Santa Cruz Tallboy/Hightower - Review

Jan 9, 2017
by Vernon Felton  




Two bikes. On the left, we have Santa Cruz’s third-generation Tallboy and, at right, the company’s longer-travel Hightower. Are you about to read a “shoot-out” style review? You are not. For a lot of reasons. First, since both bikes are Santa Cruz models, a “shoot out” would be a bit like asking, “Where do you want to eat breakfast? At McDonald’s or at McDonald's?” Second, though these bikes are clearly neighboring branches on the same Santa Cruz family tree, they are not equivalents and the bedrock foundation of every “bike test shoot out” is that you are comparing equal items…apples to apples rather than apples to watermelons.

Finally, and this is really the main reason, I think shoot outs are just so much bullshit.


Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.
The original Tallboy was an XC bike that could play dirty. The new model still pedals like a demon, but is far more capable.
Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC
With the Hightower, Santa Cruz was aiming to build a more capable descender than the original Tallboy LTc, without sacrificing maneuverability.


Which is “the best bike”? Dunno. It’s a flawed question. Here are some better ones:

What kind of rider might prefer one model over the other?
On which trails?
Under which conditions?
And most importantly,
How do the new Tallboy and Hightower fare against their respective competitors out there in the larger marketplace?

We’ll touch on all of the above.

Alright, long-ass disclaimer officially over. Let’s get on with it.





The Tallboy Gets Rowdy

It’s been nearly eight years since Santa Cruz debuted their Tallboy and in that time the bike has converted hordes of 29er haters. The Tallboy was one of the first 29ers that didn’t handle like a drunken shopping cart. But that’s faint praise. The Tallboy was fun, it was nimble and it was more capable than its 100 millimeters of travel promised. The Tallboy, however, remained largely unchanged during a period when bikes in its were class were evolving at a furious rate.

This latest reboot of the Tallboy, however, brings everything up to date: new geometry, new suspension tune, improved kinematics, a bit more travel, burlier componentry and greater versatility, thanks to its ability to run both 29 and 27.5+inch wheels. All of these changes are aimed at one thing—making the Tallboy a more capable bike.


Tallboy Details

• Intended use: cross-country and trail riding
• Fork travel: 120mm (29er)/130mm (27.5+)
• Rear wheel travel: 110mm
• Wheelsize(s): 29-inch or 27.5+
• Carbon front and rear triangles
• Clearance for up to 27.5 x 3.0'' tires
• 73mm threaded bottom bracket
• Boost (12x148mm) hub spacing
• Sizes: S / M / L / XL / XXL
• Weight: 26.74 lbs (Large, no pedals)
• Frame-Only: $1,899 USD (alum.)/$2,999 USD (carbon)
• Price as Tested: $8,499 USD
• Price Range: $2,599 - $9,999 USD (ENVE wheel upgrade available)
www.santacruzbicycles.com
The Tallboy is available in both aluminum and carbon frames and can be shod with 12 different build kits. Complete, aluminum bikes range in price from $2,599 to $2,999. Complete carbon bikes start at $3,599 and top out at $9,999.

Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.
Want to run a front derailleur? The Tallboy will accept a front mech, though I have a hard time understanding the need. While our early-2016 test bike features a 10-42 SRAM X01 group, the latest, equivalent model is now equipped with SRAM Eagle X01 and its very low, 10-50 cassette.
Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.
The bike features a mix of internal and external cable routing. Most of it is exceptionally tidy, with the exception of these sections of the rear brake and derailleur lines that run from the down tube to the rear triangle. They're a bit...unrestrained.

Santa Cruz Tallboy Hightower review

Frame & Suspension

Santa Cruz added 10 millimeters of rear suspension to the Tallboy (for a total of 110 millimeters) and tweaked their VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) kinematics—giving the Tallboy a higher initial leverage rate and a flatter overall suspension curve. In a nutshell, the company was looking to improve the bike’s feel over small bumps while also making it feel more consistent throughout its range of travel. While you might expect a shorter-travel bike with a flatter suspension curve to blow through its scant travel too easily, Santa Cruz nipped that problem in the bud by also equipping this latest generation Tallboy with a more progressive shock tune.

Santa Cruz also lowered the Tallboy’s stand-over height and designed the bike to accept both 29 and 27.5+ tires and wheels. The rear shock link is equipped with a two-position, flip chip that keeps the geometry nearly constant, regardless of which wheelsize you choose. In Low mode, the bike is meant to be paired with a 120-millimeter fork and 29er hoops. High mode is for 27.5+ tires and a 130-millimeter travel fork.

Santa Cruz Tallboy29 and Santa Cruz Tallboy 27.5 and Juliana Joplin

Geometry

The original Tallboy geometry was way ahead of the curve in 2009, but had grown a bit dated by 2016. Santa Cruz brings things up to date by shearing 2.2 degrees from the head tube angle, increasing the seat tube angle half a degree, adding 40 to 50 millimeters to the top tube and shortening both the seattube and chainstays (30 millimeters and 11 millimeters, respectively). The overall goal here? Make the bike more stable while improving its maneuverability.


Specifications
Specifications
Release Date 2016
Price $8599
Travel 120 front, 110 rear
Rear Shock Fox Float Performance Elite
Fork Fox 34 Float 29 Performance Elite
Headset Cane Creek 40, Integrated
Cassette SRAM XG1295; 10-50t
Crankarms SRAM X1 Carbon
Bottom Bracket 73mm, threaded
Rear Derailleur SRAM X01 Eagle
Chain SRAM X01 Eagle Powerlock
Front Derailleur Available with other build kits
Shifter Pods SRAM X01 Eagle
Handlebar Santa Cruz Carbon Flat Bar; 31.8mm clamp, 750mm (S-M), 780mm (L-XXL)
Stem Raceface Turbine Basic
Grips Santa Cruz Palmdale Lock-on
Brakes SRAM Level TLM
Wheelset Enve M60
Hubs Industry Nine
Tires Maxxis Minion DHF Exo 3c; 29x2.3/Ardent Race Exo; 29x2.35
Seat WTB Silverado Team
Seatpost Rock Shox Reverb Stealth; 31.6x 125mm (S), 150mm(M-XL), 170mm (XXL)
Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.






Set-Up

Nothing terribly sexy to report here. I tend to run XC and trail bikes at 25 percent sag and that's what I aimed for when diddling about with both the Fox Float 29 Performance Elite fork and Float Performance Elite shock. I've always opted to run rear-suspension sag at 30 percent on previous versions of the Tallboy, in order to eke out better climbing traction out of the VPP system. That wasn't necessary this time around...

As for tires and wheels, I rode the Tallboy primarily in its 29er trim, but dallied with 27.5+ throughout the season in the name of science and all that jazz.


Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.

Climbing

Efficient pedaling has always been the bread and butter of the Virtual Pivot Point design, but on some of the older models, that crisp acceleration came at the sacrifice of small bump compliance. It’s not something you notice on fireroads or relatively buff singletrack climbs, but when I was pedaling up rocky and rooty climbs, it was an obvious bummer. Santa Cruz has been improving on this balance for a few years now and the latest iteration of VPP is, for my tastes at least, a genuine step forward. The Tallboy still pedals efficiently enough to be run wide open, but the grip on techy climbs is significantly improved. I’ve ridden zippier climbers, but not many. The Tallboy is definitely near the top of its class as a climbing machine.

Looking to boost traction even further, I chose to run the Maxxis 27.5x2.8 Rekons. The wider footprint and lower tire pressure definitely make scaling rooty sections stupid easy, though some of the bike’s briskness (abundantly evident in 29er mode) gets lost in the mid-fat shuffle. Not a huge surprise—ditching the carbon Enve M60 wheels and skinnier tires for the plus-size tires and Race Face ARC 40 wheelset added about a half pound of rolling weight to the rig. That’s actually a very modest bump in weight, all things considered, but it’s noticeable all the same.



Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.

Descending

The original Tallboy was a bit of a unicorn—a bike that could hold its own alongside the best cross-country machines when it came to gaining elevation…and which could drop them on descents from the get go. This new Tallboy is a unicorn with bigger balls. Or ovaries. Take your pick of downhill-enhancing gonads. Bottom line, slackening the head angle and lengthening the bike’s front center give the bike a more stable and planted feel on technical descents. Not a huge surprise, really. Ditching the spindly Fox 32 fork for a burlier, 120-millimeter travel Fox 34 also helps here. Likewise, lopping a big section of seattube mast and lowering the standover allows you to finesse the bike more easily.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, however, and while Santa Cruz trimmed the chainstays to a tidy 432 millimeters (17 inches), the wheelbase has grown alongside the growing front-center and slackened head angle. No way around it. The Tallboy’s wheelbase is on par with that of other trail bikes, but it is two inches longer than that of the original-recipe Tallboy. Think of it this way: the Tallboy is less of an XC switchblade now and more of a trail bike tactical knife—still deft and sharp, but a little less of a precision instrument. If you enjoy downhills, it’s a trade-off you’ll happily accept.

Cross-country bikes are steadily growing more capable—blurring that point where a race bike ends and a trail bike begins. The Kona Hei Hei DL is one such example. This Tallboy is another strong example. The Tallboy is spot on with its geometry and the suspension has a more refined feel—supple, yes, but with a truly usable 110 millimeters of travel. It doesn’t feel like it’s packing more travel than it does, but it’s an honest 110 millimeters—you use all of it, whereas some bikes ramp up so quickly that the latter third of their travel only comes into play during teeth-rattling impacts.

The Tallboy is also more versatile than many of its competitors. In most conditions, I prefer the feel of the 29er tires and wheels, but the 2.8-inch tires actually complement the shorter travel bike well. Go ahead, time it all wrong and land a jump in the middle of a particularly nasty section of trail; the Rekons let you get away with crap line choices—it's all stoney smiles and butterflies instead of clenched teeth and sphincter. Maybe you don't actually want that margin of error (and, of course, you can just go the 29er route instead), but there are times when it does come in handy. I’ve also spent the last three weeks riding in shitty, crusty snow and ice and there’s no denying it—I actually enjoyed doing so on the 2.8 Rekons. Not so much on the 29er set up. Most people are going to run the Tallboy one way—they probably won’t be swapping back and forth with bike-tester abandon—but it’s cool that you have the option to switch things up with this bike.


Vernon Felton testing bikes on the trails surrounding Hood River OR.
The Fox 34 is one of the standout components on the bike and emblematic of the Tallboy's rowdier persona.
Santa Cruz Tallboy Hightower
As with the latest Nomad and Bronson models, the Tallboy's lower VPP link gets tucked up high. It's tidy, but also prone to collecting mud.

Component Check

• X01 Build Kit: Our early-release Tallboy sports an 11-speed SRAM X01 group. Santa Cruz made a running change to Eagle X01 later in the year and Eagle is what you'll find on current versions of this particular build kit. I have no complaints with X01 and its 10 to 42-tooth cassette, but, Eagle makes long climbs that much easier. It's a good upgrade.

• Enve M60 Wheelset: The first run of media-sample bikes tend to be on the glitzier end of the spectrum, which is the case with our test bike. Going with the Enve wheel upgrade (as a replacement for the stock Race Face ARC 24 wheels) adds two grand to the price tag. Enve wheels add stiffness to the equation, but the Tallboy's carbon chassis is plenty stiff as it stands. So is the upgrade worth it? For my money, no. These are nice wheels, but they are not a full extra two-large nice.

• 29 or 27.5+: Santa Cruz sent the bike with both 29er and 27.5+ bits. For general riding, I preferred the feel of the 29-inch wheels and 2.3-inch Maxxis tires. The cornering bite on the Minion DHF is better than that of the Rekon 2.8. That said, the 2.8-inch tire adds an extra bit of stability and forgiveness to the ride. Which is better? It's a matter of rider preference. While Santa Cruz offers build kits in both 29 and 27.5+, they do not offer separate fork and wheelset kits for people who want to also pick up the parts necessary to convert the Tallboy from 29er to plus-size bike (or vice versa). If you want to switch and swap (something that takes just minutes to accomplish) you’ll need to pick up an extra wheelset. Thankfully, you don’t need two forks—the 130mm travel 27+ fork will work with a 29er wheelset. You can also swap out the fork's air shaft.








The 29er Bronson

When Santa Cruz rolled out the Hightower in early 2016, they touted the bike as a 29er Bronson—a big-wheeled, all-mountain bike. Fair enough, though I think it’s easier to just call it what it is—the reboot of the Tallboy LT. Over the course of its four-year run, the Tallboy LT earned plenty of fans—it was a two-fisted brawler of a bike that harnessed all that was good about larger diameter wheels. By 2016, however, the LT’s geometry had become a bit dated--the head angle a bit steep, the top tube in need of a hair bit more length, the chainstays, well those could've always used a bit of a trimming. The Tallboy LT's rebirth as the Hightower brings the model fully up to date in terms of geometry. And like its shorter-travel sibling, the Hightower also brings plus-size tire compatibility to the table. 29er or 27.5+? The Hightower gets all AC/DC on that question.

Hightower Details
• Rear travel: 135mm
• Fork travel: 140mm (29er)/150mm (27.5+)
• Carbon front and rear triangles
• Wheelsize(s): 29" or 27.5+ wheels
• Clearance for up to 27.5 x 3.0'' tires
• 67° head angle
• 433mm chainstays
• 12 x 148mm rear spacing
• Threaded bottom bracket
• Sizes M, L, XL
• Weight as shown: 27.3 pounds (Large, no pedals)
• Colors: Sriracha red, matte carbon & mint
• Price as tested: $6,599 USD; frame only: $2,999 USD
• Price range: $3,599 - $9,999 USD (ENVE wheel upgrade available)
www.santacruzbicycles.com

The Hightower is currently available in carbon only, and comes dressed in seven different possible build kits. As with the Tallboy and several other models, Santa Cruz offers their complete Hightower build-ups with two different grades of carbon frame; the premier "CC" frame and the less-expensive "C". Carbon "C" frames weigh 230 grams (a half pound) more than "CC" frames, but are said to boast the same strength and stiffness as their pricier siblings. Consequently, while our pimpalicious test bike isn't so easy on the wallet, you can get a carbon Hightower built up with a Fox Rhythm fork and SRAM NX group for $3,599.

Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC
The Hightower has enough clearance for some 27.5x3.0 tires, though I'd recommend sticking with 2.8s, should you consider going the plus-size tire route. I personally prefer these 29x2.3 Minion DHR2s.
Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC
The first run of Hightowers were equipped with 11-speed X01 groups. Current X01 and XX1 build kits are 12-speed Eagle affairs, which offer a good deal more gear range.

Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC

Frame & Suspension

Like its predecessor, the Hightower sports 135-millimeters of rear suspension. The Hightower, however, benefits from the third-generation VPP system that first debuted on the Nomad and has since also popped up on the Bronson, 5010, Tallboy, etc. What’s more, there are a ton of little nip and tucks that aren’t immediately obvious from afar; those include an internal headset, Boost 148 rear spacing and internal cable tunnels in the front triangle. The Tallboy received all these same tweaks. But while the latest Tallboy will accept a front derailleur, the Hightower will not. It’s a single-ring party up in here. Most people won’t lament the lack of a front mech, but if you feel compelled to have a front shifter, you should know the Hightower isn’t having any of it. Our first-run Hightower sports a 10-42, 11-speed X01 build kit. Current X01 and XX1 build kits, however, are both 12-speed SRAM Eagle affairs, which means they benefit from that monster 50-tooth cog...yet another reason not to sweat the Hightower's front derailleur incompatibility.

As with the Tallboy, stand over height has been dropped a good bit with the Hightower--a full 38 millimeters (an inch and a half) from that of the Tallboy LT. That's a big difference. The Hightower sports the same two-position, flip chip as the Tallboy. In 29er mode, the bike is equipped with a 140-millimeter travel fork. Santa Cruz specs a 150-millimeter travel fork with its 27.5+ build kits.

Santa Cruz Hightower geometry

Geometry

Just as Santa Cruz set out to make the Tallboy a more capable descender without compromising its nimbleness, the company had the same goals in sight with the Hightower, though they made even more radical changes with this bike. Reach is increased by 36 millimeters (1.4 inches), the head angle is slackened by 2.5 degrees and the seat angle steepened 1.7 degrees. The company also lopped 15 millimeters (.6 inches) off the chainstays.


Specifications
Specifications
Release Date February 2016
Price $6599
Travel 135
Rear Shock Rock Shox Monarch RT3 Debonair
Fork Rock Shox Pike 29 RCT3 140
Headset Cane Creek 40, Integrated
Cassette SRAM XG1295; 10-50t
Crankarms SRAM X1 Carbon
Bottom Bracket 73-mm, threaded
Rear Derailleur SRAM X01 Eagle
Chain SRAM X01 Eagle Powerlock
Front Derailleur Not compatible
Shifter Pods SRAM X01 Eagle
Handlebar Santa Cruz Carbon Flat Bar, 31.8mm clamp, 780mm
Stem Raceface Turbine Basic
Grips Santa Cruz Palmdale Lock-on
Brakes SRAM Guide RSC
Wheelset Race Face ARC 27
Hubs DT Swiss 350
Spokes DT Swiss Competition Double-Butted
Rim Race Face ARC 27
Tires Maxxis Minion DHR2 TR; 29x2.3
Seat WTB Silverado Team
Seatpost Rock Shox Reverb Stealth; 150mm travel (M-L), 170mm (XL)
Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC






Set-Up

Santa Cruz recommends 15 to 18 millimeters of sag on the stock RockShox Monarch RT3. I generally stuck with 15 millimeters (about 30 percent sag) on the rear shock and 30 percent on the Pike. I gave the 27.5+ wheels a go a few times, but invariably found myself returning to the 29er set up.


Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC

Climbing

You expect the Tallboy to scale mountains with ease—that’s sorta its raison d’etre, but the Hightower gains elevation almost as easily on all but the steepest of climbs. The third-generation VPP kinematics and new shock tune give the Hightower good traction on rocky climbs, yet the bike still pedals very efficiently.

I rode a Tallboy LT for three seasons and generally climbed with the rear shock wide open. With the Hightower, I wound up switching the RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock into its firmer suspension setting on longer climbs, but it’s a trade-off I’d happily make for the Hightower’s better overall traction. With the Tallboy LT, I often found myself riding the nose of the saddle on steep climbs. The Hightower’s steeper seattube angle puts you in a better position on climbs, requiring a lot less body English from you in order to attain the ideal weight distribution on the bike.

The Hightower’s slack head angle, long reach and fairly generous wheelbase can prove a bit of a handful on tight uphill corners. If the Hightower has a weakness on the climbing front, it’s here, when the front end feels light and the front wheel wanders a bit.



Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC

Descending

At the risk of flogging the hell out of a dead horse, the Hightower, like the Tallboy, is a more neutral and confident descender than the bike it replaces in the Santa Cruz lineup. Sixty-seven degrees is slack for a 29er, no matter how you slice it. That relaxed head angle, the relatively low bottom bracket and a generous wheelbase give the bike a very, very stable feel on descents.

Mike Kazimer wrote our first ride preview of the Hightower back in February and remarked that the bike gets better and better the harder you push it on descents. That’s true. The Hightower is a hell of a lot of bike—more bike than you might guess, given its 135 millimeters of rear suspension. Pushing the bike hard, however, is the best way to realize that fact. Its forte is bombing down loose and shitty sections of trail. The more you let it out hang out on the Hightower, the more it rewards you.

The Hightower is not, however, the most lively of bikes in its class. I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past season, for instance, on a Medium Pivot Switchblade, Large Specialized Stumpjumper 29er and Large Evil Following—all of which sport similar geometry, but wheelbases that are about three-quarters of an inch shorter. Santa Cruz trimmed the chainstays down to 435 millimeters (17.1 inches), so the Hightower's rear center is actually quite tidy. The difference here is that the Hightower is on the long and slack end of the spectrum. That's a big plus on wide-open, high-speed sections of trail, where the Hightower is a more steady and confident-feeling bike than the majority of bikes in its class. Once the trail starts getting really tight and the corners start coming fast and tricky, I prefer the other aforementioned models, which have a more playful feel to them and are easier to maneuver and coax through tight spots. I’m not saying the Hightower is a stubborn mule of a descender. Far from it. With its generous front-center, the Hightower, however, places more of its design eggs in the stable-and-steady basket (so to speak) than in the lively-and-playful basket. Which is better? The answer just depends on who is riding the bike.

I also experimented with plus-size tires while riding the Hightower (Maxxis Rekon 2.8s, again). While I can see the attraction for people who might be riding very primitive trails, I definitely preferred the 29er set up on the Hightower. The squishier, grippier tires aren't for everyone, sure, but they did complement the shorter-travel Tallboy in some conditions. On the longer-travel Hightower, the bigger tires just felt…unnecessary to me. Plus-size tires add stability and poise to a bike, but the Hightower already possesses those traits in spades. Adding plus tires to the Hightower simply gave it a somewhat muted feel, whereas the 29er set up lent it a more precise and speedier vibe. Ultimately, however, it’s cool that Santa Cruz affords you the option to painlessly run either set up. More options are always a good thing.

Speaking of options, there are people out there who've pursued another option with the Hightower since it debuted: they've been "long shocking" it. By installing a 200x57 shock, they've wrangled 150-millimeters of rear travel out of the machine and created a Hightower of a different flavor. Clearly, it can be done--there are a couple guys in our neck of the woods, for instance, who are riding Hightowers that way. What's Santa Cruz's take on modding the Hightower this way? I asked Santa Cruz engineer, Nick Anderson.

"We know there are people out there running the Hightower in some non-spec configurations and we highly advise against doing so," says Anderson.

"More than simply negating your warranty (which it does), running the bike with anything other than 135mm of rear travel is potentially dangerous. In the scenario you describe, there’s the risk of the tire hitting the seat tube, and/or the shock over-centering the linkage. If the shock has a reservoir it could hit the top tube. Any one of these scenarios could cause a crash. Simply put," says Anderson, "when you take a bike like this outside of its design parameters in this way, you're inviting trouble."



Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC
Thanks to the Hightower's low stand-over height, the Medium and Large Hightowers are equipped with 150-millimeter travel Reverb dropper posts. XL frames get 170-mm droppers.
Vernon Felton testing the Santa Cruz Hightower on the Top of the World Trail in Whistler BC
Can we just take a moment to bask in the simplicity and general awesomeness of a threaded bottom bracket? Yes, we can. It's a small spot of mechanical sanity in a crazy world full of creaking press-fit crap.

Component Check

• RockShox Pike RCT3: A lot of ink has been spilled in praise of this fork, but it's much deserved. Light, burly, easy to tune....it's a workhorse of a fork and a particularly good match for this bike.

• Race Face/DT Swiss Wheelset: Our Hightower is spec'd with Race Face ARC 27 rims that are mated to DT Swiss Competition spokes and 350 hubs. It's proven a reasonably lightweight, yet completely trouble free, wheelset. No complaints at all.

• X01: While I never actually found myself needing a lower gear than what was provided on our 11-speed X01 build, anyone whose rides consistently involve racking up several thousand meters/feet of elevation will probably be happy with Santa Cruz's decision to spec Eagle versions of X01 and XX1 on their upper end builds. Extra range and a more giving low end are hard to argue with.




Santa Cruz Tallboy Hightower review



Pinkbike's Take:
bigquotesWhereas the original Tallboy was an XC bike that could handle a fair bit of trail riding, the Tallboy 3 is something closer to a trail bike that can moonlight as an XC rig. Giving the Tallboy the "long, low and slack" treatment has created a bike that more than holds its own with the best in its class, including the Ibis Ripley LS, Pivot Mach 429 and Yeti SB4.5.

The Hightower is a consistently strong all-rounder; a far steadier and more confident descender than its predecessor and a bike that plays solidly in the same league as the better long-travel 29ers out there. While I initially raised my eyebrows at Santa Cruz referring to the Hightower as a "29er Bronson", it's actually an apt characterization--the Hightower is a capable all-mountain bike and a good choice for people looking to race enduro--no weight or pedaling penalty combined with neutral and confident downhill manners.
- Vernon Felton





About the Reviewer
Stats: Age: 44 • Height: 5'11” • Inseam: 32" • Weight: 175lb • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None
In 1988 Vernon started riding mountain bikes—mainly to avoid the people throwing cans of Budweiser at him during his road rides. At some point, roughly when Ronald Reagan was president and Hüsker Dü was still a band, he began loving mountain bikes on their own terms. Vernon Felton spends most of his time riding bikes, thinking about bikes, thinking about riding bikes and then riding some more around Bellingham, Washington. If it has a greasy chain and two wheels on it, he’s cool with it. Except for recumbents. Well, okay, maybe those too. Nah, forget it. No recumbents.




Must Read This Week

280 Comments

  • + 183
 Dear Pinkbike please give Vernon some more stylish sunglasses to test, I think he has earned them Wink
  • + 273
 I have a defect to my corneas (keratoconus) and a crazy-severe astigmatism, which, in combination with one another, makes wearing normal sunglasses with any degree of lens wrap impossible. Yeah, it looks lame. I agree. At this point, I'm just stoked to be able to see.
  • + 192
 @vernonfelton: You're prioritizing seeing well over looking cool? Jeez Vernon, do you know nothing about this industry?
  • + 29
 @vernonfelton: Honestly I kind of dig them.
  • + 36
 @vernonfelton: seeing is so over-rated, esp. when bombing downhill.

#usetheforce
  • + 10
 @vernonfelton: getting old sucks!
  • + 6
 @vernonfelton: Bolle mojo ski goggles come with a clear lens and you can buy glasses lenses that sit in the plastic insert inside them. They don't weigh much if you pay for the expensive higher refraction glass. Well worth the money.

Any standard glasses lens fits and they go well beyond what Oakley offer if you get custom sun glasses from them.

I have a set and keratoconus.
  • - 32
flag sevensixtwo (Jan 9, 2017 at 7:08) (Below Threshold)
 @vernonfelton: Your glasses need to be upgraded to Boost, and maybe VPP hinges. The shitty PF lenses aren't helping either.
  • + 24
 @sevensixtwo: Stop. Please.
  • - 35
flag DJ-24 (Jan 9, 2017 at 7:23) (Below Threshold)
 @vernonfelton: That sounds made up.
  • + 31
 I thought we had Gary Fisher reviewing a Santa Cruz at first glance.
  • + 30
 @vernonfelton: I think the glasses look dope as f*ck, man. + Your reviews rule, missed you on the bible this year.
  • + 5
 @thinkbike: I'm wondering why the Gary Fishery looking guy didn't do the wallride in thatsecond to last riding pic..?
  • + 0
 Im more worried about what happens when he crashes, if he hits the side of his head on the ground those metal wire frames get real stabby real quick. Ever since seeing someone's face messed up by metal glasses I only where plastic.
  • + 2
 Nah man, that's his trademark look!
  • + 6
 @richard01: Thanks, I'll need to check them out. Do you get condensation between the insert and the outer lens? I had some Bolle Paroles (way back when) with inserts and that was a problem, but that was a good long while ago.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: I think you look like Django. You know, the guy who killed a ton of other people in an awesome manner. Its like your destined to kill the trail. I feel you have a revolver ready to draw when you see someone on an E bike. No I kid! But seriously they look sick.
  • + 3
 @vernonfelton: Only fog, no condensation. Depends on what im doing. I find that if I stop they fog up when its muggy, but not all the time. This can be avoided by always sliding them round your neck when you stop. If I keep cycling fast enough then they are fine in bad conditions or will unfog. Snowboarding fine, Scottish DH ok. Morzine ok (only been once though, got all the weather). I go with glasses when im on my trail bike for long rides as goggles arent too compfy when they get sweaty. The lenses pop out and can be used in any of the mojo goggles. They are a very solid fit in the goggles compared to the other brand I tried when I got them. I cant remeber what that was. I need to buy a bigger bag so I can take the padded case with them on longer rides.

Here is a selfie with a goat with them on www.pinkbike.com/photo/14302514
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: I ride exclusively in metal framed glasses like that--can't see anything without them
  • + 2
 @vernonfelton: Feel the same way...just glad I can still see well enough to ride. I've had the same condition (keratoconus) for several years. Luckily I've been able to have my left cornea replaced with a transplant. Still waiting to get the right eye corrected. Everyone thinks I'm crazy as hell for riding with only one good eye!
  • + 3
 @richard01:
Richard01 built a bridge with his bare hands, but do they call him the Richard01 the Bridge Builder? No.

Richard01 built a church with his own two hands, but do they call him Richard01 the Church Builder? No.


You f*ck one goat...


j/k dude....nice pic.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: @vernonfelton: I use standard tinted glasses in the summer with Toric contact lenses for my ridiculous astigmatism to great effect. I don't know how the other condition effects the Toric's effectiveness though?
  • + 4
 @richard01: Thanks for the feedback on those. I need to try `em. Much appreciated.
  • + 2
 @richard01: I have keratoconus as well and have been searching for a solution for glasses. I use an old pair of Jawbones currently. Been looking at the Julbo Explorer - transition and polarized and can be set up to keep out wind. I will check out the Bolle Mojo's. I mostly race long distance bike pack events (Tour Divide) and XC races and just can't seem to find goggles that don't take up half my face. Thanks for the tip.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: As the bf of an optometrist, I hear all about K... Have you considered hard contact lenses?
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: seriously
  • + 1
 @franklinwm: True that. Vernon knows his bikes and keeps the extra BS to minimal
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: I suffer from the same condition, but am fortunate it has been limited in its progression. They have some newer treatments that slow the progrssion, have you looked into them?
  • + 2
 @richard01: 10/10 goat

Also real nice to see people helping each other especially on a top comment thread Smile
  • + 3
 @Rat-Hair: Glad to hear the left transplant operation was successful (and good luck, of course, when it's time for the operation on your right cornea). I'm hoping to stave off the operation for as long as possible and a few people have mentioned a new therapy (cross linking) that I need to look into. Thanks for the feedback and props for not letting the condition stop you from doing what you love. Cheers.
  • + 76
 After reading this review I feel like i just spent the last six months riding these bikes. This is really well written. Good work Vernon!
  • + 37
 Be careful not to read too many reviews. Get some rest Smile
  • + 6
 I agree this review is really thorough. I especially like the comment about the Hightower's lack of playfulness compared to a few other bikes in its class. This was exactly what I wanted to know when he said this was the 29er Bronson. That was exactly my impression when I rode the Bronson. It was stable but a bit of a tank compared to other models I rode. This is good for point and shoot riding, but not what I was looking for.
  • + 12
 @rrolly: @rrolly: It's really quite funny that I came away with a wildly different opinion on this than @vernonfelton . I had heard about the lack of playfullness in the HT so I didn't even test it before getting a Mojo 3. After owning the Mojo for a few months it was time for my wife to get a new rig and we did back to back runs comparing the Mojo to both the Switchblade and the HT (we ride the same size bike). The Mojo is the most poppy, playful, nimble but XCish of all three. The Pivot was a BEAST on the descent - it really felt more like a 160 travel rig - but also rode like a heavier bike than the weight, had an ungodly number of pedals strikes, and felt like it took much more effort to get pop (i.e. planted but not playful). The HT was my third bowl of porridge - it felt nearly as quick as the Mojo on the way up but far more capable on the way down, didn't ride heavy, it has a far more playful nimble feel than the Pivot did, but there was none of the sluggishness and none of the 157 super boost compatibility crap to deal with. I don't know how Vernon and I set them up differently but we seemed to come away with very different feeling.
  • + 2
 @corvus1: I clearly am missing out on some ridiculously playful bikes, because my Bronson is the most fun, poppy, playful bike i've ever had. So easy to get airborne, and chuck about. Still a beast on the downs mind.
  • + 2
 @corvus1: i ride tested a mojo while also having my HT (29er setup).

The mojo is more playful, no doubt about it. A simple switch back or bunny hop will immediately show the difference. Its not bad on the HT, but its just way easier on the Mojo.

The HT climbs faster/better though (to my own surprise and the difference is huge, i clear climbs 50% faster on the HT, and i did lock the mojo when needed.. its not even fair how much faster the HT is)

The HT rides quite differently downhill too, probably partly due to being a 29er - as long as i can go fast is just roll through like a train (faster than the Mojo as well). If I can't or I'm not confident enough the Mojo is just better at it (probably due to being a 27.5er and longer travel, with a slightly different geo), sometimes I'd just put a feet down on the HT when it's too technical while I could do it on the Mojo (keep in mind I'm pretty average as far as skills go).

Neither are bad bikes though I like the HT better myself, my co-rider agreed on all my points yet liked the Mojo better.

Basically I guess I am closer to Vernon's assessment.
  • + 2
 @rrolly: totally agree with the Hightower's characteristics. I ended up buying the Intense Primer because of how well it handled the tight stuff. However the Hightower gets the nod for high speed wide open riding.
  • + 3
 @corvus1: I agree. I owned a Bronson V1 for over a couple of years and have a super playful Kona Honzo along with my Hightower (HT) and the HT feels almost as playful to me. Tight trails, long trails, rough trails, big gap jumps an hits and all good on the HT. With 140 fork and light and stiff carbon wheels (NOX Farlow), I feel bike can pop and play almost anything, yet lends stability when needed for the high speed, longer descents. Perfect AM/trail bike for me in PacNW on most everything.
  • + 2
 @jgusta: "Perfect AM/trail bike for me in PacNW on most everything." Agreed, except that I'm running the Nox Kitsuma with Minion 2.8s Big Grin

@bankz: A better test of the HT vs Mojo 3 would be in the same mode (apples to apples) which would mean both in 27+. I get it if that's not your thing, but there will be pretty significant differences just from the wheel size. Makes perfect sense the Mojo would feel more nimble vs a 29er HT, but that the HT may climb faster. Still there are differences beyond the wheels size. My wife preferred the Mojo so she adopted it and I preferred the HT. While the travel is nearly the same I felt I could out-ride the Mojo pretty quickly. Mine blew through the travel too quickly on drops and felt skittish at high speed. Oh and the Mojo 3 (130/140) is actually less travel than the HT (135/140 in 29er mode - 135/150 in 27+ mode). Regardless, we have a lot of great choices that allow us all to find the ride we love best! Ride on man
  • + 2
 @jgusta: I have a 2016 Honzo (latest geo) and am trying to choose between the Tallboy and the HT. At 5'10" I'm a medium on the Honzo all day--bike fits perfect, running a 60mm stem. In fact, all the Kona bikes I sit on feel great fit wise, hats off to those fellas in that department.

Question being what year/size is your Honzo, and what size did you go with on the HT? I've only parking lot ridden the Tallboy and HT... the large HT seemed like a enormous bike, and felt like anything aside from murdering straight line descents would be a chore. Was able to ride the Tallboy in medium, yet that bike felt too cramped, like I just wanted to keep hanging my ass off the back of the seat. The handlebar felt like it was on my knees too. My gut tells me that, being different bikes, the HT in a size medium may just be the sweet spot. I'm riding in the PNW too. Any feedback on how you arrived on your size?
  • + 2
 @mikealive: I am 5'10" w/bike shoes and on large HT w/40 stem and large Honzo w/35 stem. Even though the Honzo has longer TT and reach on paper, it feels a bit smaller in the cockpit with seat pushed back. With HT saddle is pushed quite a bit forward since seat angle feels slacker than stated as well. Both bikes I run 170 dropper so exacerbates slackness of HT in extended position. Even though a little large bikes for me size, I ride them like BMX bikes at times and take them off of just about everything and climb and descend everything in them as well. I much prefer shorter stems though for quicker handling
  • + 2
 Large Honzo is 2015, so same geo as 2016. Kona made all their Process and Honzo line longer for 2017 by about 1/2", so would likely be a medium on new Honzo w/50 stem. All SC bikes old to new is large all day for me. My large V1 Bronson w/50 stem almost felt a little cramped, large Hightower w/40 feels nice, could possible gone 35 on it. Even though w little longish WB for a large given my height 5'10" and bike is 1.5" longer than my large Honzo, bike is still very nimble and playful to me. Think the light weight of bike at 27lbs and plush, but poppy suspension helps too. Bike kills it on local XC to AM/DH terrain. Only quiver is bike felt a little slack on long extended climbs, that took some adjustment initially. Would likely not like 150 fork unless Talas on it for the rides I typically do.
  • + 2
 @jgusta: That's some great input man, thanks for the response! Based on what you have said I think I know which direction I need to head. Maybe I'll have to road trip down to California and ride the sizes back to back to be sure Smile
  • + 1
 @corvus1: I have been trying to decide on what bike to get next, I am leaving a Specialized Enduro and have narrowed it down to either the Pivot Switchblade or the Hightower, I took each out for a demo and think you summed up the differences perfectly. I really like the looks and idea of the switchblade but I find myself thinking I had more fun on the hightower (both in 29er configurations)...
  • + 1
 @TrailFu: FWIW, I've had time on a bunch of bikes since this discussion last took place. At 5'10" I'm going with a large all day long on the Hightower. I'll echo what you aid about the Switchblade--really great bike, but *beefy*, and definitely more of a leap even from the Hightower in terms of bikes from just 3-4 years ago. It seems like there may be such a thing as *too* far in terms of change, and the Switchblade felt like that for me, even here in the PNW. Hightower seems very capable, with a very close, and fun, second actually being the Pivot 429 Trail...which felt quick and fun, but like a bike that has much more travel than it actually has.
The savings account has already been started for a Hightower. And while it grows I hope they release some new colors this summer!
  • + 36
 8500$ and they couldn't give you the good fork/shock with the kashima? Really Santa Cruz? I guess we should be thankful it's not a Rhythm for that much money.

It really annoys me that the bike companies are still nickle and diming you at that price.
  • + 19
 This is SPOT ON! Pike's and Kashima were much more available at this price range a few years back and now companies have switched to Yari and Performance/rhythm.

Really irritating - I agree these forks are great for aftermarket but they are being used to make more ££££ by bike companies
  • + 23
 Next year it'll come specced with a full enve cockpit and a rs recon.
  • + 12
 Another example is how so many high-end 2016 bikes had Sram 1175 or 1180 cassettes - now that Eagle is here, they have the 95/99 series cassettes again. I know it's only 40-50 grams, but it feels like a slap in the face when companies try to sneak in cheaper parts on bikes that cost this much.

It's true, most riders can't tell the difference. But a performance series fork and shock on a $6500-8500 build just feels wrong.

54T start ratchet would be nice at this price too.
  • + 7
 i built my own HT and put a kashima (as in factory) fork and shock and its just much better.
Total price ended up being 7600USD also. When custom builds are cheaper than the stock build, there's a pricing problem IMO. Its like 900USD+ for.. putting it together?


(I run a dps evol 2016, 27.5+ factory 34 front, 29'er asymetric custom carbon wheels w/ dt240 boost centerlock straightpull hubs [they cost an arm], swork phenom, RF 35 bars, easton havoc 35 stem, next sl cranks, absolutely black ring, eagle xx1 derailleur/shifter, x01 chain, fox 3pos remote, reverb 150mm dropper, guide ultimate brakes)

(also yes this is the most expensive thing ive ever bought - granted i did not buy a house yet though ;-)

For the record this setup feels way better than my demo bike that had easton wheels (they aint bad but just not as good) and roxshock pike/monarch. Also weights 25lbs on 2.25" wild grip adv r2 tires w/ xc12 pedals and sealant, M frame - which is a good bit below the 8500USD build without any fancy weightweenie stuff.
  • + 1
 kashima.....Overrated
  • + 1
 Agree the pricing is stupid high. I scored some deals and will have my cc frame built with Lyric/monarch plus, I9 305s, saint brakes, X1 1x11, next cranks, 170 reverb, and deity cockpit for under $5k
  • + 4
 Well technically it's the performance Elite series shock and fork. They have the same internals as Factory with slightly heavier lowers and black stantions rather than Kashima. I found they have the same performance as factory's without the bling price tag. Also I'd rather have black than gold. I have the Tallboy3 X01+ build. I got a set of used Roval Carbon wheels because f*ck Enve prices. So I have a $10000 bike for $7k with two wheel sets. Can't beat it.
  • + 1
 @bankz: agree. I built up a custom HT with everything I would want on it and much less than complete builds. With nice carbon wheels, cranks, bars, bike came in at about $6200 with buying frame from LBS.
  • + 2
 @Questlove967: no casting difference. Only difference on the Elite is the Kashima.
  • + 1
 @ejj: even better. Thanks!
  • + 1
 @CodeBlue: kashima is overrated - but EVOL/etc is not Smile (basically a "performance" serie shock/fork would have similar benefits).
That said, the argument is about the pricing, and kashima (ie "factory") stuff costs more and its what I have.
  • + 30
 " Want to run a front derailleur? The Tallboy will accept a front mech, though I have a hard time understanding the need."

Really????? Maybe there are still some cave men out there in the wild who don't have the cash for Eagle (or don't want to spend) and rather run 2x11 (or 2x10 god forbid) XT/SLX for the fraction of the price to have wide or even wider range which can be essential on a bike like the Tallboy. It seems the guys at Santa Cruz understand it...
  • + 57
 Then cavemen of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our unsprung weight!
  • - 10
flag Archimonde (Jan 9, 2017 at 2:07) (Below Threshold)
 If you want to install SLX (to save money) on these very expensive bikes I do think that there is some kind of pointlessness which is very easy to put a finger on.
  • + 7
 @Archimonde: You can of course install XTR Di2 if SLX is degrading but I wouldn't call the AL versions very expensive especially with today's standards. They start from 2599$ and built with SLX and the R2x - which I would consider - is 2999$ also with SLX.

www.santacruzbicycles.com/en-US/tallboy
  • + 29
 just buy XT 1x11 and untuck your sack.
  • + 5
 @sevensixtwo: On my enduro I wouldn't run anything other than 1x11 but I like to have more range than 1x11 provides on a bike like the Tallboy and I don't want bigger than 42T cog on the cassette. Shimano's new side swing front mechs are awesome I'm running them on two of my bikes. First I thought I will convert them to 1x but after a season riding I just can't find a reason...
  • + 0
 @unconvinced: and main pivot stiffness.
  • + 17
 Vernon, with respect to your comment: "I think shoot outs are just so much bullshit." I disagree. Strongly. How else, besides visiting a major trade show and testing everything ourseles, are we supposed to get an idea how bikes (or cars, or anything really) compare to one another? Reviewing one bike leaves a lot of tea leaf reading for the reader of generally vague commentary and subtle hints. Typically reviewers don't write: "this bike sucks, don't buy it." But if compared to other bikes in a test, well then you can say it was fifth of five bikes tested in a particular category and we can determine for ourselves that the bike most likely is dog meat. Anyway thank you, generally I enjoy your writing.
  • + 35
 @saskatoonbikeguy, Thanks for the input--you raise a good point. I'd like to see us review more bikes in group settings and I think you'll be seeing more of that in the future. At the end of the day, most of us really do want to know how does this bike compare against other bikes like it. Thus, I think reviewing a handful of similar bikes and weighing the pros and cons of each is entirely valid. Entirely. That's why I endeavor to compare a bike like the Hightower to similar models within my write up. It's also the basis of how we did things at Bike's Bible testing sessions. What I object to with the "Shoot Out" model of reviews, is that there is always a single bike that is the "winner". The "top bike" is an attractive proposition that sells a shit ton of magazines and generates clicks online, but it is massively simplistic. The best bike? For whom? For what style of rider? For which trails? Even when we are talking about a distinct style of bike (say, enduro, for example), different riders will want different things from a bike. To bring this closer to home, I wanted to stress in this partiular review, what sets the Hightower apart from some of its contemporaries that I've spent a lot of time on. In this case, the standout attribute is neutral and stable handling. Wide open, fast and chunky terrain? This bike kills it on that stuff. It's not a slouch in tighter terrain, but the other bikes I mentioned have a more lively feel.... Which is better? That's a question for you, as a rider. There's no way any editor can/should make that judgement for you....which is what always happens with "shoot outs". I've been writing reviews now for almost 20 years and I'm sick of the premise that any of us editors possess a magical ability to tell readers what they should and shouldn't buy. The best we can do--the most honest we can be--is to highlight strengths and weaknesses. Again, group tests are fine. Single absolute winners? Not fine. At least, not since the late 90s (I will agree that there was a time when bikes were so crude that a few stood out as massively ahead of the pack, but nowadays, that's a whole lot less common). Thanks again for speaking up. Cheers.
  • + 13
 @vernonfelton: One thing that always bothered me about the Bible is that everything just sounds massively great, which is true given today's bikes, but it doesn't really offer insight. One possible solution would be to break it down to a simple format like 'Best For' (types of trails, types of riding) "Could Improve" and "Value" in terms of quality of construction, components, etc. after a more standard review of information like riding impressions. Just my $.02, always loved your writing and reviews!
  • + 4
 I would say that the best way of reviewing a range of bikes is a frame built up with the same kit on it. At the end of the day you are buying into the bike brand and how it performs, components can and will be changed as things wear out and new & improved parts come to market (leading to review of just components).

I would also say there are plenty of people people that read reviews and just want to buy the best bike there is regardless of cost, regardless of if they would be able to use it anywhere near its full potential. There is nothing wrong with this, but if people read into way of buying companies with always product the new magic bean bike/components. Engeneering a solution to a problem that was a problem from a solution...
  • + 2
 @vernonfelton: can't disagree with that. I'm always wishing for a bullet-list or table style comparison that shows strength and weaknesses of the bike. In the Bible (and elsewhere) the comparisons are annoying because its hard to read between the lines and clearly understand what the bike is better at.

(also, theres always *some* bikes that are just not up to snuff regardless - but these usually don't get tested or just get clearly shot down)

That being said, your reviews were always the easiest to read (or listen) into - which is probably why so many people like them, me included.
  • + 2
 I think Vernon's point is that the idea of a 'Winner take all' type of shootout is a bit dumb. The actual engineering trade space means that bikes can be really different and therefore excel at different things... so the idea that a 'winner' emerges from a group test implies that every rider wants the same thing out of their bike experience.

I do like group tests, and think they're preferable. It's a pain in the dick to actually get multiple press fleet bikes that are all within the same area code for pricing and intent, but the price point ones are, to me, the best ones, as they're most reflective of the way people actually buy bikes (and importantly keep component bling on a press kitted bikes from outperforming strictly due to overall weight and latest/greatest componentry, not performance of the frame).

I'd like to see if PB can do group tests, and then conclude with 'best bike for _____ use' as the output, and include some categories like 'value' and 'unlimited budget'... I think that's actually more usefully reflective of the fact that bikes are all pretty good, but they're designed to excel at different things. Even if some of it is a touch more obvious, I think this is they type of journalism that can actually showcase what big sponsoring entities can do and what the R&D effort results in, and also be able to present this alongside the smaller niche offerings and actually have all parties involved be happier with the result (readers, advertisers, buyers, etc.).

I would like a bullet-point type thing, but it can be really in depth (as opposed to the TL;DR types of bullet point summaries), and put stuff like 'This bike is deficient in this area - but it can be fixed with installation of parts such as _____' - and link that to the reviews of those parts. For example, the Marin Hawk Hill - great bike especially for the money, but dropping some links, for stuff like the KS eTen, X-Fusion HiLo, and similar price point dropper posts, would be a fantastic way to get readers much more comfortable with what that bike could really achieve, and get visibility on some of the existing fantastic content already present.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Great clarification and response man! Everything is relative, and I like the method you use to qualify and frame each bike within its group of contemporaries. I always look forward to reviews on PB, and when I see you're the author I'm even that much more stoked. You appear to be a bit more direct in your criticisms, without calling something a pile of poop--paying service to the notion that people want different things from their bikes. It's just about as fair and honest as a reviewer can be, and I dig it dude. Thanks for doing what you do!
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Great write up on the Hightower! I'm on the fence right now about to get this or the Switchblade. You mentioned in the review that you've spend a decent amount of time on the Switchblade as well so is there a long term review in the works?

What are your thoughts on the long term future of the super boost plus if you don't mind me asking because that's my only sticking point right now. I think when we start seeing 29er dh bikes it would make sense to maintain the 157 spacing so they will naturally settle on the super boost plus hubs rather than going to boost so I feel like it will take off but that could just be a dream now that the industry seem to have adopted boost.
  • + 3
 @tehllama: Thanks for the feedback and suggestions--we're listening. Cheers.
  • + 13
 Simply put," says Anderson, "when you take a bike like this outside of its design parameters in this way, you're inviting trouble."

They are actually inviting 29er Normads.
  • + 4
 I'm all for a 29" Nomad.
  • + 2
 Yes please. I'm waiting for this and will get rid of my current Nomad3 in a heartbeat for a Nomad29. 29er tires and suspension have finally caught up for burlier 29er riding so a Hightower LT or Nomad 29 is due!
  • + 2
 @bogey: Rumor has it, guys are running longer stroke shocks and 'upforking' their HT. I suspect a 29er Nomad is next - @WAKIdesigns forums.mtbr.com/santa-cruz/lets-talk-about-150mm-rear-travel-hightower-1005017.html
  • + 0
 Sounds like Santa Cruz is inviting people to spend more money than necessary on a Nomad 29 option. Limiting travel on a 200x57, or even running a 205x55 SuperDeluxe with some offset bushings will get it done, and running a 150mm MRP Stage up to a 160Lyrik will rub just fine.
For all the doom and gloom on the warranty front, I have yet to hear of issues (or anything resembling disappointment) from owners of long-shock Hightowers... To me that's the configuration to run, as the bike wasn't as nimble as other options in the same travel range.
  • + 1
 @nicolai12: been watching that with interest. Won't mess with any ghetto conversions though so I'll see if SC releases a new link or a new bike.
  • + 10
 PB please stop testing top end models...of course there good!
If you tested the base model a) its the model most folk may dream of buying and b) it would give a true test of the bikes frame, suspension and geometry.
  • + 7
 This.

I was very pleased to see that affordable Marin fs review. So more of them. Not saying to stop testing top end models, just bring more base models to reviews.

Would like to see Kona Precept review (130 and 150)..
  • + 15
 I would love to see 'dual testers' where both the high end and low end models get tested back to back. We could shed some light on the 'so what do you get for an extra $2,500' question, and bike companies might get some useful feedback about which budget parts really hurt the performance of their bikes.

This would be especially interesting if it included timed segments ridden multiple times of both high end and low end models.
  • + 2
 @vaedwards: Excellent idea! Because bicycles are an mass assembly of compromises, it might help identify where a consumer can better spend their money. Perhaps we already know? Lower rotating mass, good suspension, XT for bang for your buck, yada yada.... I think it's still a great idea. It would be very cool to see on PB in the future.
  • + 3
 I have a Hightower C with an S+ build and I can assure you that it is a trail slayer.
  • + 1
 Dunno, once calibrated it's still a useful reference point. I got to ride the demo fleet X01/ENVE Hightower, and my observations exactly mirrored Vernon's. Great bike, impressive light weight, and it was a great experience. I didn't love the climbing (for how I use it), the wheels were not worth the premium to me... but I learned tons.
That bike is still my sizing reference (475mm reach, 800mm bars, stack in the 630mm range, and shoot for 25-33mm BB drop), because the fit is phenomenal. That bike also had me fall in love with the 3C MaxxTerra DHR2 as a front tire, and it was great. I knew I'd want it longer and slacker, despite the fact that it would exacerbate the low-speed and tight section lack of maneuverability, because I just wanted that bike to party even harder on the high speed stuff where it already excelled.
  • + 10
 Dear Pinkbike. When someone invetibly blows up a Hightower by over-shocking it (lets call it a Highertower), I want to see the report.
  • + 2
 Hasn't happened yet that I've seen. There are quite a few out there, and biggest report is of tire rub @ full travel on larger volume tires with beefy rims... aside from that, I haven't heard anything even resembling unhappiness with that change.
  • + 10
 8500 dollars. That thing better be good.
  • + 5
 I've installed, changed, etc. pressift and threaded bb's and... I don't understand the problem. both work fine. Bad quality bb for pressfit => crappy result. Bad quality bb for threaded => crappy result. Good quality both, same result, same ease of servicing (both need special tools...)

Other than that I like my high tower with better small bump compliance (ie fox evol or warranty-breaking-monarch-plus) and a lock out for climbs (even thus it works fine wide open or in "trail" mode full lockout is much better on certain sections).

As far as cons go:

- seat tube could be a tad steepier to help with climbs - you have to stand on the HT earlier than you would on some other bikes (Jeffsy, switchblade, you name it) though of course the HT is indeed more enduro-ish.

- the gunk in the lower VPP linkage is indeed annoying and sometimes a little scary though i never ran into issues. I wish they made a custom fender for that (its quite hard to make your own, a regular fender will dig into the seat tube when you bottom out!).

- some of the cable routing holes are a tad small/tight for internal routing (though it might be because I got one of the first runs?)


Anyhow, love the bike, and while many do run it 200/160mm I like the stock 135/140mm or 135/150mm better myself. perfect almost-enduro-29er bike. It does love to truck through harsh stuff yet climbs nicely as long as its not too steep.
  • + 7
 Threaded bottom brackets require a $15-$20 wrench to install and remove. It's very easy to do. Press fits require a special press that costs at least $150, at least most do. To remove a press fit you may need another tool which I presume you use to hammer the old BB out, much like a headset extractor.

Press fit BB's are notorious for creaking once installed. Threaded BB's don't.

If you damage your BB shell internal surface, now you need to have the shell interior refaced. If it was a carbon shell, you might be in trouble.
  • + 2
 Just to comment on the fender issue, check out the old inner tube fender people have made (not sure if it was originally for the Bronson or the 5010). I was really worried about getting crap in the linkage on my Bronson, and the inner tube solution worked really well.
  • + 6
 To be totally fair, threaded BB's can creak too—but since they're easy to remove, it takes 15min to fix. Pop it off, grease, and tighten. If you have a torque wrench, there is no thinking involved.
  • + 2
 @WaterBear: or you can install a pressfit BB with a threaded bar and steel plates from a hardware store for $10.
  • + 3
 @jclnv: Oh I've tried to make my own press, and it didn't work at all. My first attempt was a long threaded bolt and nut, with washers as the press surfaces. The washers had way too much play in them - no alignment capability at all.

If you can recommend specific parts from a hardware store that will yield a home press with actual alignment features I'd love to see it.
  • + 1
 @WaterBear: I usually throw my brgs in the freezer just so they start a little easier, and install with some light hammer taps to get them squared up, then drive em home. Bike is on its side and blocked under the bb to, got to be solid to be precise.
  • + 1
 @wildcatwilly: A guy I know says he got his headset on that way - hammer and block of wood. To be honest I don't have the balls to try that!
  • + 1
 @TheArbez: I did check it out but I've 2 issues with it:

1) it looks ghetto on my 7600USD build !! ;-)

2) honestly I find it hard to keep it properly in place over time, so I ended up removing it Frown
  • + 1
 @WaterBear: hammering out a PF BB is much easier than a headset.

I looked up my ebay history and i paid $22.50 + $25 for the PF BB tools good while ago (+10USD for the rubber mallet at the local store), and $34 for the BSA tools. Got em from "biketools" ebay username.

I would recommend these over a custom made unless you really want to cheap out, its just easier and not too expensive.

At the end of the day im happy with either kind of BB myself.
  • + 2
 Threaded BB tool: $6. No blocks, no mallets, no praxxis inserts, and most importantly—no noise.
  • + 1
 @bankz: I probably will check out "biketools" to see if I can find an affordable bearing press, thanks for the heads up on that.

I find the added expense and difficulty aren't worth the advantages, but to each their own. You certainly make it sound like *less* of a PITA than I first thought.
  • + 1
 @WaterBear: One other difference is when you buy the actual BB shell. THe PF BB shell cost a few bucks, the BSA shell cost me 50USD first (race face), it creaked (also proves BSA makes noise when either BB or shell are poorly made)
I replaced it with a 85USD one (RWC) which is perfect.

That's probably a non-issue when you get a prebuilt bike though (you don't pay per part, but for a whole bike), but when custom building that's definitely something to factor in
  • + 4
 The comparisons between bikes are really good here - thanks for responding to the feedback! It's too simplistic to say bike x is better than bike y, and could cause issues for Pinkbike, so detailing the differences in the way you have is both cleverly side stepping any manufacturer fallout and assisting the readers. Well done!
  • + 6
 Why is this bike labelled cross country? Because it has 110mm of travel? It has nothing to do with a real XC bike. Geometry,equipment,weight,it all says trail.
  • + 3
 So--do you think that in general the 27+ wheel size suits the shorter travel bikes? I.e the Tallboy gains some monster-truck abilities; the HT already has those abilities, and the combination of big wheels and bigger travel makes it a little numb/slow feeling?
  • - 3
 There are a very few numb bikes these days but there are many numb riders. Playfulness - you do it Smile If that was thecase then DH bikes would be the numbest of all.
  • + 0
 @WAKIdesigns: No, within each category of bike there are some designs, such as Santa Cruz, which are more "glued to the trail feeling", which is great for speed if your riding style is to plow through the rough and dig into corners until the natural exit. Not as fun for those who like to float and skip over the rough, and pop out of corners at will.
  • - 10
flag WAKIdesigns (Jan 9, 2017 at 1:18) (Below Threshold)
 @mecabeat: I am aware of that, that's why Heckler was so fun in that way, compared to my Nomad back in the day. But quite frankly, as long as trail and Enduro bikes are concerned, it's just an excuse for not having a dialled bunnyhop. I did hear some top riders complain on that on DH bikes, but not on short travel ones. Also it's a matter of the shock. Air shocks on VPP bikes tend to blow through the travel. Coils are more poppy. Maybe the latest Float X2 is better. And that glued to the trail does wonders on climbs, and for braking. Plowing through cannot be ignored either. Just like bottomless feel. Compromises, that's all.
  • - 2
 @WAKIdesigns: If you can't feel how much more sluggish VPP is to bunnyhop than DW, Maestro, or even FSR, than you either have your shock oversprung, which may be the case if using a coil because VPP has such a narrow range of tolerance where it will work properly, or you're clipped in and lifting the pedals, which is just wrong and potentially dangerous. If that's the case, you may want to put some flats on for a while to reset your form and finesse.
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns @mecabeat why generalize on properties of suspension systems? you can design pretty much any feature you like into say VPP or 4-bar. DW is btw a VPP too, as is Maestro.

Agree with numb riders vs. numb bikes. The only thing you can get is a wildly too long bike, when you are 5'7" like me. It's just not fun anymore at some point.
  • + 2
 @mecabeat: I preferred the switchblades dw system to the Hightowers vpp. Demoed a fair few 29ers last year before settling on the blade. Strangely my second choice was a dw bike too in a Ripley LS, that was mega light and playful but. Little under gunned on bigger terrain for me though. Switchblade with the fork out to 160mm, 17mm headset cup removed and a 40mm stem has given me a bike that out climbs any other bike I've ridden on technical stuff and absolutely rips on descents. I thought the Hightower was a great bike but the switchblade just felt a little better both going up and down for me.
  • - 5
flag WAKIdesigns (Jan 9, 2017 at 5:42) (Below Threshold)
 @sebazzo: yepp... how about poppyness of 29er vs 275? Or poppyness of a freaking DH bike vs a Bronson? 2ply tyres vs 1ply?

That's what I meant - too many variables to put it on suspension system. With the biggest variable being the rider. You can or you can't launch from one rock/root over another.

@mecabeat - if you would ride with my friend on his Stumpy 29Evo with 456 chainstay and you will never ever talk about nuances of suspension systems and flying. And he isn't even a semi-pro. I agree with you if someone is just ramming into a rock expecting the bike to fly.
  • + 1
 @mecabeat: I get it. Some bikes (thinking Knolly bikes based on what I've read) are designed for soft suspension. I imagine they achieve this by shortening the CS measurement in the stroke, if you believe chain tension matters, or playing with the leverage rate.

Other bikes, like the NS Bikes Snabb, are the opposite - stiffer suspension, designed to fling you off the trail and avoid getting too low on take-off.

So @ejj sounds believable - soft suspension design, long travel, and fatter tires (which themselves act like damped springs) adds up to a lot of 'suspension' between you and the trail.
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns: Yea but where you are off the mark is that suspension design is one of those variables. Iv'e ridden similar spec DH bikes that feel playful and poppy and ones that don't. Simple as that. Of course a skilled pilot will get it done with whatever is under him/her but different suspensions have different "feel" and that's what we are talking about here when we say "poppy".
  • - 2
 @DARKSTAR63: as I wrote, it may be an issue on DH bike, vaguely on Enduro bike, but not on a trail bike with less than 140mm of travel. Fat tyres surely make the bike less poppy but not much to write home about. 29ers with more than 130mm of well setup suspension bulldoze through sht so well that you don't need to pop so much. But that just brings other challenges. If you lack pop then just ride faster Big Grin that's my way of looking at it, I rarely blame the bike. I leave it there Smile
  • + 1
 @WAKIdesigns: I don't condone "blaming the bike" but you certainly made it sound that bikes lacking "pop" is a myth. Different feeling bikes occur at all levels of travel, however you are correct that longer travel would, of course, exacerbate the "issue". I have to say, and this is friendly banter, that this is perhaps most undesirable in an "enduro" bike. With a DH bike you ride it faster, the bike can come alive, and enduro bike must be careful not to take the ground sucking approach too far, or inevitable slower speed sections suffer. You are very much on to something though with the rider because I hear people talking all the time about the bike does this and that, you really just need to adjust. Different bikes want to be ridden in different ways and as a rider you must just unlock that potential.
  • + 7
 Hey, @ejj, the plus-tires just add a bit more stability and grip in certain conditions, which can be an asset on some shorter travel bikes. It can definitely make a hardtail a much more versatile tool. To date, however, plus tires have felt like overkill to me on longer-travel bikes. The Hightower, for instance, is already incredibly stable and poised--I didt feel like it needed more of those traits.

The whole plus-size tire thing, however, is still very much in its awkward toddler stage. We have a long ways to go before these tire designs and casings mature. In general, I prefer 29 to 27+, even on the Tallboy, but there were times (recent shitty, snowy weather, for instance) when the 2.8s were legitimately an, er, plus for the Tallboy.
  • + 4
 @WAKIdesigns: Some people are more aware of these subtleties than others. If you don't notice, that's fine. You're having fun and saying people shouldn't worry and just have fun like you. Others, like me, do notice differences in suspension behavior, and while I can, and have had fun on Santa Cruz bikes, I feel like I have more fun on others. There's no "blaming the bike", it's just preference. I'm not worried. I can still ride the way I wan't to ride on almost any bike.

You're coming across as though you think it's ridiculous to even have this discussion. As if no one has the ability to account for all the variables that go into affecting the way a bike feels. Maybe the majority of mtn bikers worldwide don't, but where I live there are many that do have the experience and critical thinking to discern the individual properties that affect the handling characteristics of a bike. We're all getting out and having fun at the same time as being able to discuss our preferences and experiences. We have the resources and ability to test multiple setups and experiment with configurations.

Of course, I'm not going to base any decision I make solely on what anyone says on Pinkbike, but it's still interesting to hear peoples opinions that are outside my local scene. Why do you want to shut that down? Seems like you're actually oversimplifying people.
  • - 1
 @mecabeat: I actually found this chat with you and others rather valuable and taken some good points on board. It actually made me interested to test the latest breed of Santa Cruz bikes. It's been a year since I sold my last one. Which had great geo but terrible suspension.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: you sir, are correct. Plus tires on a aggressive hard tail allows said hardtail to be ridden harder/faster over rougher terrain than 'regular'sized tires - at least thats my experience.

Plus on full suspension??? Ehhh - i have to say that I'm not convinced that they offer much. I am fortunate to have a 29er that is 27.5+ compatible and I've literally ridden the plus wheelset 1x....so far, i cant see the benefit of the fatties on fullies.

and tell the fashion police that your glasses complete your enduro look...dem haterz, get off my lawn!
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Thanks for a great review, solid work! Did you happen to ride the Hightower on 29inch wheels with the fork at 150? If so was it noticeable?
  • + 2
 @WAKIdesigns: Cool, me too. Santa Cruz just keeps making their bikes more and more aesthetically pleasing, so I'm always attracted to them and want to like them. I may have to borrow a Hightower and bring a shock pump with me on a couple rides. I like the numbers, and the Sriracha & Red one is sexy.
  • + 1
 @tblore: I rode it at 140 with the 29er fork and 150 with the 27+ fork.
  • + 3
 I ride a tallboy 3 29er, and think this is pretty spot on. I haven't yet experimented with 27.5+ but I'm very tempted to pick up a set of Ibis 738s and give it a go, plus tires seem like they'd be great for New England chop. Thoughts, Vernon, since you spent time on both?

The one area I've found lacking is long rock gardens - with the rebound pretty open, the bike still feels like it gets hung up on longer bigger rocks. Any further open and it gets bounced around too much. I'd love to have just 10mm more rear travel, I thinkk it would take this bike to the next level without intruding too much on the Hightower.
  • + 3
 I have a Tallboy 3 as well. I got it with the plus wheels and 130mm travel. I also have a set of 29r wheels too. They both have thier plaec and im glad to have the slightly longer travel. The plus wheels are fantastic in the loose rocky Hudson Valley trails i ride. The 29r wheels are much faster even with a Butcher on front on fast flowy trails. But the Plus tires are just so much fun. The bike floats.

I fiddled a bunch with the rear shock. Adding the largest volume spacer possible and i was still bottoming the bike out on the biggest hits. (I ride this with guys who ride Enduros) I recently swapped the shock for a Cane Creek DBinline and the bike is phenomenal now. So much more tuneable and planted. Will still need some fussing with but its the most capable trail bike ive ever ridden.

Also i downvoted you by accident instead of upvote and i cant reverse it for some reason. Sorry : (
  • + 3
 To many choices. I don't know if I should get the Tallboy, 5010, Hightower, or Bronson. I think I want the Hightower because I am 6'3" and the Hightower was supposedly designed for a taller rider. I just don't want to give up playfullness.
  • + 3
 For taller - and especially heavier/stronger - riders, that supposed lack of playfulness often seems to be less of an issue. If there's more of you compared to the bike (in terms of mass, strength, length of levers), then it's relatively easier to throw the bike around, or to create a bit more loading for the pop you're looking for. Lighter/smaller riders, however, will find those sorts of bikes to be "too much". Example - I'm 230#, so throwing my 29er into tight turns is not a big deal - the bike pretty much disappears below me. Give me a smaller bike (say a 650b designed for similar use), and I'm having a hard time with it. For my wife, at around half my weight, the 29er is unwieldy because she needs to use excessive body English to lean it into corners against the inertia of the bigger wheels.

Buddy of mine rides a 5010 - loves that thing. But he's considerably lighter than me. If I were going SC, I'd probably prefer the Tallboy over the 5010 - pretty much the same use profile. Same thing Bronson vs. Hightower.
  • + 3
 I'm 6'2" 235lbs, a former DH racer and shop owner. I have pulled multiple top 10 strava segments on my local trails using both the 29er and plus tires, but for playfulness the plus tires give an edge in handling for throwing the bike off jumps and in tight turns. It's not a huge difference but noticeable enough for me.
  • + 2
 @g-42: @big-wave-dave:

Thank you guys! Your feedback is helpful. I think I will stick with the Hightower as my choice.
  • + 1
 Wheelbase travel/tuning can be a big factor in playfulness. Hightower/Bronson and Tallboy/5010 are in two very different categories.

I agree at 6'3" a 29er will most likely feel better and be plenty playful. The tallboy will be MORE playful than the Hightower, at the expense of stability, high speed bump gobbling, etc. The added wheelbase and travel result in a much more 'planted' feeling bike. Depending on how/where you ride, one will stand out over the other as a better match for you. I highly recommend you try to ride both before purchasing.

I'm 5'10" 150lbs and ride a 5010. It's a very playful bike, and easier for a smaller rider like myself to flick around. It gives up some speed and roll-over compared to the tallboy, but it's still a super capable bike on a wide variety of terrain. If I were doing more racing, I would get the tallboy. The 5010 is just so darn fun, and a great match for the riding that I do.
  • + 1
 @vaedwards: I have been riding a Salsa Horsethief, but leaning towards getting a bike with more travel for some of the more gnarly enduros I plan to do this year. I have ridden the 5010, Hightower, and the old Tallboy LT. The Hightower seems like the right choice. Thank you for the your help!
  • + 1
 I was in the same predicament a couple months ago. I was between the 5010, Hightower, and Bronson only though, I think if you're considering the Bronson the Tallboy isn't enough bike. I ended up going with a Bronson for a few reasons. I live in Utah and regularly ride trails like The Whole Enchillada in Moab where a 150mm travel bike is absolutely useful, and even on the small side of the average bike people are riding there. That then ruled out the 5010, and left the Hightwoer and the Bronson. I rode both, and think the Hightower is noticeably more playful and versatile with 27.5+/29, while the Bronson is more Nomad/enduro bike like. I also have a hardtail, so I figured if I wanted to get playful I can ride that and the Bronson would be the big all arounder except for the smoothest of trails.

Based on your description, I think the biggest considerations are that you want a more playful bike, and what kind of terrain you ride and sounds like the Hightower would be a great choice!
  • - 3
 @big-wave-dave: hey brah, here's a pro tip that you, as a former semi-professional shop owner, might appreciate: nobody on the innernet gives a f*ck about any top 10 strava times in queer creek, az. one love...
  • + 1
 @mtskier: Sorry bro just trying to help, your attitude speaks louder than your riding I'm sure
  • + 2
 I demoed a Hightower C with a S+ kit recently. I completely agree that the revised VPP provides far superior climbing performance over jagged squared-edged mess than it's predecessor. Furthermore, I really enjoyed the bike and my speed aboard it on my usual loop was just shy of my PR. Not bad IMHO for a bike I had never ridden and one with a "lower" (by no means cheap, but not nearly as fancy as some of their builds) end spec. I wouldn't mind trying it with 29'er shoes, but I dug the crazy, mow-over-anything, devil-may-care feel the big meats provided.
  • + 1
 If I remember right doesn't the S kit have a monarch shock? You should definitely try it out with the Monarch Plus shock. I tried both when demoing Bronsons, and that made a world of difference, haven't tried both on the Hightower but have tried the Monarch plus on it, and it's amazing.
  • + 2
 SC is expensive no doubt but I am 190 lbs. and have ridden my Bronson for 3 years (trail and park) and let me tell you it's worth it! I broke numerous Trek frames and got tired of waiting 2 months for new one. I ride hard and like to hit drops/jumps. Have crashed many times. Never so much as a ding. Took a small chunk out of carbon under BB and they offered me new frame for 35% no questions asked. Get emails back same day. Talk to real people on phone. Support good people with good jobs. Over long run great investment. Wait till they go on sale end of year and get great deal! Thanks Santa Cruz! Many many great days on my Bronson
  • + 2
 Santa Cruz...you had me until integrated headset. Are riders calling your offices asking for a road bike headset or is this the first corporate bean-counter cost cutting measure? Thank you PON Holdings because I really like not being able to steepen or slacken the HA to tailor a bike to my trails.
  • + 1
 29ers can get awful high in the front, integrated headsets actually have the benefit of reducing total stack height, which is a good thing here.
  • + 1
 Yep, I'd have liked to be able to adjust the HA. But I'll not overly concern myself about.
  • + 1
 @jmblur: The TB in particular has quite a low stack already. I suspect the integrated HS wasn't for reducing stack height. I'd prefer it if I could add angle adjusting HS.
  • + 2
 Glad that you guys didn't do a shootout but rather asked better questions. My only gripe is, can you guys do these reviews sometimes with bikes that the normal person can/will buy? I think we all love reading these but there are very few of us out there that can go and drop 9k on a bike that gets these awesome reviews but rather would like to see how the middle-of-the-road build kits stack up. Thanks.
  • + 2
 @ianswilson815, I hear you. When the bike became first available, it was only dressed in one kit--the one we tested. By late Spring, the offerings had grown considerably, but we were already in testing. We hear you though, and, yes, are working on getting a wider range of price points in the mix.
  • + 2
 @vernonfelton
"Cross-country bikes are steadily growing more capable—blurring that point where a race bike ends and a trail bike begins. The Kona Hei Hei DL is one such example. This Tallboy is another strong example."

Sooooo.... Shootout? Lol
  • + 2
 So Santa Cruz makes the Nomad, Bronson, Hightower, 5010, and the Tallboy. I have a strong suspicion that one or two of these products will be getting discontinued. Santa Cruz is basically rolling out 5 models of trail or "enduro" bikes that are similar to one another. I don't work in the industry, but it seems like their product line is a little redundant in the trail bike segment.
  • + 1
 It's always been like that. They actually have less bikes in the lineup now than previously.
  • + 1
 Maybe you just don't like cheating, but I feel like the Hightower with 27.5+ wheels is totally unfair to the trails and other riders around you trying to beat you on the descents. Sure it suffers on the climb, but it takes all the guesswork out of picking lines on the downhill since the 27.5x2.8" tires float over anything with about 15 psi and a tubeless setup.
  • + 9
 Ride plus. When you put 2.8 plus tires on 40mm rims you increase the volume of your tires. When you increase the volume of your tires you can run much lower pressure in those tires. When you run lower pressure in your tires you increase the contact patch and your tire absorbs small bumps much better. When you increase your contact patch and absorb small bumps better your bike doesn't get knocked off line easily and your traction goes way up. When your bike doesn't get knocked off line easily and your traction goes way up, you get more comfortable on the bike and you stop looking at the every little rock, root, and rut right in front of you. When you get more comfortable on the bike and stop looking at every little rock, root, and rut right in front of you, you start looking farther down the trail. When you start looking farther down the trail, you starting seeing and picking your lines sooner and are ready for what's coming. When you're picking your lines sooner and are ready for what's coming, your gain confidence. When you gain confidence you go faster. When you go faster your riding bros start eating your dust and getting dropped. When your bros start eating your dust and getting dropped, they start to whine and snivel about how fast you're getting. When you bros start whining and sniveling about how fast you're getting, you feel cocky and virile. When you feel cocky and virile your wife notices and you have wild passionate sex. When you have wild passionate sex with your wife, she falls in love with you all over again. When you wife falls in love with you all over again, she starts treating you like a king. When your bros whine and snivel about how fast you are, and your wife treats you like a king, life is grand. Make life grand, ride plus size tires.
  • + 1
 @glaw: /me buys plus tires right now
  • + 2
 I love my Hightower. Such a beast downhill.. I've gained a lot of confidence compared to the130mm 26" Kona I was on before. The only thing holding it back on the climbs is me...
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton I didn't see which size HT/TB you were on. I'm on a Hightower and loving it, but being 5'11, I felt with this new radical sizing I was stuck between sizes. I came off a large Nomad and went with the Medium Hightower, and it feels great. Care to comment? Apologies if I missed it in the article.
  • + 2
 I was on a Large of both bikes. At 5'11", yeah, I was slightly stuck in between sizes as well--at least given my preferences. I considered downsizing the Hightower, from a Large to a Medium. Making the move to a size Medium would result in a Hightower with nearly the same wheelbase (1165 millimeters/45.8 inches) as two other bikes I ride frequently (the Pivot Switchblade in a size Medium and a Large-sized Evil Following).The Medium Hightower, however, doesn't have a long enough reach to comfortably suit me, so I went with the Large Hightower, which was the better of the two size options for me.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Thanks for the info! My impression is definitely lively and playful; that may explain some of the differing opinions in the comments.Cheers
  • + 1
 It will be nice to offer more color option on frames or even custom color paint program! Why not for $3000 frame? Many riders will go for it even for few extra $...
BTW the older finish paint was much better than the new ones with sharp touching lines...

Custom fender to protect lower pivots will be good option as well as somebody above mention that.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton, really enjoyed these reviews. Thanks!

You said you rode the Tallboy mostly in its 29er guise. That means you were on 29er hoops with, I'm assuming, boost spacing. As someone who's still riding a 29er with 135mm hubs, I'm curious how the boosted 29 wheels contribute to the experience of riding the Tallboy.
  • + 1
 Good question. Honestly, without being able to swap between Boost and non-Boost wheels on the same frame (impossible unless, I suppose, you were making use of something like the Lindarets Boostinator), it's hard to pinpoint what Boost spacing/improved spoke bracing angle is doing for the overall ride quality of a new bike. Is it the spacing or the particular design of the frame, for instance, that makes this third-gen Tallboy ride differently than its predecessor (in terms of stiffness)? Lots of variables... In short, Boost 148 makes sense and Boost 157 makes even more sense (from a stiffness, mud clearance perspective), but I wouldn't upgrade any existing bike simply to get a wider rear spacing. If you are rocking something with 142x12 and you dig it, keep riding it till the thing requires mouth to mouth resuscitation. That's what I'd do, anyway.
  • + 1
 I've read with interest these latest iterations of 29 ers. I have e the medium LTC and while I'm not really feeling the need for a new frame, I did everything I could to maximize the LTC. Most peeps that try my bike acknowledge it's climbs par excellence. It is a bit weaker on super gnarley descents and I suspect only the hightower is a improvement. But I hacked a 150 stealth reverb onto a medium frame and that really unleashed it's downhill capacity.peeps with LTC s should consider that if they want to get their " obsolete design " better.

Shimano is literally giving their 2 by drivetrains away and with the newest Shimano front derailleur plus an aftermarket clamp that allows you to keep the clamp above the fluting of the carbon downtube but to lower the front derailleur to correct height over an xtr 34/24 2 by a brand new drive train is a bit over $500.

The most conspicuous hightower improvement is getting the lower vpplinksge out of harm's way. That's where my frame will eventually self destruct on a rock hit.

All these designs will give iffy small bump compliance that's why peeps use the Cane Creek double barrel but if u were really going to do it , push s propriatary 1160 or whatever is its name is the way to go. I had my fox rear shock revalved by push and it's platform was a vast improvement.

I post this to encourage serious shredders to consider what they can tweak from their existing ride because the new new good stuff is 8k plus and still isn't as good as my my ride with king ISO with
derb rims.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton would really love to hear from you and @mikekazimer on a direct comparison between the climbing/pedaling capabilities of the latest iterations of VPP vs. DW Link. IE how does the Tallboy climb compared to the 429 Trail or Mojo3 and how does the Hightower climb vs. Switchblade or Mojo HD3. Thanks!
  • + 1
 Quote: "The Hightower is a consistently strong all-rounder; a far steadier and more confident descender than its predecessor and a bike that plays solidly in the same league as the BETTER long-travel 29ers out there."...... So an Evil bike or a Jeffsy and huge pocket change for a holiday. Sounds. Good.
  • + 11
 Evil is not cheaper and you can't even buy a Jeffsy due to supply (at least in the US). That said, Santa Cruz has a lifetime warranty, better resale, and a great long-term reputation. I don't own any of the above bikes but I would say SC is a level up from Evil and YT.
  • + 1
 I have been on the Hightower for about 6 months and have been swapping wheels on a regular basis. I have NOBLE carbon 29 wheels and the stock 27.5+ ARC 40 wheels. The 27.5+ option makes the hightower much more flickable and the extra traction rails on the loose DG and heavy rocks we ride in Arizona. Sedona slickrock is much funner on the plus sized wheels as well. I originally was not sold on the plus stuff but after rigourous switching back and forth I find myself sticking with the plus tires more often these days.

The 29er setup feels faster yet less playful, more precise in line choice, but have much less traction on the climbs and isn't as forgiving on off camber turns. I believe a carbon 27.5 + and the rekon 2.8 tires would just about destroy 90% of anything you could dish up.

The only changes Santa cruz should make: change the switch link to a cam based option so I don't have to fiddle with the shock bolt when changing wheels, and lengthen the large sized frame by at least 10mm to differentiate the large from XL sizes, and shorten the wheelbase a bit.
  • + 1
 I've demoed both bikes multiple times and had my mind blown via jet pack by all the rides I've had on these here war pigs. In a perfect world I'd be able to have both. My tax bracket dictates my first generation 5010 still rips though for another season.
  • + 0
 I rode a demo of the Hightower back in June ( By chance as the demo team turned up to a place we ride) and returned to buy... Im tight, did not need a new bike and also had a decent 650b heckler at the time... I new the Jeffsy was on its way, which I had planned to try and buy in maybe a year on ... Have ridden one since and much prefer the Hightower... I love my it, swore not so long ago that 29ers were stupid blah blah. Its just lovely to ride, my local xc type trails, hard core lake district rocky decents and it even jumps pretty well!
  • + 2
 Trying to decide between the tall boy and the HEI HEI this year. Definitely want more of a trail bike. Hoping I can actually take both for a test tide.
  • + 0
 Great write up Vernon. I've owned all 3 iterations of the Tallboy. Totally agree with your take on this one. One issue that has come up for me is on my longer climbing days that I have easily completed on the other Tallboys, I am having a lot more thigh muscle fatigue on the TB3. I used to be the strong climber of my group, and now I'm mortal again. I switched from the TB2 mid-season last year, and all other things about me were unchanged. Weights of the bikes were pretty close. I had a 2 degree slackening headset on myTB2 so the HT angle is within 0.5 degrees. Only thing I can think of is I am running a 130 fork now, whereas it was a 120 with my previous TBs. Would that be enough to cause this? Or am I just getting old and slow?
Thanks in advance!
  • + 1
 ST angle and reach/stack can really change the feel of your power delivery. Compare the positions you are in on both bikes. This can be tricky, as the ST angle can change with sag, etc...
  • + 1
 I am also curious if anyone is running tallboys with a larger fork (130 or 140). I have a process 111 (running 140mm up front, feels great) and am thinking of getting a tallboy (and running 130mm?) for next race season.
  • + 1
 i thinks the real question is:
Which one is the apple and which one is the watermelon,
because we all know what an apple a day is for,
but for the summer days: watermelons are the best.
  • + 0
 Spent a year on a Specialized Fuse Pro (plus) Hardtail, really loved it. Bought the Tallboy3 (in plus mode) and was just meh. But then I bumped the front travel to 140mm and put on a bigger 3.0" front tire (both to slacken HA). Now we're talking. I get the stellar Tallboy3 pedaling ability, more stable front end and a super playful wheelbase.
  • + 1
 I like how @vernonfelton has his fingers off the brake levers in that large Tallboy photo, but instead of wrapping them around the bars he's pointing down the trail, Babe Ruth style.
  • + 2
 These reviews are written just to make everyone else envious: They are out there riding and you're stuck reading the reviews.............................. and working. Meh!
  • + 2
 Not a Santa Cruz guy but I was impressed with the Hightower when I tried one. $8500 for that build though? Skip the ENVE wheels so many cheaper options equally as good.
  • + 4
 That was a good review Vernon!
  • + 0
 I ride a TLC3, rode it at Antur Stiniog yesterday and it was so playful, didn't miss a beat, first time riding it at Dh park as well, was a bit dubious, but it lapped it all up... (Blue and Red Trails)... I'm ridind the 29er but with 130mm forks Wink
  • + 3
 wow for the price of one SC you can get two from YT or Commencal Smile - their marketing is great though
  • + 1
 That may be true for brands like Specialized...
but not Santa Cruz. Although they have great advertising. Every SC is built in house... meaning you get a good build and handbuilt solid wheels, at least... i have owned both a SC and a Commencal... the SC do feel like better bikes... and do last longer. I bet YT does not build the bikes either. Overall I feel SC are more expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Others like Specialized etc... are definitely over inflated by Marketing, quality is au pair with Commencal / YT
  • + 2
 @RedRedRe: Yeah except SC carbon is made in China just like everyone else. The first thing you should do on a new bike whether it be a SC or a yt is to tune it up anywho.
  • + 0
 @topherdagopher: right. But commemcal, yt, specialized, do they have wheelbuilders in-house to build wheels? The specialized and commencal I have had, the wheels had to be replaced within 6 and 8 months. No much to tune up when quality of materials is low. The SC, in 4 years, did not even have to true the wheels once. Brakes the same thing. Having a bike built by top mechanics makes a huge difference. Some things can not be tuned up. I am the first to call marketing bs, but SC are a step up from the others I mentioned. If I buy a SC, I know it will be an hassle free bike. And ride great.
  • + 1
 I am not sure YT spends less than SC in advertising...
  • + 1
 Please, show me which 2 YT's I can get for $2600... These really aren't that overpriced.
  • + 2
 After looking it up, the Jeffsy AL, their entry level build comes in at $2700... so the Tallboy starts cheaper.
  • + 0
 @tgent: was referring to tested models in this review $8.5k for the hightower...
  • + 1
 @shaborider: You're right that with the higher end models the price gap widens between SC and YT for example, but a top end YT is still around $6k which is comparable to the model tested here. My point is that I think SC in particular has done a good job being price competitive overall. The actual bike tested is a high end model, just like every other bike reviewed here.
  • + 4
 @tgent: i think its only a good comparison if you buy from EU.
My bro got a Jeffsy top of the line for 4.5k euro (its very close to 4500USD) and has a setup that is pretty much identical to my 7600USD HT spec-wise (would be 8500USD if stock build).

both have DT240 hubs and high end carbon rims.
both have next sl cranks
both have X01 drivetrains (well, my custom build has XX1 but thats beyond the point)
both have guide ultimate brakes
both have good stem and a carbon bar
one has fox factory 34 fork and fox dps evol factory shock, the other (SC HT) has the *cheaper* monarch and pike...

Its really, really close to double the price when you get the SC.
At lower price points, the gap isn't as big.

If the Jeffsy had been out, and while I do prefer the HT geo - I would have gotten the Jeffsy. Its just much better value.
  • + 1
 @bankz: I'm not following you're comparing 2 completely different bikes with 2 different currencies. I don't know how in gods name you spent $7600 on a hardtail. You're right that price points are similar at lower points and grows as you go up, but the price difference is really not that big.
  • + 1
 @tgent: HT is a SantaCruz High Tower, not a hard tail Smile I can understand the confusion though.

So yea, the price difference is huge. Also at time of purchase the exchange rate was similar to what it is now, ie 1.06 (it means 1EUR is 1.06USD). That makes the bike ~4750USD.
  • + 1
 @bankz: Lol sorry, thought you referring to a hardtail (HT). Now it makes more sense. YT is definitely a better value, especially when you get into the higher end. I just think the old SC is overpriced is becoming less and less true as I feel they've priced their bikes very competitively, at least compared to other traditional sales model brands, so excluding YT and the likes.
  • + 1
 Thats like saying you can get two ford Rs Focus for the price of one Porsche.....
  • + 1
 I love the look of the Hightower and would totally want to try one out, but I think it's kinda weak that they don't offer it in a size small. -Small person
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton did you get a chance to ride the Hightower as a 29er with a 150mm fork? Just curious to know if that made a big difference in the ride?
  • + 1
 I didn't ride it as a 29er with a 150 fork. (I did 150 with the 27+ set up). I think the bike is well balanced with the 29er 140 fork. It certainly doesn't need to be slacker. Well, not for me, at any rate.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton: Thanks for the feedback Vernon. So having been on the Tallboy LTc for a few years, is the switch to the Hightower worth it? Would you do it?
Great review of both bikes by the way!
  • + 1
 My setup is a 29er with 150mm fork. The extra height and slacker head tube angle makes it a bit harder to manage on really steep climbs. The slightly longer wheelbase makes tight switchbacks slightly more challenging. Overall, no regrets.
  • + 1
 @spinto21: The Tallboy LTc is still a very good bike--the Hightower, however, is a better climber and high-speed/steep terrain descender. The only way to know if that suits you (for all around riding) is to wrangle a chance to test ride one, which is always worth the effort. While you're at it, the Yeti 5.5, Pivot Switchblade, Stumpy 29 and Following are all worth looking at as well. There are a lot of very good bikes in this niche. Getting the chance to actually do all those test rides is, without a doubt, the eternal challenge.
  • + 3
 Hightower is the best bike for me to date!!
  • + 1
 True, love mine too!
  • + 3
 Great write up. No bullshit PR speak in sight. More like this please.
  • + 0
 I've got a question about Eagle. Pardon me if it seems dumb.

A cassette with a 10-50 spread does not have a 500% range, does it? Isn't it 400%? 10-20 would be 100% range, 10-60 would be 500%. Right? Or is my maths off?
  • + 6
 Your mathematics is off. It's big sprocket divided by smallest sprocket then multiplied by 100 to give a percentage. Thus 50 / 10 * 100 = 500.
  • + 1
 Think of it as apples:

100% of 10 is 10.
90% of 10 is 9.
5%of 10 is 5.
200% of 10 is 20.
500% of 10 is 50.

Didn't you pay attention in maths class?
  • - 2
 You are thinking in terms of 400% extra, which is the same as a 500% increase.
  • + 4
 Na, it's the ratio 50/10=500%
  • + 2
 Thanks for that. It has been a while since I went to maths class!
  • + 15
 @DaMilkyBarKid: "Didn't you pay attention in maths class?"
"5%of 10 is 5"

Oh, the irony!
  • + 4
 @truffy: I give his maths effort a solid 5/7.
  • - 4
flag stevemokan (Jan 9, 2017 at 7:34) (Below Threshold)
 @handynzl: No it's not. Range implies a difference, not a simple percentage. Would you say a single 10t sprocket has 100% range?

(10-10) / 10 = 0% range
(20-10) / 10 = 100% range
(50-10) / 10 = 400% range

To keep it simple here though, I think the easiest answer is "range" is not the right word to describe the rear cassette.
  • - 7
flag nsteele (Jan 9, 2017 at 8:04) (Below Threshold)
 I never went to "maths" class when I was a kid. Why did this perfectly good, singular word have to become incorrectly plural in order to be cool? I'ma stick wit good ol' English. Math, people, math.
  • + 6
 @stevemokan:

You may have oversimplified it. As I understand it, most "range" talk is mostly about gearing ratios (cassette turns per chainring turns in this case) not sprocket tooth counts. To make it more complicated, take say a 32t chain ring into account...

32/50 = 0.64
32/10 = 3.2

3.2/0.64 = 5 which is a 500% difference in gear ratios. (or just divide 50/10)

If you focus on the true "range" it doesn't tell you enough of the story. If you go from a 10 to 11 cog, your ratio has jumped by 0.3, but if you go from 42-50 it only jumps by 0.12. A ratio can tell you more than just difference in teeth.
  • + 1
 As soon as I read the word spread, I finally understand the name eagle. As in "spread eagle mutha f***er"
  • + 1
 @nsteele: Is that where you went to learn a "Mathematic"?
  • + 2
 @L0rdTom: "mathematics" is not plural. It's just a mass noun that happens to end in an s. Thanks though.
  • + 1
 @truffy: typing on my phone, finger error!!!
  • + 1
 @nsteele: Yes, it is. You're welcome? Not sure what the thanks are for.

lmgtfy.com/?q=mathematics+etymology
  • + 2
 Which subject do you prefer, physic or economic?
  • - 1
 I think that the use of cuss words can be omitted in a review. It makes you look unprofessional. I'm not against cussing in general, but there are kids and people from all walks of life reading these reviews and looking to pinkbike for information, not cuss words. Thanks
  • + 0
 I'll second that. I cant understand why anyone would vote your comment down.
  • + 3
 These bikes are too good for all these shitty comments.
  • + 2
 How about an extra shout-out to SC for size-specific seatpost spec? 170mm for XL/XXL is a welcome sight.
  • + 0
 Maybe I am just making things up but I have never liked how asymmetrical the Tallboy rear triangle is. Seems like it would create some eccentric loading and wear out the lower bushings with hard riding.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton this great review makes me wonder what's taking so long for your final assessment of the Switchblade. At least it was mentioned.
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton, great write-up. Happy to have you make the move to PB. I remember first reading your bits in bikemag in the late 90s--always loved your style. /endbromance
  • + 2
 "Which is “the best bike”? Dunno. It’s a flawed question. "

Not if you're comparing apples with apples, Vernon...
  • + 1
 Nice Review! I don't suppose you've spent any time on the Trek Slash 29? Any comments on how the Hightower compares would be appreciated.
  • + 4
 Sadly, I haven't. Kaz is running the Slash 29...it's on my list. Agreed, that would be interesting.
  • + 6
 @charmingbob, the Slash is in an entirely different category than the Hightower - Trek's new Fuel EX would be the Hightower's contemporary. The Hightower is a great all-rounder, with the chops to handle just about everything you'd find outside of a bike park or DH track. The Slash on the other hand is closer to a DH bike, and needs / wants very rough, steep terrain to come alive. The Slash's head angle is 65-ish degrees, while the Hightower's is 67, which gives the Slash a more relaxed, slightly slower handling feel on flatter terrain. The Hightower is a better pedaler too - it's much snappier, with quicker accelleration due to the VPP suspension design and shorter travel.

In short, for a do-everything bike, the Hightower is a better choice than the Slash, but if you're looking for bike designed specifically for aggressive riding on rowdy terrain, the Slash is a worthy option.
  • + 1
 I recon the Trek is a different ballpark. Its main rival would be the Evil wreckoning or spesh enduro... They are more like a Dh bike than can winch up the climbs....
  • + 0
 @vernonfelton: Hah - it's funny when Vernon isn't on top of the press fleet totem pole.
  • + 3
 Excellent to hear so much useful discussion and better still to get a response from not only Mr Felton but also Mr Kazimer. Bravo PB!
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton with the sag percentages mentioned in the article, how are you setting it front and rear? Seated, attack, etc?
  • + 8
 Get in attack position, bounce once, let it settle, carefully bring o-ring back to shock body while remaining in attack position, carefully get off bike without bouncing again...pretty standard. Wearing riding kit. Cheers.
  • + 2
 Finally - waited for this test for ages.
  • + 1
 I waited 9 months for this review. It was worth it. Tallboy now at the top of my next new bike list.
  • + 0
 To come around a corner up there, drunk on my DH bike, to find a couple old dudes set up for a climbing photo shoot...OMG I CAN'T EVEN ETC
  • + 1
 If I am running a 150 mm fork up front with 29er wheels, should I have the chip in the high or low setting? Thanks
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton Your 29er Bronson moniker will be even more spot on when Santa Cruz drops the LT Hightower.
  • + 1
 "This new Tallboy is a unicorn with bigger balls. Or ovaries. " Well played. @vernonfelton
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton are these some special fiveten’s? Never seen them with the flop!
  • + 1
 Nevermind, found it. Freerider ELC, you’ve reviewed them. Thanks!
  • + 1
 @themanro: Yup, ELCs they are. They also come in a different color way if the whole electric blue/crazy clown thing ain't your bag. I dig them.
  • + 0
 I went from a '16 stumpy to a HT and think it felt more nimble. And by far was a better climber
  • + 1
 Bitchslap of an intro. Thank you sir, may I have another?
  • + 1
 At least he got the chain routed right this time
  • + 2
 Overrated for the cost!
  • + 1
 @vernonfelton - shot you a PM - thx.
  • + 1
 The 29er Bronson WINS the day for me thanks Santa Cruz xxx
  • + 1
 Well done VF
  • + 0
 Do you want vanilla or vanilla+ ?
  • + 1
 Nice write up!
  • + 1
 beautiful bikes
  • + 1
 Too much dope.
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