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The 2017 Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon 27.5+ S Complete Mountain Bike inherits the same long, low geometry and unique flip chip shock mount found in its more expensive Carbon CC sibling to bring rowdy versatility at a less shocking price point. Boost axles bump up the stiffness, which means it climbs like a trail bike and blasts through all manner of terrain like an all-mountain shredder. That flip chip adds the versatility to be converted to run as a 29er with minimal impact to the geometry, but the combination of Boost axles, SRAM componentry, plush yet grippy 2.8in tires, aggressively stubby chainstays, a long reach, and a decidedly slack head tube is a stellar combination that you may never be tempted to change.
As with the ability to swap wheel sizes, the Hightower's mid-range, 5.3in travel belies its true nature. Though its travel and wheel clearance may initially inspire comparisons with the more moderate 5010 or the Tallboy LT, Santa Cruz instead encourages us to "think of it as the Bronson's taller brother." Yep, that Bronson. The 27.5+ Hightower's 66.8-degree head tube angle, generous tire clearance, and reworked Virtual Pivot Point suspension all mean that it's capable of cleaning lines that would make the steep-angled Tallboy stop in its tracks.
Santa Cruz is so intent on proving the Hightower's outsized merit over rock gardens that it bypassed the Bronson and went straight to the 6.5in Nomad for suspension inspiration. Besides the obvious big-hit benefits, one result of this is that the link stays out of the way, which may be why the Hightower can accommodate a piggyback shock and a bottle cage — yet one more indication that the Hightower isn't just for XC hardpack or enduro shuttle loops.
The Hightower's two triangles are joined by the latest generation of VPP suspension. SC refers to it in-house as VPP3, but it's essentially the same VPP we know and love with the Nomad-inspired updates mentioned above. A repositioned lower link now shelters above the bottom bracket, increasing ground clearance to decrease the chance of rock strikes while indulging the Hightower's desire to masticate scree fields and dice through the rooty, rocky, techy stuff. The upper link has also wandered up and forward, which makes for a more accommodating standover height for smaller riders wanting a huge ride, and it also stiffens the back end.
The latest VPP's changes aren't limited to wandering links, though; the system's tuning has 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 accelerations while jockeying for position in a mass start or a finishing sprint. The RockShox Monarch's ramp-up arc doesn't dramatically alter as the shock compresses, so the pedaling platform stays consistent across travel, with less wallowing, bob, and bottom-outs — even while the Boost axle's path turns rearward to absorb big hits deep in its travel.
The Hightower Carbon features a full carbon fiber frame boasting the same stiffness, durability, and strength as Santa Cruz's top-line Carbon CC frame. It's just made with a less costly carbon fiber that carries a tiny bit more weight and brings a big reduction in overall price. The frame's two carbon triangles are built as whole pieces rather than glued together from disparate bits, a method that saves weight and increases structural integrity by allowing Santa Cruz to wrap carbon continuously through and around key junctures. This process reinforces the frame with less material while eliminating the artificial stress points that result from bonded construction methods. Finally, the carbon is also compacted from the inside and the outside for a more even finish that avoids any structural defects, excess material build-up, and resin pooling for added weight savings.
Despite the appeal of 27.5+, the little flip chip niblet that sits in the upper link and allows the shock mount to migrate is pretty damn cool, and definitely warrants some attention. Being able to reposition the shock attachment point effectively accounts for the 9mm difference in radii between 27.5+ and 29in tires, keeping the geometry as static as possible across wheel sizes. There's definitely a trend in the industry towards four-inch 29ers slacked out for trail riding, but the Hightower's optional 29er incarnation pushes that trend into the all-mountain realm.
- Santa Cruz's ultimate 27.5+ trail machine
- Responsive pedaling platform with 5.3in of VPP travel
- Spacious geometry for sending bigger lines
- Flip chip allows compatibility with both 27.5+ and 29-inch wheels
- CC Carbon construction reduces weight and increases stiffness
- Santa Cruz continues to lead the industry with innovative design
- Item #SNZ00BO
- Q & A
Plus Size Trail Happiness
- Familiarity: I've used it once or twice and have initial impressions
I'm 5'11" and about 175lbs. I chose to ride a large and it fit spot on! I rode this on mostly flow trails with some chunky sections. I would love to try out the 29'er version of the Hightower for a true comparison though, but overall really liked the bike.
What I liked about the bike:
- A friend mentioned to me that Hightower's look very similar to a Nomad's suspension design. That is very true as they both use the VPP 3 suspension. It climbs pretty well when the rear shock is left open and rips on down.
- I won't lie, I still have mixed feelings on plus size bikes, but they are seriously growing on me. The amount of traction you have is pretty spectacular and you don't lose too much in terms of speed of the bike. I ran these about 19psi in the front and 20ish in the rear. Some people brag about riding them in the low teens, but if you're riding more aggressively or faster, you'll want to bump that up a bit. This is also where personal preference comes into play, but what I found to work best for my riding style. With all of that said, these corner very well and descending was a blast. I also cleaned some rocky uphills easily with the plus version of the Hightower.
- Making another note on descending with the plus size tires on the Hightower, it feels incredibly stable and planted to the trail, but doesn't love to get airborne. You absolutely can jump, but feels like it takes a bit more effort than a non plus size bike.
I felt that though the Hightower 27.5+ may not the the quickest to jump, it did feel like one of the faster bikes I've ridden in terms of descending capabilities. The 150mm/135mm is nothing to scoff at and I could rip into berms without any hesitation.
- I rode the CC X01 version, but this Carbon S would be very similar and would be the workhorse equivalent - same geo that hits a better pricepoint at only a touch heavier.
- I like the 150mm fork, makes the bike slack and fun and forgiving when you get into rowdy trail sections. I think if you could swing it, getting this and a pair of 29" hoops (I would run the 150mm fork on 29" wheels, it would slack it out by 0.4 degree and raise the BB by 3.4mm).
What I didn't like about the bike:
- Like said in the pro's for the bike, I'm still not 100% sold on plus tires, but am open to them. I think for myself personally, when psi is dropped to the low teens, you can get a rockcrawler feel, but thats also when the bike gets a touch sluggish in my opinion. I really liked these when bumping the psi up a bit. Tire pressure is something that can make or break (potentially literally for too aggressive of riding with too low of psi). Not trying to get too hung up on that, but something that can make a huge difference in how the bike handles.
If you're looking for a trail bike that doesn't mind getting rowdy and can handle some big wheels, the Hightower would be a great option for you. Feel free to reach me at 801.204.4547 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any other questions or are interested in doing a custom build!