The $2899 Santa Cruz Hightower is a versatile, affordable traction factory. It’s plush, planted and pushes you to ride harder.
Last year the Santa Cruz Hightower Hightower saw a welcomed redesign. Instead of having to bridge the gap between the XC/Trail oriented Tallboy and a yet to exist 29” enduro bike (Megatower,) this newest version could be plopped right in the middle of the all-mountain category. It no longer had to be the long travel bike and the trail bike — it only had one purpose, be the 140mm all-mountain bike to rule them all. And, it fulfills its purpose rather well. The lower link VPP design offers up gobs of traction and control in a huge variety of terrain.
Santa Cruz Hightower Aluminum D Build, geometry and price.
When we started planning out this whole $3000 bike showdown, the Hightower didn’t come to mind at first. Santa Cruz is associated with premium bikes at a premium price. Frankly, we were a little surprised, and very stoked you could get a Hightower for under $3000. At $2899, this one even leaves an extra hundred for pedals and a helmet. Although, the components on this bike are one tier below most of the parts on the other bikes in our test. The drivetrain is Sram SX (the other bikes in the test are NX) and the fork is the three tiers down from the top, RockShox 35 Gold. The brakes are Sram’s Guide T that honestly don’t feel awesome — they are OK, but not great. Not that we had any less fun riding the Hightower. The components are good enough and can be upgraded as they are worn out. It goes to show you that frame design, suspension platform and geometry are more important than the components on a bike. If you put the lightest, most durable parts on a bad frame, it would still ride like a bad bike. Where the opposite hold true. If you have quality geometry and a good suspension design, the level of components on the bike matter a little less.
Speaking of quality geometry, the Hightower is everything you could ask for. It’s modern without being extreme, which makes for a very useable and versatile bike. The Hightower features a geometry flip chip that changes the head tube angle and seat tube angle by about .3 degrees, while raising or lowering the BB height. The head tube angle comes in at either 65.2 or 65.5 degrees and the seat tube at 76.6 or 76.3 degrees. The reach is a roomy, but not too long 490-493mm and the wheelbase is 1260-1261mm. All that adds up to a bike that is rather good at most things.
Santa Cruz Hightower Aluminum D Ride Impressions
Despite being the heaviest bike in our test, the Hightower didn’t climb poorly. The efficient VPP suspension platform kept it moving uphill well enough. Sometimes an efficient and energetic pedaling platform can make a bike feel “light.” That was certainly the case with the Hightower. Don’t get me wrong, there were better climbers in our test, but the Hightower didn’t kill us on the ups. Efficiency isn’t the whole climbing equation, though. In the case of the Hightower, traction was the standout quality both up and down the mountain. The lower link VPP design does a great job of keeping the rear wheel on the ground for those standing efforts up steep and rocky pitches. Depending on your terrain, traction may be more important than efficiency for overall climbing performance. More traction will help in bumpier, technical terrain while efficiency helps on smoother, rolling terrain.
The Hightower’s seat tube angle, while steep on paper, feels a little slack especially for taller folks. The higher you run your saddle, the slacker the angle gets. I did feel that my weight was a little further rearward on this bike. I slammed the saddle as far forward as it would go to counteract this. Still, a steep actual seat tube angle wouldn’t hurt.
Again, the standout ability of this bike, is traction. The suspension on the Hightower feels extra plush and active. That helps both wheels track the bumps the terrain better, allowing the tires to stay in contact with the dirt more. The end result being gobs and gobs of traction. The tires certainly help in this equation. Santa Cruz put Maxxis Minion DHR II 2.4” tires on both the front and back. The DHR II offers a lot of braking and cornering traction. They don’t roll particularly fast compared to lighter duty tires, but they aren’t the worst either. They fit this bike’s intended purpose very well.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but the Hightower seems to disappear below you. It doesn’t jump out at you in any way. I appreciate this quality in bikes. I don’t want to be thinking about what my bike is doing when I should be thinking about how I’m going to hit this next jump without tomahawking into the bushes. The Hightower just does its job without complaint. It handles bumps well, corners well, jumps well and climbs well. I wouldn’t say it truly excels at only one of those things either. It’s a true jack of all trades.
As with the Reign, the brakes on this bike weren’t amazing. Call me spoiled, but I like my brakes to stop my bike quickly and predictably. The Guide Ts felt mostly consistent, but the lever didn’t feel as nice as the more adjustable versions like the Guide RS or RSC. Still, for a bike with this much travel, I’d love to see Codes or something with more power.
+ Very versatile
+ Geometry flip chip
– Lower end components
– Slacker actual seat tube angle