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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
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.