It was short, but sweet! Prior to today’s launch, I had a few chances to ride the 2020 Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 RSV, and quickly found myself impressed with the bike’s stiff frame and supple suspension characteristics.
As a 140/150mm 29er, the Hightower is a highly versatile trail machine. Its modern geometry makes for a well-balanced ride, and the stiff carbon frame plows through rough stuff with ease. Of course suspension is the most important factor, and I came away quite impressed with Santa Cruz’s newest VPP linkage design. The Hightower’s rear end does a great job of keeping your wheel on the ground through small or big impacts, yet it pedals very well even without any help from the rear shock.
The CC X01 RSV build I rode offers Santa Cruz’s CC grade carbon frame, their Reserve 30 carbon wheels, a high-end front and rear suspension package, top notch components and a lightweight feeling ride (bike weights will be listed on Santa Cruz’s website as of today).
My ‘model overview’ article covers all the frame details, components specs and pricing for all the new Hightowers (and Juliana Mavericks) so I’ll briefly mention a few key points here, then get on with the really interesting part – how the bike rides.
The Hightower CC X01 RSV is built with Santa Cruz’s top-notch CC carbon, and you can guess from its beefy construction that it’s going to provide a stiff ride. With a one-piece rear end and short suspension links, the Hightower gave up very little flex and was happy to hold any technical line I challenged it to.
The 140mm Hightower is the latest trail bike to move to Santa Cruz’s lower link mounted shock design. A flip-chip in the shock mount allows for Low and High positions, which make a small adjustment to the bike’s geometry and shock rate. I rode the Hightower on its stock 29” wheels, but it is also compatible with 27.5+. The new frames use threaded BB’s, and 148mm rear spacing.
Other notable features include water bottle mounts in the front triangle, a shuttle guard and lower down tube protector, a noise-cancelling chainstay protector, and a mudflap on the rear shock. One really nice touch is the new cable routing- the entry points at the Hightower’s headtube are some of the slickest I’ve seen.
Santa Cruz Hightower ride impressions:
It’s been a few years since I rode a VPP bike, and after riding the Hightower I’d say Santa Cruz has done a fine job of honing this design. I was quite impressed with the new lower-link mounted shock suspension platform, as I found it makes for a highly active rear end that tracks very well over any technical terrain.
The Hightower’s nearly linear suspension curve starts off a tad high and doesn’t ramp up sharply at any point. It doesn’t take a thundering impact to use up all of the bike’s travel, but while climbing the bike’s slightly firmer starting point and efficient linkage keeps you from sagging low when you don’t want to.
The RockShox Super Deluxe Select Ultimate rear shock has two positions – firm and open. Riding pretty close to the factory air pressure recommendations (minus a few psi) was perfect for me. Climbing with the shock in firm mode offered excellent pedalling efficiency, but still allowed enough movement to provide good traction on singletrack. I used roughly 40-50% travel climbing technical trails in firm mode, and never slipped a wheel over any rocks or roots.
I found the VPP linkage makes the Hightower a pretty solid climber without any help, and climbing technical trails with the shock open provided more uphill traction and ride comfort. The open shock dives a little deeper as you climb, but with hardly any loss in pedal efficiency. While some bikes strongly benefit from a multi-position shock, the Hightower allows you the choice of riding a bit firmer or softer without losing the ability to transfer cranking power to the rear wheel.
When pointed downhill, the Hightower’s rear end remains very sensitive and does a great job of hugging the dirt below. With 29” wheels the bike’s 140mm of travel is ample for shredding highly technical terrain, and the rear wheel moves quickly out of the way of rocks and roots. Whether it was small chattery bumps or gnarly rock gardens, the Hightower sucked up trail inputs in a very smooth manner.
The high-end CC X01 RSV build I rode comes with RockShox’s 150mm Lyric Ultimate fork and Super Deluxe Select Ultimate rear shock, both of which offer high and low speed compression adjustments. With this tuneable suspension package and the bike’s active linkage, you can really fine-tune the Hightower’s ride to your liking.
I wound up riding with the rebound set pretty high, enjoying how the rear end gobbled up chatter with ease and stuck to the ground like glue. While climbing with the rear shock wide open, the low speed compression adjustment allows you to tune the bike’s ride and pedal efficiency. On a high-spec model like this, you can expect lots of knobs to play with! All in all I was impressed with how well the VPP linkage pedals, while remaining super sensitive to wheel impacts.
I mentioned above that the Hightower’s full carbon frame provided a very stiff ride, but I must emphasize what a treat it was to plow through really rough trails. This bike has a ‘point it and it will go’ feel, and working together with the supple suspension the stiff frame is easy to keep on-line when you’re mashing through rock gardens or root beds.
The 2020 Hightower’s geometry is what you’d expect from a modern trail bike; it has a lengthy front end, fairly short rear, slack steering and steep seating.
The Hightower does have a flip chip in the lower shock mount. As the chart above shows, the effect on the frame’s angles is minimal, but flipping the chip to ‘High’ raises the BB by 4mm to increase clearance (especially if you choose to run 27.5” wheels) and it makes the rear shock a little less progressive. Since I only had a few rides on the bike, I kept it in the Low position.
The Hightower’s 450mm reach is on the long side for a medium frame, but I didn’t feel too stretched out on the bike. This may be attributed to its very steep seat tube angle of 76.6°, which makes seated pedalling easy and efficient. A 65.2° head tube angle affords stable handling when descending but doesn’t feel too slow or sloppy on the climbs.
Despite it’s wheelbase of 1208mm, the Hightower feels agile on the trail. Its 434mm chainstays aren’t the shortest out there but keep things feeling fairly whippy out back. Oh, and tall riders take note – While Santa Cruz sticks to the same rear triangle for most sizes, their XXL’s get a slightly longer rear end.
At high speeds the bike is long enough to provide a stable feel, even without a super low bottom bracket. With a BB height of 340mm (33mm drop), I only had to be careful about tagging my pedals on one particularly rocky climb.
The Hightower CC X01 RSV offers a high-end build, right down to the carbon headset spacers and ti railed saddle. SRAM’s XO1 drivetrain components are proven performers, and in just a few rides you’d hope to not have issues (I didn’t).
Santa Cruz’s Reserve 30 carbon wheels feel light and snappy while climbing, and their stiffness helps you pin it through rough descents. I noticed that torquing from a dead stop or at slow speeds seemed very easy on the Hightower, so I’d recommend considering the ‘RSV’ wheel option if you’ve got the cash.
At this price it’s also nice to see a Santa Cruz carbon handlebar up front, SRAM Code RSC brakes, a set of Maxxis 3C EXO TR Minion tubeless tires, and DT Swiss 350 hubs in those Reserve 30 wheels.
The Hightower CC X01 RSV is decked out with high-end components, but most importantly offers a solid chassis. The CC carbon frame is stiff, and the VPP suspension is one of the better linkages I’ve ridden for achieving a trail bike’s two opposing goals- efficient climbing and excellent impact absorption. MSRP for the Hightower CC X01 RSV is $8,299 and frames are available in S-XXL sizes.