The all-new Santa Cruz Hightower
There’s a new toy in the shed from the boys at Santa Cruz and it comes in the form of the new Hightower. Standing alone it is beautiful. The lines it draws are carefully considered, nothing is where it shouldn’t be, and everything makes sense. Simple; yet don’t be fooled by it’s subtle charm, there’s a carefully obscured hint of aggression, that smiles a wry smile whenever the trail’s take a turn for the worst.
Santa Cruz have spent a lot of time developing the balanced array of bikes that now fills their fleet. Now all the bikes are beginning to adhere to a similar looking platform, but within the numbers of each emerges vastly different bikes, for vastly different purposes, all intent on putting a smile on your face. This new Hightower is no exception. It looks very similar to the Nomad, Bronson and the new Megatower, however it sits in its own niche entirely. By combining the Hightower LT and the Hightower into one bike Santa Cruz have settled with a 140mm rear end paired with a 150mm front travel hybrid of the two.
Santa Cruz simply make good bikes. Forever they have sat at the top of the wish lists of many mountain bikers, but it has taken me a while to ride one and finally understand why. At the end of the day it’s just another bike right?. But no it’s what Santa Cruz do with the bike that set’s them apart from everyone else. Beginning with the simple design philosophy that less is more. Everything is arranged as it’s meant be, and attention to detail is paramount. Even the colours and decals are looked at on an overall level, with the entire range seemingly crafted from the same palette, which visually aids in tying the bike’s together as a complete range.
So what’s new?
The Hightower has been overhauled completely to suit it’s niche with in the Santa Cruz line-up. It has been given the obligatory lengthen and slacken treatment that is required for this modern era, but the designers have given respect to its intended purpose. This isn’t aiming to be a brute, like a Megatower, but rather a bike you’d grab for your local lap, where the climbing is as steep and tech, and the downs equally so. The reach has been increased to a comfortable 473mm in the large we tested, and the head angle reduced a full degree out to 65.5. The new Hightower is jumping head long into a very popular category – the one bike quiver, where it has to fill both the climbing and descending duties with ease. This is a bike you’d want in the shed, when you want to smash some big miles but have an absolute blast in doing so. The chainstay is a relatively short 434mm for a 29er which I personally love. This was a conscious effort by Santa Cruz to keep the bike lively and reactive on the trail. You really feel like this bike is in tune with the track beneath it. It’s not going to plough through the rough chunky stuff quite as well, but the new lower VPP linkage does help balance this out. Subtle weight shifts are rewarded with positive bike movement, and it encourages you to play on the trail in a way that get’s you down in an absurdly fun manner.
The biggest visual shift for the new Hightower however has been the move to the lower linkage VPP, seen across other family members like the Megatower and Nomad. Even with the new linkage the Hightower retains its friendly pedalling tendencies, however a subtle change in the leverage curve, gives the bike a more linear suspension , meaning a more supple initial stroke and the ability to tune the ramp up easily.
What impressed me most about the new VPP was how it sat so comfortable and poised while hammering braking bumps and roots. I was seriously surprised that a 140mm bike could be as planted and stable on the types of tracks we got to ride, which to me seemed more suited for a bigger travel beast. The Hightower held it’s own and then some, providing me an all together eye-opening experience.
Another big change has been in the seat tube angle, from a pretty slack 73.7 to a very modern 76.8, which does wonders to the climbing abilities of the Hightower. The entire package has been thoroughly thought out, to provide the best all day comfort you can get. I would happily jump on this bike for the biggest days in the saddle, as it climbs in earnest without any need at all to reach for the lockout lever.
There are a whole host of other small details that help bring together the whole package. The cable routing location has been changed on the headtube to increase shifting reliability, a flip-chip in the linkage, can lower or raise the bottom bracket, and vice versa the head tube angle. This lower setting also gives a more progressive suspension curve allowing for more ramp up at the end of the stroke. A neat downtube protector helps prevent shuttle rash, while a chain stay protector keeps the rear end silent. Rear mud flap keeps the shock and linkage clutter free. Out of the box it is as you’d want a bike to be.
I am a relative stranger to the world of 29ers, as I’ve always been convinced on the playfulness of a 27.5 over the speed of the 29er. However, the more and more I ride the big wheels, the more I am being swayed. Why not have your cake and eat it too. Swing a leg over the new Hightower and it’s apparent a 29er is maybe all you will ever need for the world a lot of us live in. This is a bike you could take for a high-speed XC lap, to runs at your local track with the boys. In the few solid rides I got to get on the Hightower, it showed it’s mettle and proved itself as the do-it-all rig that its intended to be – Efficient and relaxed on the climbs, and poised and stable on the downs. But what I liked most is that it retains some spark.
The model we got to ride the Lyrik Ultimate, Sram X01 equipped Hightower CC which definitely aided in providing the above traits, but there is an option for everyone out there.
There are a tonne of build options available with the more price conscious aluminum options still being equipped with the unbeatable SRAM 12-speed and Fox float performance rear shocks. Right through to the XX1 and AXS equipped higher end carbon models.
All and all, it’s exciting to see how Santa Cruz have been steadily improving their overall fleet to seamlessly fill each gap the consumer requires. Their latest offering, the Hightower, may be their most popular yet as I see this being the bike the majority of us riders want. A fun, playful rig, that’s as comfortable climbing as it is descending, all the while excelling at both. Riders more inclined to put more emphasis on the down’s may look towards a nomad or Megatower, but for someone who get’s their kicks in the type 2 fun category this may be right on the money.
Photos: Adrian Marcoux