Tower of power.
Once relegated to the wheelsize of choice just for the cross country set, more manufactures and riders are experiencing the advantages of the larger wheels on trail bikes while riding demanding terrain. The industry trend towards bigger wheels is building with a momentum akin to what we experience when riding bikes with wagon wheels. The 2018 Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon 29 R is another example of a do-it-all trail bike, and it's dressed up with SRAM's excellent NX componentry and powerful Level T hydraulic brakes. The bike boasts 135mm of super-composed VPP suspension and 140mm of plush travel from the RockShox Revelation fork to get you down the trail quickly and confidently.
The 1x only setup on the Hightower allows Santa Cruz to shorten the chainstays to provide near-telepathic handling in tight terrain and crawl up techy climbs with relative ease. When the time comes to bomb back down, a 67-degree head tube angle, the added stiffness afforded by the boost spacing, and the latest version of the excellent VPP suspension allow for a shoot-first-ask-questions-later demeanor. Whether flowing on buff singletrack or rocketing through baby head chunder, the Hightower attacks with speed and grace.
Santa Cruz drew inspiration from the Nomad when designing the suspension pivot placements on the Hightower. By doing so, the linkages remain out of the way and have the ability to accommodate a shock with a reservoir and a bottle cage, hinting at the bike's ability to handle enduro racing or backcountry epics alike. If you are looking for a machine that can handle an all-day grindfest one weekend and multiple lifts to the top of the mountain the next, the Hightower is an able and happy playmate.
Santa Cruz sets the bar on carbon frame construction, and the top-notch fit and finish is present on this frame. The Hightower Carbon C is fully constructed from carbon fiber and boasts the same ride quality and durability of Santa Cruz's top-of-the-line Carbon CC frame. It packs more value since it's a less costly material, carrying just a little more mass but bringing down the price of admission substantially. Construction methods are identical for the C and the CC classes, and each triangle is built as a whole unit, allowing the engineers to wrap carbon through high-stress junctions to avoid weak points or areas of the frame with less structural integrity. The carbon is compacted from the inside as well, further eliminating excess material build-up and saving more weight over quicker and less precise construction methods.
The Hightower's two triangles are joined by the latest VPP suspension. The lower link now finds a home above the bottom bracket, increasing ground clearance and reducing the risk that errant trail debris, thrown up by the front tire, will smash it. The upper link makes the move higher up on the frame as well, improving standover height for smaller pilots and letting riders size up if they want a bike with a longer wheelbase for more stability.
The latest VPP changes aren't limited to just relocated links. The leverage ratio throughout the travel is also tweaked. Santa Cruz explains how the travel of the old suspension curve resembled a "U," whereas the new VPP's curve describes a flattened check mark, which creates less ramping on either end of the arc. In the saddle, you'll notice increased compliance off the top and through the mid-stroke, keeping the rubber glued to the trail for more traction and a more comfortable ride. Whether you're hustling to the top of the singletrack or standing to mash over a crux, the excellent pedaling characteristics are still present and your efforts won't be lost in the ether of the pivots. The FOX Float rear shock offers excellent adjustability and is custom tuned to maximize the performance of the VPP design.
We do feel that the Hightower is a beast in the 29in version offered here, but if you feel like experimenting with the float of 27.5+ wheels, the bike is certainly willing and able. Traction benefits definitely exist and your terrain and riding style will ultimately dictate what wheel size proves advantageous for your riding. A flip chip that sits at the shock's lower mount allows a geometry shift that accommodates the slightly smaller diameter wheels. When running 27.5+, Santa Cruz recommends extending the fork 10mm to bring the bike's geometry back to its intended numbers.
- Santa Cruz's aggressive trail shredder
- Efficient pedaling platform offering 5.3in of VPP travel
- Balanced geometry for all-day pedaling or shuttling alike
- C Carbon construction reduces weight and increases stiffness
- Flip chip allows compatibility with 27.5+ and 29in wheels
- Workhorse drivetrain isn't afraid of backcountry abuse
- Santa Cruz brings speed and stability to the trails