Riding the new Santa Cruz Hightower 2
The 2020 Santa Cruz Hightower is one of the latest bikes to receive Santa Cruz’s lower-link treatment upon its recent refresh.
The Hightower has always been a great all-rounder of a bike, favored by riders of all skill levels since it’s inception when Santa Cruz proved that big wheels can be fun, and that’s still as true as ever.
Santa Cruz’s lower-link-mounted shock placement, originally pulled from their V10 downhill bike, is designed to give riders more progression in the leverage curve whilst also being more supple at the start. This means that it soaks up small bumps well while also fending off the big hits. This, combined with the new-school geometry, means that the bike rewards aggressive riders and hard chargers. However this does come with the caveat that on paper the suspension kinematics are slightly less pedal-efficient.
But hold up there, don’t assume that because the bike can charge harder that it isn’t suitable for your average Joe. The new geometry features a slacked-out, 65.5° head angle. Combined with a short chainstay length of 433mm, the bike is stable downhill, but nimble in the corners. The steep seat tube angle of 77° means that even though the suspension is a little less efficient, the geometry puts the rider in a good climbing position and as such is no slouch uphill.
Santa Cruz has really nailed the geometry game with the new Hightower. Putting the jargon aside, this bike is seriously fun to ride. Swinging a leg over the Hightower just feels comfortable, like an old pair of slippers. I’ve had a few rides on the Hightower in BC’s Lower Mainland, and have tried to put the bike through as many different riding scenarios in as short a period as I can, and it’s surprised me. As somebody who’s relatively familiar with Santa Cruz’s VPP platform, I had some idea what to expect. It pedals super efficiently and feels planted when climbing. As mentioned earlier, on paper the kinematics mean it should climb less well, though VPP is naturally a very efficient linkage and I honestly felt that it pedals markedly better than the previous generation with very little feedback. This is possibly down to the much steeper seat tube. However, not surprisingly, when you point it down the trail is when things get really fun.
I knew there was a new Hightower coming, and I expected it to be a fun trail bike, and that much is true. On intermediate-graded trails, it’s easy to ride. The big wheels don’t feel cumbersome, it holds its speed well and it’s playful. You don’t have to be a super aggressive rider to enjoy riding the new Hightower, and that’s sort of where I expected it to end.
I then decided to take the bike on some rougher, steeper, more technical trails and boy was I surprised. You can really charge on this thing! The slack head angle and long front center mean that when things get steep, technical and rowdy, the Hightower has your back. I found myself riding sections of trail way faster than I expected, the big wheels just gobbling up the technical sections. The 140mm of travel offered up by the VPP link feels bottomless. Running at the factory-suggested sag I definitely used all the travel, but I didn’t feel any harsh bottom outs either.
I’ve often found that long travel 29ers can suck the fun out of a lot of trails, but the Hightower 2 seems to have a great balance of being capable and fast, but still lively and manageable. The only place where I really felt it come a little unstuck was in really chunky, rough trails. The lack of travel makes the bike feel a little less plush, and this is where bigger bikes like the Megatower and the Nomad come in. They certainly don’t climb as nicely, however for riding big, fast, burly trails those bikes make sense. For everything else in between, I’d be happy to ride a Hightower.
The 2020 Santa Cruz Hightower 2 is available in both Aluminium and Carbon, C and CC models, in a range of build specs, all with Rockshox suspension. Complete bikes start at $2899 for a solid build with SRAM NX eagle 12sp and Santa Cruz’s legendary build quality. The carbon C models start at $4299 and the range tops out at $10499 for an AXS wireless CC build with carbon Reserve wheels. All models come with a 35mm stanchion fork (either a 35 Gold, a Yari, or a Lyrik), 4-piston brakes, and a 12-speed drivetrain which all show the Hightower’s intentions of being a real do-it-all bike. See the full range on the Santa Cruz website here.
As with any Santa Cruz bike, you get what you pay for. Incredible build quality, a well thought out frame design with smart and easy cable routing (tubes in tubes on the carbon models), a lifetime frame warranty, and free pivot bearings for life.
The new Hightower is a great all-rounder of a bike. Santa Cruz has somehow managed to hit the magic geometry numbers and create a bike that climbs well, is easy and comfortable to ride, and can shred downhill. We’re lucky to be living in a time where we can enjoy riding technical descents as hard as we want without having to suffer on the uphills, and this couldn’t be closer to the truth for the Hightower.
Dealing in Santa Cruz bikes since their infancy, Steed Cycles is Canada’s oldest and biggest Santa Cruz Dealer. We have a fleet of Santa Cruz bikes available to demo and hold stock of all the bikes we demo, so don’t hesitate to contact us to try or buy one! Visit our Demo Bikes page for more information.