Does the new Santa Cruz Hightower version have the same significance, or will it simply languish in the shadow of the Santa Cruz Megatower?

Product Overview

Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 Reserve

Pros:

  • Huge improvement over the old model. Five frame sizes means everyone can find a good fit. Lively, fun handling.

Cons:

  • Santa Cruz badge comes at a price.

Product:

Santa Cruz Hightower vs Megatower: first ride thoughts

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£7,799.00

The original Santa Cruz Hightower converted a lot of riders to 29ers, does the new version have the same significance, or will it languish in the shadow of the Megatower?

>>> Best mountain bike 2019: all you need to know

Santa Cruz Hightower CC need to know

  • Trail-focussed 29er that splits the difference between the XC Tallboy and enduro-ready Santa Cruz Megatower
  • New lower link driven shock layout for improved VPP suspension
  • 140mm rear travel, 150mm fork and adjustable geometry using flip chip
  • Choose from top end Carbon CC frame or heavier, cheaper C version
  • Alloy frame and builds also available
  • Prices from £3,099 to £9,399

Drive along our motorways and you’ll notice that it’s increasingly hard to tell one car apart from another. See one German whip and it looks identical to the next; a 3-Series BMW could be a 5-Series, an Audi A4 could be an A6 etc. Even when they’re six inches from your rear bumper, as they inevitably are, it would take Jeremy Clarkson to tell them apart.

Increasingly this seems to be happening in the mountain bike world, too. Without reading the sticker on the top tube, I’d be hard pressed to pick out a Yeti SB150 from a Yeti SB130. There’s no way I could correctly identify every model in the Trek line-up without cheating, and don’t get me started on the Evil range…

santa cruz hightower

New lower link driven shock helps improve the suspension response on longer travel models

Santa Cruz is another brand adopting an increasingly homogenous design language, with the look-a-like Santa Cruz Nomad and Santa Cruz Bronson now joined by the inseparable Megatower and Hightower.

Is this a problem? Only if each model overlaps so much in handling personality and ride quality as to make the other redundant. So, is this the case with the Hightower and Megatower? Should you put up with more travel and a burlier build on a daily basis for those occasional trips to the mountains, or should you enjoy less weight and more efficiency at home and just rein it in a little at the bike park?

santa cruz hightower

By moving the internal cable ports to the front of the head tube, the Hightower works much better with moto/UK brakes

Before I try to answer that question, here’s a quick run down of what’s new on the Hightower V2. Reconfiguring the frame, à la Nomad/Bronson/Megatower, brings improved small-bump response and mid-stroke support while making the bike easier to set-up. I say easier to set-up, but while it’s true that there’s a wider optimum sag window, it’s actually more difficult to see the O-ring now the shock is hidden within the seat tube tunnel.

By kinking the down tube, there’s enough room for a bottle cage within the main triangle, and the geometry has been comprehensively modernised over the diminutive Hightower V1. So much so, that it’s almost pointless comparing old and new as the redesigned bike is in a different league to its predecessor when it comes to sizing and geometry. But for the sake of context, the reach is longer, the head angle is slacker and seat angle steeper. Travel has been bumped up by 10mm and there’s a wider size range, alongside a women’s option; the Juliana Maverick.

santa cruz hightower

Flip chip changes BB height, head angle and increases progression

Put the Hightower and Megatower side by side and they’re two peas in a pod. And when we measured the geometry, it became clear why they look so similar; there’s almost nothing between them. We’re talking 0.1 difference in head angle, 0.3 in seat angle, 3mm in wheelbase, 1mm in bottom bracket height. This is not so much a case of splitting hairs, as splitting split ends.

santa cruz hightower

You’re no one these days without a rubbed chainstay protector

Where a sliver of light begins to leak between the two is in travel – the Megatower gets 160mm to the Hightower’s 150mm front, 140mm rear – and weight; there’s a 700g difference between the two, in the Hightower’s favour. Although the Megatower can accommodate a coil shock, it’s not an option with the Hightower’s slimmer shock tunnel.

santa cruz hightower

Short seat tubes and long dropper mean you can really hang off the back of the Hightower

How it rides

And they begin to inch further apart on the trail. Your body position is almost identical on both bikes, although the longer stem on the Hightower does pull you over the front wheel a touch more. Both bikes also pedal great, and not once did I feel the need to use the compression levers to firm up either suspension. Although the actual seat tube angles aren’t super steep, both still climb effectively and let you find traction on steep ascents. But the suspension on the Hightower seems to have a lighter touch that feels a little more in tune with the terrain when you get to the top.

santa cruz hightower

Lighter than the Megatower and almost as capable, the Hightower will be nipping at its big sibling’s heels

It’s not the most sensitive system, but it gets on with the job in hand without fuss and lets you exploit the excellent handling and geometry to really push on the descents.

In fact the handling is a real highlight; playful, rewarding, capable with the weight advantage over the Megatower really playing to those strengths on typical UK singletrack.

santa cruz hightower

Somehow the ride manages to be just as glossy as the paint

So does that leave the Megatower in the cold? Not quite. There’s a notable difference in stiffness and solidity between the two bikes that manifests in snappy turns and Scalextric ruts. And then there’s the question of travel – take the Hightower into big mountain terrain and it won’t provide quite the same comfort blanket. Heavier riders, frequent flyers and alpine addicts, then, will definitely appreciate the extra meat on the bone of the Megatower.

So, to answer our original question, there is more than meets the eye to this duo of Santa Cruz 29ers. Just as twins might seem identical from a distance, but look closely and there will be subtle differences on the surface and big differences under the skin, so the Hightower and Megatower are unique models in their own right.

Verdict

As to which one is the better bike, that's a tough question. Ultimately it comes down to how and where you ride. If you regularly hit big jumps and take on rowdy DH tracks, the Megatower is the bike for you. Prefer to ride fast, flowing or technical singletrack, but don't care about bike parks or flat-out enduro race tracks, the Hightower will be more than enough.

Details

Frame:CC carbon, 140mm travel
Shock:RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate
Fork:RockShox Lyrik Ultimate, 150mm travel
Wheels:DT 350 hubs, Santa Cruz Reserve 30 carbon rims, Maxxis Minion DHR2 3C Exo 29x2.4in tyres
Drivetrain:SRAM X1 Eagle Dub chainset 30T 170mm, SRAM X01 Eagle r-mech and shifter
Brakes:SRAM Code RSC, 180mm
Components:Race Face Ride Santa Cruz AM Carbon bar 800mm, Race Face Aeffect R stem 50mm, RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper post 170mm, WTB Silverado Team saddle bar, Race Face Turbine 60mm stem, RockShox Reverb Stealth 150mm, WTB Volt Race saddle
Sizes:S, M, L, XL, XXL
Size tested:L
Head angle:64.8°
Seat angle:68.9°
BB height (low):338mm
Chainstay:433mm
Front centre:795mm
Wheelbase:1,228mm
Down tube:737mm
Top tube:618mm
Reach:467mm
Contact:santacruzbikes.co.uk