Santa Cruz Hightower LT first ride review
What is it
Stretching its legs to a full 150mm of VPP travel, the new Santa Cruz Hightower LT is designed to meet the demands of the company’s Enduro World Series race team. It comes with a 150mm fork and is 29er-only, with no plus options like the original Hightower.
- 150mm VPP rear travel
- Wheel size: 29er only
- Available in CC Carbon and C Carbon
- Reserve 30 carbon rim upgrade option on CC bikes
- Lifetime frame and bearing warranty
- Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
- Claimed weight: 28.25-29.3 lbs
- Frame/shock-only: 5.9 lbs
The most significant numbers of this new Hightower are the 66.4-degree head angle and 73.7-degree seat angle. For a medium bike, reach is modern 423mm and wheelbase is a reasonable 1175mm. BB height is quite low for a 150mm travel bike at 438mm.
Stack is very short at 614mm and standover is extremely low at 710mm. Seat tube length is a very short 420mm allowing for very long dropper posts.
Hightower LT vs. Hightower
The very popular Hightower introduced last year sported 135mm of rear travel and 140mm up front. It also allowed for use of 27.5+ wheels, was spec’d with 150mm in the front when in plus form, and had a flip chip to raise the rear of the bike to adjust for the smaller diameter tires.
The LT has an identical front triangle to the original Hightower, but with a new linkage and rear triangle. Thus the longer fork of the LT slackens the head angle from 67 to 66.4 on the LT. This change also shortens the reach measurement by 7mm on the LT. Thus some riders may notice the slightly smaller cockpit on the LT. The changes to the rear triangle and rear linkage result in a chainstay that is 2mm longer. Bottom bracket height is 1mm different, but at 30% sag of the extra 15mm of rear travel, BB height will effectively be 4mm lower.
Why No Plus or Flip Chip
It’s a very interesting (if not risky) decision to drop plus tire compatibility and the geometry adjusting flip chip. Santa Cruz chose to forsake versatility and focus this bike on racing and fast riding applications only. We are not sure what they are gaining by dropping the plus option, as there does not seem to be a weight or geometry advantage.
What they gain is a clear sense of purpose for the bike and the loss of all the ambiguity of tire sizes, flip chip, and front fork permutations present in the normal Hightower. But certainly there are plus tire riders who’d appreciate the 150mm of LT travel. But it seems like Santa Cruz knows their target market and the original Hightower will still be available for the foreseeable future.
Fox DPX2 Rear Shock
The Fox DPX2 rear shock on the LT has completely new architecture that combines the best of the X2 and DPS designs. It has a new EVOL air sleeve that improves responsiveness and sensitivity, which was proved by the latest DPS shocks. It also has three compression damping modes: open, medium, and firm. These deliver on-the-go usability. For additional tunability, Factory Series shocks will offer 10 clicks of damping adjustment in the open mode.
What this offers the Hightower LT is more control and traction in the most demanding descents. Adjustability is wider and the knobs are much easier to access. Additionally, the trail and firm modes are significantly more useable since both modes will absorb a trail hit like a rock or root while climbing without the harshness found in many other rear shocks.
Santa Cruz Wheels
With Santa Cruz’s extensive racing and customer warranty experience, they felt that there were two issues plaguing existing products on the market. The first was that carbon rims sometimes break, often catastrophically. The other was ride feel. Heavy duty carbon rims often feel harsh.
Three years ago, Santa Cruz set out to resolve these issues. The end goal was to a create a rim that was strong and reliable, while maintaining a compliant feel. The result is the new Reserve wheel line.
Santa Cruz used externally reinforced spoke holes to bolster spoke anchor points. Thicker rim walls were used and an asymmetric rim was designed to achieve more even spoke tension. They then backed it up with a lifetime warranty and a reasonable price of $1500 retail or $1200 as an upgrade on a bike build.
On the Trail
The ride is now more capable than the Hightower with more travel front and rear. At speed the bike is definitely more controllable than its sibling. Make a mistake or two and the bike is able to handle the hard landings or errant lines.
The rear shock is definitely better, as it delivers a plush and controlled ride that is easy to adjust. Switch the rear shock to trail mode and the bike feels like a shorter travel bike that still responds to hits without harshness.
Having ridden many long travel 29ers like the Evil Wreckoning, Trek Slash, and the new Intense Carbine, what the Hightower LT offers is agility and balance. The top-spec bike that we’ve been riding weighs in 28.5 lbs and feels more nimble than its peers. The front has a low stack height and it’s quite easy to weight the front and throw it around. It’s a balanced bike that is easy to operate at speed and doesn’t offer much downside on the climbs.
Santa Cruz is offering a staggering amount of builds with four CC builds and three C builds.
The most expensive build, the XX1 Reserve is $9299, with the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 carbon wheels. This is significant since the top build is now well under $10,000, albeit without ENVE wheels and their fancy color-matched decals. But Santa Cruz is making a bet that their own wheels will perform every bit as good as the ENVE’s and will now feature a better warranty. They are also taking a chance that very bright, decaled wheels may not be as in-demand moving forward.
The other significant offering is a $3949 priced bike that has a carbon frame and 1×11 drivetrain. The bike even includes a Race Face Aeffect dropper post. To learn more head to www.santacruzbicycles.com.