First Impressions - Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower 27.5+

Every Friday night in July my family hosts what we call, Fiesta Fridays. We have a bunch of friends over for tacos and let our kids stay-up late catching lightening bugs. It's a blast, but it usually means I'm up way past my bedtime. 

Gassing up for my first ride on the Santa Cruz Bicycles Hightower 27.5+

This past Friday was no exception. Friends left at 10:30 or so and I was cleaning up queso until after 11. I then ran to the shop to pick up a freshly built Demo Santa Cruz Hightower 27.5+. (Yes, you can demo this bike, just call us.)

I was pumped to get out on this bike and made plans to meet a friend out at the Briery Branch Reservoir at 6am the next morning. I was going to get a very little amount of sleep.

In my eagerness I actually arrived a good 15 minutes before 6, which if you know me, I am rarely early. Ben arrived and we loaded up for a big mountain day. Thanks to the recent Tour de Burg, a usually overgrown trail, Death Star, had been cleared and we wanted to ride it while it was in perfect form. (Thanks TdB folks!)

This meant we'd be climbing the road up to the saddle at Reddish Knob and then continuing out towards Flag Pole Knob. On the road, the Hightower was well mannered. The VPP suspension made sure I got the most out of each pedal stroke and even though the bike isn't light, it isn't hefty either. 

Before reaching Flag Pole, we veered left and took another double track road towards Death Star. We made great time and the temperature was in the high 60's - it was ideal. As we pointed our bikes downward, I got really excited to see how the Hightower would perform. It was my first time riding Death Star and Ben knew it would be a great place to test the bike, as it has a little bit of everything - double track, single track, ridge riding, rocks, roots, steep descents and ascents, off camber trail, and the list goes on.

A section of Death Star Trail in the GWNF.

We stopped after some descending and right away I knew the Hightower preferred to be pointed downward. The big wheels made the bike float and be a steam roller at the same time. I burnt in the brakes really fast! I was on the Carbon C level bike with dropper post and 1x suspension. There are quite a few levels higher than this build, but at the first level with a dropper post and carbon it's still a dream bike.

As we crossed the ridge and even took a few rock shoots, I was continually impressed by the bike. I could tell it didn't want to hop and play as much as Ben's Santa Cruz Bronson, but at the same time, the Hightower could tackle anything. It never felt too big or bulky and the geometry definitely oriented the bike towards enjoyable descents.

I had a little issue keeping the nose down on the first two short and steep climbs, but figured that out quickly and I'd chalk that up to rider error for the most part. Typically I'm nervous on off camber sections, but the Hightower felt super stable and gave me more confidence. I don't know if I went any faster on those sections, but I know I was less nervous about having my front wheel run off the trail and face planting thanks to the sure-footedness (is that a term?) of the bike.

At the bottom of Death Star we both agreed that has to be a top 10 trail in the George Washington National Forest. It's got it all. We only wished it was longer and maybe a little easier to access. Because now we were in West Virginia and had to climb back up the backside of Reddish. There was no calling it quits now, if we wanted to go home, we had to make the climb. 

Taking a breather midway up the backside of Reddish Knob

A natural spring - water anyone?

Six miles up to the Reddish Knob Spiral. Those were a tough six miles, but again the bike was great and the 1x11 (30t up front) gearing didn't hold me back (maybe I'm getting a little stronger). Reaching the top was a great feeling. 

I leaned the Hightower against the guardrail, drank a few big gulps of water and surveyed the land we had just covered. I was impressed with the bike and myself. Running on less than 5 hours of sleep I wasn't hallucinating - I was having a blast.

Looking west on Reddish Knob. Ben is planning his attack on the stairs.

That all being said, I wasn't feeling invincible. Ben took the stairs off the spiral and I had no shame in walking them. He said he'd never made all the stairs and the turn at the bottom, well he did that day and he made it look easy. Kudos to all the riders that can do that!

To finish off our ride, we were going to take Timber Ridge and Lynn back to the cars. Timber is a brutal trail. It's rocky and fast. It has a handful of steep sections of trail where my legs begged for a break and I often obliged. This is where I tested the hike-a-bike ability of the Hightower, and it passed. It can be pushed with the best of them, ha.

Conversely to the sections where I resulted to pushing the bike, on the downhill sections the bike felt like a rocket ship. The big tires ate up all the scattered rocks and the suspension was in the sweet spot of plush and responsive. By the time we'd hit the drops before Lynn, I was hooting and hollering from excitement (and to take my mind off my burning legs). 

It wasn't long before we were back at the cars and I was officially ready to make room in my garage for the Hightower. It checked off most every box for me and for the ones it didn't I think some suspension tweaks and upcoming 27.5+ tire releases can solve. 

Now I just need to try it as a 29er!


Looking towards home - Harrisonburg, VA.