Hightower Carbon S Reserve Complete Mountain Bike
The Hightower Carbon S Reserve Complete Mountain Bike from Santa Cruz is the perfect representation of spending money where it counts and saving it elsewhere. It may not feature SRAM's top-end Eagle drivetrain, but GX does a mighty fine job and you still get the excellent frame with long, low geometry and a flip chip shock mount system as its more expensive, X01- and XX1-equipped brothers. Also present is the stiffness enhancing Boost spacing improving the spokes' bracing angle for a stiffer chassis and wheels which virtually eliminate the often repeated complaint of 29-inch wheels. With the rest of the industry firmly on board with wagon wheels on trail bikes, we mustn't forget that Santa Cruz first dabbled with bigger wheels on the Tallboy way back in 2009.
The Hightower's mid-travel suspension at 5.3-inches and its excellent roll-over with its 29-inch wheels simply work on such a wide variety of terrain that it's one of our go-to bikes in new terrain while being an absolute hoot on familiar trails. The ideal rider is one looking for a little more aggression than you would get from a Tallboy without having to haul around the extra heft and suspension of the Hightower LT. Like a utility man in baseball, the bike can play every position and do it well.
The frame's 67-degree head tube sits on the slightly slacker side of neutral which we're fine with. We can put up with a little extra Body-English on the climbs if it means we can descend with reckless abandon. And descend it does, the latest generation of Virtual Pivot Point travel offers a plush stroke that's not afraid of trail furniture or steep grades. The big wheels cover ground a whole lot faster than anything we've ridden from the 27.5-inch crop. Other geometry highlights include stubby chainstays for dicing through techy, tight sections making us feel like we aren't giving up anything relative to smaller wheel bikes.
The Hightower's suspension is essentially the same platform we've seen on the newer upper link VPP models, just optimized for 29ers and 27.5+ tires. A repositioned lower link is sheltered above the bottom bracket, increasing ground clearance while decreasing the chance of rock strikes as you hustle through scree fields and pick your way through the rooty, rocky, technical terrain. The upper link is also higher up and forward on the top tube, providing a more accommodating standover height for smaller riders and those favoring dropper post with greater travel.
The latest VPP changes aren't limited to relocated pivots, though; the system's kinematics have also been tweaked. Where the old suspension curve described a deep "U," 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 to keep 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 quick accelerations while racing your mates or leading into a techy section. The FOX Float Performance DPS shock's ramp-up arc doesn't dramatically alter as the shock compresses, so the pedaling platform stays consistent across its travel, with less wallowing, bob, and bottom-outs — even while the Boost axle path turns rearward to absorb big hits deep in its travel. And should you ever feel the need to go full-on enduro or you fancy lift access or shuttle runs and want a more consistent, reliable shock, the frame is piggyback compatible with room for a bottle cage.
Santa Cruz's Carbon C frame construction remains the industry standard, meaning the Hightower enjoys the same durability and stiffness of previous generations. Santa Cruz uses a single layup for both triangles instead of a jigsaw puzzle of individually cured carbon tubes, allowing the engineers to wrap the fibers continuously around structurally important junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket. This continuous wrapping strengthens the frame, dissipates the force from impacts, and more efficiently channels pedal input. Even though the construction remains the same, the Carbon C version gives up a slight weight penalty versus the CC carbon, however, its wisely reinvested in its stiff, Reserve 27 carbon wheels where we all know reducing rotational weight is more meaningful while climbing and it improves the bike's overall handling.
As you can tell, we're big fans of what the Hightower is capable of when running it as a 29er, and even though Santa Cruz no longer offers a build with traction savvy 27.5+ tires, it can still be run in that configuration. Simply flip the little chip that sits at the upper link to allow the shock mount to migrate and source a 10mm longer air spring for the fork and voilà, plus compatibility. It keeps the geometry as static as possible while allowing the Hightower to gobble up miles in its 29er guise or offering a plusher ride with more traction in looser terrain in 27.5+ mode.
- A trail bike for the modern mountain biker
- Stiff carbon chassis with an upper-link mounted shock
- Adjustable flip-chip allows for high and low geometry settings
- Refined geometry works up and down the mountain
- Longer reach allows for a roomier cockpit and confident descending
- Protective frame elements maintain pristine form and function
- Build kit features SRAM's latest GX Eagle 1x drivetrain
- Threaded BB remains one of our favorite creak-free tech pieces