Dream Build: Santa Cruz Hightower with all the trimmings

If money is no object this is the (plus sized) trail bike of our dreams

27.5 Plus
Trail Bike Dream Build

If you’re going to dream, you might as well go big.

A few weeks back my colleague Saris unveiled her custom alloy trail bike build that you can read about here. Her goal was to strike some semblance of balance between price and performance. Now it’s my turn — but I’ve made no such concessions. My dream build, a Santa Cruz Hightower with dreamy component spec, is admittedly a little over the top. But when you live and ride in a place like Crested Butte, Colorado, your bike should be worth more than most of the cars running around town.

This build was not simply an exercise in discretionary spending gone wild, though. Instead the primary goal was to create a capable trail bike that could handle the wide variety of terrain in greater Gunnison County. That means being light enough to claw up 30-40 minute high alpine climbs in the Colorado backcountry, nimble enough to whip around the ever-rolling singletrack at the high desert Hartman Rocks trail system, and rowdy-ready enough to smash down rough-and-tumble classics such as Doctor Park, Waterfall, plus the myriad expert-rated trails at Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s Evolution Bike Park.

Of course there was some compromise. With a complete bike weight of 29.5 pounds sans pedals and set up tubeless, this is not the rig I’ll reach for when the local Wednesday night cross-country series starts up. And with standard travel measures of 135mm rear, 140mm front (or 150mm if you opt for a plus set-up as seen here), this bike will be overmatched on some of the local bike park’s most jump-laden trails. But we all know unicorns don’t exist (not yet, anyway), so I’m willing to live with those concessions in the name of diversity of skills. With all that said, let’s get to the fun part. Here’s a piece-by-piece breakdown of the build, starting with the frame.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Frame: Santa Cruz Hightower Carbon CC: $3000

These are halcyon days in the world of capable 29er trail bikes, and Santa Cruz’s Hightower is no exception. With boost spacing, proven VPP suspension, a slack 67-degree head angle, climbing friendly 74.3-degree seat tube angle, and long-low profile, this bike ticks all the right quiver-killing boxes. It also can be set-up plus, and has a threaded bottom bracket, which should be required of all bikes entering.

To achieve its chameleon status, the Hightower frame has a reversible chip at the shock mount that’s designed to maintain geometry when swapping between 29er and 27.5+ tires. The “low” setting is designed for 29er use, while “high” accommodates 27.5+, which have a diameter similar (but not equal) to 29er tires. Thus reversing the chip maintains handling characteristics.

Total frame weight (size XL) was 6.17 pounds with the stock RockShox Monarch RT3 shock. That number climbed to 6.37 pounds when I swapped on DVO’s piggybacked Topaz T3 Air, which was chosen to up the bike’s ability when going downhill.

There are still a few feet of snow on the local trails here in Crested Butte, so I haven’t gotten in any ride time yet. But in the meantime you can read my colleague Francis’ First Ride Review here and get more info at www.santacruzbicycles.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Shock: DVO Topaz T3 Air: $500

Since it’s already been mentioned, we’ll jump to the bike’s rear suspension first. It’s not that the stock RockShox Monarch RT3 is a dog. But since this is a dream build, something with a little more flair made sense. Enter the DVO Topaz T3 Air, which claims to deliver reasonably light weight (our piggybacked tester is 393 grams, compared to the 317 grams for the standard Monarch RT3), and also near coil shock-like downhill performance.

Elevator pitch highlights of the Topaz T3 Air include significant tunability thanks to positive and negative air volume adjustments for a more progressive or linear feel, and a bladder pressure adjustment that allows for fine tuning of small bump compliance and damping. DVO also claims exceptional initial stroke sensitivity, and delivers the shock with heat managing cooling fins, durable Trelleborg seals and Igus bushings, and a three-position on-the-fly adjustment lever (climb, traverse, descend). The shock’s exterior body is machined and forged, netting a durable and attractive aesthetic. A full review is in the works. In the meantime, you can learn more at www.dvosuspension.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Fork: DVO Diamond 110 Boost: $999

The conspicuous consumption continues with DVO’s boosted Diamond suspension fork. The boosting means this bump tamer with sturdy 35mm stanchions can run with 29er or 27.5+ wheels. We’re starting with the later, but the real benefits may come when we eventually switch over to a 29er set-up, where the extra hub spacing will presumably reduce some of the flex issues often associated with wagon wheels being driven at all-mountain speeds. Tire clearance goes up to 27.5×3.0 and suspension is adjustable between 130mm and 170mm via internal spacers. (Our tester is set-up at 150mm.)

Other highlights include 30 clicks of easily accessible high speed compression adjustment, low speed circuit restriction for climbing, and what DVO calls OTT or off the top, which essentially means you can externally adjust the preload on the negative spring, giving you 100 percent control over the initial stroke. Meanwhile, you set air pressure to dial in mid-stroke support and bottom out.

Axle configuration is 15mmx110 and pre-cut fork weight was 2170 grams (4.8 pounds), plus another 64 grams for the skewer. DVO also has a ton of on-line tech videos, which are super helpful for both initial set-up and on-trail adjustments. Again, a full review is in the works. In the meantime, you can learn more at www.dvosuspension.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Drivetrain and Brakes: Shimano XT 1x: $945

To keep expenditures somewhat in check without sacrificing performance, Shimano XT was the call for drivetrain and brakes. Being that this group is a fairly known quantity, I’m not going to take a deep dive on details here. For many years now, the various iterations of this workingman’s mountain bike group have performed at a high level without requiring a second mortgage.

Obviously the key consideration for this build was gearing. And since the Hightower doesn’t accommodate a front derailleur (good riddance), the choice was fairly simple. Up front is a 32t chainring. In back the cassette is 11-46. Some might wonder why not opt for a bigger chainring, but if you’ve ever mashed your way up 401, Double Top, or the Crystal Peak Trail, you know why. Spinable gears are a must in this straight-up-straight-down, high altitude riding zone. For brake rotors, the choice was 203mm front, 180mm rear, which conspire to handle the extending descents delivered at the end of those endless climbs.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Here’s a full rundown on weights for the whole group: cranks, spider, and spindle (605 grams); 32t chainring (92 grams + bolts); 11-46 cassette (439 grams); chain uncut (267 grams); shifters and cable (138 grams); rear derailleur (271 grams); brake levers (580 grams); rotors (173 grams front, 130 grams rear). That puts the total at 2695 grams, though what actually went on the bike was a little less after cutting the chain, trimming cables and housing, etc. For more on the Shimano XT MTB group head over to bike.shimano.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Dropper Post: 9Point8 Fall Line: $449

This is one of the parts on this bike I’m most excited about simply because 9Point8’s dropper posts have a great reputation for long term durability — and it has 200mm of infinite travel. Get out of my way saddle!

The Fall Line feature list includes titanium saddle-rail clamping screws and angle-adjust screws; black-Ti coating for anti-galling, anti-seize performance; larger fasteners for convenience and strength; install/remove the remote control without removing grips or controls; a patent pending rotational anti-backlash design; a vertical, fore-aft, left-right anti-backlash design; and independent adjustment of the seat angle and seat fore/aft position.

The Fall Line also uses a bottom stealth entry for bikes with internal routing, and it has a no-tools-needed easy disconnect. That means you can install and remove the post without having to cut the cable, and the cable connection has an anti-pull design, meaning adjusting the height of the post will not affect cable tension.

Perhaps even cooler is that 9Point8 offers custom stroke tuning so most riders can literally get the most drop for your bike and seat height. (I’m 6-foot-4 so this feature doesn’t really apply.) Weight for the dropper post only was 610 grams. Hardware, cable, lever and a 1x adapter added 114 grams for a 724-gram total. More info can be found at www.9point8.ca.

Saddle: Ergon SMC3 Comp: $100

To keep the backside happy, I’ve gone with the “Mountain Comfort” model from Ergon. The German ergonomic specialists make racier MTB saddles, but the SMC has a slightly deeper center cutout, which is designed to keep blood flowing through the never regions during extended sitting sessions. Rails are TiNox, the cover is microfiber, and the shell is a nylon composite. It’s nothing super fancy, just functional. Weight for a size medium is 246 grams. Get more beta at www.ergon-bike.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Wheels: ENVE M60 Forty Plus: $2718

Remember that talk about Shimano XT and fiscal responsibility? Never mind. If you’re gonna go big, why not go H-U-G-E. Thus wheel choice is ENVE’s lust-worthy M60 40Plus with DT Swiss 240 hubs, color matching decals, and boost spacing. Wheelset weight is a wispy 1580 grams sans valve stems (remember this is plus). Rim depth is 29mm, external width is 49mm, and internal is 40mm, thus the name. The sales pitch: They are light, stiff, and bomb-proof durable. Let the rock smashing begin. For more info visit enve.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Tires: Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II 27.5×2.8: $105 Each

They’re arguably the most popular trail/enduro tires on the market, so why not spec this dream bike with the race proven 120tpi Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II front-rear combination, which starting this year are available in plus sizes for the first time. Both are tubeless ready, have EXO sidewall protection, and feature 3C MaxxTerra, which is the Taiwanese tire maker’s intermediate triple rubber compound that’s designed to strike a balance between grip, rolling resistance, rebound performance, and durability.

Trail Bike Dream Build

I wavered a bit between the DHF/DHR II combo and a DHF/Rekon+ pairing, as the later would have rolled a little faster. But in the end I’m building this bike with descending as the No. 1 criteria, so braking and traction won out. Weights are 961 grams for the DHF and 992 grams for the DHR II. You can learn more about each at www.maxxis.com and www.maxxis.com.

Tire Sealant: Orange Seal: $15

I’ve been a long term (and happy) Stan’s user, but decided to give something else a try this go round. Enter Orange Seal, which claims its liquid tire sealant can seal holes up to ¼” and work in a wide range of temperatures. It also comes with a handy injection system that makes it easy (and mess free) to inject liquid into your tire via the valve stem. More info at orangesealed.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Bars: ENVE DH: $175

The bling (and matchy-matchy) theme continues with ENVE’s 240-gram carbon DH bars, which come in an 800mm width that can be chopped as far down as 740mm. (I’m starting wide, but will likely scale down to 780mm). Rise is 23mm, sweep is 9 degrees, and they have a traditional 31.8mm clamp diameter. More info at enve.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Stem: ENVE Mountain: $265

The carpet has to match the drapes, so our stem of choice is the carbon ENVE Mountain. It comes in 40mm, 70mm, 85mm, and our length of choice, 55mm, which weighs a feathery 92 grams. Rise is +/- 6 degree, the faceplate is aluminum, hardware is titanium, and it has a 37mm stack height. More info at enve.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Grips: Sensus Lite: $28

Like apparel and saddles, grips are a highly personal item. I’m a big fan of Sensus. Besides being lightweight (45 grams per grip), the Sensus Lite model positions the lock ring inboard, meaning there’s rubber to grab all the way to the end of the grip. They also have a shorter ribbing that alleviates the squirmy feeling you can get with some other ribbed grips. Most important, though, these grips offer great grip and even a measure of vibration damping. And that’s what really matters when you’re hurtling yourself down the side of a mountain with reckless abandon. Find out more at www.thesensus.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Headset: Cane Creek 110: $130

Cool company and top notch products. Cane Creek was the headset of choice all the way. Weight of our 110 came in at 93 grams. More info at www.canecreek.com.

Trail Bike Dream Build

Bottom Line

For those wondering, total MSRP on all these parts is an eye watering $9534. A bit ridiculous? You bet. But hey, this is a dream bike after all. Stay tuned for reviews on all these beautiful bits and pieces as we get deeper into the cycling season.

Let us know what you think of the build — and what if anything you’d do differently.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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  • Botacco says:

    Cool, but why an XT groupset on such an “dream build”?
    I could understand brakes but not the crankset.

    On this bike we need an Hollowgram, a Next SL or something below 400 grams including spider, chainring and bottom bracket!

    • Kent Robertson says:

      Agreed. As long as you’re at $9500 already why not go all in with a Next SL crank and full Eagle drivetrain?

    • Maciej Pike-Biegunski says:

      Those cranks all break when used for heavy trail or bike park use. An XTR trail crankset is 100g lighter than an XT or SLX, but I wouldn’t run anything else.

  • loll says:

    okay, did you paid full retail?

  • Alex says:

    Some curious choices for someone counting grams.

    I’m still working out how you justified $3000 on wheels and tires, but couldn’t spring for an XD freehub and a decent cassette. The X01 10-42 is $250 and 200g lighter. Same comment about the cranks. Not bad for the price, but 200g heavier than the $400ish options you might have picked for this build.

    Some of the difference could have come from the silly-expensive stem. There’s a reason almost every stem is alloy: carbon doesn’t make sense for parts that require uniform strength in all directions.

    Otherwise, it’s very nice. Looks like a lot of fun.

  • TommyT says:

    Yeah, what Alex said…and IBIS 942s would have saved about $1k over the ‘look-at-mENVE’ wheels. Carbon $tems are for…well, apparently this builder.

  • BlackBean says:

    This is just a build to push product people. And by any measure, it has a pretty fantastic spec. And anybody would change something on this bike. But that’s not the point. It’s just pushing product.

  • DMP says:

    Cool that you can fit a 200mm dropper! I couldn’t find any info on maximum seatpost insertion for the Hightower, but it looks like a straight seat tube with no pivots in the way. Can it fit the whole 300mm lower tube of the 200mm stroke Fall Line?

  • ramon says:

    not what i would call a dream
    build
    dream builds always almost have CK stuff
    xtr and the likes

  • dudee47 says:

    If you’re gonna go with an XT, why not use the Box Two 11-46 or Sunrace 11-46 11-Speed cassette? They have the same range as the XT cassette, but they offer a better spread of gears, instead of the massive jumps the Shimano one has.

  • meeseeks says:

    dream build?? and where is ONYX, Öhlins, sram eagle, race face next sl cranks, proper brakes.
    I see only pile of outdated shitmano scrap.

  • Raceroni says:

    You could have bought a new 750 to 1000 cc street motorcycle for that much money.

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