Santa Cruz Bicycles certainly took its time arriving at the Hightower LT Carbon CC 29 complete mountain bike, which is built here in its superlative build: SRAM's XX1 Eagle and SC's own Reserve carbon wheels. We obviously aren't privy to the secret goings on in SC design studio, but we suspect that the Hightower LT's enduro-specific upgrades are partially responsible for the latest Nomad's return to the freeride party bike scene. The Hightower LT's wagon wheel platform and big-hit eagerness makes it SC's enduro race bike of choice, so the Nomad isn't expected to carry that torch anymore and can get back to playing. Those are big shoes to fill, but—in our experience on the Hightower LT—we're convinced that it more than does the trick. The Nomad likes to play in terrain; the Hightower LT simply runs roughshod over it.
Where the original Hightower could be rightly considered an exercise in versatility, the Hightower LT takes a somewhat more focused approach. After all, the LT was born of the needs of Santa Cruz’s enduro racers, who are perhaps uniquely qualified to push even the supremely capable Hightower outside of its comfort zone. The first ask was more travel, bumping the LT up to 150mm. This necessitated a few changes, most notably in the rear triangle, which forgoes the Hightower’s 27.5+ compatibility. Considering that Plus tires have yet to find acceptance with racers at the sport’s top levels, we’re inclined to agree that the Hightower LT’s move to a dedicated 29-inch chassis is the correct choice for a bike of this nature. This dedication to 29-inch wheels also means that the LT does away with the Hightower’s adjustable geometry in favor of a fixed position upper link that’s been updated to provide the aggressive feel demanded by some of the world's fastest enduro racers.
The LT’s 150mm of travel has been painstakingly refined, drawing lessons from every aspect of Santa Cruz’s enviable racing organization. As with all VPP bikes, the LT’s counter-rotating links are carefully arranged to resist activation by pedaling forces, all but eliminating unwanted bobbing under power. This being the latest iteration of VPP, it’s tuned to provide more midstroke support than previous generations of the VPP platform, giving the rider a better feel for the terrain, and a slightly more energetic ride feel. Based on feedback from team riders, the leverage ratio has been altered slightly, lending more progression at the end of the stroke, for greater resistance to bottoming. It’s a subtle change that’s easily appreciated at maximum speed, when avoiding hard impacts and flat landings is occasionally out of the question.
The LT is born and bred for the grueling format of elite-level enduro racing, but while it’s certainly at home between ribbons of course tape, it's far from a one-trick-pony. Looking at the geometry chart reveals a machine that’s very similar to the original Hightower, a bike that’s been praised for its restraint in the face of the trend toward extreme geometry. Plenty of 29-inch enduro bikes push head angles and wheelbase measurements much farther than the Hightower LT. By comparison, the LT retains a lighter steering feel that makes for quicker turn initiation, and an overall spritelier feel than some other bikes in its category.
That said, the LT is certainly not scared when the terrain turns steep and rough. At 66.4 degrees, the head angle is relaxed enough to maintain stability at eyewatering velocity. The chainstays are lengthened ever-so-slightly to 438mm, which lends a more relaxed demeanor and applies slightly more pressure to the front wheel, further enhancing the LT’s balanced feel. This is a machine that will encourage you to push the envelope, but it won’t punish you for riding at a less than world class pace.
The Hightower LT is built using Santa Cruz’s top tier CC carbon fiber construction. By using some of the finest, and strongest, raw materials available, Santa Cruz is able to make its CC level frames extremely lightweight, while maintaining outstanding impact resistance, exceptional stiffness, and just the right amount of finely tuned flex to cancel out trail chatter. Of course, balancing these factors requires true mastery of carbon fiber, and the design team at Santa Cruz has proven time and time again that their command of carbon fiber construction is unsurpassed in the bike industry. The result is a frame that will hold up to years of hard riding, will provide a comfortable ride, and will do so at a very competitive weight.
Finally, the build kit deserves a brief nod. SRAM's XX1 Eagle is the blingiest drivetrain on dirt, and its comically large granny gear means you'll almost always have the means to get up a climb and get onto the next descent. This version of the LT also rolls on Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon rims, which engage at 3 degrees of pedal movement courtesy of Industry Nine's Torch hubs. The Reserve rims showcase Santa Cruz’s carbon fiber expertise, with a highly refined profile and reinforced nipple beads that all-but eliminate any chance of failure. Should you defy those odds, the Reserve rims are backed by a no-nonsense lifetime warranty, just like Santa Cruz’s carbon fiber frames.
- The new standard for wagon wheel enduro bikes
- 6in of VPP travel tuned to demolish courses
- Geometry is longer and slacker than the original Hightower
- Industry-leading carbon construction makes no compromises
- All-new rims built in-house and laced to I9's Torch hubs
- SRAM's top-tier Eagle drivetrain ensures you'll always have a bail out gear