Mid-travel 29ers are some of the most versatile and fun bikes in the sport, and the 135-millimeter-travel Hightower is Santa Cruz's latest offering in that popular genre. The Hightower replaces the widely lauded Tallboy LTc, which was one of the first long-travel 29ers on the market.
The Hightower's full-carbon frame is built around a refined Virtual Pivot Point suspension design, features Boost front-and rear-hub spacing and is compatible with both 29-inch and 27.5+ wheels and tires. A geometry flip chip in the link that drives the shock allows the frame to accept both wheel sizes, while keeping geometry consistent. In the 'low,' or 29er setting, the Hightower is designed around a 140-millimeter-travel fork and features a 67-degree headtube angle, 17.1- inch chainstays and 13.2-inch bottom-bracket height. In order to maintain this geometry when swapping to the 27+ wheels, you'll need to flip the chip to 'high' and extend the fork travel to 150 millimeters.
Santa Cruz offers two carbon frames: C and CC. The C-level carbon is less expensive and about a half-pound heavier than the CC option. Our 'S' Hightower 29er featured the C carbon frame and packed in a ton of high-end bits for the price. Notable components include the RockShox Pike RC fork and Monarch RT shock, SRAM Guide R brakes and 11-speed drivetrain, RockShox Reverb dropper post and Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR 2 tires.
The Santa Cruz website describes the Hightower as a bike built for "straight-line speed, rallying rock gardens and sprinting out of turns," and we couldn't agree more. We loved how the Hightower made easy work of rough, high-speed descents, and found its ride characteristics to be much more planted and stable than agile or playful.
The refined VPP suspension has very little unwanted movement while pedaling, so we primarily ran the Monarch shock in the open setting. This efficiency doesn't come without compromise, though, as several testers detected a fair amount of pedal feedback while trying to navigate flat-and-chunky and uphill sections of the test course.
Q&A with Josh Kissner, Product Manager – Santa Cruz
The VPP suspension has been around for a very long time. How has the designed evolved to meet the demands of the popular aggressive trail riding genre?
We’ve certainly learned a lot in 15 years of making VPP bikes. Now in our third generation of the system, we’ve vastly increased mid-stroke support and traction at the top of the travel. The result is a much more consistent feel that breeds confidence. At the same time, we’ve shortened chainstays and fine-tuned the pedaling efficiency that made VPP famous from the beginning.
The 140mm-travel 29er category is an extremely popular, capable, and versatile category. How does the HighTower separate itself from the other contenders in this genre?
I’d say we are unique in the way we make the frame adaptable to both 27+ and 29″ wheels. The Hightower comes with a geometry adjusting upper link; which in combination with different fork travels, keeps the BB height consistent in either configuration. We’re all playing the game of millimeters, so these things matter.
Are there conditions in which you feel this bike really excel? What specific design attributes of the bike make it so?
My favorite thing about the Hightower is its incredible versatility. The geometry, suspension, and weight really straddle the line between trail and enduro, making for a bike that is fun and agile on easier trails, but certainly has no problem with fast and scary stuff too. It’s the bike you can take on pretty much any trail and be happy.
Are there any small details on the HighTower the SC crew really digs, yet may not be obvious to the casual viewer?
I’m not sure I’d call it a small detail, but we worked really hard to make the frame fit both a water bottle and a piggyback shock. It’s quite difficult to get good standover, the suspension curves that you want, and still have room for a bottle and burly shock if you want. Add this to the dual-wheel compatibility, and you have a bike that do a lot of things well.