Hightower Carbon CC XTR Reserve Mountain Bike
Throughout Santa Cruz's lineup, the Hightower has long been known as a do-it-all trail bike, capable of backcountry endurance adventures in the Santa Cruz mountains, and fast laps at your local trail network when you need to hammer out as many post-workday miles as possible. And while this generation has reached for some new highs and stretched itself out, it maintains the all-mountain feel we love from the ride, just this time it's even more all-mountain-er. For 2020, the Hightower Carbon CC XTR Reserve Mountain Bike pushes the boundaries beyond its predecessor, and even its close cousin, the Hightower LT, reaching for longer and lower geometry than before, elevating confidence of the wagon-wheel 29er, and moving the linkage to a lower position that's akin to the Bronson and Nomad, which alone tells us the story of its new found descending prowess. But don't let it fool you into thinking its meant for a life of shuttles and lift laps alone — Santa Cruz equips it with a flip chip for customizable geometry that remains lively under power, so you can eat up square bumps on technical climbs, and reach the summit with an ear-to-ear grin, eager to gobble up the rugged descent to follow.
The new Hightower remains an all-mountain machine, but as a more capable bike than before, stretching its reach out a 20mm (on sizes small through large), offering more room in the cockpit to play with, while a more relaxed head tube elevates confidence on the descent. The new head tube angle sits a full 1.5-degrees slacker than the previous Hightower in High mode, and 1.8-degrees slacker in low, stretching things out to power over bigger rocks and chunder than ever before. And while this stretched out cockpit can come at the cost of pedal efficiency, Santa Cruz designers mitigate sluggish climbing by moving the seat tube to a steeper angle, adding an additional 2.3-degrees in low setting, or 2.8-degrees in high. The results are a bike that's steeper and more capable than the LT, and with more pep in its step for tackling steep climbs than the previous Hightower.
The new Hightower amps up travel just a bit with 140mm of VPP suspension in the rear, and 150mm up front. This is combined with a new suspension design that takes cues from the Megatower and Nomad. Instead of relying on the upper-link driven design, the new Hightower enjoys the increased bump compliance, and glued-to-the-trail traction you'll experience from a lower-link mounted shock. This lower-link VPP platform is something that's previously been reserved just for gravity-fueled sleds, but we saw it grace the Bronson last year, stretching it into the enduro category for a feel that can tackle gnarlier steeps, and turn around to soar back up climbs. This means the new Hightower is more downhill capable than before, but without sacrificing it all when you set your quads on fire to earn your descent.
Santa Cruz combines the new lower-link suspension with flip-chip technology for adaptable geometry, so you can slacken things up for park laps with your crew, and steepen things, lifting the bottom bracket, and bringing in the head tube to a steeper angle for taking on all-out endurance backcountry expeditions, where every pedal stroke takes you further from the last cell tower, and you don't turn around until the sun is down, or you're out of water. The switch is easy to make with the turn of an Allen wrench, and changes the geometry quite significantly. The bike comes to you in Low mode, with a head tube angle that sits low and long at 65.2-degrees, perking up to 65.5 in High mode, while the seat tube angle shifts from 76.7 in Low, up to 77.1-degrees in High for a pedal-friendly position that's ready for attacking climbs.
While changes have happened left and right on the Hightower, one thing remains a constant, and that's Santa Cruz's carbon frame construction, with its legendary strength and unwavering stiffness. This particular Hightower benefits from the top-shelf Carbon CC layup, which drops weight, thanks to its use of a higher-end carbon, resin, and manufacturing process that sheds grams without sacrificing an ounce of strength or stiffness. You can count on this lighter Carbon CC version to drop anywhere from 250-to-280-grams below the lower-spec Carbon C model, making it well worth the upgrade if you covet a lighter build.
When Santa Cruz pairs up with Shimano, magical things can happen, and its apparent with this build, but if we told you its our dream build, we worry we might be selling the bike short. It combines the absolute best-of-the best in the component department, starting with the hoops it rolls on top of. Santa Cruz employs its Reserve 30 rims, with featherweight carbon layup, powerful stiffness for tracking through rugged lines, robust, fortified holes that enhance strength and reduce chance of a spoke pulling through from serious impact. This is then laced up neatly to Industry Nine's top-tier Hydra hub. The Hydra Hub builds on the brand's previous drive system, the torch, but improves on the previous hub's already snappy engagement, increasing points of engagement by double, bringing numbers all the way down to 0.52-degrees of engagement, offering the snappiest hub we've ever laid our hands on.
And while the snappy wheelset is something to talk about, Santa Cruz didn't stop there. It equips this build with Shimano's all new 12-sped groupset that propelled the Japanese component company into the future with snappy shifting, and the reliable engineering that the brand is revered for. Shimano's XTR 12-speed drivetrain boasts the largest 12-speed cassette we've seen in this neck of the woods, with a lofty 10 - 51-tooth range that offers the biggest bailout cog you might want for punchy climbs, without negating the 10-tooth for hammering through straightaways. The all new design improves on chain retention and stability from previous generations, so you know you can trust the shifts to be crisp and precise. The build continues with RockShox's latest and greatest suspension package to provide you with the plush feel you need when rocketing through steep rock gardens, and lively handling when you're whipping up technical climbs.
- Santa Cruz brings the Hightower to the future with extra confidence
- New geometry stretches beyond its predecessor and Hightower LT
- Lower-link driven VPP improves small bump compliance
- Flip-chip slackens headtube angle from 65.5 degrees to 65.2 degrees
- 5-inches of VPP travel eat up rocks, roots, and log rolls
- Carbon CC frame reduces weight without sacrificing strength, stiffness
- Reserve Carbon Wheels provide telepathic handling and strength
- Industry Nine Hydra hubs offer the snappiest engagement we've ever seen
- Shimano's new XTR drivetrain boasts a lofty 10 - 51 tooth cassette, and precise Japanese engineering