One of the most aggressive bikes in Santa Cruz's line, the Hightower Carbon 27.5+ XE Complete Mountain Bike conquers formidable alpine terrain with a mixture of chunky rock gardens, variable soil conditions, and sweeping berms. When it was first introduced, the Hightower represented one of the longest travel big-wheeled bikes in Santa Cruz's line (now supplanted by the Hightower LT), instantly making it the go-to choice for aggressive riders. For unmatched versatility, the engineers at Santa Cruz designed it with a flip-chip along the upper linkage that allows you to switch between 27.5+ and 29-inch wheels. In this particular 27.5+ set-up, you'll find the Hightower possesses massive traction and bump-smoothing capabilities, courtesy of its high volume 2.8-inch tires gripping to anything on the trail and conforming to terrain surfaces.
This version of the Hightower benefits from the significant weight savings of Santa Cruz's resoundingly stiff and strong Carbon C frame. If you're unaware, a stiffer frame translates into greater acceleration by transferring every pedal stroke into forward-surging momentum. Delving into the frame's noteworthy features, internal cable routing cleans up its overall aesthetic while allowing for hassle-free routing of the dropper post. The frame's also equipped with a BSA threaded bottom bracket for creak-free pedaling, as opposed to the press fit bottom brackets being pushed by the industry at the moment.
In 27.5+ form, the Hightower is an absolute juggernaut that's more forgiving of bad line choices and easier to rail corners with the massive tires digging aggressively into the trail. It's also more compliant over bumpy rocks and roots, as well as grabbing traction over loose, sandy soil types you'll encounter on less-than-ideal trails. Delving into the geometry, its 66.8-degree head tube angle (in the high 27.5+ setting) maintains composure for opening it up on high-speed descents and blasting over rocky terrain. The longer reach and wheelbase maintain a comfortable and confident riding position, ensuring you're never cramped during longer rides and extended descents in the mountains. And though it's longer than many bikes in its respective class, Santa Cruz trimmed down the chainstays to a relatively short 17.1 inches for better cornering than what you'd expect from a bike of this category.
As you'd expect from Santa Cruz's heritage, the Hightower features the third generation of VPP suspension for an efficient pedaling platform with a progressive feel as you deeper into its travel. The newest iteration of VPP is revised from older versions, with the upper link now connected to the top tube in a configuration inspired by previous generation Nomads. The lower link neatly resides above the bottom bracket, protecting it from flinging rocks and damaging strikes. The revised VPP suspension is more sensitive off-the-top, making it better at absorbing small bumps and laying down traction on technical climbs. The mid-stroke is more supportive than before as you push deeper into the travel, at which point it ramps up aggressively at the end-stroke to prevent you from harshly bottoming out on bigger hits.
Looking into the details of the 27.5+ XE build, you'll find a simplified 1x11 drivetrain with a mixture of Shimano XT, Race Face, and E13 for crisp shifts over a wide range of usable gears. For those coming from older 2x set-ups, you'll find there's plentiful low-end for spinning up the steepest of climbs, thanks to the cassette's massive 46-tooth cog. And to keep up with the Hightower's capable descending, the Fox 36 Performance Elite features a stiff chassis with 150 millimeters of smooth, supportive travel.
- Santa Cruz's premiere bike for aggressive trail riding
- 27.5+ wheels offer voluminous support, massive traction
- Carbon C frame for high levels of stiffness and strength
- 135mm of VPP suspension handles big hits and rocky descents
- Flip-chip allows you to switch between 27.5+ and 29-inch wheels
- Long, low-slung, slack geometry for high-speed composure
- Boost axle spacing for stiff wheels with greater tire clearance
- Fox 36 Float Performance Elite 150mm fork and 1x11 drivetrain