Just a big wheel Nomad or something completely different?
Is this new Santa Cruz Megatower a big wheel Nomad or something completely different? Here’s the low-down and our first ride review thoughts.
Santa Cruz Megatower need to know
- Big wheel version of the Nomad enduro bike
- Packing 160mm travel front and rear
- Generous size range from S to XXL means fit won’t be a problem
- Flip chips at the dropout and shock link let you tune BB and chainstay length
- C frame option adds grams but saves £££ (complete bikes from £4,499)
We live in a world seemingly obsessed with hacking. And I’m not talking about influencing elections or accessing compromising cloud-based imagery. I’m referring to the trend for tarting up items of flat-pack furniture or devising the most inventive use for a zip-tie. Blame YouTube and Pinterest if you will, but there’s no escaping the irresistible urge to muck about trying to improve stuff. It’s human nature and has been going on since caveman A figured out a sharp stick was better for hunting food than caveman B’s rock.
But what on earth has hacking got to do with a new Santa Cruz? Well, the brand was ahead of the curve with a half decent 29er – the Tallboy. It then hacked that Tallboy to make the longer travel Tallboy LT. Then it decided the segment deserved its own unique model, so the Hightower was born. And, you guessed it, a few owners immediately hacked it, extending the travel by 10mm. So they released the official Santa Cruz Hightower LT version, which added a touch more travel and fixed the compromises created by the hackers. And life was good for a while, until, inevitably, proper long travel 29ers started to become a thing, and the 150mm travel Hightower LT started to look outgunned and undersized by bikes like the Yeti SB150, Scott Ransom and Specialized Stumpjumper Evo.
Santa Cruz Megatower CC XO1 Reserve review
Which brings us to the present day, and the new Megatower. A bike that, save for five letters and two 29in wheels, shares more with the current Santa Cruz Nomad and Santa Cruz Bronson than the old, and now discontinued, Hightower LT. This, then, is no hack. It’s a fully legit model in its own right. And that’s worth celebrating, for a few reasons.
Firstly the Megatower uses the lower link to drive the shock. It’s the VPP layout first seen on the Santa Cruz V10, then adapted for the Nomad, and it gives less rate change through the travel. In a nutshell, where the Hightower LT tended to fall into the mid-stroke, now there’s a nice consistent progression throughout the travel, giving more support and better bottom-out resistance. It’s also easier to set-up and there’s now sufficient ramp up to allow riders to choose between air and coil for suspension duties without compromising on end-stroke performance.
The Megatower further improves on the old Hightower LT with the fitment of a bearing at the rear eyelet of the RockShox Super Deluxe shock. This reduces breakaway friction for a more supple and active bump response. And it’s also worth noting that all the Megatower builds, as well as the frameset, come with RockShox shocks sporting the same tune, which ensures all models should ride exactly how the product managers intended.
As introduced on the Nomad, two shock positions on the lower link tune the suspension and geometry. Defined Hi and Lo, this chip actually only changes the static ride height by a minimal 3.5mm and tweaks the head angle by a smidge. However, it allows you to maintain BB position if you decide to bump up suspension fork travel to 170mm – something we can see plenty of riders considering. And should you wish to run a coil shock, the Lo position also gives you a more progressive rate.
That’s not the only flip-chip on the Megatower however. Cast your eyes to the rear dropout and you’ll see that Santa Cruz has added an adjustable chainstay length feature. By switching between the two different inserts and brake adaptors (all included with the bike) you can run either a 435 or 445mm rear centre measurement. While 10mm might not sound like much, when you consider that the Megatower size range runs from small to XXL, the front centre (BB to front axle) varies by 120mm, which has a huge impact on your weight balance. And while most brands, with a few exceptions (Mondraker, Norco, YT, Geometron) accept this compromise, being able to tune the weight distribution is a major bonus, particularly for taller riders.
Take a look at the geometry chart and you’ll see that Santa Cruz has taken a big step in the right direction with its sizing. The size large gets a 470mm reach, which seems to be the default number now and well suits riders of average height. But with two frame sizes above there’s plenty of headroom if you’re over six foot. Indeed the XXL frame has a 515mm reach – that’s the same as a large Geometron – and although the seat tube length is longer than Nicolai’s offering, there’s 20mm more standover on the Megatower.
Elsewhere the numbers sit squarely within a window that’s proven to work on a number of recent releases. The head angle runs around 65° depending on fork length and chip position while the bottom bracket can stoop just below 340mm with the stock tyres. Only the seat angle errs on the slack side. Yes, Santa Cruz lists it as 76°, but the actual seat angle on our large test bike was closer to 69°, so long legged riders running lofty saddle heights may find themselves a little further over the rear axle than optimal.
(Santa Cruz’s geometry numbers are based on a 160mm fork with a 42 or 44mm offset by the way)
It’s no deal breaker though, as the VPP pedalling DNA runs strong through the veins of the Megatower. Seated pedalling is superbly stable for such a long travel rig, and the big wheels means it covers ground between the fun bits with real efficiency, but you knew that would be the case anyway, right? Techy, steep climbs with ledges and steps are not the new bike’s forte though. Factor in 30 per cent sag and that low BB (even in its tallest position) means you’ll need precision timing to avoid pedal strikes.
Once on the fun stuff, the Megatower impressed, delivering that same leap in performance enjoyed by the Nomad and Bronson post-VPP makeover. The first thing you notice is the improved support, allowing you to pump for speed out of turns and compressions – this is especially useful in situations where the low BB prevents pedalling. We felt like we were using all the travel when needed, but never getting jarred at bottom-out. Considering the bike ships with no spacers in the shock as standard, there’s plenty of room to add progression if you feel the need. Indeed this would be something we’d like to try as the Fox 36 fork with Grip 2 damper rides high in its travel with great support, so it’s unlikely adding a spacer out back would upset the balance, and may even improve it. That’s something we’ll have to try at a later date though.
On small bumps there’s a decent, if not class-leading, level of sensitivity and while square-edge performance is significantly improved with the new lower link design, it isn’t perfect and we still hung up hard enough on one particular rock to almost drag us over the bars.
So is the Megatower a big wheel Nomad or something completely different? Well, it definitely can’t match the playful agility of the Nomad, but it’s still easy to chuck around and a good deal more efficient at covering ground. It’s much more of a head down racer’s tool than the goof ball Nomad, but it still knows how to party outside office hours.
Santa Cruz Megatower UK RRPs
- Santa Cruz Megatower C R £4,499
- Santa Cruz Megatower C S £5,399
- Santa Cruz Megatower C S Reserve £6,599
- Santa Cruz Megatower CC XO1 £6,599
- Santa Cruz Megatower CC XO1 Reserve £7,699
- Santa Cruz Megatower CC XTR Reserve £8,399
- Santa Cruz Megatower CC XX1 AXS Reserve £9,399
- Santa Cruz Megatower CC frame only £3,299