Momentum is your friend.
As Santa Cruz's longest travel offering with 29-inch wheels, the Hightower LT has to live up to some high expeditions, but just throw a leg over it, pedal it up to the top, drop the post and hit some rugged lines at high speed and you'll quickly realize why the bigger wheels are chosen by its Enduro World Series riders. Simply put, the Santa Cruz Hightower LT Carbon R Complete Mountain Bike is built in the likeness of its critically acclaimed Hightower, but it supercharges it with a touch more travel and slacker angles for more composure on brutal enduro race courses while still pedaling with enough urgency up extended climbs and across ridgeline trails. If you're after a bike that's no slouch on mellower after work hot laps on your closest trail network but still has the chops to tame the most demanding trails on planet earth, this is your ride.
The original Hightower defined versatility whereas the Hightower LT hit the gym and bulked up and was born of the needs of Santa Cruz’s Enduro World Series racers. It started off by bumping up the travel to 150mm which required a new rear triangle and linkage, and during that process, it forgoes the Hightower’s 27.5 Plus compatibility. Considering that Plus tires lack the durability and thus hasn't found 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, again courtesy of that flip chip, in favor of a fixed position upper link that’s been updated to provide the aggressive geometry and stiffness demanded by some of the fastest enduro racers on earth.
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 get-up-and-go 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 out on big hits. It’s a subtle change that’s easily appreciated at warp speed when avoiding hard impacts and flat landings isn't always an option.
While the LT came from the needs of the grueling format of elite-level enduro racing, and it’s no surprise that it's at home between ribbons of course tape, that's not the only place where its comfortable. Peeping the geometry chart reveals frame numbers that are not too unlike the original Hightower, a bike that’s not too extreme, leading to its excellent all-arounder status. Many 29-inch enduro bikes have head angles that are 1-2 degrees slacker and wheelbase measurements much rangier than the Hightower LT. However, that slight reservation gives the LT a lighter steering feels that's nimbler and agile than the raked out and extended sleds, and one that feels sportier not just when pushed to its limits.
That isn't to say that the LT can't hang with those bikes when the terrain turns steep and rough. At 66.4 degrees, the head angle hits a sweet spot of being relaxed enough to maintain stability at scare yourself speeds with the ability to change lines quickly as needed. The chainstays have been lengthened ever-so-slightly to 438mm, which again adds stability while traversing rutted out trails at terminal velocity. Even with its ability to comfortably go fast, it doesn’t feel like a pig everywhere else on the trail i.e. the majority of your riding.
This Hightower LT is built using Santa Cruz’s top C carbon fiber construction. By using a slightly lower modulus carbon fiber, Santa Cruz is able to make its C level frames lightweight while maintaining outstanding impact resistance, stiffness, and just the right amount of tuned chassis flex to track better through rough sections of trail. 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.
Of course, this build of the Hightower LT includes a fine smattering of bits. It begins with a worthy suspension package, courtesy of FOX and RockShox. The fork is a Revelation RC, paired with the FLOAT DPX Performance Elite air shock. This setup offers an incredibly supple stroke, easy on-the-fly adjustments, and a superior range of tuning options that allow both savvy suspension tuners and those less fussy about their setups to achieve exceptional feel with minimum effort. SRAM’s wide-ranging NX Eagle 12-speed groupset provides the right gear range necessary to tackle huge rides, while the SRAM Guide T brakes deliver the power and modulation necessary for quickly scrubbing speed on technical sections of trail. The Race Face Aeffect dropper post enables the necessary on-the-fly saddle height adjustment, while its handlebar offers plenty of leverage offering control at any speed.
- Santa Cruz's EWS inspired frame for composure when you need it
- 6in of VPP travel tuned for extra bottom-out resistance
- 74-degree seat tube angle optimizes technical climbing
- A lower CG provides surefooted cornering
- Carbon C frame money without sacrificing strength or stiffness
- NX Eagle drivetrain further adds value and durability