After riding the gamut of 150-millimeter-travel trail bikes over the past year, I thought I’d pretty much covered the spectrum. That was, however, until I got the chance to ride the Santa Cruz Hightower 3.
From my very first ride, I could tell that this bike was something special, and it showed me just how much room was left in my heart for another do-it-all trail bike. Given that this is Santa Cruz’s top-of-the-line, Hightower 3 X01 AXS RSV model, featuring an impressive array of high-end components, perhaps this should hardly be surprising.
This bike feels possessed to move efficiently through all terrain. It stays light on its toes and puts the rider in a balanced pocket. With the 76.4-degree seat-tube angle in the low setting and a 438-millimeter chainstay, I had no issues keeping the front end planted to the ground on steep climbs. The geometry is incredibly balanced between climbing and descending, and the suspension platform remains ultra-supportive even when mashing the pedals out of the saddle, thanks to the anti-squat tuning of the rear suspension. This, along with the comfortable cockpit setup, makes the Hightower 3 ideal for all-day sufferfests.
Geometry & Specs:
Wheel Size: 29"
Rear Travel: 145mm
Head Tube Angle: 64.5°
When pointed downhill, the Hightower 3 punches way above its weight class. I found myself driving it hard into the steepest features and opening it up through rowdy sections of chunder. The bike remained stable through all of this abuse, and the poppy 145 millimeters of rear-wheel travel enticed me to double over sketchy root sections, often landing deep. The bike’s balanced suspension and geometry kept me in tune with the trail, and at times I felt like the Hightower was an extension of my body.
The build of this covetable X01 AXS RSV model is understandably amazing. Starting up front with the 150-millimeter FOX 36 Float Factory fork, I found it remained remarkably poised, invariably recovering from successive big hits. The fork’s 36-millimeter uppers kept the front end incredibly stable, while not adding much noticeable weight. In the rear, the RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate shock had an incredibly poppy feel. I consistently ran the shock wide open, which kept the bike feeling playful and well-balanced with the fork.
When it comes to the drivetrain, I once again found the 12-speed SRAM X01 Eagle AXS setup to be a pleasure: Shifting with such a comparably small amount of thumb pressure will never get old. However, I’ve found that through rough sections of trail the AXS models are a bit noisier than their cabled counterparts, making this the loudest component on an otherwise silent bike. But the part of the build that stood out the most to me was the Santa Cruz 35 Carbon handlebar, which features an ovalized shape for more vertical compliance. This handlebar gave me failsafe control over the front end and kept my ride feeling smooth through the most treacherous sections of trail. Not even the underpowered 180-millimeter front rotor on the SRAM Code RSC brakes could spoil the fun.
All in all, I absolutely loved my time on the new Hightower 3. With its modern geometry and balanced, on-trail feel, it really stood out against several bikes in the same travel range that I’ve ridden in recent years. I used to own a Santa Cruz Megatower and riding this new Hightower 3 left me missing the familiar, quiet support and high-end build quality that Santa Cruz seems to have mastered.