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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Wheels: 29r or 27.5+
Entire frame is carbon
Front travel: 140mm 29’r, 150mm 27.5+
Rear travel: 135mm
67° head angle 29r, 66.8º 27.5+
12 x 148mm rear spacing
15 x 110mm front spacing
Sizes medium, large, x-large
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!