Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review (Is It Your Next Bike?) [Video]

Santa Cruz has become what could arguably be claimed as the people's bike company. Just about every new rider and cycling die-hards have flocked to the cult and are repping the name of Santa Cruz Bicycles. With the introduction of the Hightower LT, Santa Cruz has only become more popular with a bike designed for speed that is still capable of riding the gnarliest of terrains. Towards the end of 2016, Santa Cruz introduced the Long-Travel version of the Hightower by increasing the travel from 135mm to 150mm. Creating what has become one of the most common and favorite Long-Travel 29ers on the market. Fellow bike nerd and good friend of the shop, Troydon Murison, has been aboard the Santa Cruz Hightower for quite some time. We asked him to review it given his experience over the past couple of months. The result could not have been better. Let's see what he had to say!

Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review

Initial Impressions

The Santa Cruz Hightower LT in size XXL is the first bike I have ever had that I feel actually fits me. It should be noted that I think a lot of people are simply sizing up on this bike which puts the geo in line with all the newer longer reach offerings making their way into the market. It’s a Santa Cruz so the frame build quality is solid as we have all come to expect from them. The seat tube angle is slightly slacker than I would like at 6’4” which I believe is partially due to the amount of seatpost I have sticking out of the frame when at full extension coupled with the fact that Santa Cruz repurposed the front triangle from the 135mm Hightower. This is due to the fact that they changed the linkage plus rear triangle on it to make it slacker with the added 15mm of travel. I do love that the seat tube is uninterrupted and I could easily fit my 200mm travel 9point8 fall line dropper post into the frame.
Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review

Rider Profile

Rider: Troydon Murison
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 215lb
Age: 40
Ability: Pro/Masters

Bike Setup

Frame Size: XXL
Front Tire: WTB Vigilante 2.3 Tough High Grip (not pictured)
Rear Tire: WTB Breakout 2.25 Tough Fast-rolling (not pictured)
Fork: Lyrik RCT3, 95-105 PSI, 4 Tokens
Shock: Monarch Plus RC3, Spacers (fully loaded), 240 PSI
Wheels: Enve M930
Seatpost: 9point8 Fall Line, 200mm travel option

Recent Bikes Ridden

Yeti SB 5.5
Santa Cruz Hightower XL (135mm travel)

Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review

First Ride

I got along with the bike right out of the gate. It rides pretty similarly to the 135mm HT but the extra reach is welcomed by myself and even with the slightly longer wheelbase I did not notice many hindrances when it came to the tight switchbacks on one of my favorite local trails that I have ridden on every bike I have ever owned. This bicycle tracks extraordinarily well and corners like it's on rails while exhibiting a ton of stability at speed with the longer wheelbase and extra 15mm travel. The front-wheel felt extremely planted and my weight felt nicely balanced with more than enough weight over the front wheel due to the reach - I felt confident I was not going to push the front in a turn. It felt way more balanced running this bike with a 160mm fork than the regular HT did which I think I do need to attribute to the longer reach as a factor too. It still climbs OK but nothing like the Yeti SB5.5c and with the slight slacker seat tube angle as I mentioned earlier, I’d have to say not as well as the regular HT either. People who know me know that I only pedal up to come down and for no other reason and with that being said this bike will still get you to the top and you’ll be glad you chose it over the other options mentioned as soon as the fun starts!

Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review

Setup Experimentation

After having the bike for a few weeks I decided to experiment with running a 170mm fork. This was exciting for me as I have never really been able to over fork a bike due to size and reach numbers. Whenever I have tried it in the past I have always felt that shortening the reach affected me negatively because it just made me feel like I had no weight on the front wheel and thus always felt sketchy in turns just waiting for the front to wash out. In fact, I have actually gone the other direction before where I have lowered my front fork from what the bike was spec'd with in order to gain some reach and reduce some stack. This actually worked well for me when I had my Yeti SB5.5c which in an XL which was the biggest size available but was still pretty small for me considering. With the reach of the Hightower LT XXL being a roomy 498mm, running the 170mm actually felt really good and I could still corner the bike as well as I was able to with the 160mm. Even though I really don't need the 170mm fork on my local trails it was really nice and reassuring to have this as an option for when I go to race at places where the trails warrant that extra travel and slightly slacker head angle.

Santa Cruz Hightower Review

Impressions After a Few Months

I feel at home every time I get on this bike and I know that I am going to have fun riding it. I have found it to be pretty playful for such a large machine and I’m still trying to push it to the point where I feel I am actually using its capabilities. Needless to say, I have yet to get it there. It has stood me in good at some of the early seasons local DH races and I have no doubt it will do so at anything any enduro race can throw at it.  It does, however, feel a bit harsh off the top which is why I run so many spacers in my rear shock and try to get it as progressive as possible which allows me to run a bit less air to compensate for that. At the risk of sounding like a spoiled brat I have also enjoyed being back on a bike that can fit a full-sized water bottle inside the frame and its just so nice to be able to go out for a decent local loop without having to deal with backpacks, bibs or fanny packs or potentially a water bottled covered in muck when you go to have a drink and that's if its actually still there and you haven't managed to lose it along the way at some point. One thing I must point out is if you are a big person riding one of the larger frames you might want to look at running 203mm rotor up-front for some extra stopping power. I actually even run dual piston brakes. (Shimano Saint, XT is pictured)

Santa Cruz Hightower LT Review

Final Thoughts

"Although you will definitely not confuse the Santa Cruz Hightower LT for your downhill rig, it definitely shines more on the downhills than up, but then let's be honest, who’s reading this review and really cares about going up! It’s all about the fun you can have getting back down. This is an extremely versatile bike that really does it all. It is very well balanced and corners like a champ. All in all, this is a super fun bike that will put a smile on anybody's mug in a flash. It is, however, not compatible with the new metric shock offerings but if that is not a factor for you it's definitely worth a look or demo rip on this one." - Troydon

May 16, 2018

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