previous versions of this frame, that was nearly impossible because of the VPP linkage design hiding the shock. The linkage design has been tweaked as well. Santa Cruz’s tried-and-true Virtual Pivot Point achieves 145mm of rear suspension travel and is claimed to reduce anti-squat in the first 40 percent of the travel. Santa Cruz is saying this noticeably improves suspension sensitivity in all scenarios because of reduced chain influence on the suspension.
This is where the lines are blurred a little bit for us. We have expectations of certain types of bikes due to the time we’ve spent testing them. All-mountain bikes should be relatively good climbers—better than enduro bikes but not as good as trail bikes. This, of course, is always a subject of controversy, as no two trail, enduro or all-mountain bikes ride the same at any time. That said, the Hightower climbs very well—so well that we might be more likely to compare it to a short-travel trail bike than a mid-travel all-mountain bike.
We were immediately comfortable on the Hightower as we climbed the road to our first descent. There was no pedal bob with the shock open. The pedaling position was comfortable, and the active rear suspension gave us more than enough traction to feel like we could make it up any climb. We found ourselves pushing the pace up typically boring dirt roads or tackling challenging side climbs we normally wouldn’t do on a bigger bike. Climbing on the Hightower is intuitive. The bike goes where you point it. We also loved the frame storage option to take that extra weight off our backs and stuff it in the bike where it was less noticeable on the climbs. We were altogether impressed.
If the Hightower climbs so well, how good can it be on the descents? The answer? Great! We truly enjoyed every aspect of the Hightower’s performance. Going downhill is where we would expect this bike to be good—and it was. Our challenge was finding something it couldn’t handle. We took it to multiple bike parks and down some of the steepest, fastest, rockiest stuff we could find, and it just took it and asked for more.
Under braking, the bike performed exceptionally well and increased our confidence when the trails got steep or when navigating braking bumps into a berm. Santa Cruz has designed a bike that does everything well. Now, we wouldn’t race this bike in an XC race, nor would we be competitive in an enduro stage or downhill race, but that’s not the point of this bike. The point is to have fun.
WHAT DID WE LOVE?
We loved the Hightower. The design worked very well from top to bottom. The frame storage was great for short and long days alike, and the little sag window made setup so much easier. The Reserve wheels held up incredibly to some heavy abuse, including many sideways landings and Hop 180 attempts. No one thing stands out about the Hightower; it just works, and that made it so much fun to ride.
WHAT DID WE HATE?
Hate is a strong word, but it applies to one thing on this bike—the Santa Cruz tire sealant. It’s disgusting, and once it’s dried on a surface, it doesn’t come off without a fight. We managed to spill a little on the rim and were unable to wipe it off before it dried. It was awful how long it took to scrub off. Thankfully, we didn’t have to actually use the sealant, so we can’t speak to its effectiveness on the trail. We would’ve also liked to see a 200mm rotor, at least for the front brake.
One more thing we aren’t a huge fan of is the price tag. Santa Cruz bikes are known to be expensive. Normally, we would expect this bike to be in the $7000–$8000 range. Instead, the Hightower GX AXS RSV build retails for a whopping $9799, which is high in our opinion. This isn’t even the Carbon CC version. The Hightower X01 AXS RSV build with the better fork, shock, brakes, and frame is only $900 more.
We absolutely love this bike and everything it has to offer. It’s superb on the trail and looks great in the garage. The price is something we could potentially get around just because the bike works so well. It’s also hard to beat the warranty department at Santa Cruz. Once you buy the Hightower, you’ll likely have it for a long time, and that speaks to the quality of Santa Cruz products. It was the bike of choice for many long days in the mountains and even park days when we had the option of longer-travel enduro bikes to send it on. Santa Cruz has blurred the line between all-mountain and trail with the Hightower, and we heartily approve.
SUSPENSION: 150mm (front), 145mm (rear)
TIRE SIZE: 29″
SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER 3
Weight: 31.75 pounds (without pedals)
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
Frame tested: 145mm travel, carbon
Shock: RockShox Deluxe Select+
Fork: Fox 36 Performance Elite, GRIP2, 150mm
Wheelset: Reserve rims laced to I9 1/1 hubs
Tires: 29×2.4”Maxxis DHRII EXO 3C MaxxGrip front, MaxxTerra rear
Seatpost: 175mm-travel RockShox Reverb Stealth
Saddle: WTB Silverado Medium CroMo
Handlebar: Santa Cruz 35 carbon bar, 800mm, 35mm rise
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3, 42mm
Grips: Santa Cruz Bicycles House grips
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS integrated
Brakes: SRAM Code RS
Rotors: 180mm (f)/180mm (r)
Rear derailleur: SRAM GX AXS Eagle, 12-speed
Shifters: SRAM GX AXS controller with rocker paddle
Crankset: SRAM GX Eagle 148 DUB
Bottom bracket: DUB
Cassette: 12-speed, 10-50T
Chain: SRAM GX Eagle, 12-speed
Head tube angle: 64.8–64.5°
Effective seat tube angle: 76.7-76.4°
Reach: 475mm (18.7”)–472mm (18.6”)
Bottom bracket height: 342mm (13.5”)–338mm (13.3”)
Chainstay length: 437mm (17.2”)
Wheelbase: 1244mm (49”)