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We often describe geometry and suspension designs as "evolving," as though there's a biological aspect of their development not influenced by human engineering and that the frames themselves are somehow able to change even between product cycles. In terms of that standard industry narrative, Santa Cruz's latest model, the Hightower Carbon CC Mountain Bike Frame, definitely exhibits elements of the latest "evolution" trends, including Boost 148mm rear axle spacing, clearance for plus-size tires, short chainstays, a long reach, and a decidedly slack head tube. But. The Hightower deviates from the usual mode of static evolution in that its linkage can be altered in order to maintain its long, low, enduro geometry while mutating from a 29er to a 27.5+ rig. The Hightower is capable of evolving in real time so it's not limited to any single discipline or terrain profile.
Of all the elements of Santa Cruz genius that underwrite the Hightower's versatility, the most notable inclusion is the little flip chip niblet that sits in the upper link and rotates to allow the shock mount to migrate. 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.
Like 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 inspire initial comparisons with Mr. Moderate (the 5010) or SC's equivalent of a center in basketball (the Tallboy LT), Santa Cruz instead encourages us to "think of it as the Bronson's taller brother." Yep, that Bronson. Given the implied big-hit aggression of this comparison, we're compelled to dip into the lore of North American ball sports again for another analogy: the Hightower isn't a gangly hoopster so much as a two-wheeled version of a predatory linebacker.
The Hightower's 29er mode and a pair of chainstays that are 15mm stubbier than the Tallboy LT mean it's a helluva lot faster over light terrain and rocky climbs than bikes like the Bronson; however, its 67-degree head tube angle, generous tire clearance, and reworked Virtual Pivot Point suspension all mean that it's just as capable of engaging that speed on enduro descents that would make the steep-angled Tallboy befoul its long-legged pants. Whether you're into taking the direct route over the crux or the big line when dropping in, the Hightower can handle it.
SC is so intent on proving the Hightower's outsized merit over rock gardens that it actually bypassed the Bronson and went straight to the 6.5in Nomad for suspension inspiration. The result 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. Instead, it's designed to be the engine on the way up and the sled on the way down.
In the end, the Hightower is still a Santa Cruz, so it features the same Carbon CC frame construction that's ruined our tastes by giving us unrealistic expectations for how carbon should feel. For the top-tier CC frame, the engineers use a higher modulus carbon than the Carbon C model, so less material is required to hit the same strength and stiffness numbers. Less material equates to less weight, and, well, you can see where we're going with this. Climbing and pure speed both benefit when there's less mass for your engine to propel, a stiffer chassis tracks truer across the kind of terrain the Hightower will tempt you into.
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 — you guessed it — even more weight savings.
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's updated linkage means it's one-by only, which cleans up the look and really shows off that slick matte finish. It's got the usual ISCG 05 tabs and the few remaining cables all route internally, which is one particular innovation that Santa Cruz was surprisingly slow to adopt. The Hightower maintains the brand's insistence on the good ol' fashioned reliability of a threaded bottom bracket, though. More precise installation, less creaking, and increased longevity aren't the only reasons why we're glad Santa Cruz has refused to adopt the PressFit standard, but they're definitely near the top of the list.
While building the frame up, keep in mind that Santa Cruz suggests a 140mm fork for 29ers and a 150mm fork for the 27.5+ variation to ensure that changing wheel sizes produces a negligible effect on the Hightower's geometry, keeping the head tube at 67 and 66.8 degrees, respectively. In 27.5+ mode, the frame clears 2.8in tires, but three inches is pushing it. With variations between manufacturers meaning that some three inchers may not fit, we recommend staying below that threshold. While equipped with 29in wheels, clearance understandably drops, but the frame still easily clears 2.4 or 2.5in tires. Finally, remember that the Hightower rolls with the added stiffness of Boost rear hub spacing, so anything other than 148mm thru-axles are a no-go.
- Item #SNZ008R
- Q & A
Can't really ask for more
- Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
I bought a Hightower CC frame 6 months ago and built it up as a 29er with a 150mm Pike up front and carbon Nox / I-9 wheels. This is by far my favorite mountain bike ever. It climbs extremely well, even in very slow technical stuff that I expected to have trouble with due to the slack (for a 29er) head angle. And when I point it downhill, I just can't stop smiling. It's stable, the rear end is incredibly solid, and it tracks wonderfully through just about anything. And unlike my old Tallboy LTc, it likes to pop off things. More and more, I'm finding myself taking the "big line" across the top of rocks rather than avoiding them - the Hightower is easy to launch, and lands with a solid "thump" on the back side, totally under control.
The only downside I've found is that the bike encourages you to seek out more technical terrain and go frighteningly fast on descents - it makes you want to push the boundaries and it's so capable that those limits are pretty far out there.
Oh, and that's just with 29" wheels and 2.35 tires - I haven't even tried the 27+ configuration yet :-) For reference, I'm 5'8" and 150 lbs - the medium frame with a 40mm stem fits perfectly.
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 rode a 27.5+ but I would love to try out the 29'er version of the Hightower for a true comparison though, but overall really liked the bike. If you're checking out the frame, you may be interested in a custom build, hit me up and I'd be happy to work with you and get a quote for your dream build!
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 email@example.com if you have any other questions or are interested in doing a custom build!
This may be it. *edit-This Is It.
- Familiarity: I've used it several times
This may be my next bike.(Edit-This ended up being the next bike) I had a chance to take this out and was thoroughly impressed. My current ride is an Ibis Ripley which so far has been my favorite mtb I've owned. I took this shred-sled down the fairly new Big Mountain Trail @Snowbird Resort a few times. I felt like a ROCK STAR. In my mind I felt like the best mountain biker ever (far from the truth). Jumps were airing out. Cutting through rocks/roots wasn't too bad either. The short chainstays really keep this thing nimble for such a large bike. Berms felt extra Bermy. As someone with a XC background, I think this bike has converted me over to try something squishier and slacker. I would highly recommend this for anyone looking for a 29er trail bike.
Customer Account Manager-Bike
Hightower CC 27.5+ Test Ride
Demoed the Hightower in Downieville last weekend and it was a fantastic ride!
Is the reach for the large really only 17.2? I believe on the Santa Cruz website it states 17.72" reach.
Hey Bryant - You are correct that the reach for a Large Hightower frame should be 17.72" like it says on Santa Cruz's website. We will get that updated on ours. Feel free to contact me directly if you are interested in custom building a Hightower or with any additional questions.
- Kyle L. - Expert Gearhead