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It may not feature SRAM's top-end Eagle drivetrain, but the Hightower Carbon 29 S Complete Mountain Bike still has the same long, low geometry and peculiar flip chip shock mount system as its more expensive, X01- and XX1-equipped stablemates. It's also got the added stiffness of Boost axles, which improve the spokes' bracing angle and net a bump in wheel stiffness, addressing the main concern we've had with noodly 29ers over the years. The industry has recently been dabbling in the world of low-travel 29ers that ride more like trail bikes, but the surprisingly capable Hightower pushes that trend into the all-mountain world, adding rock gardens and heavily latticed root systems to the wagon wheel menu.
Though the Hightower's mid-range, 5.3in travel and 29in wheels may initially inspire 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 again dip into the lore of North American ball sports for an analogy: the Hightower isn't a gangly hoopster so much as a two-wheeled version of a predatory linebacker.
The frame's 67-degree head tube sits on the slack end of moderate, so it pairs with the frame's long, enduro-minded reach, chainstays that are 15mm stubbier than the Tallboy, and the latest generation of Virtual Pivot Point travel for a machine that isn't afraid of trail furniture or grades. It's a helluva lot faster over light terrain and rocky climbs than bikes like the Bronson, but it's still capable of cleaning lines that would make the steep-angled Tallboy befoul its long-legged pants. For the time when discretion is the better part of not bailing, the stubby chainstays mean it can also dice techy sections like a bike with smaller wheels—all of which means that 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. While the big hit benefits are obvious, the Hightower's Nomad DNA also results in repositioned links, which may be why the it 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.
The Hightower's suspension is essentially the same VPP we've seen on the Bronson 2.0 and 5010 2.0 models, just optimized for 29ers and 27.5+ tires. 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 pick 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.
Santa Cruz's Carbon C frame construction remains unchanged, so the Hightower enjoys the same durability and stiffness of previous generations. Santa Cruz uses a single layup for both triangles instead of a jigsaw puzzle of individually cured carbon tubes, allowing the engineers to wrap the fibers continuously around structurally important junctures like the head tube and bottom bracket. This continuous wrapping strengthens the frame, dissipates the force from impacts, and more efficiently channels pedal input. Efficiency, durability, and even a touch of weight loss compared to building with individual tubes—the advantages of Santa Cruz's construction methods go some way toward eliding the differences between Carbon C and Carbon CC.
As you've no doubt gathered from the above, we're big fans of what the Hightower is capable of when run as a 29er; however, we do also love the plushness of 27.5+ tires. Sometimes this can be logically rationalized—for riding in snow or sand, for example—but often it comes down to pure impulse. If you can relate, then you'll be pleased to note that the little flip chip niblet that sits in the upper link allows the shock mount to migrate, effectively accounting for the 9mm difference in radii between 27.5+ and 29in tires. It keeps the geometry as static as possible while allowing the Hightower to serve as three-season race rocket and, come winter, a 27.5+ sleigh ride machine.
- A trail bike that proves 29ers drop in as well as they climb
- V10-inspired chassis with lower-link mounted coil shock
- Adjustable flip-chip with high and low geometry settings
- Seat tube angle keeps your engine over the pedals
- Longer reach shifts weight forward for better traction
- Protective elements maintain pristine form and function
- Build kit features SRAM's workhorse Eagle one-by drivetrain
- Carbon frame and threaded BB combines the best of new and old tech
- Item #SNZ00E2
- Q & A
- Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
Haters would say that love at first sight doesn't exist. After meeting the Hightower, I beg to differ. I love everything about this bike- from the suspension (which actually comes stock with 140mm travel in the front on the 29er version- the tech specs above are wrong), to the 1-by drive train, to the 29 inch wheels. This is my first 29er, and I don't think I will ever ride a 27.5" tire again. I am tall (6'4) and the 29 inch wheels feel SO much more comfortable than my last 27.5" bike. All of my concerns about the bike feeling bulky and having a bad turning radius went out the window within the first five minutes of my first trail ride. This thing blasts high speed downhills, rock gardens, and feels comfortable in the air. But my favorite part about this bike is it's ability pedal. For a pretty heavily equipped trail bike, the hightower cruises uphill and never feels bulky or cumbersome. All around incredible bike- truly my favorite piece of two wheeled equipment I have ever owned.
I am 6'4, 175 lbs and got the size XL. I have been happy with this size choice.
Go Fast Do Wheelies
- Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
I am 5'11" and have a 32" inseam. I ride a size large with a 50mm stem and it fits perfectly. I am riding in Salt Lake City/Park City and Moab/Fruita come the shoulder seasons. I came off a large Yeti SB5.5 for frame of reference, just wanted to try something new.
While this is a review of my semi custom build from the 2018 frame, it should give some frame of reference for if you're considering the Hightower. as there is no change except for its paint job for 2019. I have it set up with a 150mm fork and 29" wheels in the high chip setting. I figured I wanted a bit snappier of a feeling bike, but still feel like it has plenty of travel for more of the stuff around here.
I build my large C frame up with Santa Cruz Reserve 30 i9 wheels paired with a Maxxis Minion DHF 29" x 2.5" front and Minion DHR 29" x 2.3" double down rear, GX Eagle drivetrain, Guide RSC brakes, Fox Performance Elite Float 36 & Float DPS suspension, Rockshox Reverb 150mm, Raceface Turbine cranks Deity Copperhead 50mm stem, and 780mm Santa Cruz Flat bars. Also have a OneUp bashguard & chainguide, aluminum pedals, and the cherry on top, their EDC tool. With this build, it comes in at 31.5lbs. Not the lightest build out there, but its built beefy and with workhorse components. I did put on custom Santa Cruz and Fox decals to give it my own personal flair, but both are available on our site and could give your build a bit of bling.
I think it climbs decently. It doesn't have the liveliness that the SB5.5 does when climbing with the rear shock wide open,. Maybe I could tune my rear shock a bit more on the Hightower, but still think that would hold true. It doesn't have an immediate supportive feel, but I should say it doesn't feel inefficient. I often climb in the "trail" or "lockout" setting and it'll climb much better than wide open.
With that said, it smashes on the downhill. I was surprised to find how deep feeling the 135mm of rear travel felt. I spent a few days smashing Angel Fire's bike park and only a few times did it feel undergunned in the amount of travel. I will say that going fast and pointing it through some rowdy terrain is when the Hightower comes alive. It wants to be pushed. I've been digging riding steep, loose trails with it as the traction is great and the rear tire seems to track really nicely.
I did want to give a specific shout out to the Santa Cruz reserve wheels - if you can swing it, they are pretty awesome. They're stiff (one thing i noticed on my SB5.5 with aluminum rims was tire rub on the chainstays when slappin' into corners) and have a wide internal rim width, really opening up those wide tires. I've been impressed with their durability - smashing into rock gardens without hesitations. If anything were to happen to them, they do have a lifetime warranty.
If you have any questions on the Hightower or would like to look at building your own custom build, feel free to reach me at my direct line 801.204.4547 or my email firstname.lastname@example.org
Best all mountain rig ever
- Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
Mine's a 2017. but it's the best all-around bike I've ever ridden in 30+ years of riding dirt, period. I'm 6'4" and ride an XL and this is the first bike I've felt like I'm riding "in" instead of "on top of", if that makes sense. The long wheelbase geometry has some tradeoffs, namely the low bottom bracket height which causes more pedal strikes, but you get used to it and it's worth it, IMO. It climbs and descends tough lines with ease, though I think the 2018 Eagle drivetrain with that extra gear is probably better, as the 2017 1x11 doesn't really have a true granny. I have both a 29" and a 27+ wheelset which really expands what I can use it for.