Review: Santa Cruz Hightower

by
August 11, 2016

The Santa Cruz Hightower introduces 27.5+ compatibility into the long-travel 29er full suspension platform. And Barney digs it a lot.

Brand: Santa Cruz
Product: Hightower
From: Jungle Products (jungleproducts.co.uk)
Price: £5,349
Tested: by Barney Marsh for three months

Rewind to our Issue #106 bike test of the Santa Cruz Hightower.

The Hightower occupies the same niche in the Santa Cruz line-up as the old Tallboy LT. It has the same travel, and it has the same 29in wheel size capability. But the Hightower is, perhaps, the black sheep in this particular bike test, as it’s not marketed as the ‘new’ Tallboy LT at all. In fact, Santa Cruz says that the reason it isn’t called something like the ‘Tallboy LT2’ is because of its totally different ride characteristics.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Is Santa Cruz capable of making a bad bike? The Hightower kicks some serious goals and highlights the Californian brands careful refinement of their iconic VPP suspension design.

So it’s probably a good idea to investigate the differences between the two – of which there are many. Let’s start at the back. The Hightower is Boosted, with a 148×12 dropout spacing. This enhances stiffness, but Santa Cruz has also been able to shorten the chainstays a whopping 13mm from 148mm on the Tallboy LT to 135mm here, and widen things up to fit 27.5+ tyres.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
And it looks oh-so-right, even with the 29in wheels.

In fact – although we’re testing the 29in wheeled version – you can buy the bike in a 27.5+ build should you so wish. If so, angles are kept the same with a flip-chip and a slightly longer fork.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
You like gambling? You can flip the chip on the Hightower’s back end to alter geometry between 27.5+ and 29 wheel setups.

The suspension boasts the same amount of travel as the LT – 135mm – using Santa Cruz’s VPP. The Hightower uses the third iteration of the platform, which changes pivot position slightly. The seat tube is shorter in all respective sizes in the Hightower than the bike it replaces by an inch or so, for more standover and longer dropper-post compatibility. Top tube length increases slightly from 637mm to 645mm (on XL models), but reach has been increased from 437mm on the LT to 475mm. The seat tube is steepened by two degrees or so and the head angle is relaxed by a whopping two and a half degrees to 67º; all these angles are much more ‘contemporary’.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Brakes are very important on a bike like this. The Hightower is capable of some serious speed, but the Guide RSC brakes are equally capable at washing off said speed with poise and control.

Our US-derived test frame is festooned with fine quality gear from Race Face and a great deal of kit from SRAM. We get a Monarch RT3 rear shock, Pike RCT3 fork, lots of XO1 1×11 drivetrain bits and pieces – in fact, you can’t fit a front mech to this frame – and DT 350 hubs on WTB rims. It’s worth mentioning that should you buy a Hightower in the UK, the specification is slightly different; a Hope chainset, Hope hubs on WTB i29 rims and a KS LEV dropper are included.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Lookout for a different spec in the UK, with complete Santa Cruz models getting a lashing of Hope parts instead.

The Ride

So now we’ve established what’s different, how does it ride? Well, having spent considerable time behind the bars of both the Hightower and the Tallboy LT, I feel qualified to tell you that, yes, they’re completely different.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Big man, big bike. Barney gives the Hightower a workout on the rocky Yorkshire singletrack.

The Hightower belongs very much in the pantheon of what has been called nu-school geometry. No, the numbers aren’t going to raise too many eyebrows, but to get anything like the best out of the Hightower you need to ride much more aggressively you did with the LT. All that reach gives you room to manoeuvre, and you really need to use all of it to get the frame to come alive. If you pull your weight further back you’re rewarded with a fairly dull ride. Put the effort in, though, and it’s hugely rewarded. In fact, coming back to the older bike having spent time on the Hightower can be a hugely unnerving experience; if you try to press the LT into service in the same full-on way as you can with the Hightower you’ll soon be needing a change of underpants.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Hold on, where did Barney’s torso go?

Climbing is achieved with a quiet lack of fuss. The steep seat tube and long reach keep lungs open and weight forward, and the front end never felt too wandery. The bottom bracket is relatively low, so I did experience the occasional pedal strike, but no more so than many other bikes. The lack of a front mech fitment means that you’re stuck with a 1x set-up.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Santa Cruz slap on a proper badge onto the Hightower’s head tube.

But this bike really lives for the descents. It’s great when things get steep and technical, but point it down a singletrack trail, and it’ll sing until its voice goes hoarse. It is an absolute monster when things get tight and twisty; despite the reputation of modern longer bikes and 29in wheels, the Hightower can turn on a sixpence. And it’s a total hoot on 27.5+ tyres, too.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Tested with 29in wheels, the Hightower can also be transformed into a 27.5+ rig. Depending on your flavour.

If you run the bike in 29in mode, there’s lots of clearance, and any pivot-based mud-collecting worries were unfounded. As a chubby bike, however, there’s somewhat less clearance. With wide 45mm internal rims, a 3.0in tyre will fit, but there may be some interference with the thick rubber chainstay guard. A 2.8in tyre (which Santa Cruz recommends) is better.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
That fork will squeeze in some big rubber too!

Overall

It’s fair to say that Santa Cruz had it bang on when renaming this bike – it really does feel like a completely different beast to the Tallboy LT. It’s longer, lower, slacker – all the buzzwords that set traditionalists’ teeth grinding – and it requires a different riding approach to get the most out of it. But once you embrace the differences, you’ll find an excellent bike with impeccable manners and an insatiable thirst for speed.

santa cruz hightower 29 27.5 plus dual suspension mountain bike carbon rockshox
Ok. Just one more peek!
  • Frame// CC level VPP3 carbon frame, 135mm travel
  • Fork// RockShox Pike 29 RCT3 140
  • Shock// RockShox Monarch RT3
  • Hubs// DT Swiss 350, 148×12 R, 110×15 Torque Cap F
  • Rims// Easton Arc 27, 29in, 28 hole
  • Tyres// Maxxis Minion DHR2, Tubeless
  • Chainset// Race Face Turbine
  • Front Mech// N/A
  • Rear Mech// SRAM XO1
  • Shifters// SRAM XO1 1×11
  • Cassette// SRAM XG1180, 11sp, 10-42
  • Brakes// SRAM Guide RSC
  • Stem// Race Face Turbine Basic
  • Bars// Santa Cruz Carbon Bar, 31.8mm clamp, 780mm
  • Seatpost// RockShox Reverb Stealth 150mm
  • Saddle// WTB Silverado Team
  • Size Tested// XL
  • Sizes Available// S, M, L, XL
  • Weight// 27.8lbs


Review Info

Brand: Santa Cruz
Product: Hightower
From: Jungle Products (jungleproducts.co.uk)
Price: £5,349
Tested: by Barney Marsh for three months

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