Bible Review: Santa Cruz Hightower LT X01-Build with Reserve Carbon Wheel Upgrade


Most testers approached the Hightower LT with a hint of skepticism knowing it shares the same front triangle as its shorter, 135-millimeter travel sibling, the Hightower.  Hoisting the front end from the 140 millimeters found on the Hightower to 150 millimeters on the LT resulted in a 7-millimeter reduction in reach, making for a total of 443 millimeters for a size Large. This is a step in the opposite direction from most geometry trends we've seen as of late, favoring additional reach as bike travel increases. Our size-large test bike came with a 50-millimeter stem, which helped negate the modest reach and also placed a little more weight over the front end.

The Hightower LT comes with a moderately long stem compared to other bikes, but a shorter reach.

Despite preconceived notions of front-triangle-sharing ride tendencies, each tester lauded the Hightower LT's well-rounded manners and equal-opportunity capability--the LT did everything well. It was an efficient climber, a maneuverable descender, confident at speed and with a planted, engaged feel to the front end when arcing turns.

Two testers noted a little bit of hang-up when climbing, something Virtual Pivot Point bikes are occasionally prone to due to the opposing nature of their linkages. One tester chalked up his wheel spin to poor positioning over the bike while navigating a steeper rock switchback. Opposing linkage can also be a blessing however, as another noted that he would still choose the LT even if riding rougher terrain based on its quick, lively and efficient feel.

Testers agreed that the X01 build with the Reserve 30 upgrade was a good value. Yes, we just called an $8,000 bike a good value. Just five years ago, carbon-rimmed rides often hovered around $10,000, and none were capable of what the Hightower LT is. Santa Cruz has worked to reduce the entry price for carbon wheels in their switch from Enve to their in-house Reserve 30 wheel options, available with Industry 9 Torch hubs or DT Swiss 350 hubs pending build level.

While the Hightower LT did not point specifically to any one facet or discipline, it did all things quite well, making for a great bike for riders looking for capability without pigeonholing themselves to only aggressive terrain or solely gravity-focused endeavors.

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Q&A with Josh Kissner, product manager for Santa Cruz Bicycles

Legend has it you might have slept in a public restroom. Double legend has it that it was raining hard while you were bike touring. Any validity to these legends? Be truthful now ...

Ha, yes that's true. Sort of. My brother and I slept in the 'porch' of an outhouse on day three of straight rain in Alaska. The jeans, hiking boots and Eureka tent we'd packed did an amazing job of staying wet day after day, so it was getting a bit dire ... Learned a lot in the 20 years since that trip, that's for sure!

Ok, Hightower LT time. The Hightower already exists, this LT version shares the same front triangle and ekes more travel out of it. In terms of ride feel, what was focused on when moving from Hightower to Hightower LT? What will riders feel on the trail that differentiates these two, and, how did you achieve this?

The ultimate quiver killer? It is a common claim, but the Hightower LT is a serious contender. Jonathon Weber finds out why.

The Hightower was meant to be the ultimate all-round bike, with enough capability to take care of you when the going gets rough, but not so much that you feel like you're driving a monster truck. I think we found a pretty good spot for that bike, and it certainly proved to be popular.

There were plenty of people who wanted a bit more though, including our EWS team. So we worked with them to make a bike that had just a bit more of everything. A bit more travel, a slacker front end and a bit lower bottom bracket. It's not a night and day difference, but enough added capability to be a different bike. The version the team was riding was just upgraded links and shock, and worked decently--but we knew we could do better. With the addition of a new swingarm, we were able to make a bike with way better suspension, and lower the bottom bracket a bit.

In a world ... where long, low and slack peppers the modern-day-mountain-consumer, one brand ... one bike ... t h i s bike ... bucks that trend. In the riveting performance of a lifetime, Santa Cruz Bicycles will ...

Ok, faux overly dramatic movie trailer voice attempt aside, all testers agreed the Hightower LT is an incredibly well-rounded bike, capable of many types of riding and not pigeon-holed to a one niche discipline. It also has less reach than the standard Hightower. That's moving in the opposite direction of vogue industry trends. Do you think the traditional reach measurement lends to the all-round attributes of the LT, and, was this positive trait of consideration at all when designing this bike - or more fortuitous outcome of using the same front triangle?

Changing travel on the Hightower LT meant shortening the reach, bucking industry trend.

Since we did use the front triangle from the standard Hightower, the slight reach reduction (7 millimeters) is simply because we added fork travel and dropped the bottom bracket. As you raise the front end (even if you're just putting a longer fork on whatever bike you have) the reach number naturally shortens. I think it's important to remember that there's no perfect number for reach. If 450 millimeters is perfect for one person, it's absolutely guaranteed that 440 millimeters will be perfect for someone else. Or 455 millimeters for another person. So while it's easy to get caught up in the millimeter game, it's really the broad brushstrokes that matter when it comes to fit. We're all different...

We argue all the time about 5 millimeters, so I don't want to downplay that. It's just important to remember that when you're adding 5 millimeters to make it better for the 6 foot tall guy, you're making it a bit worse for the 5'10" guy. We try to have a broad size offering (S, M, L, XL, XXL in this bike) and short seat-tubes, so you can pick your preferred reach and worry less about what it's called on the geo chart.

Wheel talk. Our Hightower LT and Nomad arrived with Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon wheels. Santa Cruz has a long history of spec'ing high-end carbon wheels as well as having Syndicate racers standing atop podiums with carbon rims displayed proudly beneath them. Considering this, what did you want to do differently when creating the Reserve wheels?

After three years of research and development, Santa Cruz has released its own rim. Weber finds out if it was worth the wait.

We've been racing and spec'ing carbon mountain wheels as long as pretty much anyone, so we have a lot of experience in that arena. We knew what we wanted to make, just not necessarily how to do it. It took 3 years, a new carbon engineer, and building a new R&D lab to achieve our goals. Our priorities were: 1) Strength and consistency

2) Ride quality that balances stiffness with traction and compliance.

By building offset rims and taking advantage of boost hubs, the wheels have a lot of inherent stiffness and are balanced left-right. I think everyone is in agreement that stiffer is not always better after a point, and we worked hard to find the sweet spot. This comes down to rim shape, carbon layup, spoke thickness and quantity and lacing pattern. We learned a lot along the way!

Santa Cruz offers its carbon frames in less expensive C versions as well as higher modulus and lighter weight (more taste, less filling) CC versions. The Reserve 30 Carbon rims retail at a (dare we say it) reasonable $1599 with DT Swiss DT350 hubs. Can consumers expect to see a CC version of the Reserve Carbon wheels? What about a C version? Which of these two levels would the current Reserve 30 Carbons most closely match?

We consider these to be our CC level rims for sure. I'm not really sure there's a lot of room for two levels, realistically. They're going to be expensive either way, and no one wants to spend over a $1000 on carbon rims that are 'second-tier.' We're making the rims as best as we know how to right now. That's not to say we won't find ways to improve them in the future, but we're definitely not holding them back currently by pinching pennies …