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Santa Cruz Megatower CC review: Is bigger better?

By Spencer Powlison

Over the last six months, I’ve been faced with an identity crisis. I lost that feeling of certainty about what kind of rider I was, and what kind of mountain bike was right for me.

I used to be convinced that the Santa Cruz Tallboy was the perfect bike. If you follow TPC’s YouTube channel (hi mom and dad!), you saw my video about the Tallboy. To put it lightly, I gushed about that bike.

But then the bigger, BIGGER brother of the Tallboy came my way. It’s called the Megatower. It’s huge. And now, I just don’t know what to think anymore.


Since we’ve already ventured into the realm of pop psychology, let’s just state the obvious. A bike is a personality test on wheels. Mountain bikes especially lend themselves to this with their confusing array of suspension travel categories. The more type-A among us prefer the minimalism of a thoroughbred XC race bike. The wild downhiller types can’t get enough suspension travel, thicc tires, and pizza-sized brake rotors. Many of us are somewhere in between.

That’s around where I thought I landed. In between. Practical. Efficient. Modestly capable. I ride a lot, I climb a lot, and I love going fast on downhills. I wouldn’t say I’m a racer any longer, but I grew up racing and I even did a 50-miler on the Tallboy.

But the new Spencer, the one who started riding this Megatower CC? He stopped shaving his legs, has a knee-pad tan-line, and doesn’t mind the extra travel or weight, even if he’s hiking up to the top of the next downhill. Races? C’mon, man, it’s 2020. Who is planning on doing a bike race anytime soon?

So maybe I’ve changed my riding personality a bit over the last year. What about this Megatower? Is it really right for me? Will I love the extra travel, or will I be regretting it on long climbs. Well, there’s only one way to find out...

The Santa Cruz Megatower enduro MTB
Santa Cruz's Megatower is a monster with 160mm of travel, but it is surprisingly versatile. 

Starting with the geometry, you’ll see many similarities between the Tallboy and Megatower. Reach is essentially the same. Head tube angle is less than a degree different. Seat tube angle essentially the same. Wheelbase is merely 20mm longer on the Megatower. Are the Santa Cruz engineers lazy, crazy, or are they smarter than all of us?

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 vs. Megatower geometry

Bike model Head tube angle Seat tube angle Reach Wheelbase BB height
Megatower 64.7°
76.3°
467mm 1,232mm 340mm
Tallboy 4
65.5°
76.2°
468mm 1,211mm 332mm

*Size Large, low geometry link setting

I’d argue it is genius. Unless you’re a pure XC racer, you want this new style of mountain bike geometry… you need it. It lends stability to the bike, accommodates shorter stems, yet still handles slow-speed corners because Santa Cruz smartly specs bikes with reduced-offset forks. It’s a bunch of math… trust me, it works. And it makes the comparison between the Tallboy and Megatower much more pure. We are strictly talking about suspension travel, plus the additional stiffness that comes with the chassis and fork of a pure enduro bike.

They even look similar. I’ve had friends get confused about what bike I was riding. And when I hop on one or the other, the position is similar enough that it didn’t take long to get comfortable on the Megatower.

Once I started descending the rocky, rough, fast trails that I love … well, then they’re not so similar. With an additional 40mm of travel Megatower is immensely better. Yes, I knew the Tallboy was limited by its travel and the rear shock’s size and adjustment range, but wow. The Megatower is so composed and stable. Honestly, after a while, the Tallboy felt a little sketchy. I was getting knocked off line, and the rear suspension was sometimes overwhelmed by successive hits.

The downhill advantage isn’t strictly about travel numbers either. When you go Mega, you end up with suspension components that afford far more adjustments. The Fox 36 with its GRIP2 damper gives you high-speed compression, low-speed compression, high-speed rebound, and low-speed rebound, plus air pressure of course. That combined with its rigid chassis is pretty hard to beat. Similarly, the RockShox Monarch rear shock offers rebound, low-speed compression damping, and a pedal-assist switch.

Santa Cruz Megatower suspension
More suspension travel requires more adjustments to make the Megatower sing on downhills.

Wheel and tire choice make a big difference too. That’s why for this comparison I rode the same tires and wheels on both bikes — WTB Vigilante and Judge tires on Zipp 3ZeroMoto rims. I’ll admit that’s a heavy setup for the Tallboy, but I hate flats, and the trails I ride are too dang loose and rough for anything much smaller.

Even with the same wheels and tires, the Megatower ends up being a bit heavier, about three pounds more when comparing similar builds.

Longer travel bike is better on the downhills — okay this isn’t shocking news. So what about the climbs? The Megatower was actually far more capable than I anticipated. Sometimes I felt a bit of the extra heft. And I did notice the taller stance that’s unavoidable with another 40mm of travel beneath you. But on the slow, tough technical climbs that I perversely enjoy, the Megatower was not an inconvenience. And with the shock switched to pedal mode, there was very little unwanted suspension motion, if any.

By now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just split the difference and get a Hightower. With 145mm of rear travel and a 150 fork, it is a great compromise between a long-travel enduro rig and a trim trail shredder. Heck maybe that’ll be my next bike if I get tired of the Megatower.

But I wanted to test the extremes of the range. How much can a short-travel bike handle on the downhills? Would an enduro bike be a drag on climbs? As near as I can tell, provided a bike has good geometry and suspension design, it’s ultra-capable. It just depends on your preferences.

If your local descents are a bit more varied and smooth, the Tallboy might end up feeling more playful and fun. Between the weight and the shorter suspension travel, it encourages you to turn little bumps and rollers into jumps. Of course, that weight difference can also help on tough climbs. If you’re strong enough for the climbs or really don’t mind going a bit slower to get to the top, a Megatower is not much of a compromise. And that’ll be outweighed by sheer confidence on fast, rough downhills.

Conclusion

I guess now is the time where I take the Megatower out on a smooth XC trail to prove it isn’t all that great. But I won’t. Not anymore. Practicality be damned. It’s 2020, and this bike is fun to ride. End of story. It’s a bike, not a mid-sized sedan you rely on to safely transport your family around town. That’s why I decided to sell my Tallboy and switch to the Megatower.

Megatower pros

  • Incredibly stable and planted on downhills
  • Stiff chassis refuses to get knocked off-line in corners or rock gardens
  • Somehow quite efficient on most climbs
  • Ideal geometry for all-around mountain biking

Megatower cons

  • Will never be a lightweight contender — nearly impossible to build it up under 30 pounds without risking disaster
  • Tall stance makes Megatower a bit more ungainly on slow, technical climbs

 

Check out how I tuned the Megatower's Suspension with a Motion Instruments system here

What do you think? Are you tempted to try a longer-travel bike? Let us know in the comments!


7 comments


  • Hey Roger,

    Not Spencer, but I think I can answer. Several riders here at TPC ride and like the Hightower. I’ve owned two myself. I think it’s a great compromise between the Tallboy and the Megatower. If you’re not riding ultra-gnar all the time (like Spencer is) or doing a lot of bike park or enduro racing then it’ll probably be the better, more versatile bike for most riders.

    Bruce Lin on

  • Would love to hear your thoughts on the Hightower. I have a 2017 Hightower and love it, but considering upgrading to the new Hightower or just changing things up to something else.

    Roger on

  • Thanks, Nick! I added a link to our suspension tuning story at the bottom.

    Bruce Lin on

  • What is the link to the suspension feedback technology you were referring to in the video? Great write up!

    Nick Martin on

  • Loved the video! I definitely agree that longer travel bikes are just “More Fun!” I am a high school racer for NICA and I started out my racing on a Dick’s Sporting Goods Nishiki Colorado. It was a 38 pound hardtail! That was my first year of racing and I was just learning my skills. I then upgraded to a 2011 Specialized Epic Expert Carbon 29er. This bike had new lightweight Roval Control aluminum rims, I even added a dropper (it weighed about 27 pounds). I got it at a great price for $700. I loved that bike and took it on some stuff it was NOT intended for. I took it on Moab’s ‘The Whole Enchilada’. Overall, that was a great reliable bike but it was old enough that it started having issues plus even though I race, I just needed something more playful and slack. I just recently traded that bike plus some cash and parts for a custom built 2016 Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt 770 MSL. This bike had been upgraded to have 140mm of travel and has a brand new rear shock, custom paint job, upgraded fork, and new drivetrain. This bike is fantastic! I absolutely love the slack geometry and extra travel. Long story short if you are thinking about going longer travel (especially if you ride really rough trails like I have been) then do it!

    Ian Limburg on

  • Would not get this for an all around front range bike. If you only hit Trestle, White Ranch, Right Foot Gorge, Floyd Hill, this is your bike. If you mix in easier rides, you will be disappointed. It is a slouch in tight switchbacks. Climbed very well and descended through rocks with the best of them. This bike wants to be pinned, on Rooney Valley she was too much bike.

    From a trusted reviewer who wants to remain anonymous. The perfect bike IMO for front range riding and Trestle, is the Pivot Switchblade. After my hip heals and I rehab, I’m building one up. Considered the Firebird, Ripmo, Megatower, SB150 but, they are overkill and the Switchblade handles all of Trestle, White Ensch, Right Foot, with the same ease and confidence of the longer travel bikes while allowing you to ride less demanding trails with the same enjoyment.

    ANonymous on

  • I have recently bought a megatower as I was planning on more gravity riding in the coming months. I have a number of other bikes and cover the entire range of riding I do. I live in the Woodlands Texas but originally come from Scotland so I am used to riding mountains. I have ridden the Megatower on the same flat trails as my 29 C Chameleon, Superlight 29 and my carbon 5010. This bike is way overkill clearly but ill tell you what, it can do it. It handles great, turns in really well given its size and I think it handles really snappy for such a long travel bike. I really liked the review and agree completely. Rode it on an all day epic at Reville peak and then a day at Spider Mountain. Its a monster on the decent and it climbs as well as my 5010. I am OK with the weight as I think the suspension is so good it more than makes up for that on the climbs. Fantastic bike but to be fair I have a collection so if I had to have one bike only it would be my 5010 but this is one fabulous machine

    Andy Duncan on


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