Well, I’m so late to this party that not only has everyone been kicked out and the house has been cleaned up, but most people have finished their antibiotics for the itch they picked up from the big night. But as I shall try and elaborate on, it may not exactly be a bad thing that I’ve taken my time with getting out a Santa Cruz Hightower Rantview given how much the world has changed in the last 9 months.
I’m not really going to bother to ‘Review’ the Santa Cruz Hightower, as reviews themselves are largely redundant, plus not to mention this bike first broke cover on Pinkbits in Feb 2016. In fact its been around so long they’ve even ‘updated’ the paint schemes for fucks sake, so I’d be wasting your time if I tried to unearth anything that resembled a “This is what this bike rides like under a set of variables that invalidate every word I write” type scenario.
Instead, let’s make this more of an experiential tale of fashion and being a lemming as we journey forth from frothing inception, to introspection, on to hype and then the reality of finding out who you really are.
Part I – Frothing Inception
When I first did the ‘Welcome to the Family‘ post, I was rather enamoured with the new Hightower and I had of course rushed out and like pretty much everyone I know, to push this bike into territory it wasn’t strictly designed for by ramming a 160mm fork in it and adorning its chassis with a range of parts that have a lot more in common with ENDURO racing than your average trail ride. I had joined the mosh pit of Hightower fever and it felt goooooood…
This initial gushiness continued on from first impressions and into the first three months. Indeed, if I had penned this Rantview after the semi-world famous “Best Dirt Days of 2016“, then I would have frothed over the top about how this was definitely the best bike I’d ever ridden…
As I look back on those pics from December 2016 and write this up now I can still feel that warm glow of amazement at those days of riding… And more to the point, at the stunned experience of just how fucking awesome the Hightower felt and how it rode. Section after section I was not only buzzing, but perplexed at how fast it was and how just downright excellent it felt as a bike. AKA – More than getting your moneys worth.
I was riding stuff I hadn’t ridden before, it all felt effortless and multiple ENDUROgasim’s ensued as I took on the impossible task of chasing JC Superstar and the Rodfather through Vegas’ finest trails. I left NZ after those early rides proclaiming that “yes cunts, this IS the one bike to rule them all and you fucken bet 27.5 is dead motherfuckers” to anyone that didn’t ask for my opinion. I went so Single White Female on it that I don’t think I even touched a ‘small wheeled’ bike for the next 5 months or so. I was now a foot solider in the mid travel 29er army that was pillaging the badlands of the bike marketplace. I was frothing so hard I made Fox news look balanced.
Dude, smells like a honeymoon period?
Yes, there’s a strong case that this vibe will be familiar for those of you who are addicted to short term relationships – You want to ride each other hard as much as possible, you smile when you see them, you tell all your mates how awesome they are and you buy them presents as much as you can – New 2.5 tires?! You shouldn’t have! Besotted would be putting it lightly and given I wanted to reinforce my own bias that this was a good move, I was more than happy to surround myself with people who agreed that this thing was indeed fucken rad brah.
Part II – Introspection
But at some stage, in Thailand I think, I got a slight nagging feeling that perhaps it wasn’t quite as gushy as it had started out, call this the “Fuck, is that your toothbrush in my bathroom?!” moment if you will, but 1,200km’s later and I have quite a different appreciation for the Hightower and its personality. Here’s a few thoughts on how that worked out for me:
Not working as designed – Like most Hightower owners, I rushed out and ignored the instructions with a single minded fever to convert this into a screaming ENDURO weapon… We’re mountain bikers, its how the fuck we roll. As part of this rampage it of course included putting a 160mm fork on a chassis that was designed around a 140mm fork, oh, plus fuck it, throw in some 10mm spacers under the stem for when shit gets steep.
End result is a peculiar front end that’s probably not what the design team had in mind when they were drinking Bud’s, high fiving and talking about why the paint team have lost the plot. Given the front end I’d created, I did find the steering to be slightly vague at high speed on single track and not exactly precise, as you may well expect. Dropping the stem down improved this situation, but ultimately then didn’t give the same confidence vibe when things got pants shitting steep.
The other aspect of forcing a trail bike into ENDURO duty as the Frankentower was that when shit got wild, I ran out of travel faster than a North Korean Passport and not to sound like a Grindr profile bio, but I lost a bit of confidence when getting smashed in the back end. As I will elaborate on below, its more about the level of hesitation this introduces and probably explains why (before you call me a fluffy puss puss) the SC EWS team were rolling on stealth 150mm travel versions a long time before the LT model became public.
I first noticed this scenario in Thailand, but by the time I got to the end of Madeira I knew it wasn’t just my imagination… As I like to say, good riders don’t need as much travel, so the fact I was gagging for more paints it’s own picture! I also wasn’t 100% convinced the coil shock was the right pick for this frame if I’m being brutally honest, but I’m not qualified to elaborate so shall remain mute on that one.
It appears to have an appetite – I may be alone here, but my Hightower seemed to have a penchant for devouring Headset bearings, which I understand was a more common theme and probably a symptom of having to run a Cane Creek headset as opposed to Chris King. I also found mine liked to snack on shock bushings at an alarming rate… It took about 4 months to blast the first lot into submission.
About that Rim job – I basically just wanted to talk about wheels for that innuendo alone, but the wide rim is so hot right now its worth a mention. As I said in the Millau wrap up, I’m not convinced the hype is all what its cracked up to be. Granted the Derby carbon rims are only 30mm internal width, but its hasn’t been a life changing experience like some may have you believe.
To start with I tried running the sub 20 PSI pressures recommended and after some horrific tire annihilation and sickening rim impacts I made the obvious call that perhaps this wasn’t for me. Then set in a trend that just keeping air in the rear tire was a miracle and even to this day still appears to be an issue. I can’t recall having a wheel set that have had this many tire/air related issues. Meanwhile my trusty old CK/Flow EX no issues combo smile back at me with that “haha, eat it cunt” look on their spokes.
While I’m on a roll here, I also feel that the derby rim is a little harsh… Absolutely great when railing through berms in the sweet dirt of Rotorua, but slightly more of a handful when hitting EuroGnar, where I found they didn’t give you much of a break in the <<cliche alert>> vertical compliance department. Turns out that sometimes there is such a thing as too stiff, which is something I know the Rodfather will violently disagree with…
As an upside they are still alive, which is nothing short of a miracle for a carbon wheelset subjected to some hamfisted Wairoa Gorge days and a couple of EWS rounds, a testament to the great job that Gav at Wheelsworks does on a build.
Was I asking this bike to do something it didn’t really want to do? There were hordes of them on the ENDURO scene, so perhaps it was a case of “Its not you, its me“? Was I not rad enough to ride a shorter travel 29er on some of the nastiest terrain ever to have race tape wrapped around it? And how did I manage to get it to 14.85kgs, or 32.7 pounds for those of you who know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
Was it time to reconsider my big wheeled ways? As we say to team mates who never listen: “Never go back bro, it’s always fucked” But there was an itch, so I had to scratch it…
Hightower Vs. Nomad 3
This seems to be one of the most relevant questions or talking points when the topic of a switch to the Hightower comes up… I canvassed about ten Nomad 3 pilots/people I stalk on Instagram and all of them pretty much unanimously gave this migration a solid thumbs up, and initially I can see why as well… So much so I did my usual extremist act of swearing off the smaller wheel size altogether as I became a big wheeled zealot:
But, scratch below the surface and I’m not quite sure its as simple as that, not to mention when this conversation first came up, the Santa Cruz model landscape looked quite different, but more on that below.
To start with, as I mentioned in the Millau wrap up post, this isn’t so much about wheel size as it is about total package… Geo and travel characteristics obviously have a key role to play in creating the symphony of radness you so desire and wheel size doesn’t get you there alone.
Had my Hightower desire blinded me to Big Wheel love? Had I jumped on the latest fad of teasing people riding little clown wheels? Once you go Wagon can you go back? There was a haze of modern MTB confusion clouding my mind and being extremely useful in helping me screen out cunts at work as I obsessed over the biggest question to fuck with First World ENDUROlyfe since someone asked if we really needed Boost hubs: Was this about wheel size or the total package?
So between Madeira and Millau I decided to put this shit to the test with an unscientific as fuck experiment which would make Herr Doktor puke as much as the terrain I was utilising to compare these two machines. The cHub is extremely limited with what we loosely call ‘DH terrain’ with which to put these two superb specimens under the pump, so I did my best to make do with what I had on offer. This was such a fucking big deal even the Rodfather made an appearance in the name of faux scientific research:
Bear in mind, these two bikes are set up about as close as humanely possible in terms of suspension (Fox 36 and Fox DHX2), running gear & brakes (Shimano XTR/XT/Saint), the same bar & stem combo’s and even down to their Maxxis DD tires (DHF 2.5 front and DHRII 2.3 rear).
After 8 outings, 4 on each machine, and some very questionable stop watch management, the “I could have told you that without the effort cunt as its pretty obvious” results were as follows:
- Fairly tame DH trail – On a short trail that’s all about carrying speed, it was no surprise that the Hightower was 2 seconds quicker. The odd thing was that the Nomad felt quicker, but consistently wasn’t, something that was a bit of a head fuck, but generally a theme I found – Little wheels feel manic and exciting, big wheels seem slower, but aren’t
- Mildly rowdier DH trail – A total tie in terms of timing. Interestingly the Hightower felt faster on both ends of the trail, but in the mid section where it was the steepest and most challenging terrain I could find, the Nomad felt noticeably more composed and I had that definite slight hesitation with the HT. It was subtle to start with, but the more back to back work I did, the more I noticed it. Where the Nomad wanted to grin and charge, the HT just had a slight hesitation to it, which I would openly exacerbate with my conservative riding style
- XC Bandit trail with a little bit of downhill – This was just a straight up reaming, with the HT putting a solid 30 seconds into the Nomad 3 over a 6 minute or so course… I wasn’t surprised it was faster, but the gap was eyebrow raising and I thought it would be a shitload closer than that. There’s no question the HT loves to demolish undulating trail with reckless abandon.
Ok, so no great surprises there and really it was just a Trojan horse to get me to actually do some intervals ahead of Millau, but it did provide me with the chance to be reminded just how much fun I had riding the Nomad 3. So, at the end of the exercise it was pretty clear to me that if I wanted to maximise fun on rowdy shit, then the Nomad 3 was the go and if I wanted to get my race freak on and maximise the results, then the Hightower was the better all rounder. As I said above, the Nomad often felt quicker, but in reality the Hightower generally was, but the clock doesn’t account for fun factor and your riding style, does it?
With French gnar on the menu it was almost a no brainer to get back on the blue beast and not once did I regret that decision when in Millau… Ok, on those flat French top sections I did miss the big wheels and their momentum carrying wizardry, but once it went steep and nasty, a regular occurrence, there was nothing but love for the Nomad chassis. Stand back as I contradict myself given that was a race, but overall it felt more fun on the Nomad as a package. I still love riding the Hightower, but I really looooooved riding the Nomad again in the right setting. Turned out Johnny twenty seven 5 was alive after all.
Part III – The Hype
So based on all that outright ranting shit, you’d rightfully draw the conclusion that in an ideal world, a Hightower and a Nomad would make sweet, but relatively filthy, love and 9 months and many carbon moulds later either a 29er Highmad or a Notower would pop out the other end and assume the mantle of the chosen one and bring balance to our garage… The prophecy was long rumoured and given this bike was essentially first spotted in Finale 2016, the world’s worst ENDURO secret finally broke cover in early July…
The arrival of the Hightower LT!
Trumpets of Radness sounded! Based on the above wanking, you’d think that it would be a total no-brainer that my order would already be in for an HTLT, well, that’s what I thought as well… But wait… Is that the Geo chart?
Ok, so probably a bit harsh calling it the Hayden Christensen of bikes, but we (I say ‘we’ as there was a few of us frothing about this much anticipated launch) got all hyped up and then when we saw it, we all walked away from the screens going “Hmmm, that wasn’t quite what I expected.”
Chalk me up as a spoilt consumer cunt, but I was genuinely surprised at the reuse of the Hightower front triangle on the LT version. Ok, so this had been rumoured of course, but its not like Santa Cruz to roll quite like this, so once the Geo chart was picked apart by a hungry pack of vultures we came away feeling slightly starving. And I don’t even understand Geo charts that well for fucks sake!
I can neither confirm nor deny if I sulked for a few days, but I do feel slightly ashamed at my attitude after listening to Joe Graney’s interview and the general Santa Cruz philosophy about bikes which revolves around just getting on with it and enjoying them… I did note that when the LT launched there was a reference to this being a bike designed for Mark Scott, which it definitely appears to be when you analyse it. The fact that he could beat me in EWS stages riding a Brompton aside, what I had sort of hoped for in the new LT was a few of these kind of features when I think about my dream ENDURO race bike, with not many of these being ticked:
- 29er wheels
- 65 deg head angle
- Steep seat angle
- Decent reach
- Coil rear shock friendly
- Designed around a 160mm fork
Gaaaaaaaaa insert <<Head Explosion>> here! Months of pent up purchasing privilege was now confounded and confused… I have no doubt the LT would be rad, and I’m not saying I don’t want one, but wouldn’t it also be somewhat status quo with my Frankentower? With a 160mm fork on instead of the 150 it comes stock with, I would end up with the same reach numbers as my Nomad 3… At least I can win the over analysing contest and I think this is the part where you tell me to fuck up and get back to just riding bikes…. We’re almost there!
Given my ill-informed initial view could I buy a Nomad 4? Rave reviews have been starting to circulate about this new beast, but of course, the Nomad 4 allegedly isn’t an Enduro race bike… Which is why one of them came 2nd in a stage at EWS Millau and then one, under Mitch Ropelato won stage 3 at EWS Aspen… Does it feel awkward to say I’m not sure we’ve seen a Hightower LT do that yet?
Part IV – Who are you really?
There’s nothing like the FWP of what bike to buy for 2018 to really make you look inside yourself and reevaluate who you are as a person… I sat next to a photo of a lake and peered into it for 45 seconds (the maximum time I can manage away from my phone) to really reflect on who I am and came to the conclusion I’m unlikely (that’s being kind) to ever get into the top 100 at an EWS round before I’m thankfully moved into Masters… SO… couple of things:
Firstly, someone is going on a diet… Oh yes, when becoming Frankentower we blew this baby out to an impressive 14.85kg, so its time to try it in ‘trail mode’ (what we called mountain biking before the ‘E’ word was invented) for a bit:
I’m happy to report that after phase 1 of weight loss, we’re down to 13.45kgs, with probably at least another kg or more to come off in phase 2. I shall report back as to how it feels to ride this svelte machine in a manner and with a set up that’s closer to original intentions.
And so therefore the second thing? Well… Listen to your inner rider, have a good wank, be true to who you are on two wheels, fuck the fashion, ride the bike you want to ride, stop reading shit on-line (like this) and always prioritise fun… Which as a teaser, I think may look something like this perhaps…
Not to sound like a deranged washed up old reality TV star that was accidentally over-promoted, but:
Watch this space!