Santa Cruz Showdown: 2020 Hightower vs. 2017 Hightower

Among quiver-killing trail bikes, the Santa Cruz Hightower is one of the best. But is it worth paying more for the updated Hightower 2? We compare a dream bike vs. a deal bike to find out.

Santa Cruz Showdown: 2020 Hightower vs. 2017 Hightower

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Bikes

Everyone wishes they could ride a "dream bike," but what if you could find a deal that's just as capable for way less? Today, we're comparing two Santa Cruz Hightowers, a first-generation and second-generation separated by three years and $3,400.

[button]Shop Santa Cruz Hightowers[/button] | [button]Shop all mountain bikes[/button]

The dream bike:

[product-block handle="2020-santa-cruz-hightower-cc-l-1"/]

The Hightower is far-and-away Santa Cruz’s most popular mountain bike. It’s a versatile mid-travel trail bike that can climb as well as it descends. For 2020, the new Hightower V2 received a major redesign, with updated geometry, more travel, and a lower-link mounted shock that enhances its downhill performance. This tan 2020 Hightower CC dream bike has the specs to make any experienced mountain biker drool.

The deal bike:

[product-block handle="2017-santa-cruz-hightower-c-s-27-5-xl"/]

For nearly half the price though, you could get a smoking deal on this 2017 Santa Cruz Hightower C. The original Hightower was released in late 2016 and it became an immediate hit. A bike that could do it all, it was designed to switch between 27.5+ and 29” wheels, giving riders more options to customize their ride. The Hightower surprised riders with its capabilities and satisfied everyone from casual trail riders to Santa Cruz’s pro enduro racers. 

The deal Hightower costs exactly $3,400 less than the dream Hightower, but is it worth the extra savings? Let’s dive in and find out! 

2020 Santa Cruz Hightower V2 vs. 2017 Hightower V1

Bike

2020 Hightower CC

2017 Hightower C

Price

$7,399.99

$3,999.99

Frame Material

CC Carbon

C Carbon

Wheel Size

29”

27.5”+

Travel

150mm / 145mm

150mm / 135mm

Fork

RockShox Lyrik Ultimate

RockShox Pike RC

Shock

RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate

RockShox Monarch RT

Drivetrain

SRAM X01 Eagle

SRAM GX Eagle

Dropper

SDG Tellis, 150mm

PRO Koryak, 150mm

Brakes

SRAM Code RSC

SRAM Guide R 

Wheels

Reserve 30 Carbon

Race Face AR40 Aluminum

Weight

30 lbs 9 oz

31 lbs 2 oz

Frame: Santa Cruz CC vs. C carbon

The dream Hightower uses Santa Cruz’s top-of-the-line CC carbon frame, while the deal Hightower uses a more affordable carbon layup. All Santa Cruz carbon frames are offered in CC and C versions. The higher-grade CC-level carbon uses fewer fillers, which reduces the weight of the frame by about 250-300 grams compared to a C-level carbon frame. Otherwise, Santa Cruz claims that stiffness, durability, and strength are identical between the two materials. The weight difference is less than one pound, which most riders won’t notice on the trail. 

[newsletter]

Geometry

Bike

2020 Hightower CC

2017 Hightower C

Size

X-Large

X-Large

Head Angle

65.2° / 65.5° (Low / High)

67°/ 66.8° (Low /High)

Seat Angle

76.5°/ 76.8°

74.3° / 74.1°

Stack

639mm / 637mm

623mm / 624mm

Reach

490mm / 493mm

475mm / 473mm


The second-generation Hightower received a major geometry overhaul, growing longer and slacker to keep up with industry trends. Compared to the first-generation Hightower, it has 15-20mm more reach, a head angle that is nearly two degrees slacker, and a seat angle over two degrees steeper. The first generation Hightower geometry isn’t outdated by any means, but when compared to the second generation, it is fairly conservative. 

The 2020 Hightower’s longer and slacker geometry will provide more stability, especially on steep and fast trails. This will give you more confidence when descending gnarly trails. Riders might also appreciate the steeper seat angle because it places more weight over the front end on climbs, which will help you conquer steeper slopes. Realistically, the 2017 Hightower is just as capable, but it will take a bit of extra attention and skill to match the new version on descents. 

Suspension

2020 Hightower vs. 2017 Hightower suspensionBoth Hightowers use Santa Cruz’s tried and true VPP (virtual pivot point) suspension system. VPP uses a solid rear triangle that moves on two short, counter-rotating links. It provides a solid pedaling platform with very little pedal-bob for efficient climbing, but it opens up to easily absorb impacts and keep you in control. 

Looking at the two bikes side-by-side, the most obvious difference is the rear shock placement. For the second-gen Hightower, Santa Cruz switched to the lower-link mounted shock design used on downhill-oriented models like the V10, Megatower, Nomad, and Bronson. This lower-link configuration provides more small-bump compliance and a more progressive leverage rate for more bottom-out resistance. The 2020 dream Hightower also has 10mm more travel (145mm vs. 135mm), and a high-end fork and shock with extra compression and rebound adjustment. 

Having ridden both high- and lower-link VPP bikes, I can say the lower-link bikes do feel plusher in the rough stuff and give you a bit more confidence to huck off big features without fear of bottoming out. Some riders might prefer the previous version, however, because it does feel a bit more efficient on climbs. 

Wheels and tires

Hightower 29" vs. 27.5+ wheels and tiresIn 2017, 29” wheels hadn’t taken over mountain biking yet. Back then, riders had a choice between 29”, 27.5”, and a third wheel size known as 27.5+, or simply, “plus.” Plus wheels and tires emerged as a high-volume alternative to 29ers. The overall wheel and tire diameter is close to a 29” wheel and tire, but because it uses a smaller 27.5” rim, you can use a much larger 2.8-3.0” tire (vs. the 2.3-2.6” tires used on most 29” bikes). 

The original Hightower was one of the first mountain bikes that could swap between 27.5+ and 29” wheels and tires. The flip-chip in the rear suspension has high (27.5+) and low (29”) positions to keep the geometry consistent when changing wheel sizes. The 2017 Hightower is equipped with aluminum 27.5+ wheels and 2.8" tires. It will be perfect for riders seeking more comfort on rocky terrain or more traction on loose surfaces. Because of the increased comfort and traction, it will also be a great option for newer riders building their confidence and skills. If you ever feel like going to wagon wheels, you can easily swap in a 29” wheelset later. The 2020 Hightower is only compatible with 29” wheels and tires, but it comes with very nice Reserve 30 carbon rims. 

Drivetrain

X01 Eagle vs. GX Eagle Both Hightowers sport SRAM Eagle 12-speed mechanical drivetrains. These have 10-50t cassettes that provide plenty of gear range for big climbs. The dream Hightower, however, has a high-end X01 Eagle drivetrain, while the deal Hightower uses a budget-friendly GX Eagle drivetrain. X01 Eagle drivetrains retail for $730 more than GX Eagle drivetrains. Thanks to carbon fiber bits and a machined single-piece cassette, X01 weighs around 210-220 grams less than GX. 

Brakes

SRAM Code vs. Guide brakesThe last difference worth pointing out is the brakes. The dream Hightower anchors up using SRAM’s beefy four-piston Code RSC brakes. These are the same brakes found on many high-end downhill and enduro bikes, and they provide a lot of stopping power and fade resistance. The “RSC” brakes are the top-of-the-line version of the Code (there is no Code Ultimate). The letters are an acronym that denotes the features: lever Reach adjustment, Swinglink (which improves modulation), and brake pad Contact point adjustment.

The deal Hightower has older, less fancy, Guide R brakes. These are still four-piston brakes, like the Code, but they have less power and only provide lever reach adjustment. For most trail riders, Guide Rs are more than adequate. But if you want to cook your brakes blasting down long and fast downhills that will, the powerful Code RSCs will give you a lot more confidence. 

Dream vs. Deal verdict

So which Hightower would I choose? Historically, I always go for the dream bike because I’m shallow and materialistic, and I always want the latest tech, the most progressive geometry, and the fanciest gear. But this time, I’m going the frugal route and choosing the 2017 deal Hightower. 

Bruce’s pick:

My old 2017 Hightower, which I miss dearly. Guess I'll have to buy another. 

[product-block handle="2017-santa-cruz-hightower-c-s-27-5-xl"/]

Why, you ask? Well, the mint/orange colorway of the 2017 Hightower is one of my all-time favorites. I actually owned one myself several years ago, and to this day, I regret selling it. The 2020 Hightower might have longer and slacker geometry and more suspension, but I have the skills to shred the original Hightower on all my local trails (I hope). With all the money I save, I can get a nice set of carbon 29” wheels, some upgraded brakes, and maybe a couple of trips to Whistler too. Sounds like a deal I can’t pass up!

Let me know which bike you’d pick in the comments!

[button]Shop Santa Cruz Hightowers[/button] | [button]Shop all mountain bikes[/button]

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