Santa Cruz Hightower LT first ride review

Faster, burlier 29er with 150mm of rear travel — but no plus tire option

29er Enduro
Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT is ready to take on big descents — and long climbs.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT has a new rear triangle with 2mm longer chainstays.

Features
  • 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
Geometry

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT geometry.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT is targeted at enduro racing and aggressive trail riding.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT Comparison

Santa Cruz Hightower LT compared to Hightower.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT loses the flip chip because this bike is only meant for 29er wheels.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT dropping in at the EWS in Ireland.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT sports the very capable Fox DPX2 rear shock.

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 Hightower LT

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT features the new Santa Cruz carbon wheels.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT sports Fox suspension front and rear.

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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT is seen here with the Hightower in plus mode.

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.

Build Kits

Santa Cruz is offering a staggering amount of builds with four CC builds and three C builds.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT CC top 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.

Santa Cruz Hightower LT

Santa Cruz Hightower LT C builds includes a $3949 model.

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.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.


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  • Dtimms says:

    Why is it risky to not have plus size compatibility on an Enduro bike? Only plus bikes I have seen on the trail (or test rode) were all hardtails. You don’t see plus bikes in enduro races. I don’t think plus bikes are the future like the industry is trying to tell us.

    • Francis Cebedo says:

      >>Dtimms

      Plus bikes are not the future and no one is claiming that. But they are a good option for folks in sandy, loose conditions and some folks overwhelmingly prefer them. Some want to purchase the Hightower Plus with 150mm and this LT will not meet their needs.

      Not the end of world as there’s something to be said about narrowing the focus of a bikes sometimes.

  • PaulN says:

    438mm would be a nice high BB capable of any log rollover….

  • Marshall says:

    Hi Francis, Thank you for cool the review. I’m in the market for a 29er and was wondering how the Santa Cruz High Tower and/or High Tower LT compare to the Ibis Ripley LS? Which one would you buy if you mostly ride in Marin and Lake Tahoe? Other spots I charge are Skeggs, Demo Forest, Annadel and Downieville.

    • boogie says:

      seems a bit overkill for anything in Marin – but would be right at home in your other destinations. This is way overkill for China Camp, Tamarancho, etc.

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