A seriously fun bike for aggressive trail riding and packs enough punch to endure racing
The Santa Cruz Hightower LT uses their older style VPP configuration, with the shock tucked under the top tube and driven by the upper rocker link.
Santa Cruz Hightower LT X01 CC Reserve review
Santa Cruz has grown from one of the original, small-scale, boutique US brands into one of the most popular brands full stop. It’s achieved this not on price, but by desirable looks, cool marketing and great performance.
Carbon fibre is the bulk of the Santa Cruz’s business, and its frames come in two versions, one with a lighter, more expensive fibre lay up, like the ‘CC’ frame here and the cheaper ‘C” version. The LT uses the same front end as the regular Hightower with a new rear triangle and revised rocker links to up travel from 135mm to 150mm while injecting more enduro attitude.
Adding 15mm extra bounce changes the geometry too, so both the head and seat angles lose around half a degree. It also reduces reach (flying in the face of current geometry trends) but gains a lower bottom bracket that claws back some effective space between feet and hands and adds extra cornering stability.
The VPP design can be manipulated to tune both pedalling efficiency and pure bump swallowing, with the LT leaning further towards the latter.
A Fox Float DPX2 damper is the brand’s mid-tier reservoir shock with less adjustment than a pricier X2 model on an Ibis Ripmo – yep, that’s right, £7,300 still doesn’t get you the best shock Fox offers. The DPX2 rebound circuit is best set quite open for increased suppleness and tracking, the minor trade off being a slight kickback on jumps and big square edge hits.
Up front, the Fox Float 36 suspension fork gets a FIT4 damper and EVOL air spring that increases the negative air volume to push the fork into its travel for better small bump sensitivity. Buy this bike tomorrow though, and you’ll get even more front end grip as Santa Cruz recently upgraded the fork to the excellent new Fox Grip2 36.
While some in house kit screams cost saving measure, Santa Cruz’s components are simply superb. The carbon handlebars, grips and wheels here are some of the best available at any price. The SRAM XO1 Eagle drivetrain with carbon cranks is sweet too, but the Burgtec stem isn’t as stiff as some. Also we’d prefer more braking power than the SRAM Guide disc brakes with a 180mm rear rotor on an Alpine-ready, 150mm 29er. Apparently Santa Cruz does too, as the latest model uses the brilliant Code RSC brakes with more grunt and staying power.
The Santa Cruz carbon rims have a 30mm-internal width, are roll fast and have excellent turnover. They aren’t overly stiff either, offering a damped, comfy ride with less deflection on off camber roots and rocks. The proven Minion DHR II 3C tyres have the best traction in the business, and the 2.5in Wide Trail casing inflates to an optimum profile on the 30mm rims.
The first thing you notice with the Hightower LT is the ease with which it pedals and accelerates as you make your way up a climb, even with chunky 3C tyres. With a supportive feel to the suspension, there’s minimal power loss sprinting, and exceptional climbing efficiency for a 150mm travel rig. As such the bike always feels light and agile, with the shorter sizing lending a more ‘long travel trail bike’ feel, than a pure enduro machine.
Granted the Hightower frame doesn’t not have the slackest, longest geometry and the fork has 10mm less travel than it’s rivals too, but that doesn’t hold it back any. The ride still feels solid and capable, with the suspension striking a good balance between plush and playful. The Hightower rails turns with a neutral, supportive riding position and pumps well out of berms and pocket turns for good exit speed and instant acceleration.
Sure, the older VPP rear suspension occasionally hangs up on harder square edge hits and repeat impact, so the Hightower isn’t a smash through everything bruiser, but with a more sensitive, softer touch the ride quality of the Hightower LT is agile, fast and forgiving.
It’s easy to see why the efficient Hightower LT is the first choice of many Santa Cruz sponsored athletes. It might not have the smoothness and bump swallowing capacity of the latest lower-link driven Santa Cruz bikes, but it’s still fast, versatile, comfortable and the most fun bike here. Sure current trends like super-slack geometry, reduced offset forks and steep seat angles aren’t on the menu here yet, but we didn’t really miss them with such a infectious ride quality. Ultimately, the Hightower LT is a seriously fun bike for aggressive trail riding and packs enough punch to endure racing.