Let’s Play!

THE 2018 VER­SION OF SANTA CRUZ’S LEG­ENDARY HIGHTOWER IS FUN, AGILE, AND LEAVES PLENTY OF ROOM FOR MA­NOEU­VRING.

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Inside - By Myles Kelsey

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…

SUSPENSION

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.

FRAME

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!

RIDE

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.

PRIC­ING

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.

THE TAKE-OUT

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.

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