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As the premiere choice in Santa Cruz's line for conquering formidable alpine terrain, the Hightower Carbon 29 XE Complete Mountain Bike laughs in the face of chunky rock gardens threatening to end your riding season and sketchy descents where falling isn't optional. When it was first introduced, the Hightower represented the longest travel 29er in Santa Cruz's range (now supplanted by the Hightower LT), instantly making it the go-to choice for challenging terrain and high-stakes lines on the mountain. For unmatched versatility, it's configurable with either 27.5+ or 29-inch wheels, courtesy of its flip-chip located along the upper linkage. In this particular 29er set-up, you'll find the Hightower exhibits greater rollover and speed-carrying abilities with its larger wheels.
This version of the Hightower benefits from the significant weight savings of Santa Cruz's resoundingly stiff and strong Carbon C frame. If you're unaware, a stiffer frame transfers rider energy into forward momentum efficiently, giving you snappier acceleration out of corners and spirited climbing prowess when you're earning your turns. The frame's internal cable and dropper post routing lends a cleaner aesthetic, as well as protecting cables from flinging muck and dirt. It's also equipped with a BSA threaded bottom bracket for creak-free performance, especially compared to the press fit bottom brackets.
In 29er form, the Hightower solidifies itself as an aggressive trail machine with its long, low, and slack geometry inspiring confidence at high speeds. The 67-degree head tube angle (in the low 29er setting) maintains composure for opening it up swift downhill sections of trail. The longer reach and wheelbase maintain a comfortable and confident position, ensuring you're never cramped during longer rides and extended descents in the mountains. And although it's longer than many bikes in its respective class, Santa Cruz trimmed down the chainstays to a relatively short 17.1 inches for quicker cornering than what you'd expect from a bike of this category.
As you'd expect from a bike of this pedigree, it's packing Santa Cruz's VPP suspension for an efficient pedaling platform with a progressive feel as you push deep into its travel. The newest iteration of VPP is revised from older versions, with the upper link now connected to the top tube in a configuration inspired by previous generation Nomads. The lower link neatly resides above the bottom bracket, protecting it from flinging rocks and damaging strikes. The revised VPP suspension is more sensitive off-the-top stroke, making it better at absorbing small bumps on the trail and laying down traction on rocky climbs. The mid-stroke is more linear than before for greater support until the end of its travel, at which point it ramps up considerably to prevent you from harshly bottoming out.
Looking into the details of the 29 XE build, you'll find a simplified 1x11 drivetrain with a mixture of Shimano XT, Race Face, and E13 for crisp shifts over a wide range of usable gears. For those coming from a 2x set-up, you'll find there's plentiful low-end for spinning up the steepest of climbs, thanks to the cassette's 46-tooth cog. And to keep up with the Hightower's capable descending, the Fox 36 Performance Elite features a stiff chassis and 140 millimeters of supportive travel.
- Santa Cruz's premiere bike for aggressive trail riding
- 29-inch wheels rollover obstacles and carry more speed
- Carbon C frame for high levels of stiffness and strength
- 135mm of VPP suspension handles big hits and rocky descents
- Flip-chip allows you to swap between 27.5+ and 29-inch wheels
- Long, low-slung, slack geometry for high-speed composure
- Boost axle spacing for stiff wheels and greater tire clearance
- Fox 36 Performance Elite 140mm fork and 1x11 drivetrain
- Item #SNZ00E4
- Q & A
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- 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 email@example.com