Few bikes do it all as well as the Santa Cruz Hightower. It’s a perennial favorite in the Santa Cruz lineup, and for good reason. It’s also one of our favorite bikes at the shop because of how well-rounded and versatile it is. We have bikes in our test that go uphill better and bikes that go downhill better, but there isn’t a bike that goes both up and down hills better than the Hightower.
Santa Cruz Hightower Ride Impressions
The Hightower is one of those bikes that seems to disappear underneath you while riding. It certainly doesn’t call attention to itself on the climbs. It blends into the background and lets you enjoy being outside on your bike. It’s not particularly lively, but it’s far from feeling slow and sluggish. In terms of overall climbing performance, it sits right in the middle of the pack. Don’t take that to mean that it climbs poorly. Statistically speaking, the “middle of the pack” is where most bikes live. I grew up in a time of participation trophies and the “Everyone is Special” mantra. So, I’ve had to convince myself over the years, there’s nothing wrong with being perfectly average — the same goes for bikes. That’s a social debate for a different time, though.
Santa Cruz has shifted nearly every one of their bikes to the Lower Link VPP platform. It provides tons of traction and ooey-gooey plushness. I’ve yet to find a bike that smooths out a trail quite like a Lower Link VPP bike. Because it’s more active and smooth, it’s a little less responsive to pedaling forces. It doesn’t quite have the get-up-and-go that the Ibis Ripmo and Yeti SB130 have. That said, it climbs better in the technical sections better than those two bikes. It’s tough to beat the Hightower when it comes to rough and bumpy climbing. The otherworldly traction and rear-wheel smoothness keep it motoring forward in the rockiest, rootiest bits of trail.
Just as the Hightower makes the compromise between efficiency and smoothness on the climbs, it makes some excellent compromises on the downhill too. It finds the perfect balance between rugged descending capability and the fun factor.
The Hightower is an all-mountain bike through and through. By definition, an all-mountain bike should be able to go anywhere on the mountain — that means nasty, steep descents as well as mellower, flowy trails. The Hightower’s slightly more conservative geometry is what keeps the handling quick and lively for those flatter and smoother trails. A slacker and bigger bike would start to be less fun on the green and blue trails than the more moderate Hightower. Compromise is key for making a well-rounded bike designed to be fun everywhere. I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the Hightower for tough double-black bike park days or a cruiser day with the kids on blues and greens.
The Hightower doesn’t strike a compromise when it comes to small bump sensitivity. Santa Cruz dumped all their efforts into the plush bucket on this one. The trail I filmed the showdown on isn’t overly difficult, but it’s far from smooth. It might have the highest embedded rocks per square inch rating of any trail outside of Moab. The Hightower made short work of all these little bumps. It felt incredibly smooth throughout the whole ride. If you like plush, I don’t think you can find a better bike.
While the geometry isn’t extreme like the Sentinel, the VPP suspension platform is what lets the Hightower get after it on the descents. It feels squishy and deep without becoming glued to the ground. It’s not the most responsive feeling bike in the test, but it still does a pretty good job of getting airborne or at least unweighted.
Who is the Santa Cruz Hightower for?
If you’re looking for the quintessential all-mountain bike, look no further. It’s the most well-rounded in the test. It’s never too much or too little. People who value comfort and plushness will love the Hightower.
Want to shred harder? – check out the Sentinel
Value the climbs more than the DH? – Check out the Ripmo
Want to go blazingly fast everywhere? – Check out the SB130
THE BOTTOM LINE
The most all-mountain, all-mountain bike money can buy.