2020 Santa Cruz Hightower 2: A Highly Capable All-Rounder [Ride Impressions]

The new Santa Cruz Hightower is a great all-rounder of a mountain bike. It climbs well, is comfortable to ride, and can shred downhill.
The new Hightower 2 is a sleek, fast looking bike.

The 2020 Santa Cruz Hightower is one of the latest bikes to receive Santa Cruz’s lower-link treatment upon its recent refresh.

The Hightower has always been a great all-rounder of a bike, favored by riders of all skill levels since it’s inception when Santa Cruz proved that big wheels can be fun, and that’s still as true as ever.

Santa Cruz’s lower-link-mounted shock placement, originally pulled from their V10 downhill bike, is designed to give riders more progression in the leverage curve whilst also being more supple at the start. This means that it soaks up small bumps well while also fending off the big hits. This, combined with the new-school geometry, means that the bike rewards aggressive riders and hard chargers. However this does come with the caveat that it is slightly less pedal-efficient, though VPP is naturally a very efficient linkage.

The Hightower 2 now uses Santa Cruz’s lower-link suspension design.

But hold up there, don’t assume that because the bike can charge harder that it isn’t suitable for your average Joe. The new geometry features a slacked-out, 65.5° head angle. Combined with a short chainstay length of 433mm, the bike is stable downhill, but nimble in the corners. The steep seat tube angle of 77° means that even though the suspension is a little less efficient, the geometry puts the rider in a good climbing position and as such is no slouch uphill.

Santa Cruz has really nailed the geometry game with the new Hightower. Putting the jargon aside, this bike is seriously fun to ride. Swinging a leg over the Hightower just feels comfortable, like an old pair of slippers. I’ve had a few rides on the Hightower in BC’s Lower Mainland, and have tried to put the bike through as many different riding scenarios in as short a period as I can, and it’s surprised me. As somebody who’s relatively familiar with Santa Cruz’s VPP platform, I had some idea what to expect. It pedals super efficiently and feels planted when climbing, with minimal pedal bob. Not surprisingly, when you point it down the trail is when things get fun.

The Hightower 2 is at home on technical trails. Photo: Geoff Livingston

I knew there was a new Hightower coming, and I expected it to be a fun trail bike, and that much is true. On intermediate-graded trails, it’s easy to ride. The big wheels don’t feel cumbersome, it holds its speed well and it’s playful. You don’t have to be a super aggressive rider to enjoy riding the new Hightower, and that’s sort of where I expected it to end.

I then decided to take the bike on some rougher, steeper, more technical trails and boy was I surprised. You can really charge on this thing! The slack head angle and long front center mean that when things get steep, technical and rowdy, the Hightower has your back. I found myself riding sections of trail way faster than I expected, the big wheels just gobbling up the technical sections. The 140mm of travel offered up by the VPP link feels bottomless. Running at the factory-suggested sag I definitely used all the travel, but I didn’t feel any harsh bottom outs.

I found myself instantly at home on features and flat trail alike on the Hightower 2. Photo: Geoff Livingston

I’ve often found that 29er enduro bikes can suck the fun out of a lot of trails, but the Hightower seems to have a great balance of being capable and fast, but still lively and manageable. The only place where I really felt the Hightower come a little unstuck was in really chunky, rough trails. The lack of travel makes the bike feel a little less plush, and this is where bigger bikes like the Megatower and the Nomad come in. They certainly climb a little squishier, however for riding big, fast, burly trails those bikes make sense. For everything else in between, I’d be happy to ride a Hightower.

Corners? Yep, it does those too! Photo: Geoff Livingston

The 2020 Santa Cruz Hightower is available in both Aluminium and Carbon, C and CC models, in a range of build specs, all with Rockshox suspension. Complete bikes start at $2899 for a solid build with SRAM NX eagle 12sp and Santa Cruz’s legendary build quality. The carbon C models start at $4299 and the range tops out at $10499 for an AXS wireless CC build with carbon Reserve wheels. All models come with a 35mm stanchion fork (either a 35 Gold, a Yari, or a Lyrik), 4-piston brakes, and a 12-speed drivetrain which all show the Hightower’s intentions of being a real do-it-all bike. [Compare Santa Cruz Hightower prices online.]

As with any Santa Cruz bike, you get what you pay for. Incredible build quality, a well thought out frame design with smart and easy cable routing (tubes in tubes on the carbon models), a lifetime frame warranty, and free pivot bearings for life.

You get what you pay for: features such as clean cable routing and revised (quiet) chainstay protection.

Final words

The new Hightower is a great all-rounder of a bike. Santa Cruz has somehow managed to hit the magic geometry numbers and create a bike that climbs well, is easy and comfortable to ride, and can shred downhill. We’re lucky to be living in a time where we can enjoy riding technical descents as hard as we want without having to suffer on the uphills, and this couldn’t be closer to the truth for the Hightower.

Big thanks to Steed Cycles for the loaner bike. Dealing in Santa Cruz bikes since their infancy, Steed Cycles is Canada’s oldest and biggest Santa Cruz Dealer. They have a fleet of Santa Cruz bikes available to demo and incredible customer service, so don’t hesitate to contact them to try or buy one.

This model is the CC X01 Reserve, it’s a super-sweet build.