The New Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride Report

FIRST RIDE

2022.5 SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER

First Ride by Dario DiGiulio
Photos by Ian Stowe & Dario DiGiulio

I was lucky enough to be invited to my first press camp, hosted by Santa Cruz Bicycles in the misty hills of Oakridge, Oregon, to put the new Hightower through its paces, and have been riding the bike for the few weeks following the event to figure out whether or not they’ve hit their mark. For the 2022 model year, the Santa Cruz Hightower received a few refinements and tweaks, but its core character remains the same on paper. One update I was very happy to see is a more balanced geometry chart across sizes, thanks in part to the size-specific rear triangle that sees chainstay lengths grow to match the reach. The VPP linkage of the Hightower has been tweaked for the 3rd iteration of the frame, with a focus on pedaling dynamics, early-travel shock sensitivity, and consistent support. Without getting too caught up in the charts and math, they’re looking to maximize the all-around nature of this bike without biasing it too strongly in any direction – all good things. One odd tweak to the frame is the switch to smaller pivot hardware, which is now the same size as the Tallboy. I suspect this was done for weight savings, but those smaller pivot axles have been known to bend under extreme loads, so I’m curious to see how things shake out long term.

The fit and finish of the frame is classic Santa Cruz, with a simple and high quality look and feel. The Translucent Purple paint job on my frame is gorgeous – maybe my favorite in the game right now – and the alternative Matte Evergreen option ain’t too shabby either. I was privileged to ride the highest-end option, which carries a price tag that makes me a bit nervous when thinking about what sort of abuse I’ve been throwing at this bike.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride Report

I don’t know if there was much intent behind the decision, but the trails in and around the press camp trails in Oakridge, Oregon proved to be the perfect use case for the bike. With smooth and fast singletrack and lots of fun little side hits to keep things interesting, the new Santa Cruz Hightower proved to be fully in its element. The experience itself was amazing, and spending time getting to know the bike was icing on the cake. That was just a first taste, though, and I’ve been putting the V3 Hightower through its paces on my home trails here in Bellingham, Washington, where the flavor is distinctly spicier than Central Oregon’s offerings. Despite Santa Cruz referring to the Hightower strictly as a mountain bike, I’m willing to call it a modern trail bike, with a 50/50 split in its desire to go up and down.

On trail, the bike reminds you of that fact with a peppy climbing feel, thanks in part to the low weight of the high-end build kit, as well as the relatively high anti-squat the linkage delivers. I’ve found that anytime you’re ripping up a forest service road, the scenery goes by pretty quickly – the pedaling is smooth and putting down power is easy thanks to the upright body position of the geometry. When climbing looser, trickier singletrack sections, you still reap the benefits of that body position, though the sporty rear suspension feel can be a little short on traction compared to bikes with lower anti-squat. That supportive suspension makes for a back end that pumps better than any bike I’ve ridden recently; the Hightower can manufacture speed in rolly, pumptrack sections of trail remarkably well.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride Report

When the going gets rough, that support comes at a bit of a price, as the back-end can feel a bit chopped up when pushing in successive big hits. By no means is the bike a slouch in these conditions, you just won’t mistake it for a speed-focused plow bike in that context. In some ways, this is what I’ve really liked about riding the Hightower: it’s a bike that encourages you to pump more, hop root mats and rock gardens as opposed to pushing through them, and generally keeps riding fun and lively. On one-off hits – be it bigger drops or gaps – the support you get from the bike feels fantastic. It brushes off deep compressions very well and keeps you upright and ready to keep charging. This has made it a favorite companion on many of the smoother jump/flow trails we have access to in our trail systems.

It’s long-mission approved, as I was able to hammer out some pretty lengthy days on the bike, aided by the Glovebox, which is an ever-handy stash spot to lighten your pack load. Worth noting is the size of the hatch door, as it’s noticeably smaller than the SWAT found on Specialized frames, and can’t fit a 100cc OneUp pump, which is my go-to companion for trailside fixes. That being said, the Tool Wallet and Tube Purse that come in the frame are excellent little totes, and keep your stuff organized and quiet from rattling around, which Specialized’s SWAT bag does not.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride Report

BUILD NOTES

At nearly eleven grand, there better not be many upgrades to make right off the bat, and luckily in the case of this top-tier spec, there aren’t. There’s really only one thing I’d change right away, and that’s the tire choice to suit my local trails. EXO casing DHRIIs front and rear is a little bold on a bike meant to go fast on varied terrain. Even though you may be able to get away with it, it’s nice to have the reassurance and sidewall support of a meatier tire, or perhaps a light insert like Tannus or Rimpact. On just one of our laps at the press camp in Oakridge, there were five flats among the group, which speaks volumes of the bike’s ability vs. that of the light casing tires. That being said, the DHRII is a killer front tire: lean hard and dig in. Otherwise, things are pretty bang-on. I think the 180 rotors might ruffle some feathers, but this isn’t an enduro bike, and even after sustained steep burner descents I was getting pretty good bite out of the Code RSCs. You can always go bigger, but the nature of the bike is definitely more oriented towards descents where you aren’t on the brakes constantly.

I only had one problem with the main components on the bike, and it was an immediately puzzling feeling in the Fox 36 Factory fork. Right off the bat, it felt harsh and a little unpredictable, which struck me as odd given how well I’ve had them perform in the past. After a lot of futzing around, I realized it was a problem with the air spring, where it was clear that whoever assembled the fork had shoved about 10x the amount of grease required. This was causing the transfer port and pistons to pack up, and when I cleaned things up the 36 was back to acting as it should. I’ve seen this problem with a good number of Fox forks recently, no matter if it’s OEM or aftermarket, so hopefully someone there can keep watch on the grease tub to keep things in check.

Though I’ve only ridden it on this bike so far, I’m impressed by the new RockShox Super Deluxe. The clicks are few, but significant, and the build quality is top notch. It’s been extremely consistent over many miles of riding so far, and compliments this bike well. I’m looking forward to putting more miles on the Hightower in the long term and hoping to get a similar unit on my personal bike to see how it is back-to-back with the competition, but so far so good. The top-spec bike tested rolls on Reserve 30 HD wheels, and I’m a huge fan. So far they’ve held up to abuse remarkably well, and the ride quality is very good considering their focus on reliability over all else. I look forward to seeing how they hold up over the long term, as initial impressions are great.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride Report

The Wolf’s First Impression

After the extended first ride period, it’s clear that Santa Cruz has done a great job of modernizing the quintessential mountain bike. It’s not laser-focused on any one discipline, it’s not a trail-numbing rally truck, but it’s just a good bike for mountain biking. I’ve certainly enjoyed my time on it thus far, and I’m excited to get more miles on it to see how things hold up. I’m not rolling it out of the garage for the heaviest terrain around, but when I’m heading out for a pedal in the woods, it’s proving to be a good companion, so if that’s your jam, give this bike a check

For more information, visit Santacruzbicycles.com or keep scrolling for the press release.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

SANTA CRUZ BICYCLES

THE NEW HIGHTOWER

THE MOUNTAIN BIKE, DISTILLED

The Hightower is just a bike designed for all-terrain riding. You know, going up, down, along, around and over on trails, tracks and anything gritty, dirty, rough and fun. 145mm rear travel (150mm-travel fork), easy rolling 29-inch wheels and confidence-inspiring geometry means anywhere tires will roll then so will this bike. No fussing, no nonsense, no silly category names.

The Hightower’s geometry changes help modernize the bike without overstepping its intentions. We increased reach numbers to match the fit of our recent models, while also implementing our size specific chain stays for a better fore/aft balance across the size range. We slackened the head tube angle to help stability at speed, lowered the bottom bracket to compliment the better supported suspension, and increased stack in favor of modern handlebar setups. Our size-specific frame stiffness standards help tie together our ride quality goals by achieving a tailored front triangle flex characteristic for every size.

Balancing stiffness and weight saving in all the right places is a hallmark of all Santa Cruz carbon frames and the Hightower flies the flag yet higher. Our size-specific frame stiffness standards help tie together our ride quality goals by achieving a tailored front triangle flex/stiffness characteristic for every size, and this feature is found on both C and CC carbon.

The leverage on Hightower is more linear and more progressive than its predecessor. The straighter leverage curve helps improve the consistency of the stroke feel and quality of damping, while the progression increases support and bottom out resistance.

The frame also features a Glovebox and comes with two handy bags – Tool Wallet and Tube Purse. The water bottle cage is located inside the main frame, there’s a threaded BB and the refined cable routing makes for better shifting performance, simpler installation, and less frame wear. And now a sag window that will help riders see where the red ring is sitting on their rear shock.

A lifetime frame warranty and lifetime pivot bearing replacement policy should reassure riders that a Santa Cruz is designed to keep going and going.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

DESIGN DETAILS

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

29-inch wheels mean maximum rollover, traction, and trust.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

The Glovebox keeps your essentials within reach, including your driving gloves. Also comes with a Tool Wallet and Tube Purse for keeping things organized.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

145mm in the rear paired with 150mm up front. While more might be tempting, if you’re looking for something for nearly anyone’s local trails, then say hello to a Hightower.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

Chainstay length and seat tube angle is matched to the frame size so every rider, no matter their height, gets the same balanced geometry.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower
The New Santa Cruz Hightower

SENSITIVITY & SUPPORT

Compared to the Hightower 2, we reduced the anti-squat in the first 40% of travel. This noticeably improves suspension sensitivity in both climbing and descending scenarios due to reduced chain influence on the suspension.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

SUPPORT & CONSISTENCY

The leverage curve is slightly straighter than the previous Hightower, with added progression towards the end of the travel. This provides improved bottom-out resistance with more consistent damping and support.

The New Santa Cruz Hightower
The New Santa Cruz Hightower
Santa Cruz Hightower C R

SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER C – R

MSRP: $5,499

Frame: Carbon C 29″ 145mm Travel VPP™
Shock: FOX Float Performance DPS 210×55
Fork: RockShox Lyrik Base, 150mm

Derailleur: SRAM NX Eagle, 12spd
Shifter: SRAM NX Eagle, 12spd
Crankset: SRAM Descendant Eagle 148 DUB 30t
Cassette: SRAM PG1230, 12spd, 11-50t
Chain: SRAM NX Eagle, 12spd
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB 68/73mm Threaded BB

Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxTerra, EXO, TR
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxGrip, EXO, TR
Sealant: Reserve Tubeless Sealant
Front Hub: SRAM MTH 716, 15×110, Torque Cap, 32h
Rear Hub: SRAM MTH 746, 12×148, 32h
Rims: RaceFace AR Offset 30 29″
Front Rotor: Avid Centerline 200mm
Rear Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm

Brake: SRAM G2 R
Headset: Cane Creek 10 IS Integrated Headset
Handlebar: RaceFace Aeffect R, 780mm
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3, 42mm
Saddle: WTB Silverado Medium CroMo
Seatpost: SDG Tellis Dropper, 31.6

Santa Cruz Hightower C S

SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER C – S

MSRP: $6,799

Frame: Carbon C 29″ 145mm Travel VPP™
Shock: Rockshox Super Deluxe Select+ 210×55
Fork: FOX 36 Float Performance, 150mm

Derailleur: SRAM GX Eagle, 12spd
Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle, 12spd
Crankset: SRAM GX Eagle 148 DUB 30t
Cassette: SRAM XG1275 Eagle, 12spd, 10-50t
Chain: SRAM GX Eagle, 12spd
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB 68/73mm Threaded BB

Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxTerra, EXO, TR
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxGrip, EXO, TR
Sealant: Reserve Tubeless Sealant
Front Hub: DT Swiss 370, 15×110, 28h
Rear Hub: DT Swiss 370, 12×148, XD, 36t, 28h
Rims: RaceFace AR Offset 30 29″
Front Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm
Rear Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm

Front Brake: SRAM Code R
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated Headset
Handlebar: Burgtec RideWide Alloy Bar, 800mm
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3, 42mm
Saddle: WTB Silverado Medium CroMo
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6

Santa Cruz Hightower C GX

SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER C – GX AXS | GX AXS RSV

MSRP: $8,499 | $9,799

Frame: Carbon C 29″ 145mm Travel VPP™
Shock: Rockshox Super Deluxe Select+ 210×55
Fork: FOX 36 Float Performance Elite, 150mm

Derailleur: SRAM GX AXS Eagle, 12spd
Shifter: GX AXS Controller w/ Rocker Paddle
Crankset: SRAM GX Eagle 148 DUB 32t
Cassette: SRAM XG1275 Eagle, 12spd, 10-50t
Chain: SRAM GX Eagle, 12spd
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB 68/73mm Threaded BB

Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxTerra, EXO, TR
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxGrip, EXO, TR
Sealant: Reserve Tubeless Sealant
Front Hub: i9 1/1, 15×110, 28h
Rear Hub: i9 1/1, 12×148, XD, 28h
Rims / GX AXS: RaceFace ARC Offset 30 29″
Rims / GX AXS RSV: Reserve 30|HD 29″, 28h
Front Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm
Rear Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm

Front Brake: SRAM Code RS
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated Headset
Handlebar: Santa Cruz 35 Carbon Bar, 800mm
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3, 42mm
Saddle: WTB Silverado Medium CroMo
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6

Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 AXS RSV

SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER CC – X01 | X01 AXS RSV

MSRP: $8,799 | $10,699

Frame: Carbon CC 29″ 145mm Travel VPP™
Shock: Rockshox Super Deluxe Ultimate 210×55
Fork: FOX 36 Float Factory, 150mm

Derailleur / X01: SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
Derailleur / X01 AXS RSV: SRAM X01 Eagle AXS, 12spd
Shifter / X01: SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
Shifter / X01 AXS RSV: GX AXS Controller w/ Rocker Paddle
Crankset: SRAM X1 Eagle Carbon 148 DUB 32t
Cassette: SRAM XG1295 Eagle, 12spd, 10-50t
Chain: SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
Bottom Bracket: SRAM DUB 68/73mm Threaded BB

Rear Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxTerra, EXO, TR
Front Tire: Maxxis Minion DHR II 29″x2.4″, 3C MaxxGrip, EXO, TR
Sealant: Reserve Tubeless Sealant
Front Hub: i9 1/1, 15×110, 28h
Rear Hub: i9 1/1, 12×148, XD, 28h
Rims / X01: RaceFace ARC Offset 30 29″
Rims / X01 AXS RSV: Reserve 30|HD 29″, 28h
Front Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm
Rear Rotor: Avid Centerline 180mm

Front Brake: SRAM Code RSC
Headset: Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated Headset
Handlebar: Santa Cruz 35 Carbon Bar, 800mm
Stem: Burgtec Enduro MK3, 42mm
Saddle: WTB Silverad Medium Ti
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth, 31.6

The New Santa Cruz Hightower

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