We've known about this one for some time. Well, not true. But we've thought about it. "If it's not 29, don't talk to me about it," Bike's former publisher said when first hearing of the then-revised Bronson touting its lower-link-mounted VPP design—at the time, we were very suspicious that a long-legged 29-inch bowling ball may be joining the fray instead.
Nomad 29, that's what everybody thought—almost hissed in incessant whispers—and it isn't that, sorry. The Megatower isn't just a Nomad crammed with 29-inch wheels. And it also isn't a once-again revisited Hightower, re-travel-ified for the third time. It's altogether different, altogether its own.
So, what does it own up to? Every-thing you want so long as you long for speed. It's 160 millimeters matched to a reduced-offset 160-millimeter fork with room for more, coil-shock compatible, flip-chip equipped with as much emphasis on a change in leverage ratio as in geo, eerily quiet through the loudest chatter and damn fun.
It's 64.7 or 65 up front, with a 76.3 or 76.6 seat angle. When flipped, it drops or gains 3.5 millimeters of bottom-bracket height. It fits a full-size, real, 24-ounce water bottle within its front triangle while politely accommodating piggybacks. It can either have 436 or 447 millimeters of chainstay pending flip chip no. 2's orientation.
Is it every-thing you want? All for $10? No, not even tens of dollars, but thankfully not tens of thousands of dollars. It's Santa Cruz priced with Santa Cruz spec—so, you pay for it, but you get smart choices too: Our size-XL CC-X01-Reserve-30 edition flaunted a Fox 36 Float Performance Elite fork with our favorite Grip2 damper, RockShox Super Deluxe RCT metric-sized shock with a bearing eyelet, wide Santa Cruz carbon bars that felt greater than 820 millimeters, Code RSC brakes, 200-millimeter rotors, Reserve 30 carbon 28-hole rims, a 170-millimeter-drop Reverb, X01 drivetrain with a carbon X01 Eagle crank and DT Swiss 350 hubs. All of the utmost in quality, without just throwing money at it. It weighed 31.7 pounds without pedals. Not heavy, not light.
More importantly, how'd it ride? We liked it, a lot. It's one of those bikes that's happier the faster it goes—duh—but even though it's long, and damn it was long with a wheelbase of 1,260 millimeters for the XL (or 1,270 with the chainstay flip chip in long), it still has an energetic feel to it at lower, normal-esque speeds. I rode it in 'high' mode in the 436-millimeter chainstay setting in Marin County, wading through wiggles steamboating a barge forcefully through twists narrower than the Mississippi, wondering what the hell I was doing.
Then I got used to it. You really can maneuver the Megatower—even in a size XL, even with wide rims and rubber—even with 160 millimeters on either end. It responds quickly to rider input, perhaps because of how centered the rider positioning is, also due to the lively feel of the rear suspension. Both Travis (Bike's gear editor) and I ran the Megatower's Super Deluxe rebound almost fully open, it just feels right. And it also gives the big bike playful handling that isn't forced. It's lighthearted nature—which somehow begs hunting for fun on the trail's edges while blurring past them—gives it a sense of agility I wouldn't ever expect from a wheelbase this decisively long. Whatever it is, it works, and it doesn't feel like you have to wage a war against the Megatower to command a turn. You can ride like a normal person.
Travis rode it in the big-rock strewn, haphazardly steep southern California San Gabriel Mountains and he, too, enjoyed the wide-open rebound setting. It seems to complement it and he preferred running the Megatower in the flip chip's 'low' setting.
Climbing isn't bad, it's good—not exceptional—but you have to put on your reality lenses: You can't park your Ford SVT Raptor in the subcompact, electric-only spot at the no-feelings-hurt grocery store, some things aren't meant to be, despite science. Even still, the Megatower doesn't wallow and it feels the most like a DW-linked hoverbike that I've ever felt on a Santa Cruz—there's a supportive float to the mid-stroke that just allows you to keep pedaling along unperturbed, even as the wheels are tracking over and up technical chunder. And I couldn't feel the on/off chain-tension induced trait of older VPP iterations.
Cornering the Megatower feels very even and predictable, while still having a long, 490-millimeter reach, meaning that despite the roomy measurement, you don't have to actively move your hips and trunk forward on the toptube to weight the front end. This might be due to the matched 160/160 travel pairing. Again, this is a bike that you can just ride, you don't have to learn to ride it all over again yet at the same time it doesn't feel blandly pedestrian; it's from the future, but not annoyingly so.
Speaking of future, at this point, Santa Cruz isn't planning to do an aluminum version. To somewhat round out options, there will be a slightly less expensive and slightly heavier 'C' level carbon frame, and at least one Megatower C build will arrive with a coil shock. Another omission is a Juliana version to mirror the Megatower, which as of now won't exist.
So where does this leave us? Santa Cruz has entered the playing field with an option right where it needs to be—it's modern in every aspect, through and through—but it's rideable without feeling scaled back, and without any question that it won't limit anyone. Blindly round a fast corner to find the trail decimated with erosive ruts and so long as you can hang on and loosely suck things up, you'll batter your way through, explosion evaded.
When bikes enter a crowded and highly contested segment seemingly late, we always wonder—will it be too far off the futuristic, progressive front, or still huffing and puffing in trying to catch up to its riding buddies, carrying along its old geometry and past trends. With the Megatower, it's exactly where it needs to be.