Rutland Cycling Verdict
"A light, agile, and composed bike, which provides ultimate grip for all situations"
Features: 135mm rear travel Rock Shox Monarch RT, 150mm Rock Shox RC Pikes, 2.8 inch Maxxis tyres, WTB i45 Scraper rims with Hope Pro4 hubs, Race Face finishing kit.
Highlights: Immense Grip, Stable and confident at speed, Climbs well
Lowlights: Delicate Maxxis side walls, Lack of front triangle space for larger water bottles.
Santa Cruz bikes have always had a bit of a cult following. It has a reputation in the mountain biking world for being a bike company which understands bike culture and importantly a brand which has soul. This is no surprise considering the brand was founded by two legendard skateboarders Rob Roskopp and Rick Novak, and is entirely dedicated to producing high-end mountain bikes.
When Rutland Cycling got in touch and asked if I would like to review the latest Santa Cruz Hightower, I of course didn't waste any time in taking them up on the offer. I was keen to test out the latest generation of plus tyred bikes, which supposedly offer more traction on the trail. With Mountain Mayhem and Bike Park Wales in the diary, they seemed like the perfect opportunities to put this theory to the test.
The Hightower is Santa Cruz's latest bike, replacing the highly regarded Tallboy LT, and shares some strong DNA with the Bronson - Santa Cruz's much loved aggressive trail / all mountain bike. The Hightower adds 29" wheels and 27.5" plus tyre compatibility into the mix, to create a big-wheeled trail monster. The 29er "S" version shares the same frame as the 27.5" "S+" but with a few small differences. The first being that the "S+" RC Pike forks have an extra 10mm of travel - the chip in the upper link is flipped to keep the head angle at a slack 67 degrees, while maintaining the bottom bracket height. The main difference between the S and S+ models is of course the wheels. The 27.5", 45mm wide WTB Scraper rims with wide 2.8" tyres have nearly the same rolling circumference as the 29" wheels, which is why the same frame can take both wheels sizes.
In addition to offering two wheel sizes and several build specs there is also two frame options on offer, a more premium and lighter CC carbon frame or the 230g heavier C carbon frame. The bike I've tested is the heavier carbon C frame in S+ spec. The brakes on the S+ are Shimano's midrange SLX and the drive train is Sram's midrange GX, both are reliable and got on with the job of shifting and stopping in a workman like fashion. The 150mm RC Pikes and Monarch RT rear shock are again tried and tested kit and once setup to the recommended PSI and the rebound was set a few clicks slow of middle, I found they needed little to no tweaking and felt right straight out of the box. Race Face 35mm diameter 760mm wide turbine bar, 50mm short stem and Aeffect crank finish things off nicely.
With the first opportunity to really put this bike to the test being the Mountain Mayhem, a fantastic 24-hour bike race, I was apprehensive to say the least. Most participants in the race are on XC bikes, some are even hacking about on rigid single speeds. Yet here I was with a tractor tyred aggressive trail bike. Conditions throughout the race were muddy and slick, but that's where the S+ came into its own. The traction on offer from the 2.8" Maxxis tyres really pulled me through, even over rooted uphill sections that should have left me scrambling for grip. In fact, overall I was really impressed with how well the Hightower climbed, especially for a 150/135mm travel trail bike. The Hightower S+ made equally light work of going down hill. The slack 67 degree head angle in combination with a reasonably lengthy 448 reach and short 434mm chain stays all help to make the bike feel very stable and confident at speed, yet still willing to pop into a manual at will. The Hightower just encourages you to push on harder, feeling safe in the knowledge that those grippy plus sized tyres won't let you down when you need them the most. I left Mountain Mayhem on a high, not only because our mixed team of ten narrowly missed the 3rd spot, but because the bike had really pleasently surprised me.
Next up for the Hightower was Bike Park Wales. This is a fantastic, fun, magical place where vans take you up so that you can concentrate on going down. I've ridden BPW many times so I knew the Hightower would be a giggle here and it certainly didn't disappoint - once again proving it's got grip in spades and a confident swagger. However, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, proven when I lined myself up to take on a drop off that has alluded me for some time. Feeling full of confidence I put in a few pedal strokes, screamed "I hate drop offs" and sent myself over the edge. Imagine my surprise when I not only landed it, but had torn through the side wall of the Maxxis Ikon. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only puncture of the day, proving there may be something in those rumours that plus tyres are sensitive to punctures. Whilst on the subject of tyres it can take some tweaking to get the pressures right. I ran approximately 15psi in the front and 18psi in the rear, you'll find that putting too much air in makes the tyres start to feel wooden, whilst too little and they become squishy. Riding it at BPW also brought another issue to the fore, it's a tight squeeze fitting a plus tyred bike on an uplift trailer. and The only other small negative was the lack of frame space for a large drinks bottle, a small issue I know but as I like to ride without a pack I do prefer to carry a larger 750ml bottle - it did fit a small bottle though. Then there's the price. At just under £4000 it's not cheap, but at the end of the day it is a Santa Cruz. While it may seem a bit costly, I have no doubt that if you're looking for an efficient and capable companion for long days on rugged trails you won't be disappointed. I can't describe enough just how much fun this bike is.
About the reviewer: Martyn has been riding and racing mountain bikes since, well, as long as he can remember. A lover of the outdoors and a weird passion for mud, mountain biking seemed the perfect fit. Martyn runs Peterborough Mountain Bike Riders club and can be often spotted riding the trails around his home in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire.
Check out the Video Review
Want to write a review for us?
Get in touch with us via email, don't forget to include a brief bio of your riding history and the types of bikes, clothing or accessories you would be happy to review.