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Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1 Review

The recently updated Santa Cruz Hightower is longer, slacker, and harder charging than ever
Santa Cruz Hightower CC XO1
Photo: Jenna Ammerman
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Price:  $8,299 List
Pros:  Very stable at speed, hard charging, amazing build, supportive pedal platform, great deep stroke support
Cons:  Build tested is expensive, somewhat less maneuverable than previous version, can feel sluggish at lower speeds
Manufacturer:   Santa Cruz Bicycles
By Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Kyle Smaine  ⋅  Sep 12, 2019
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87
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 21
  • Fun Factor - 25% 8.6
  • Downhill Performance - 35% 9.3
  • Climbing Performance - 35% 8.4
  • Ease of Maintenance - 5% 7

Our Verdict

For 2020, Santa Cruz redesigned their popular 29-inch wheeled trail bike, the Hightower. The new version replaces both the previous Hightower and Hightower LT models with one model. 140mm of rear-wheel travel is paired with a 150mm fork, and thanks to the modern long and slack treatment, this wagon-wheeled trail bike is harder charging and burlier than ever before. Santa Cruz has also employed their low-mount VPP platform as part of the redesign, changing the rear suspension curve while providing excellent deep stroke support and a solid pedal platform. The Hightower is also relatively impressive uphill thanks to its calm rear suspension, steep seat tube angle, and a roomy cockpit. It isn't especially nimble and can feel a little sluggish at lower speeds, but if you're looking for an aggressive upper-mid travel 29er trail bike with very respectable climbing abilities, the new Hightower is one of the best we've tested.

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Pros Very stable at speed, hard charging, amazing build, supportive pedal platform, great deep stroke supportOutstanding all around performance, more capable on the descents than its predecessor, great climber, excellent buildExcellent climbing abilities, impressive downhill performance, high fun factor, tremendous build kitHighly adjustable geometry, adaptable for terrain or riding style, SWAT storage, plush suspension, very stable and confident descenderLightweight, playful, well-rounded, modern geometry, solid component specification
Cons Build tested is expensive, somewhat less maneuverable than previous version, can feel sluggish at lower speedsExpensive, still not a full-on enduro bike, a touch on the heavy sideExpensive, pivots came loose a few times during testingOverkill for tame trails, Fox 36 Rhythm fork, moderate weightNot a brawler, Fox 34 fork can be overwhelmed
Bottom Line The recently updated Santa Cruz Hightower is longer, slacker, and harder charging than everThe new and improved Ripmo V2 is the best all-around trail bike we've ever testedA fantastic trail bike that blends superb climbing abilities with fun and well-rounded downhill performanceA heavy-hitting longer travel trail bike with an innovative, highly adjustable geometryWe loved the old version, but believe it or not, the new Ibis Ripley is even better
Rating Categories Santa Cruz Hightowe... Ibis Ripmo V2 XT Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 Stumpjumper EVO Comp Ibis Ripley GX Eagle
Fun Factor (25%)
8.6
9.3
9.2
9.3
9.1
Downhill Performance (35%)
9.3
9.5
8.9
9.4
7.8
Climbing Performance (35%)
8.4
9.0
9.1
8.0
9.5
Ease Of Maintenance (5%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Santa Cruz Hightowe... Ibis Ripmo V2 XT Yeti SB130 TURQ X01 Stumpjumper EVO Comp Ibis Ripley GX Eagle
Wheel size 29" 29" 29" 29" 29"
Suspension & Travel Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) - 140mm DW-Link - 147mm Switch Infinity - 130mm FSR - 150mm DW-Link - 120mm
Measured Weight (w/o pedals) 29 lbs 13 oz (Large) 31 lbs (Large) 29 lbs 9 oz (Large) 31 lbs 14 oz (Large) 28 lbs 14 oz (Large)
Fork RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 150mm Fox Float 36 Grip 2 Factory 160mm Fox 36 Factory - 150mm 36mm stanchions Fox 36 Rhythm - 160mm Fox Float 34 Performance 130mm 34mm stanchions
Shock RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate Fox Float X2 Fox DPX2 Factory Fox Float DPX2 Performance Fox Float Performance DPS EVOL
Frame Material Carbon Fiber "CC" Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber "TURQ" FACT 11m Carbon Fiber Carbon Fiber
Frame Size Large Large Large S4 (Large equivalent) Large
Frame Settings Flip Chip N/A N/A Flip Chip and Headtube angle N/A
Available Sizes S-XXL S-XL S-XL S1-S6 S-XL
Wheelset Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon Rims w/ DT 350 hubs Ibis S35 Aluminum rims with Ibis hubs, 35mm ID DT Swiss M1700, 30mm ID w/ DT Swiss 350 hub Roval 29 alloy rims with Shimano Centerlock hubs, 30mm id Ibis 938 Aluminum Rims 34mm ID w/ Ibis Hubs
Front Tire Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4" Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5" Maxxis Minion DHF WT 29 x 2.5" Specialized Butcher GRID TRAIL T9, 2.6" Schwable Hans Dampf 2.6"
Rear Tire Maxxis Minion DHR II 3C EXO TR 2.4" Maxxis Assegai EXO+ 2.5" Maxxis Aggressor 29 x 2.3 Specialized Eliminator GRID TRAIL T7, 2.3" Schwalbe Nobby Nic 2.6"
Shifters SRAM XO1 Eagle Shimano XT M8100 12-speed SRAM XO Eagle Shimano SLX 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle
Rear Derailleur SRAM XO1 Eagle Shimano XT M8100 Shadow Plus 12-speed SRAM X0 Eagle Shimano SLX 12-speed SRAM GX Eagle
Crankset SRAM X1 Eagle DUB 170mm(size Large) 30T Shimano XT M8100 32T SRAM X0 Eagle Carbon 30T Shimano SLX 170mm SRAM Descendant Alloy 32T
Saddle WTB Silverado Team WTB Silverado Pro 142mm WTB Volt Specialized Bridge Comp WTB Silverado 142mm
Seatpost RockShox Reverb Stealth Bike Yoke Revive (185mm size large) Fox Transfer 150mm X-Fusion Manic 170mm (S4/S5), 34.9 diameter Bike Yoke Revive 160mm
Handlebar Santa Cruz AM Carbon - 800mm Ibis Adjustable Carbon 800mm (30mm rise) Yeti Carbon - 780mm Specialized 6061 alloy, 30mm rise, 800mm width Ibis 780mm Alloy
Stem Race Face Aeffect R 50mm Thomson Elite X4 RaceFace Aeffect R 35 Specialized Alloy Trail stem, 35mm bore Ibis 31.8mm 50mm
Brakes SRAM Code RSC Shimano XT M8120 4-piston Shimano XT M8000 Shimano SLX 4-piston Shimano Deore 2 Piston
Measured Effective Top Tube (mm) 619 632 628 625 625
Measured Reach (mm) 470 475 477 475 475
Measured Head Tube Angle 65.55-degrees H / 65.25-degrees L 64.9-degrees 65.1-degrees 63-65.5 (adjustable) 66.5-degrees
Measured Seat Tube Angle 76.8-degrees H / 76.3-degrees L 76-degrees 76.8-degrees 76.9-degrees 76.2-degrees
Measured Bottom Bracket Height (mm) 340 341 335 340 (adjustable with flip chips) 338
Measured Wheelbase (mm) 1230 1238 1231 1247 1210
Measured Chain Stay Length (mm) 435 435 438 438 (S1-S4) 434
Warranty Lifetime Seven Years Lifetime Lifetime Seven Years

Our Analysis and Test Results

The new Hightower is right at home smashing down steep and rowdy...
The new Hightower is right at home smashing down steep and rowdy terrain.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Should I Buy This Bike?


If you're a skilled rider looking for a hard-charging upper-mid travel 29er trail bike, then there's a good chance you should buy or at least consider the new Hightower. Did you love the previous Hightower LT but always wished it charged a little harder? Were you quick to buy a Megatower only to realize it's a little too much for everyday trail riding? Or are you simply looking for for a 29-inch trail bike that is ultra-stable at speed and confidence-inspiring in aggressive terrain? Well, the 2020 Hightower may be exactly the bike you're looking for. Make no mistake, the new Hightower is longer and slacker than the previous versions and has sacrificed a little maneuverability and agility in exchange for its more stable and planted downhill smashing capabilities. We think it's fair to say it's a bit less of an all-around trail bike as it used to be and feels almost like an aggressive mini-enduro bike that needs a little speed to come alive. Its stability is impressive and it handles steeps, big hits, and chunk with confidence, comfort, and zero complaints. Steering remains precise and the VPP platform is impressively supportive and solid when it comes time to lay down the power on both the climbs and descents. Don't let the $8,299 price tag of the model we tested scare you either, there are 8 different complete builds starting at $2,899.

The new Hightower is similar in many ways to the Ibis Ripmo. Both bikes are aimed at the same riders and terrain, but the Ripmo sports a touch more travel with 147mm in the rear and a 160mm travel fork. The Ripmo has a similar length wheelbase and slightly slacker head tube angle of 64.9-degrees, yet it has a noticeably snappy, sporty, and more lively feel without sacrificing anything in the way of downhill capability. The Ripmo also climbs like a goat and feels easier to handle in tighter or technical sections on both the climbs and descents. We feel the Ripmo is a bit more versatile and well-rounded, though the Hightower's VPP platform might work better for some riders. If you're a hard charger, we think you'd probably be happy with either, though we'd probably steer those who value all-around performance towards the Ripmo and those who prioritize smashing downhill toward the Hightower.

The redesigned Hightower features Santa Cruz's VPP suspension...
The redesigned Hightower features Santa Cruz's VPP suspension platform with the low shock mount.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Frame Design


The Hightower has been given a full makeover and that includes the geometry and suspension platform. Santa Cruz has hung their hat on their VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension design, and in the past couple years they've been switching nearly all of their new models to the low shock mount arrangement. It now looks almost identical to the frames of the Megatower, Bronson, Nomad, and the new Tallboy. The low mount attaches the shock low on the downtube and passes through a hole in the bottom of the seat tube to its attachment on the linkage to the rear triangle. This helps keep the weight of the shock and linkages lower on the bike and changes the curve of the rear suspension. On the Hightower, this design can only accommodate air shocks. The lower rocker linkage connects the front and rear triangles right behind the bottom bracket. The upper linkage is attached to the top tube just in front of the seat tube and extends down to rear triangle at the top of the seat stays. It also has a flip-chip integrated into the lower shock mount that allows the user to choose between a high and low setting, adjusting the geometry of the head tube angle by 0.3-degrees, the seat tube angle by 0.5-degrees, and the bottom bracket height by 4mm.

Our test model had a full carbon fiber CC frame with girthy tubing and a stout rear triangle. There is room for a water bottle within the front triangle with full-sleeve internal cable routing, an integrated chainstay protector, as well as protective bottom bracket and shuttle guards on the underside of the down tube. We measured our size large test bike and found it has a 619mm top tube length with a 470mm reach. The head tube angle measured at 65.2-degrees/65.5-degrees and the seat tube angle was 76.3-degrees/76.8-degrees in the low/high settings respectively. The wheelbase was 1230mm with 435mm long chainstays and a 340mm high bottom bracket in the low setting. It tipped the scales at 29 lbs 14 oz set up tubeless without pedals.

Design Highlights

  • Carbon fiber CC (tested), carbon fiber C and aluminum frames available
  • 29-inch wheels only
  • 140mm of VPP rear suspension
  • Fits air shocks only
  • Designed around a 150mm fork
  • Flip-chip adjustable geometry
  • Recommended rear tire clearance up to 2.4"
  • Offered as frame only in aluminum for $1,999 and carbon fiber CC for $3,299
  • Aluminum builds starting at $2,899 and carbon fiber builds ranging from $4,299 to $10,499

The Hightower is more of a smash and grabber than a slicer and...
The Hightower is more of a smash and grabber than a slicer and dicer. This bike inspires the confidence to charge hard down rough terrain.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Downhill Performance


If the Hightower was a burglar, it would definitely smash and grab as opposed to being a quick and quiet cat burglar or Mission Impossible-style thief. The updated longer and slacker geometry give this bike more of an enduro-style feel and has made this bike especially stable and confidence-inspiring; it takes a little speed to get it to come to life on the descents. Once you've got a head of steam, however, there's seemingly nothing this bike can't plow over or through, and it does so with confidence, composure, and excellent deep stroke support. It's not especially lively, especially at lower speeds or in tighter, slower, terrain, though it still handles relatively well considering its length and angles. The component specification on the Carbon CC XO1 build we tested is top-notch and definitely helps make this bike a hard-charging downhill slayer.


These days we feel a bit like a broken record when we talk about the modern geometry of pretty much every bike we test. Keeping with that trend, the new Hightower has a modern progressive geometry that includes a longer reach and wheelbase as well as a slacker head tube angle than the previous version(s). In fact, the wheelbase has been lengthened by over 30mm, and the head tube angle slackened by 0.5/0.8-degrees depending on which flip-chip setting you're in. While these changes have undoubtedly helped to give this bike more stability and charge-ability, it has the adverse effect of making it feel a little sluggish at lower speeds, in switchbacks, and in tight technical sections of trail. This is not to say that it's bad at low speeds or in tight terrain, but a calculated approach and a skilled pilot are beneficial in those situations.

The Hightower feels like a big bike when you get into tight sections...
The Hightower feels like a big bike when you get into tight sections both up and downhill. Most aggressive riders will probably be okay with that.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The new Hightower has a flip-chip integrated into the lower shock mount that allows the user to choose between a high or low setting to adjust the geometry to their preferences. We tested it in both settings and found that although the geometry changes seem quite minimal on paper, they produce distinctly different rides. Santa Cruz ships the Hightower in the low setting which has a 65.2-degree head tube angle, a 76.3-degree seat tube angle, and a 340mm bottom bracket height. Testers found this setting to feel great when mobbing downhill on more gravity-oriented trails where pedaling efficiency was less of a concern. If we were shuttling or pedaling fire roads to the top of our descents, the low setting was perfect. Flipping the chip to the high setting gives you a 65.5-degree head tube angle, 76.8-degree seat tube angle, and raises the bottom bracket height by 4mm. The high setting feels more efficient for tackling rolling terrain or descents that are interrupted by short punchy climbs, this was preferred for everyday trail riding.

The low mount VPP is shown here, with the flip-chip visible at the...
The low mount VPP is shown here, with the flip-chip visible at the lower shock mount.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Santa Cruz has been using the VPP suspension design for as long as anyone can remember, and that continues with the new Hightower. As part of the update, Santa Cruz has given it the low-mount shock orientation that has been proven on their V10 DH bike as well as the newer Nomad, Bronson, and Megatower models. This updated design provides excellent support, especially under pedaling, with a plush feel on medium to large hits with a progressive ramp-up at the end of the stroke. Our testers ran the suspension at 30% sag and never felt like they were blowing through the travel the way they do on similar bikes. The Hightower never felt like it wallowed or wanted to stay deep in the travel, it recovered very well and feels quick out of corners when you get on the gas. The Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock was excellent. Our testers ran the pressures at or a touch lower than usual and added a few clicks of low-speed compression damping (the external adjustment dial is nice) to dial in the feel. Our only complaints with the VPP platform is that small-bump compliance isn't amazing, and it tends to feel chattery over high-frequency chop compared to some other designs.

The Hightower definitely wakes up a bit at speed. We wouldn't...
The Hightower definitely wakes up a bit at speed. We wouldn't exactly call it lively, but the support of the VPP gives you something to push off if you're more of a playful rider.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The build of our $8,299 test model was stellar. The suspension package includes a RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock. Both are highly tuneable and felt outstanding and well-balanced on this bike. The Code RSC brakes were also excellent. Sure, they were brand new, but they felt truly amazing throughout our testing and helped give our testers confidence and control while mobbing around on the Hightower. The cockpit setup is perfectly dialed as well. The 800mm carbon bars, short stem, and 175mm Reverb Stealth dropper are all great and provide excellent and responsive steering and control on the descents. The Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheels are a $1,200 upgrade, but they have an excellent ride quality, a proper 30mm internal rim width, and a lifetime warranty. The 10-degree freehub engagement isn't great, however, and we'd expect better on a bike that costs this much. The Maxxis Minion DHR II tires are solid, although all of our testers agree that it's not their first choice on the front of the bike. The side knobs are large and aggressive, but a more directional center tread, like that of the DHF, provides more predictable traction and steering in our loose/loose over hard test conditions.

The Hightower climbs well considering its overall length. Momentum...
The Hightower climbs well considering its overall length. Momentum and power are your friend in technical sections.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Uphill Performance


Considering the hard-charging downhill performance of the Hightower, it performs remarkably well on the climbs. It has a comfortable seated pedaling position with a long-ish reach, a steep seat tube angle, and a roomy cockpit. The VPP platform is very supportive under seated pedaling and power transfer feels very direct and efficient. This bike motors up fire roads and smoother sections of trail, but due to its length it can feel a bit unwieldy in tight turns or low-speed tech. Overall, our testers were relatively impressed with its climbing abilities.


The Hightower looks like it should be heavy, but our tricked out test bike only tipped the scales at 29 lbs and 14 oz. This is comparable to other similar bikes in this travel range. It doesn't feel as light as these numbers suggest, though it certainly doesn't feel heavy. The new geometry lends itself to a comfortable climbing position. The seat tube angle is steep in both the flip-chip settings at 76.3/76.8-degrees respectively. The top tube isn't especially long at 619mm, though the reach is long-ish at 470mm. Thanks to the steeper seat tube angle, the reach never feels long, instead, it feels nice and roomy and easy to settle into on long climbs. The 1230mm long wheelbase is another story. While it's great for motoring along in a straight line and powering over obstacles with momentum, it can be a handful in tight turns or at low speeds on the climbs. For singletrack climbing and more rolling terrain, testers preferred the high geometry setting that gave them a slightly higher bottom bracket and slightly steeper head tube angle for more responsive handling and fewer pedal strikes.

The VPP suspension platform is known for providing a supportive and calm pedaling platform and it is excellent on the climbs. There is very little suspension movement when seated pedaling, in fact, our testers never felt the need to use the climb switch on the rear shock. When you jam on the pedals out of the saddle you'll notice some suspension movement, though less than the majority of other bikes in this travel range. Interestingly, this bike never feels really energetic or lively while climbing, it felt best to settle in and just grind it out in the saddle.

The Hightower's supportive VPP pedal platform is excellent. The...
The Hightower's supportive VPP pedal platform is excellent. The damping switch on the rear shock went virtually untouched throughout testing.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

The component spec was mostly amazing on the climbs. The SRAM XO1 drivetrain performed flawlessly and was a nice treat compared to the GX, NX, and SX Eagle drivetrains we've been testing on other bikes recently. We understand the reason for putting 170mm cranks on the Hightower, though we definitely noticed a slight decrease in leverage and power while climbing with them. Our taller testers would have preferred longer cranks for climbing efficiency. The Maxxis Minion DHR II is a great rear tire and it provides tons of climbing traction in most conditions including the loose dirt and moon dust we encountered while testing.

The Hightower's carbon frame and beefy rear triangle provide a...
The Hightower's carbon frame and beefy rear triangle provide a laterally stiff ride with excellent tracking.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Photo Tour


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Value


The $8,299 Carbon CC XO1 Reserve build we tested doesn't come cheap. It falls near the upper end in price of the Hightower build options. The component specification of this bike is perfect in nearly every way, so if you can justify the expense we doubt you'll be disappointed. You can also get this bike with alloy Race Face wheels instead of the Reserve option for $1,200 less, which may be a good option for anyone not sold on carbon hoops. Those looking to spend significantly less will be happy to know there are 3 aluminum-framed models that range in price from the entry-level D-build at $2,899 up to the nicely equipped S-build at $4,199. Carbon models range in price from the Carbon C R-build at $4,299 up to the tricked out Carbon CC XX1 AXS at a jaw-dropping $10,499.

The new Hightower is quite different than the previous version(s)...
The new Hightower is quite different than the previous version(s). It may be a touch less well-rounded, but it is capable of charging way harder than ever before.
Photo: Jenna Ammerman

Conclusion


Skilled aggressive trail riders will absolutely love the new Hightower. The recent updates to the geometry and the suspension design have turned this rig into a hard-charging downhill crusher. It feels a little less like a pure trail-bike than the previous version, but it's impressively stable at speed and inspires loads of confidence in steep and rowdy terrain. The added length can be a handful in tight and technical terrain, a tradeoff for its confident and composed performance when things get gnarly.

Build Options


Santa Cruz makes the 2020 Hightower in builds that range from $2,899 up to $10,499. It is offered with Aluminum, Carbon C or Carbon CC frames. The "C" and "CC" frames are claimed to be the same stiffness, although the more expensive "CC" frame is significantly lighter weight.

There are three aluminum-framed builds starting with the entry-level "D" model that retails for $2,899. It comes with a RockShox 35 Gold fork, a Fox Float Performance DPS rear shock, a SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Guide T brakes, and a Race Face Aeffect dropper post. The R build retails for $3,499 and gets an upgrade to a RockShox Yari fork, a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Guide R brakes. The Aluminum S build goes for $4,199 and comes nicely equipped with a RockShox Lyrik Select+ fork, a RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ rear shock, a SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, powerful SRAM Code R brakes, Race Face AR Offset wheels, and a RockShox Reverb dropper.

The two Carbon C models start with the R build that retails for $4,299 and comes with a RockShox Yari fork, a Fox Float Performance DPS rear shock, SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, and SRAM Guide R brakes. The Carbon C S build costs $5,199 and has a RockShox Lyrik Select+ fork, Super Deluxe Select+ shock, SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain and Code R brakes, and Race Face AR Offset wheels. Optional Reserve Carbon 30 wheel upgrade for an additional $1,200.

All of the Carbon CC models come with the same top of the line suspension package that includes the RockShox Lyrik Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock.

The Carbon CC XTR Reserve build will set you back a cool $9,899 with a full XTR kit that includes a 12-speed drivetrain and 4-piston brakes. It also comes clad with a Reserve Carbon 30 wheelset with Industry 9's new Hydra hubs.

If you have $10,499 lying around you might be interested in the Carbon CC XX1 AXS Reserve build that comes with SRAM's trick new XX1 AXS Eagle electronic drivetrain, Code RSC brakes, and Reserve Carbon wheels with i9 Hydra hubs.

Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Kyle Smaine