Trail Bike Personified.
Santa Cruz's Hightower Carbon CC 29 X01 Eagle Complete Mountain Bike effectively flipped the trail bike category on its head. It confirmed that 29-inch and 27.5+ wheels can be fun and add speed and traction to any ride. Santa Cruz builds gimmick-free bikes for trail riders and we think that their popularity speaks volumes for how well the bikes ride and how dependable they are. The integration of a flip chip on the suspension linkage is nothing short of revolutionary. It allows the Hightower to swap between the 29er platform we have here to the plush, traction savvy hook-up of a 27.5+ set-up, without compromising the frame's geometry that works very well in so many locations and conditions.
Rider's that swore off early 29ers are now some of the Hightower's biggest advocates. The wagon wheels simply roll faster over rough terrain and the modern geometry lets the bike handle with a quickness that nullifies any negatives we once had about big wheels. This mid-travel chassis can handle everything from marathon races to shuttle runs and everything in between. It doesn't stray far from the Tallboy's climbing ability and pedaling efficiency which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. The low-slung frame is super stable and we feel it has Goldilocks' amount of travel for a 29er. The relatively short chainstays and stiff Boost dropout spacing ensure it handles steep loose trails and long fire road climbs without much fanfare.
The crew at Santa Cruz clearly ride and take feedback from their riders as evident from some of the frame features present. We take water bottle cage mounts on the inside of the front triangle for granted until we ride a bike that doesn't have it. Riding without a pack is liberating and it's nice having bottle mounts we will actually use. The triangle also has room for a piggyback shock so if you want to go full gnar, tackle some enduros, or ride technical and demanding trails, the Hightower has you covered with enough room for a more capable shock.
The latest version of VPP suspension joins the Hightower's rear end to the front. Santa Cruz refers to it as VPP 3.0, and it's pretty similar to VPP of yesteryear which is great. The repositioned lower link now shelters above the bottom bracket, increasing ground clearance and decreasing the chance of rock strikes. We see ourselves putting this rig through its paces in these type conditions so the new link location is welcome. The upper link has also wandered up and forward, which makes for a more accommodating standover height for smaller riders wanting to size up and it further stiffens up the back end.
In terms of actual suspension kinematic changes, the older suspension curve was described a deep "U," while the new VPP's curve resembles a flattened check mark, with less dramatic ramping on either end of the arc. The results are that, during the initial and mid stroke, it boasts increased bump compliance keeping the tires glued to the trail for more traction across lumpy trails and root-latticed climbs. It also maintains its predecessor's firm feel during accelerations while jockeying for position in a mass start or a finishing sprint. The FOX Float Performance Elite DPS ramp-up arc doesn't dramatically alter as the shock compresses, so the pedaling platform stays consistent through its travel, with less wallowing, bob, and bottom-outs — even while the Boost axle's path turns rearward to absorb big hits deep in its travel.
The Hightower features the same Carbon CC frame construction that's ruined our taste by giving us unrealistic expectations for how carbon should feel. For the top-tier CC frame, Santa Cruz engineers use a higher modulus carbon than the Carbon C model, so less material is required to hit the same strength and stiffness numbers. Less material equates to less weight, and climbing and pure speed both benefit when there's less mass for your engine to propel.
The frame's two carbon triangles are built as whole pieces rather than glued together from disparate bits, a method that saves weight and increases structural integrity by allowing Santa Cruz to wrap carbon continuously through and around key junctures. This process reinforces the frame with less material while eliminating the artificial stress points that result from bonded construction methods. Finally, the carbon is compacted from the inside and the outside for a more even finish that avoids any structural defects, excess material build-up, and resin pooling for even more weight savings.
The SRAM X01 gives us everything we want and nothing we don’t. Shifting performance is damn close to XX1 but we will take the difference in burritos and gas money. The RSC Guide brakes are great and provide some of the best modulation and power in the game. In the present 29er mode, the Hightower easily clears tires in the 2.4 and 2.5-inch range, but going any larger risks clearance issues, depending on the tire manufacturer. If you're building a bikepacking or all-mountain rig with 27.5+ wheels and tires, the Hightower can accommodate most 2.8-inch tires, but may have trouble with some manufacturers' 3-inch versions.
- A trail 29er with an all-mountain appetite
- 5.3in of VPP v3.0 suspension
- Geometry inspired by the Bronson and Tallboy
- Peerless Carbon CC frame material and construction
- FOX suspension softens the blows
- SRAM's 12-speed X01 drivetrain has plenty of range
- Santa Cruz Bicycles continues to define the direction of the industry