deniz merdano santa cruz hightower 1
Ride Impressions

2022 Santa Cruz Hightower

Photos Deniz Merdano
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2022 Santa Cruz Hightower

The new 2022 Santa Cruz Hightower, also known as the Hightower 3, is a refinement over the existing platform rather than a complete redesign.

Sitting in the middle of the sand box with all the Tonka toys nearby, the Hightower has always been a mountain biker's mountain bike. What that means is without having to push any boundaries and geometry numbers, it is a bike that can be ridden by anyone, anywhere without drifting to the fringes of the playground. It is easy to ride uphill, across the hill and down the hill in most trail networks in the world.

This really makes the Hightower family the most boring bike in the lineup, in a good way.

For this 2022 version, the Hightower 3 got some tweaks to make it more relevant and stay ahead of the competition. The category itself is crowded with the likes of the Scott Genius, Pivot Switchblade, Specialized Stumpjumper and the like.

I was invited to try the new bike out in Oakridge and Westfir, Oregon over the course of 3 days of shuttle assisted pedalling in a vast trail network.

deniz merdano santa cruz hightower 2

2022 Santa Cruz Hightower C

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Great looking bike in every angle.

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Westfir Covered Bridge built in 1945, Santa Cruz Hightower CC built in 2022. Photo: Ian Stowe

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C'mon, who doesn't love covered bridges?


Oakridge and Westfir are proper sleepy towns with populations low enough to know everyone on a first name basis. You won't find people hanging about on the main strip or pubs all that much but the area offers incredible access to the Williamette National Forest for tons of opportunity to get the SAR out to rescue you while recreating.

Once bustling with logging activities, the region is extremely rich in providing lumber in the shape of Douglas Fir and several types of Cedar and Hemlock. The mill that owned the town once, shut down in the mid 80s due to wildfires and put the bustling economy to sleep for a couple of decades.

The steep and loamy nature of the terrain is well suited to gravity focused mountain biking. Nick Gibson from Trans Cascadia Expeditions has taken the helm on this front, leading a tidal wave of forest stewardship and biking experience that Santa Cruz decided to partner with for the release of the new Hightower.

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All SRAM builds, not a Shimano part in sight...

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Super Deluxe Select+ on the GX AXS RSV build I was testing.

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In 2023, there will be no bike spared from downtube storage and I am OK with that.

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I like the Santa Cruz version dubbed the "Glovebox". It provides easy access and the aluminum latch feels solid.

There are 6 build kits and 5 sizes to choose from in the lineup. Ranging from SRAM, DT Swiss to I9 1/1 in hubs and Race Face AR-ARC or Reserve 30HD rims.

All builds come with SRAM's various levels of 10-50t Cassettes, which I prefer to the 10-52T version. Code R, RS and RSC brakes stop 5 out of the 6 builds and the G2 Rs get the job done on the entry level build.

I'd put the Code RS and RSC in the same power category, however the lever feel is noticeably different with the sealed bearing on the RSC version. Lighter action = less arm pump on longer descents. A threaded BB in regular Santa Cruz fashion and lifetime supply of pivot bearings round out the package of excellent value for most people.

These bikes are far from cheap but that's reflected in the ownership experience. The American Dream is not dead and it's got 145mm of revised VPP suspension.

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This is a Mountain Bike... in morse code.

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The OneUp dropper and lever are a familiar sight to me.

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The AXS paddle is the V1 and after going back and forth, I think I like it better than the V2 design.

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Sag window... Simple and effective. This bike was set to 30% sag, around 180psi for a 165-lb rider.

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180mm rotors and Code RS brakes.

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The 180mm rotors did their job well in the flatter, high-speed trails of Oakridge. I'd prefer 200s for Shore riding.

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Attention to detail is superb. More hidden code in the shock tunnel.

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Reserve 30 wheels are excellent companions to the Hightower.

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There was mud... Lots of it. No mechanical issues and even the matte paint cleaned up well.

2022 Santa cruz hightower matte emerald

This is the colour I'd choose if I were to put my coin down.

2022 Santa cruz hightower translucent purple

The Oxblood to Purple fade is absolutely gorgeous too, so maybe I'll get one of each!

2022 Santa cruz hightoweranti squat

Lines that droop should mean things to you.

2022 Santa cruz hightower leverage rate

The 2022 version has similar progression to the previous gen Hightower.

Riding the Hightower

Sitting atop the medium Hightower, with its 455mm reach and 800mm bars, felt very familiar. Normally I'd choose to run 780 to 770mm bars on a bike of this genre but out of laziness and curiosity, I left them at full width for the 3-day Media Camp. I had provided my riding weight and measurements to suspension engineer Kiran at Santa Cruz. With my pedals in place, all I had to do was to raise the seatpost up a few milimeters to get a proper fit. Quite impressed with the setup provided, we went on a quick afternoon shuttle in previously rain soaked Oakridge trails. Tires were covered in fresh mould release, suspension was set up at 28% sag. The bike felt fast if a little skittish.

Taking mental notes of this characteristic, I reduced the shock pressure from the initial 185psi down to 180psi and opened up the rebound one click to get things settled in on the unfamiliar high speed singletrack. I settled on 80psi and just about fully wide open compression circuit on the Fox 36 Performance Elite. Rebound was set quick to match the rear of the bike.

It was a common agreement within the camp that the bikes should be set to "softer than usual" chassis for this non-technical fast single track we were navigating to generate traction and comfort. Not much in the sense of big compressions were found on the bench cut nature of the Willamette Forest Trails.

I was suggested not to go past 32% sag on the Super Deluxe, as the progression has been reduced from the previous Hightower to create a supportive and predictable suspension feedback throughout the stroke. We had 145mm travel, and it was suggested we use all of it.

Supportive is the word I'd use to describe the feel through my feet, as I couldn't sink into the bike as much as I do on the Orbea Rallon I am currently piloting. The all day pedal machine Hightower doesn't pretend to be an Enduro bike but with enough anti-squat to keep you high up in the travel for excellent pedalling position and efficiency.

The anti-squat values sat around 120% at around sag, swiftly dropping to 0 as you sink into the travel.

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Remi from the Trans Cascadia Crew loading up the chill van for the first day of riding. We switched to a more rugged van for the following days.

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The 2022 Hightower is light, poppy, and eager to get airborne. Photo - Ian Stowe

Maxxis DHR II tires both up front in MaxxGrip and MaxxTerra out back are not the usual dressings on my bikes but the straight-line braking is excellent when you put one on the front of your bike. When it comes to going around the trees at 60km/h on singletrack, I found the lean angles to be deeper than what I am used to on order to dig the side lugs into the soft ground. This took a while to get accustomed to, but boy was the fruit sweet once I figured it all out. Looking out further than I usually do on the Shore, I took inside lines and leaned the bike into perfect two-wheel drifts to rocket out of corners. In hindsight, I should have cut the bars down to 770 to make initiating turns a little easier but the energetic character of the Hightower was forgiving in the most exciting sense.

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Hightower loves big sweeping high-speed corners. Photo : Ian Stowe

Geometry things

The new bike supports a 64.5deg head angle which is inline with the new generation of trail bikes these days. Don't worry about the flip chip at the base of the shock as it has very little effect on the overall numbers. I'd play with it in the High position only if you wanted more clearance for your pedals. The size specific rear ends are a crowd pleaser these days and Santa cruz delivers on this front too. 3mm increase with each size is what you get. 435mm on the medium is a snappy little turner for me.

I was a big fan of the 115mm headtube on the size medium. I like taller front ends and there won't be a Pisa tower of spacers under my stem. It looks way nicer too. 77deg seat tube angle was forward enough for my 5'9" carcass and bike has a perfect all day pedalling position. I even got along with the WTB Silverado sans diaper.

With plenty of anti squat on hand, pumping the bike onto the back of the rollers propelled the ride forward at a hurrying manner. This bike should eat up flowy singletrack.

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Garen Becker orchestrating the bikes and making sure everybody is taken care of.

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Kiran McKinney, Suspension guru at Santa Cruz on board for questions and setup help.


Willamette National Forest surrounds the hills of Oakridge.


Nick Gibson, the head of Trans Cascadia, showing us his plans to boost the local economy using mountain bikes.

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Sarah from Trans Cascadia making sure everything is running smoothly.

We are hoping to get a solid test on the Hightower in our home turf for a long term review. We have rocks and slick roots and cliffs we need to negotiate on a daily basis.

We'll make no mistake on this bike's intended use but I am sure it will handle the North Shore terrain just fine. Pricing is TBD at the moment but the Santa Cruz website and your dealer will have the info on that shortly.

Thanks to the lovely people of Trans Cascadia Excursions and Oakridge for hosting us on this short but sweet trip. We can't wait to go back for more and as the Oakridge Trail network expands in the next few months.

Visit the Santa Cruz website for more Info on the Hightower 3.

2022 hightower geometry
2022 santa cruz hightower build kits
Deniz Merdano



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+8 Vik Banerjee DMVancouver Deniz Merdano Cr4w Lu Kz Timer ElBrendo Zero-cool

Deniz, here’s the real question- did it come with pedals?!?


+1 Devin Zoller

It could have come with shitty plastic pedals and I still would have shredded it. 



+5 Lu Kz Deniz Merdano Pete Roggeman Vik Banerjee Allen Lloyd

Deniz, I think this is a really interesting travel bracket.  They're burly enough for the biggest lines but you can still ride all day on them - very similar to my Murmur.  A real "one bike to rule them all".  It will be interesting to read your review once you get some time on it.



I think flat out speed is going to be the limiter on this bike. If we are chasing each other on the steep stuff, i may find its limits. But happy to be proven wrong ..



I find that with my Murmur - Once it gets super bumpy it's not as quick as a longer travel bike but i'm happy to accept that as a trade off.  The limiting factor is still my ability rather than the bike.


+1 NealWood

Generally only place that's an issue is Cypress on the shore. Where speeds are faster and holes are bigger. looking forward to running lots of sag and volume spacers if necessary.


+2 JVP Tjaard Breeuwer

I agree, however, the biggest compromise might in the tire choice. The kind of rubber I would want for confidence on the big lines (even more so in the wet) isn't the kind of rubber I would have the strength to pedal around all day.



Depends who you are pedaling around allday with. If I am solo or with a chill group, heavy rubber rarely impacts the ride on the way up. If I am riding with former XC shredders, I'll take some rolling speed for the expense of downhill traction on the back of the bike.


+1 Allen Lloyd

I have a bike with the same travel and similar geo and i'm actually wondering whether a bigger bike or smaller bike would make more sense.
I think that a bike like this is kind of at a tipping point. You have most of the burly components and the weight of a bigger bike, just not the travel. After owning my 150 bike for almost a year now, i'm constantly wondering what I would give up with something like a 170 bike that weighed the same or nearly the same (which is easily achievable), and I can't really come up with anything (I don't mind being overbiked at all, and I love feeling the suspension doing all the work instead of me). I do all day rides often, but I don't care about my average speed at all (sometimes I go bikepacking with my 150 FS). Being a light dude i'm fairly sure I could easily get away with something like a longer travel 36 and not super burly tyres. If the kinematics are right, I don't think a bike with +20mm travel would necessarily pedal worse? 
If I really cared about pedalling, i'd go with something that's substantially lighter.
Dunno, I might be wrong about everything. But personally I don't think my next bike is going to be in the 150 range.


+5 Mammal Deniz Merdano Timer Spencer Nelson dhr999

Those photos though


+1 dhr999

Ian did a stellar job with the action shots!! Shooting all 7 of us


+1 dhr999

Yep that sweeping corner shot is amazing


+4 Craig Ellis Chad K 4Runner1 dhr999

I have a V2 and it is a great bike. Very uncomplicated in a great way. The shock tunnel and sag window and the glovebox don't instill a wish to upgrade. Don't need it. 

The price hike however makes my V2 seem like a bargain. Prices are getting insane. (and I never thought bike prices ridiculous before)



well unfortunately they didn't really changed the shock tunnel, the hightower continues to be the only bike in the lineup that doesn't have good shock compatibility, no x2, no coil, while all other lower link bikes support (except maybe the tallboy). It's puzzling to me why SC continues to limit hightower's shock compatibility.

but I agree, I'm having a hard time seeing a reason to move from my v2 to a v3, doesn't look like enough change to justify that. Wish they had added more progressive ratio since it's one thing that I don't really like on the v2, seems to be too easy to go through travel and bottom out. Megneg was a big improvement but still not quite as much as I'd like to.


+2 cheapondirt DancingWithMyself

Now, I know Santa Cruz has never been the most revolutionary company when it comes to bleeding edge geometry changes year over year with their bikes, but even for them this is a relatively small set change compared to the outgoing model (which maybe add up to a substantially improved bike for some? we'll see). I actually find it somewhat refreshing. We have a company who clearly felt the outgoing model, which lasted a normal length of time for a mega-company (3ish model years?), remains pretty darn good. The new one... isn't all that different. You couldn't tell them apart from looking. Maybe you'd have to look really close. They're even calling it a full generational change too - v2 to v3. 

If I was an owner of the Hightower V2, I don't think I'd be looking to pick up a v3. That's kind of comforting in a "you always need the newest and the best" MTB media world.



If i owned a V2 I'd be torn as hell to decide if i wanted a v3 or not.

Great little upgrades like the sag tunnel and the glovebox. 

The colours are a definite upgrade too...

Tough place to be


I think Santa Cruz is more likely than most to realize when a bike ain't broke, there's no point fixing it. The Hightower has been well-received and it has mass appeal and there are other bikes to choose in their line if your terrain or preferences don't align this one.


+1 Deniz Merdano

Oakridge = mtb utopia, although if you don't shuttle, you better be ready to climb!

Is the new Hightower a snappy pedaler for a 145 bike, given the fairly high antisquat?


+1 Tjaard Breeuwer

Hightower pedals really well. High enough anti squat to feel energetic but active enough the generate traction on the soft slick ground we were on. Never once turned the climb switch on.

If pedaling was the constant game, ebikes would be the ticket there.. Nick runs a sweet game though, I'd pay 35$ for a bump up. He has plans to put a few lower trails in the next couple of years. I'd be curious to see those develop.



I did my first shuttle day ever there several years ago. It had some cool name that I've forgotten, but IIRC we did 7 runs.

Fun as shite!

And the beer and food at Brewers Union were also great.


+1 Mammal

As the owner of a V2 with Cascade link + 170 fork ( which yields a 64 degree HA, 8mm longer rear center, 8mm shorter front center, 160mm of rear travel and the same BB height as the "new" one), I am very glad I paid half of V3 frame retail for a superior set up!

I"ll just call it the V4. :)



I had a chat with the SC guys about the cascade link and it's implications on the frame design. They didn't rush to immediately dismiss the idea of a cascade link but also didn't think it was necessary with the new kinematics. 

I'd be curious if I was a V2 owner and wanted to experiment on a budget.



As a V1 Hightower owner I really want to ride one of these.  I have ridden a few V2's and they just don't feel right to me.  My issue would be that I have a hard time not moving to a Megatower.  They pedal nearly as well, weigh about the same and the extra travel would be nice at the bike parks.  

I have found that 90% of the time a Hightower is faster than most enduro bikes, then the other 10% of time it is terrifying to try to keep up.  Most trails in Montana require about a Hightower in travel to be comfortable.



how's the support at the end of the stroke and bottom out resistance? v2 used to blow through travel more than I'd like even after megneg... doesn't look like the curve changed enough to help with that... new shock tune? Santa Cruz said "This provides improved bottom-out resistance with more consistent damping and support" not sure if this is improved from v2 or some other thing, hard to say. but I'd love to see a bit more progressive suspension curve which doesn't appear to be the case



I am also curious about this. The linear nature of the bike is what SC engineers brag about. 150mm bike that uses the travel eagerly. Couple of G-Out situations did not bother the bike that much during the 3 day test period but a test bike is on it's way to the NSMB HQ and the proper BC summer riding will find the bottom of every shock. Will report the findings.


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