THE 2018 VERSION OF SANTA CRUZ’S LEGENDARY HIGHTOWER IS FUN, AGILE, AND LEAVES PLENTY OF ROOM FOR MANOEUVRING.
The 2018 Santa Cruz Hightower LT is the complete trail bike, designed for everyone. Smart frame sizing and generous reach mean it’s a bike that can get up the hill efficiently, but it can be tweaked and adapted to any riding style to enjoy the glorious descents and tracks the bike is designed for.
Here’s the low-down…
The VPP suspension system has been refined over the years, yet still operates on the same basic fundamentals – which means the rear-end essentially functions independently of the main frame, via short linkages. The ride benefits of such a system include increased pedalling performance, efficiency over small bumps, square edges, and a mildmannered ride under hard braking. There are five different build price points available, and all enjoy a lifetime warranty on the frame and bearings.
The VPP system that Santa Cruz runs works incredibly well, to the extent that – and this is the weird thing about this bike – on the climbs it feels like you’re on a 120mm-travel machine; yet when rolling flowing trails, enduro lines and tame DH lines, it feels more like a 160mm bike.
Santa Cruz takes rider feedback seriously, and this is evident in the attention that’s been paid to frame sizing. The combination of generous reach, genreappropriate wheelbase, low BB, short seat tube and short headtube across the five size curves on offer means that riders can run seats and bars slammed without having to cramp into a smaller reach.
This thought process and approach to frame sizing is something a lot of other manufacturers seem to be slower to
adopt, and that’s one of the reasons I really liked the ride – it just fits so well!
The benefits of ample reach are that the pilot has a lot of room to move around and manipulate the bike on the trail. This extra space ensures there’s never too much weight over the front or too much hanging off the back, keeping things pinned on the trail.
In terms of aesthetics, Santa Cruz scores a cool 10 with the Hightower LT. The compact frame layout, tidy shock linkage, neat cable routing, sassy colourways and smooth lines are a work of art. Be warned, though: waterbottle space is tight on this bike. But that just means more post-ride beers are on the cards!
Despite repeated protests from Santa Cruz HQ, I held on to the bike for a month so I could thrash it around our favourite local flow trails and tame DH runs. A bike is the sum of its parts; and when the geometry, kinematics, damping and components are on point, together they yield an amazing ride. This was the case with our test bike.
The top-of-the-line Fox damping front and rear is nothing short of exceptional, providing support throughout the travel so you can pop off obstacles or hold a line through off-camber rocky turns. The bike doesn’t wallow deep into its travel in high-speed bermed turns, or on the takeoff of jumps, meaning minimal rider input is required to manage things when in the gnar. I boosted some big jumps during this test; one of them, in Tokai, I hit at around 50kph, and landed easily 13m from the take-off.
More than just being strong, the bike has a nice progressive feel to the suspension, so I never felt any end-of-travel bottomout. Also worth noting is just how quickly it settled after these big hits. The highquality suspension, with good kinematics at play, kept my confidence up so I could keep flying down the trail. In terms of suspension I went a little quicker with the rear rebound settings, which gave a little more pop over the jumps, kept the bike rolling marginally more quickly down the trail, and made the ride a little more active.
An entry-level Hightower Carbon C frame with a RockShox Revelation RC 150 fork, Fox Float Performance DPS shock, SRAM NX drivetrain, Race Face bar and stem comes in at a coolish R72 495. I’ve ridden all those parts on various bikes, and can attest to their capability.
On the other end of the price-point scale, the top-of-the-range Hightower LT
Carbon CC frame with SRAM XX1 Eagle, Fox 36 F150 Factory fork, Fox DPX Kashima shock, SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes, Reserve Carbon 30 rims, I9 hubs, and SC carbon bars comes in at a hot R170 995.
At the time we reached out to Santa Cruz for a large Hightower LT to test they were in between shipments in terms of size, so we were sent a custom-specced bike to ride. The build kit on our test bike was pretty much close to their top option, with cSixx carbon wheels, bars, chain ring and chain guide, SRAM XX1 / XO drivetrain and SRAM Code brakes, complete with the Fox Transfer dropper post, Fox Factory Kashima FIT 160mm fork and the Fox X2 rear shock.
For prospective buyers considering a Hightower or Hightower LT, you should know that the LT is built for enduro racing. But thanks to the light weight and pedal efficiency of this bike, it’s undoubtedly suitable for trail riding too.
The 15mm more travel (read: more fun!) and slight geometry tweaks of the LT add versatility to this bike, and you’ll never be caught wanting ‘more bike’ for trail rides and tame DH runs. It’s an exciting bike! Did someone say beer?
About the reviewer: Myles Kelsey is a former World Age Group Downhill Champion.