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.
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.
- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
- 29" or 27.5" wheels allow for a bit of a chameleon act
- Accommodates a bottle cage inside the front triangle
- A thing of beauty
- Ample tyre clearance
- Carbon and 1x only
- Switching between wheel sizes can be costly and time-consuming
- Grips are too thin