2022 Santa Cruz Hightower
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.