2020 Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride

Modern geometry and a brand new suspension broaden its sweet spot

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This new Hightower is version 2.0 of the venerable Santa Cruz Hightower introduced in 2016, a 29er with 135mm rear travel and 140mm front travel. That bike could accept 27.5+ wheels with a geometry flip chip and a longer fork. That Hightower answered the call for a lot of folks as the ‘goto’ steed. It did many, many things well including specializing in unknown road trips with gnarly descents and massive climbs. This was a bike you could feel comfortable taking anywhere.

This new version sports 140mm rear and 150mm front in 29er guise and features the flip chip again and optional 27.5+ configurations. This new bike though is fully modernized with 20mm more reach in most sizes and very different angles. But the highlight of the show is a massively different rear suspension geometry. Similar to the latest Nomad, it features the new lower-link mounted shock design of Santa Cruz.

With the departure of the front derailleur and the interrupted seat tube becoming a sleek reality with carbon fiber, this lower link bike was made possible to offer the next level of rear suspension. It features a very progressive, supple suspension. And rather than the ‘s’ shaped suspension curve of old, it’s a more stable suspension curve. The result is a bike that is more supple, gets over obstacles well yet is still efficient to pedal.

Santa Cruz Hightower Highlights

  • 140mm VPP® rear travel, 150mm fork
  • 29-inch wheels (27.5+ compatibility)
  • Head tube angle adjustable to 65.2° or 65.5° via flip chip.
  • Available in aluminum, CC and C carbon
  • Santa Cruz Reserve 30 carbon wheel option
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL
  • Price range: $2,899 – $10,499
  • Visit www.santacruzbicycles.com for more information

Santa Cruz Hightower Geometry

The biggest change perhaps is the reach as most sizes grew 20mm longer than the outgoing Hightower. Head angle slackened from 67 degrees to 65.2 degrees. Seat tube angle changed from 74.3 degrees to a steep 76.6 degrees with all comparisons measured with the flip chip in the Low position. All these numbers account for a very modern, competitive bike that is stable, pedals well and demands the cooperation of a long dropper post and an active riding style.

Chainstay length shortened by 1mm to 434mm and bb height increased by 3mm to 340mm. Seat tube length for a Medium went from 420mm to 405 to accommodate longer dropper posts. And standover improved from 720mm for a Medium to 713mm.

These are all good numbers in our book and puts the rider on the aggressive side of modern geometry without going too wild and alienating the wide array of prospective users of this bike. A good caveat as bikes get longer is a rider who rides with a more static style or has very tight trails can opt for a smaller frame to shorten the reach as most of the other key numbers will stay about the same. The next size up is an option too for very active riders who ride very fast trails and want more stability.

Hightower LT vs. 2020 Hightower

There is that Hightower LT that was introduced a couple of years back to offer 150mm of rear travel. This was done by product management wizardry and slapping an updated rear triangle on the original Hightower to increase travel. It actually worked and made the Hightower relevant as the race for higher travel heated up.

This new Hightower though is a ground-up design, better in almost every way. And despite having 10mm less travel, it is more supple and more capable.

Flip Chip and Plus

While the Hightower LT dropped the notion of Plus tires and the Flip Chip, the 2020 Hightower supports it. Some folks prefer Plus so it’s good to have in the arsenal and perhaps more important is the availability of the Flip Chip which makes the bike more relevant to more riders in more geographical areas. The Flip Chip (shipped in Low mode) steepens the Seat Angle, Head angle by about half a degree and raises the BB height by 4mm.

We love 29ers but we’re intrigued by the possibility of configuring a ‘mullet’ bike with 27.5 rear tires in 2.8 or 2.6 sizes. The Flip Chip will allow more geometry options with mixed wheel size configurations.

In the High setting, the BB height is a little higher for those rocky, rooty trails maybe when Plus sized tires are required. Think East Coast or Sedona, AZ trails.

In the Low position, the shock rate is more progressive, to provide additional bottom-out resistance. It is very intriguing that the Flip Chip not only changes angles but the suspension curve of the rear as well.

The Extras

Of course, there’s a room for a water bottle inside the main frame and a threaded BB for convenience. And who doesn’t appreciate the Santa Cruz carbon tunnels for refined cable routing for better shifting performance, simpler installation, and no cable rub or rattle? On top of that, there’s a tailgate guard, downtube protector, shock fender and noise canceling chainstay protector keeping things quiet.

The lifetime frame warranty, lifetime pivot bearing replacement policy, and a lifetime guarantee on the optional Reserve carbon wheels assure you that your Hightower is in good hands in any state.

GUILLAMES, France – May 2019 during a Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower photoshoot with Romain Paulhan & Jerome Caroli. Photo by Gary Perkin

Santa Cruz Wheels

The Santa Cruz Reserve wheels have proven themselves, much to the chagrin of Enve Composites. Not only did they function well and take a chunk out of the high-end carbon wheel business, but the also made loud wheel decals out of fashion, almost overnight.

These wheels work, are tuned right for the bikes and have the best warranty in the business.

Santa Cruz Hightower First Ride

We’ve had three wonderful rides on this bike. Is it better than the original Hightower? Most definitely yes. It corners better, gets over obstacles and descends steeps and rough stuff more confidently and it climbs tech better.

First the riding position. If you’re coming from a 4-5 year old bike or older, the new position might come as a shock 450mm reach on a medium is much longer than what you’re used to. That stubby stem and 800mm bar is daunting as well. But give yourself time and magic will most likely occur.

Something that definitely helps the new, long reach is the steep, 76.6-degree seat angle. This seat position puts you up there in the middle of the top tube and effectively shortens it. It also helps you drive those pedals down and unweights the rear end. This geometry utilizes that long 150mm dropper post to help you get back and low when it’s time to descend. It weights the rear too and fully activates descend mode of this bike. And finally, it allows you to move around the cockpit to weight the outside, weight the front wheel and use your hips to adjust the attitude and the traction/unweighting of the bike.

When it was time to climb, the suspension felt active, more active than the outgoing Hightower. On a fire road, it felt inefficient since it doesn’t have that locked out, firm feel. Sit and spin though as the steep angle unweights the rear and the pedaling position is well supported by the suspension. Tech climbs is where this bike excels though as it has more movement and more traction than the previous bike. It reminds us a lot of the Evil Wreckoning which feels and looks inefficient but it actually climbs really well, especially in the rough stuff.

Rocks are where this bike excels, the suspension feels bottomless and consistent. It’s really rewarding to use your hips and push the bike forward with your downward heels as the bike gets over rocks and obstacles with confidence. It doesn’t seem to get hung up as much and it gives the sensation that the bike is going faster or accelerating since it’s not slowing down as much as older bikes.

It is supple and it is refreshing. It’s as much bike as I need without going to a Megatower or Wreckoning with 160mm rear travel and 153mm respectively. Those are great bikes but they are bogged down by the slower turning and a muffled feel on most trails. We’ve tried all of the big travel 29ers and honestly, you need the trails and the speed to make those steeds shine. And in our world in the Bay Area, CA, you just end up seeking the most renegade, steep trails just to cater to the big bikes.

The 2020 Hightower will allow you and your trails to shine without calling attention to itself and asking you to ride to satisfy your long travel 29er. It is a sweet spot bike for many.

Build Kits

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

The most expensive build, the XX1 AXS is $10499 and the XTR 29 is $9899, with the Santa Cruz Reserve 30 carbon wheels.

But just as exciting is the availability of a $2899 AL D build with 12-speed Eagle, Minions, and RaceFace components. Comes in 5 sizes as well so few statures both financial and body types are left behind.

GUILLAMES, France – May 2019 during a Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower photoshoot with Romain Paulhan & Jerome Caroli. Photo by Gary Perkin

Given that the previous Hightower bottomed out at $3949 and 11-speed when introduced, we think that forward progress has been made on all fronts.


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  • joey says:

    if you got no skill, this will not solve anything, except $$$$ hole in your pocket $10k.

    you say your going to what, shuttle. Just get an ebike

  • John says:

    Good review. It figures, I just bought the 2019 C S version, LOVE it. My last bike was a Gary Fisher Sugar3, so this is a huge improvement! I was tempted to demo the new 2020 version at the Sea Otter Canada, here this last weekend where I live, Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. But my new bike is perfect for me right now. Well worth the investment.

  • mark says:

    looks like santa cruz really got there stuff together, looks like a very capable bike,
    i will be definitely checking out the base model one some time this year.

  • Clint says:

    Can’t wait to get mine…on order. Never thought 32 years ago I would spend this kind of money on a MTB, but damn I’m due. Can retire my Yeti 575.

  • JG says:

    Interested in your opinion… Coming off of a TB2 and am looking at the high tower. Just concerned about how much difference in the climbing aspect there will be. That being said, not looking to win races. I ride in So Cal, so I still have a fair amount of climbing to do. Hightower or wait for TB4?

  • Raul Sanche says:

    Just got off the first ride on my new Hightower! Coming from a Bronson V1. The change is just amazing! Great flow! Doesnt feel long. Feels quick and confident. Great buy!

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