The New Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower Plays Dirty

After a long 48 hours of travel, I found myself in Coyhaique, Chile unloading my bags from the airport shuttle and quickly unpacking my riding gear. We were late. A day late to be exact and we had to catch the rest of the group before they began descending into the first day of our four-day trip in Patagonia with Santa Cruz Bicycles.

Laying on the grass in front of our hotel was a permutation of the newest from Santa Cruz Bicycles: Hightower. Named after Eric Highlander, the SCB demo coordinator. Eric’s a 6’4″ ripper and was the Tallboy LT’s biggest fan, which inspired the team at Santa Cruz to make this new long travel 29’r model an homage to Eric, christening it Hightower.

As a fan of the Tallboy LT myself, I was bummed to see it mysteriously drop off the SCB website back in September, even knowing that usually meant one thing: relaunch. So when they asked me to come along with them to the Aysén region of Patagonia, I had a hunch… My hunch was right.

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 29'r Wheels

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Hightower is in fact not an updated Tallboy LT. It’s an entirely new model, re-designed from the ground up. Sure, when you look at it with its 29r wheels, 140mm of front travel and 135mm of rear travel, it sure seems to be an LT but the team started from scratch here.

For starters, Hightower only comes in three sizes: Medium, Large and X-Large. If you’re upset it isn’t available in size small, fear not, the new 5010 or Bronson will fit you just fine. I rode an XL and found it to be a huge improvement over the older LT and strangely, it felt like the new Bronson, just with bigger wheels. The XL’s reach sits at 475mm with a chainstay of 434mm and a 67º head tube angle.

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 29'r Wheels

To get the stays as short as possible in order to give Hightower a playful feel, Santa Cruz opted out of a front derailleur mount. The rest of its body language is strikingly similar to the relaunch of other SCB models: a long 150mm dropper post, lower top tube, VPP suspension layout and 12 x 148mm rear spacing compliments this bike’s stance. It looks like its ready to pounce.

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 29'r Wheels
29r wheels

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 27.5+ Wheels
27.5+ wheels

And Pounce it Did

The most impressive feature of this bike is its ability to shed the 29r wheels for 27.5+. This, at least in my experience, made for a completely different ride quality. Especially in the dusty, hot and loose trails we rode but it’s not a simple matter of swapping the wheels and rolling down to the trail.

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 29'r Wheels

At the bike’s rear 135mm shock mount, there’s a chip that is able to be flipped in two positions for 29r or 27.5+ wheels. This chip re-aligns the bottom bracket and head angle of Hightower to accommodate the slight wheel diameter differences and further ensure the bike’s tuning. This results in a change from 67º HTA in the 29’r to 66.8º HTA in the 27.5 and a BB drop differential of around 6mm in the 27.5+.

The chip makes the wheel swap easy, along with the bike’s spacing of 12 x 148mm at the rear, and 15 x 110mm in the front, allowing for ample tire clearances. But there’s still one thing keeping the swap from being a simple, “at the trailhead” change: the fork. Hightower is spec’d with a 150mm fork, which is set to 140mm as a 29’r but in order to swap wheels, you’ve gotta change the Pike Solo Air fork to 150mm. This’ll take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and should probably be left to the capable hands of a skilled mechanic.

Hightower 27.5+ - Photo Sven Martin
Photo by Sven Martin

In This Corner…

Part of me was more excited to ride the 27.5+ version of the bike. Especially once I found out what the trail conditions would be like. I’m used to loose and dusty trails living in SoCal, so I’ll take traction where I can get it. Even with a wider rim and a 2.5″ Ikon tire, I noticed a difference on my Tallboy, when coming from ENVEs and 2.3″ tires.

While the 29r handled like a champ, the 27.5+’s ride quality really resonated with me. I liked the lower stance, the added traction and the bike just felt more whippier. Sure, it could be a placebo effect, or the honeymoon phase with a new bike, on new trails, but I tried my hardest to be open-minded.

Hightower 29r - Photo Sven Martin
Photo by Sven Martin

135mm Bounce by The Ounce

The Monarch RT3 135mm rear travel was a new experience for me and once I got the sag setup right, to around 30% the bike really came alive. Once I got used to snapping it around virgin singletrack, we really began to dance together. Truthfully, I had the most fun letting go of the brakes and flying down a dusty fireroad being completely blinded by whoever was in front of me on the road – which was usually Cedric Gracia, skidding up a dusty mess!

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 27.5+ Wheels

Dropping In

For my local trails, I think Hightower would be a more than capable ride. My biggest qualm with the older LTC was it was way too much bike for Austin, yet now that I’ve ridden Hightower, I feel like the LTC was just way too much bike in general. Especially with Hightower’s modern fit and overall feel. Long travel 29’rs can tend to be sluggish going uphill and descend like they’ve got a mind of their own, at least in my experience. This was the first long travel 29’r that handled like a 27.5 trail machine. It reminded me of a Bronson on steroids.

Still, if it came down to it, I’d opt for the 27.5+ build kit, if only because I’m intrigued by the ride quality and playfulness that wheel platform offers. Sure it might feel a bit slower going uphill as you slug along on a fatter tire, but I found myself looking for more boots and jibs on the trail while rolling the fatter tires.

Hightower has, without a doubt, caught my attention.

The Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower with 29'r Wheels

Damage to Your Wallet

Santa Cruz makes balleur shit, without a doubt but there are options. Ranging from Hightower C with GX1 for $4599 or Hightower CC with XX1 for $7799. The model I rode had the ENVE and Industry Nine wheelset upgrade, which tacks on another couple g’s.

Hightower Details
Wheels: 29r or 27.5+
Entire frame is carbon
Front travel: 140mm 29’r, 150mm 27.5+
Rear travel: 135mm
433mm stays
67° head angle 29r, 66.8º 27.5+
12 x 148mm rear spacing
15 x 110mm front spacing
Sizes medium, large, x-large
Threaded BB
Weight as shown: 26.9 pounds.
Frame only: 5.88 pounds.
Colors: “Sriracha red”, matte carbon and mint
Price: $4599 – $7799 USD (ENVE wheel upgrade available)

Head to Santa Cruz Bicycles for more!

  • Thomas Alexander Peralta

    Truly lovely. Santa Cruz has been killing it with the paint recently. Great spec on the base model, too – sub-30 pounds isn’t half bad.

  • Alexander Sollie

    The lack of an XXL is a huge bummer. Anyone know of a modern long travel 29er that would actually fit tall people?

    • Dan O

      I agree, 6’6″ here. I demo’d an XXL Tallboy LT and it’s the first mtb that fit me well, and led me to lust after one. I’m probably in the market for a 27.5+ this year, but haven’t settled on full suspension vs. hardtail. The Carver Gnarvester does come in up to 24″, but it’s Ti only ($$) and 29+ instead of 27.5+.

      • somebody_aight

        isnt the top tube on the new Hightower XL longer than the Tallboy LT XXL?

        • That is accurate…

          • Olaf Beckmann

            I have to chime in here. I have an XXL Tallboy LT. I am 6’8″ and this is the best fitting bike I’ve had since I switched to mountain bikes in 1982. The Hightower looks really good on paper. The longer reach but shorter TT is a wash to me. It’s the nearly 3 inch shorter seat tube that makes me wonder. I don’t think it’s going to work for me. That makes for a brutally long dropper post. 29 inch wheels and Santa Cruz’s XXl bikes have been a wonder to me over the last few years though.

          • Henry Turner-Julier

            It would be interesting to hear more from the SC posse on their decision making process around the fit-related geometry of the Hightower, especially the xl. I am and industrial designer- and understand that sometimes the best way forward represents a series of compromises (in a good way). For example, the head tube on the xl Hightower is comparatively shorter than, say, what Rocky Mountain or the big S does. For me, I like tall headtubes- fewer spacers and stand over height is a non issue. Perhaps SC felt a shorter head tube enables more people than it hinders, and us tall guys (a very small % of the riding population) just have to suck it up.

        • Joe G

          Reach is longer on Hightower XL than on Tallboy LT XXL

    • tylernol

      the XL looks fine to me. It has a similar top tube length to the Pivot 429 (SL and Trail), both of which fit me (6’5″) quite well. The only thing I would be concerned about is how much seat post is exposed on an XL model, which would be a worthy question for SCB. I know the Pivot XL frames have a reinforcing strut, perhaps the SCB XL has one as well.

    • Ryan Whitelaw

      I live in Santa Cruz and Demo’d an XL Hightower (27.5+) last Sunday.
      I’m 6’5″ and currently ride an XXL LTc. The bike definitely feels
      smaller and I needed to show a lot of post to make it work. The bike was mind blowing on the downhill, but it just felt cramped otherwise. Sometimes I’ll ride 5 to 10 miles on the road to get to a trail. I just don’t see it happening with this bike. For me, I’m keeping my XXL Ltc. For what it’s worth – the guy running the demo’s that morning was the “Hightower” whom the bike was named after. I mentioned the sizing, and he was even hoping that they release an XXL version at some time. If they do – I’ll be first in line!!!

    • Jamie

      +1 on the bummer that there’s no XXL size.

      Santa Cruz was one of the few that bothered to do XXL and actually create a bike that fits me at 6ft 6. Riding my XXL tallboy was a revelation and I’d really like a long travel version….

      Here’s hoping SC will add a XXL later like they did with the LTc. I’d love them long time for that!

  • Noel Smith

    Seems really cool that you can swap the wheels out (would like to try that on my 29er) but seems odd about the fork, especially shelling out 5-8K. No adjustable travel on the fly?

    • I have a feeling either wheel size could be ridden with a 140 or a 150 fork, but the 150 may be the better choice if you did want to switch back and forth. Flipping the chip and making the fork longer would require a completely different suspension tune to ride properly. I’d say get the 150 / 27.5+ setup and then build 29er wheels. And pay someone to help you get the most out of it the suspension setup.

  • somebody_aight

    Isnt the top tube on the new Hightower XL longer than the Tallboy LT XXL?

  • Carl

    Love the flexibility of this, to me its begging for a TALAS or something that makes parking lot wheel swaps possible. Also Santa Cruz is killin it with these color names :-)

  • Man, I can’t wait to see your photos from Patagonia!

  • EdmundFoster

    “I feel like the LTC was just way too much bike in general”

    What do you mean?

    • It was a lotta travel and wheel, packed into a tighter geometry. Hightower is longer, slacker and lower, making the travel and wheel size easier to manage. In short, I feel like you were stacked on top of the LTC, whereas you’re riding in Hightower.

      • EdmundFoster

        ok thanks

  • Gus

    And here I am flying from Vancouver to Balmaceda for work, and will spend 2 weeks without a ride.

  • dthio

    could you comment on the Ikon+ Rekon+ combo? how do they compare to a 29er Ikon Ardent setup?

  • boomforeal

    “[W]ith the Tallboy [LTC], I never found the bike to be too big to toss around… The bike is incredibly flickable…”

    “I feel like the [Tallboy] LTC was just way too much bike in general… Long travel 29’rs can tend to be sluggish going uphill and descend like
    they’ve got a mind of their own, at least in my experience.”