Hightower R Complete Mountain Bike
If you browse reviews of bikes these days, you'll find the words capable, durable, and versatile thrown around left and right, and while we think these terms can be a bit overused, there are times when a bike truly ticks those boxes without any debate, and Santa Cruz's Hightower certainly seems to have set the benchmark for what an all-mountain 29er should be. When it was first released to the masses it was quickly regarded as a game changer, and now in its newest iteration has evolved into a machine that transcends categories, with new geometry and suspension to elevate capabilities whether you're pointing it uphill or down. Version 2 now comes with a bit more suspension travel front and rear, modernized geometry, and a new lower-link VPP suspension design that brings better performance across the board. It's also now available with an aluminum frame, as offered here on the Hightower R Complete Mountain Bike, giving riders the reliability of trusty ol' aluminum at a price that drops the price well below its carbon counterpart.
The newest iteration of the Hightower blows beyond its predecessors, the Hightower and Hightower LT, 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, with slacker head tube, longer wheelbase, and a steeper seat tube, plus new lower linkage that lends queues to the Nomad for total downhill stability, and a geometry flip-chip for flexibility. The result is a powerful trail bike that's capable of holding its own in the rough and rowdy, and is happy to race back up to the top for another lap.
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 descents. 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 on other bikes, 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 making any sacrifices 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 to attack miles and miles of climbing.
The bike's aluminum frame is also well-suited to exploring that edge, giving you a bit more confidence that an unplanned, unsupervised trip down a talus slope won't spell the end of its usefulness. The frame's tubes are hydroformed in order to reduce weight while maintaining strength at key junctures, a technology that's been proven in applications ranging from the aerospace industry to the past three decades of mountain biking. We know it, we trust it, and we've never felt held back by it. Additionally, you'll find a few protective bits that are greatly appreciated, including a fender to protect the rear shock, and a molded swingarm guard that virtually eliminates the annoying sound of chain slap.
- The all-new Hightower boosts confidence and capability
- Geometry is more capable than its predecessor and the Hightower LT
- Lower-link-driven VPP improves overall suspension performance
- Steeper seat tube angle is more efficient and comfortable on climbs
- 5.5-inches of rear, 6-inches of front travel soak up rough terrain
- Flip-chip adjusts headtube angle from 65.2 to 65.5 degrees
- Aluminum frame is reliable and costs $1000 less than carbon
- SRAM's NX Eagle groupset brings 12-speed gearing to pocket-friendly price