2018 Santa Cruz Hightower LT XO1 Review


The Hightower LT has the snap, no crackle and all of the pop needed for a healthy serving of tasty trail bike goodness. At 6ft tall I selected the Large and for the first time in many years, I did not have to change a thing on this factory build. Not a single component swap needed, so hats off to Santa Cruz for figuring out what an enduroist needs and making it happen.

My first impression was how good of a climber it is--even when the shock is in the full open setting. It must have an electric assist somewhere, but I can’t find the batteries. It just wants to go up and up without fighting back with bogginess or lack of responsiveness. Its acceleration is impressive and is what truly makes this a competitive enduro race weapon. Secondly, this rig is incredibly playful--the most playful 29in trail bike I have ridden. Coming off numerous Yeti and Specialized 29in bikes over the past few seasons, this beats them all in the playfulness category. I’m learning how to manual again and digging the small wheel feel on this 29in trail machine.

The downhill, eh? This bike is nimble and responsive, but if you are looking for a mini DH bike to accommodate lift laps all day every day, you have better options. The Hightower LT was developed to compete in the enduro discipline, meaning big uphill transfer stages coupled with fast, technical downhill. It has 150mm travel both front and rear with an option to bump the fork to 160mm, which I have found no need for… yet. I’ve yet to be held back on steep and technical sections, which should not come as a surprise with its 66.4-degree head angle. At high speeds it’s playful and nimble, allowing me to pop easily and track well in jump lines. It’s not going to gobble up every bogus line choice or mistake you throw at like its sibling, the Nomad, but it will get you through anything without issue.

Cornering capabilities! They are my personal weakness. This bike is intuitive in corners. It simply gets through them quickly because of its short reach. It forces your body forward over the front wheel, which enhances control at higher speeds and the gains are real. I have a few choice trails with challenging series of corners that really slow me down. Looking at the Strava data, this bike is getting through them faster than previous modern trail bikes I have been on.

Overall impression is a big thumbs up. I really really like this bike, and it’s one to keep in the fleet for many seasons.

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