Reigns supreme over its singletrack domain.
From rock-infested trails winding through the mountains to the perfect loam of coastal redwood forests, the Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon S Complete Mountain Bike asserts its dominance on the trail with its long, relatively slack geometry for long climbs and rowdy descents. The Hightower's signature feature lies in its 29-inch wheels, which absolutely steamroll rocks, roots, and trail impediments standing in your way. For the 2019 model year, the Hightower gets a refreshment in color schemes; otherwise, it's the same exact bike. And that's a good thing if you're seeking dialed geometry for aggressive trail riders requiring a steed to climb for hours at a time, then descend with high levels of confidence and composure.
The Hightower's adjustable flip-chip is definitely one of its best features, seeing you can swap out the provided 29-inch wheels for the voluminous traction and bump-smoothing support of 27.5+ wheels rolling on tires up to a healthy 3.0 inches wide. That being said, Santa Cruz no longer offers a 27.5+ build from the factory, so you'll have to either buy a 150-millimeter fork or swap out the air spring in the provided 140-millimeter FOX 36 Float Performance Fork to squeeze out an additional 10 millimeters of travel. This taller fork ensures the bottom bracket doesn't get too low, seeing the few millimeter difference when dropping down to 27.5+ wheels on either 2.8 or 3.0-inch tires.
Regardless of what wheel size you run, the Hightower solidifies its status as an aggressive trail machine with its long, relatively slack geometry inspiring confidence at high speeds. The head tube angle is practically the same between both wheel sizes at 67 degrees, so long as you choose a 140-millimeter fork on the 29er and a 150-millimeter fork in 27.5+ form. Both sizes retain a roomy cockpit and noticeably long wheelbase for a comfortable and confident riding position, also lending stability when you open it up at higher speeds. To help offset the longer geometry, Santa Cruz designed the Hightower with relatively short chainstays of 17.1 inches for quick turning capabilities. It's also pretty damn low, with its 13.2-inch bottom bracket keeping you glued to the trail when you're rallying across rock gardens and bombing downhill at high velocities.
As you'd expect from a trail bike of this pedigree, it's packing 135 millimeters of travel from Santa Cruz's VPP suspension, which sports an upper-link driven shock in this configuration for an optimal mixture of pedaling efficiency and excellent bottom-out resistance on rowdy descents. 135 millimeters of travel (that's approximately 5.3 inches) optimizes the standard Hightower for aggressive trail riders seeking a well-balanced feel that'll quickly scoot uphill and conquer technical descents, but without it being too much bike for many riders like some long-travel 29ers.
This iteration of VPP uses an upper box-style link attaching to the top tube for greater stiffness and increased stand-over clearance. The lower link sits neatly above the bottom bracket, protecting it from damaging rock strikes when you're riding the Hightower like a monster truck over loose rocks and trail debris. The VPP suspension is more sensitive off-the-top than older versions (especially with FOX's EVOL air canister), making it better at absorbing small bumps on the trail and laying down serious traction on rocky climbs. The mid-stroke is more linear than for a more active feel until the end-stroke, at which point it ramps up considerably to prevent bottoming out on bigger hits.
- Santa Cruz's premiere 29er for aggressive trail riding
- 135mm of VPP travel pedals efficiently and resists bottoming out
- Balanced geometry for lung-busting climbs and scorching descents
- Carbon C frame offers impressive levels of stiffness and strength
- Flip-chip swaps 29in for 27.5+ wheels without altering the geometry
- Rear triangle clears up to 3.0-inch tire in the 27.5+ configuration
- FOX 36 Performance fork tames bigger hits and smooths out rocky trails
- SRAM GX Eagle 1x12 drivetrain offers a massive range of usable gears