Review: Santa Cruz Hightower

Santa Cruz launched the Hightower in early 2016 as a replacement for the Tallboy LT. With 135mm of rear suspension and the ability to run either 27.5+ or 29" wheels, the Hightower is set to take the trails by storm.

Santa Cruz Hightower 3.jpg

 

The Frame


With the new name came a complete redesign, incorporating the latest know-how in bike design and the third-generation of Santa Cruz's VPP suspension design which debuted on the Nomad and has since been rolled out to the 5010, Bronson, and Tallboy. It uses the same layout found on the Bronson, with the lower link tucked out of harm's way between the swingarm and the bottom bracket. In order to build a bike this versatile with the trail manners Santa Cruz were aiming for, it was decided to drop the front derailleur and make the frame dedicated 1x. This allowed them to push the rear wheel as close as possible to the bottom bracket without sacrificing tyre clearance. It also allowed the use of ‘double wishbone’ upright braces between the seat- and chainstays to bolster rear end stiffness.

 

Santa Cruz Hightower 2.jpg

 

Look more closely at the numbers and it is clear why a new name was required. The head angle was slackened by 2.5, seat angle steepened by 1.7°, reach grew by 36mm, standover dropped by 38mm and (thanks to moving to a dedicated 1x drivetrain and boost) they managed to reduce the chainstay length by 15mm. Those changes give it a 67° head angle, 435mm chainstays, 450mm reach (on the Large as tested), 74.3° seat angle, and a stubby 100mm head tube length. In the past, to hit my magic reach of 430mm-ish, I would have had to buy an XL Tallboy LT; with the Hightower that reach can be obtained on a medium. Talking about sizing, Santa Cruz's designers felt that smaller riders would be better suited to a bike with 27.5" wheels like a 5010 or Bronson and the Hightower is therefore only available in three sizes (M, L, XL).

 

Other design details include internal cable routing, an integrated chainstay protector, and expanding collet hardware with angular contact bearings at the pivot locations to keep everything securely in place and running smoothly.

 

Santa Cruz Hightower 11.jpg

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Features

  • 135mm
  • VPP suspension
  • 148mm Rear Axle Spacing
  • 27.5 Plus with a 150mm fork or 29" wheels with a 140mm fork
  • Bottle cage mount within front triangle
  • Fits piggyback shocks
  • Carbon C and Carbon CC frame options
  • Double sealed pivots for long bearing life
  • Threaded Bottom Bracket
  • Integrated Headset
  • Internal cable routing
  • ISCG-05 tabs for chainguide compatibility
  • Sizes: M, L, XL

Specifications


  • FrameSanta Cruz Carbon CC
  • ForkRock Shox Pike 29 RCT3 140
  • ShockRock Shox Monarch RT3
  • HeadsetCane Creek 40 IS Tapered
  • CranksetRace Face Turbine
  • Rear DerailleurSRAM X01 1x11
  • ShiftersSRAM X01
  • CassetteSRAM X01 10-42
  • ChainringRace Face 32T
  • ChainSRAM PC 1130
  • BrakesSRAM Guide RSC
  • Brake RotorAvid Centerline; 180mm
  • GripsSCB Lock On
  • RimsEaston ARC 27
  • Front HubDT Swiss 350 110x15 Torque Cap
  • Rear HubDT Swiss 350 148x12
  • TyresMaxxis Minion DHRII TR 3
  • StemRace Face Turbine
  • HandlebarSanta Cruz Carbon Flat Bar, 31.8mm clamp, 780mm
  • SeatpostRock Shox Reverb Stealth Dropper
  • SaddleWTB Silverado

Geometry


Santa Cruz Hightower Geometry.jpg

 

On the Trail


I can usually set up a bike fair quickly by copying my bike fit numbers, setting the suspension, and then tweaking it for the riding style and my personal preferences, but the Hightower took a couple of rides to tune to my liking. Once dialed, it rode like a supreme being with little to no regard for obstacles or trail clutter. The front and rear of the bike is perfectly balanced thanks to the RockShox pairing of a Pike RCT3 and Monarch RT3.

 

Something that stood out for me was how high the Hightower sits in its travel when the shock is fully open. I don't enjoy bikes that feel like you're sitting too deep into the travel: it gives me back pain on long rides and it un-weights the front wheel. On the Hightower, however, there was little to no discernible difference between the shock fully open and locked out. Meaning there was no need for me to reach for the lockout lever out on the trail.

 

On climbs, the long reach, long wheelbase, and slack head angle did make the front end wander a bit. It was not nearly as bad as one would expect, helped by the low stack height and steep seat angle. Compared to similar offerings from Pyga and Rocky Mountain, the head tube is a good 20 - 30mm shorter. The lower front end also keeps the front wheel loaded and provides overall balance on the bike which allowed me to push without having to make conscious weight shifts.

 

"Pushed hard" is the Hightower's optimal operating temperature, as anything other than that makes it feel a bit pedestrian. Open up the taps and let go of the brakes and you will be rewarded with a very controlled ride. It never felt as though the suspension got hung up or battled to cope with what the bike was capable of. It has become a bit cliché, but it feels like the bike has more travel than the 135mm on paper would suggest.

 

The wheel size and suspension composure is perfectly complemented by the grip on offer from the Maxxis Minion DHRII tyres mounted on the Easton ARC 27 wheelset. I would be tempted to try a rim with an even wider internal diameter than the Arc's 27mm, but that would be down to curiosity, and not because I ever felt that the bike needs wider rims. It may even trade in some of the agility of the bike, and so may not be worth it.

 

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The only thing I could fault on the specification sheet was the Santa Cruz Palmdale Lock-on grips. They were too thin for my liking and I would have preferred something with a bit more meat. The rest of the components are spot on, and exactly what one would want to see on a bike like this: from the handlebar width right down to brake rotor size.

 

Santa Cruz Hightower 7.jpg

 

Verdict


Not too long ago a bike like this was only to be found in the realm of fantasy, along with unicorns, pots of gold and Alice. In 2009, never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined a bike this capable of climbing, descending, pedalling, and ripping it up. Even less so one with 29" wheels. The advent of 1x and later boost has allowed designers to tweak frame design to allow chainstays so short that the rear feels tucked in underneath the seat. Such has the advance been that the Hightower's chainstay is only 10mm longer than a 26" Giant Anthem of yesteryear.

 

Take your time to set the bike up and get used to its trail manners and you will be rewarded by an incredibly capable ride. Let's see if we persuade the new distributors to send us a 27.5"+ model to put to the test.

 

Santa Cruz Hightower 5.jpg

 




19 Comments

Christofison, Jan 18 2017 07:22

Confession: I sometimes dream about this bike.

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JXV, Jan 18 2017 07:49

I'm sure loving mine. Interesting comment about it riding high with the RCT shock.....mine rides lowish with a Fox FloatX fitted with the Evol air can. For my weight around 88 - 90kg I have to run about 320psi to get 30%sag (shock limit is 350) and it is still super plush. I would prefer less sag, maybe 25% but this puts the shock pressure close to the limit. I think its not the bike's fault though...maybe Evol aircans are not intended for riders in my weight class.

So mine bobs a bit when pedalling in open mode but I use the Med setting a lot on the flats and hills, and Firm mode on tar.

At the front I have a 150 Pike. Running 29er wheels with 2.3 rubber. Have not tried a 27.5+ set yet.

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Jaco-fiets, Jan 18 2017 07:53

For some reason this bike does not grab me. Can't find any fault with it at all and it is soft on they eye but..............just not feeling it

intern, Jan 18 2017 08:09

Looks nice. What's to stop anyone from whacking 27.5 wheels on any 29er? Surely it would just be a matter of changing 'em round and going for a ride. I mean, I whacked a 150mm fork on my previous 26 S-Works Epic and it handled like a boss with the resultant change in head angle, so I'm not going to buy the 'but it will affect the geometry' obfuscation argument....what do the fundis reckon?

(Deon), Jan 18 2017 08:10

There has only been one bike to sway my choice from the Reign and it's this. Keeping in mind that I've been on the Reign since 2005, proof that it will take something really, really special for me to window shop.. 

 

What a beautiful bike!

 

PS, Irony is that back then it was the Nomad that got me looking for a long travel do it all bike. Life clearly being all about revolutions!

JXV, Jan 18 2017 08:26

Looks nice. What's to stop anyone from whacking 27.5 wheels on any 29er? Surely it would just be a matter of changing 'em round and going for a ride. I mean, I whacked a 150mm fork on my previous 26 S-Works Epic and it handled like a boss with the resultant change in head angle, so I'm not going to buy the 'but it will affect the geometry' obfuscation argument....what do the fundis reckon?

27.5+, not 27.5....big difference! Hightower has clearance for up to 3.0 tyres on 45mm 27.5+ rims but 2.8 plus wheels are preferred. These have almost the same rolling diameter as 29er. If you put normal 27.5 wheels on the average modern 29er you'll likely get a lot of pedal strikes due to lowering the bb by about 20mm with the smaller wheels.

Lot of Hightower owners choose 150mm forks so that they have the option to swap between 27.5+ and 29er wheelsets without adjusting fork travel. I agree with you that 10mm difference in fork travel can't be that drastic in terms of handling but given that the bike is long and slack, adding more travel lifts the front in climbs and may make it wander a bit more on steep ascents. Between 140/150 forks and hi/low flip chip positions you can adjust the geo a bit.

I get less pedal strikes on Highrower than on the TB LTc but i still wouldn't run the flip chip in low with 27.5+ wheels on.....

Some guys are also 'long shocking' their Hightowers to get 150mm rear travel but this voids warranty and maybe also longevity.
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(Deon), Jan 18 2017 09:23

Some guys are also 'long shocking' their Hightowers to get 150mm rear travel but this voids warranty and maybe also longevity.
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Heard SC are working on the rear linkage.. I like that bikes now have so many options to run different almost everything. Before one would have to buy new for even the slightest change. 

marko35s, Jan 18 2017 09:34

'A 26" Anthem of yesteryear'
Gits the lot of you

Pipsqueak, Jan 18 2017 11:08

Looks nice. What's to stop anyone from whacking 27.5 wheels on any 29er? Surely it would just be a matter of changing 'em round and going for a ride. I mean, I whacked a 150mm fork on my previous 26 S-Works Epic and it handled like a boss with the resultant change in head angle, so I'm not going to buy the 'but it will affect the geometry' obfuscation argument....what do the fundis reckon?

Folk will tell you to be careful with longer forks than the frame is designed for. But if you can get the head angle right, and try watch the bottom bracket height - which will be a fair bit lower, its fun trying.

Headshot, Jan 18 2017 11:18

Most frames can handle a longer fork no problem - 20mm of extra travel is unlikely to break the frame. If its does it was badly made in the first place. I have seen Spaz enduro's with Boxxer double crown forks on them. 

 

Its a lovely bike but I missed the price - no doubt a ridiculous R95k or something... a far cry from a 26" Anthem and hardly 10x better or more fun to ride. My 6 year old  26er has 412mm chainstays without even trying by the way :-)

Iwan Kemp, Jan 18 2017 01:43

Looks nice. What's to stop anyone from whacking 27.5 wheels on any 29er? Surely it would just be a matter of changing 'em round and going for a ride. I mean, I whacked a 150mm fork on my previous 26 S-Works Epic and it handled like a boss with the resultant change in head angle, so I'm not going to buy the 'but it will affect the geometry' obfuscation argument....what do the fundis reckon?

 

Tyre width clearance will stop you

ichnusa, Jan 18 2017 05:57

I cant decide whether the reviewer (Iwan?) liked the bike or not.  

 

I wish i could add the Hightower to my stable... but alas, I love my wife and a divorce would not be worth it!

ridin dirty, Jan 18 2017 07:53

I rode a test bike and loved it! I could feel that it was longer than what Im used to riding, but the length makes it so stable at high speed; this makes you ride faster and faster. You actually don't realise how fast you were on the Hightower, until you get back on your regular steed and hit the same trails, try to match the speed and still be smooth. Smooth is fast (in my opinion). buy this bike if you like to ride WIDE OPEN THROTTLE!

peanutville, Jan 19 2017 05:53

Nice review ;-)

Grease_Monkey, Jan 19 2017 06:36

I cant decide whether the reviewer (Iwan?) liked the bike or not.

I wish i could add the Hightower to my stable... but alas, I love my wife and a divorce would not be worth it!


The struggle is real!

Riaan H, Jan 22 2017 12:12

A mate of mine has one, and it's a beautiful bike. Just can't see myself spending R100k on a bike that will make me even slower everywhere except the toughest and roughest downhill sections. A Tallboy ticks all the boxes for me, but a Camber is still better value

fusion01, Dec 26 2017 12:14

100mm head tube length is ****. Unless you do as this review does and slam your bars. And then I'd cut that hideous steerer tube (sticking up now like an antenna) off --- but then hope it doesn't bite you in the ass if / when you want to sell that fork separately!

 

If you want reasonable height from your bars (without running some high-rise stem, circa 2000!) then you end up with endless (30mm plus) steerer tube below your stem which just ruins a nice looking bike. And weakens the front end actually with more flex, nothing is as strong as the frame itself.

 

My point is a large 29" should have a 120mm head tube, especially on a trail bike such as this. A marathon machine I'd consider 110mm / 115mm reasonable.

 

But then I don't work for SC.

stefmeister, Dec 27 2017 06:11

100mm head tube length is ****. Unless you do as this review does and slam your bars. And then I'd cut that hideous steerer tube (sticking up now like an antenna) off --- but then hope it doesn't bite you in the ass if / when you want to sell that fork separately!

If you want reasonable height from your bars (without running some high-rise stem, circa 2000!) then you end up with endless (30mm plus) steerer tube below your stem which just ruins a nice looking bike. And weakens the front end actually with more flex, nothing is as strong as the frame itself.

My point is a large 29" should have a 120mm head tube, especially on a trail bike such as this. A marathon machine I'd consider 110mm / 115mm reasonable.

But then I don't work for SC.

Not exactly following your argument in digging out this old thread.
But a shorter headtube is more favourable on long travel 29ers. The stack height is sometimes just too much for shorter riders. One can even argue on larger frames as well if one would wish to upsize to a bike with longer reach.
There are also riser bars for those that need more height upfront, plus it looks tits especially compared to flat xc bars.


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Mitch2, Jan 29 2019 01:53

New versions of both Hightower LT and Hightower on their way  :clap:

There are insistant talks that both could be presented in May at the Sea Otter in California.