Hightower Carbon CC XX1 Eagle AXS Reserve Mountain Bike
When it comes to dream bikes, big ideas are never in short order at the Competitive Cyclist office. We spend copious amounts of time putting together builds that we'd eagerly saddle up on, should out bank accounts allow it. And while most of the time those bikes live on in our head as theoretical trail beasts, Santa Cruz brings dreams into reality with the Hightower Carbon CC XX1 Eagle AXS Reserve Mountain Bike. The new Hightower is built to stray from its predecessor, and walk a new line of capability. It tosses old geometry by the wayside, blowing beyond previous generations of the Hightower and Hightower LT, and finding a nice spot to hang out just between the Tallboy and the Megatower. It packs in all-new geometry from the old Hightower, and stretches further than even the LT before it — plus new lower linkage that lends queues to the Nomad for total downhill stability, and a flip-chip for flexibility. The result is a powerful trail bike that's capable of holding its own in the rough and rowdy, and racing back up to the top to get another lap of hits. And while we could spend days just talking about how the bike rides, we'd be doing you a disservice to not touch on the components that really set this model apart. Santa Cruz partners up the Hightower's all-mountain versatility with the best of the best components on this build, employing RockShox's finest Ultimate suspension package to soak up big hits without bottoming out, Santa Cruz's own carbon hoops laced up to Industry Nine's snappiest hub ever, and, of course, the head turning SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS groupset that offers snappy shifts, complete programmable shifter, and the tidiest cockpits we've seen on this side of the Mississippi.
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. It remains as that, 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.
If we told you that the Hightower CC XX1 Eagle AXS Reserve build was the cream of the crop, we'd be worried we're selling it short. It combines the absolute best-of-the best in the component world, 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 SRAM's latest, and greatest XX1 AXS groupset, which is an immediate head turner from the get-go, thanks to its rainbow cassette and wireless cockpit.
Compared to mechanical Eagle groupsets, the Eagle AXS derailleur has been contoured around the frame design a bit more. This translates to increased chain wrap, which improves both load distribution and durability, reducing wear and tear on your chain and cassette for better longevity of components. Dually, this new positioning offers a whole 10-millimeters of increased clearance over mechanical Eagle rear derailleurs. Speaking of clearance, the two-clutch system offers a whole new safety mechanism for when you just don’t have quite enough space, and your derailleur takes a knock. The first clutch is the traditional type-three that you’ll find in most SRAM MTB derailleurs, this keeps your chain in check and tensioned, the second is where things get exciting. The Overload clutch protects your geared motor by disengaging the motor all together in the event of impact, allowing the derailleur to move whichever direction it needs to in order to protect the motor against a rock or a low-hanging branch. As soon as the impact is over, the derailleur automatically reengages and shifts back to where you were, without skipping a beat. This built in protection gives you some serious peace of mind when you’re dropping big dollars on a groupset.
Up front in your cockpit you’ll find the AXS shifter, which uses a completely new profile with three buttons. First, there is a main paddle at the thumb that pivots up and down when you engage it. The shifter is programmed out of the box to shift into your harder gears when you press upward on the paddle, and into your easier gears with a press downward. In addition to the paddle, there’s a trigger shifter that can be accessed when you’re hammering up climbs to get into the perfect gear for your sprint. Both paddle and trigger can be fully programmed with SRAM’s AXS app, allowing you to switch what each button does, and customize how many shifts your derailleur can make when you hold down on the shifters. The shifter pairs with your rear derailleur using SRAM’s own wireless network, which they claim to be completely secure, preventing tampering with from anyone but you. With that said — the shifter also uses both Bluetooth and ANT+ to connect to head units and smart phones, which allows you to program it, view battery life, and see a maintenance schedule. If on race day you find many other derailleurs and shifters popping up on your AXS app, you need not worry. In order to adjust shifting with the app you must be physically holding your bike and pressing the shifters to make any changes to its programming, keeping your ride safe from tampering.
- Santa Cruz's Hightower gets all new geometry to tackle it all
- Geometry stretches further than its predecessor, and the Hightower LT
- 5.5-inches of VPP suspension eats up rock gardens and roots
- New lower-link driven suspension improves handling at high speeds
- Flip-chip allows you to slacken headtube angle for a confident descent
- Carbon CC frame sheds grams left and right, boosts strength and stiffness
- Reserve carbon hoops lace up to I9 Hydra hubs for immediate responsiveness
- Cream of the crop build combines SRAM's electronic AXS groupset for crisp shifts, and a completely wireless setup free of clutter