My Cart

Subtotal
$0.00

Shipping & taxes calculated at checkout

TPC Blog

Back To Blog

Specialized Stumpjumper vs. Santa Cruz Hightower

By Bruce Lin

Riders often talk about the “quiver killer.” It's a mountain bike that’s fun on everything from smooth flow to gnarly tech, a bike that can climb as well as it descends.

A huge number of trail bikes can do it all. But the Specialized Stumpjumper and Santa Cruz Hightower are the benchmarks. These two bikes are the archetypes of the downhill slaying, uphill crushing, all-around good-time having, mid-travel trail bike. If you’re looking for the most versatile used mountain bike possible, these are the top two to consider.


If you’re interested in the Stumpjumper or the Hightower for your next bike, how do you know which is right for you? We can't definitively answer whether one bike is “better” than the other (sorry). Instead, this comparison aims to compare their history, geometry, suspension, and performance to help you decide. We will also look at their popularity with our shop riders and a few alternatives too.

Contents

History

Specialized Stumpjumper

The Stumpjumper (or “Stumpy”) is a classic bike with nearly 40 years of history. Specialized first introduced it in 1981 and it is widely considered to be the first-ever mass-production mountain bike. In the early years of mountain biking, riders had the option of klunker style bikes (ballon-tire cruisers modified for off-road use) or custom, purpose-built machines that had to be ordered through smaller builders.
Riding Leadville Trail 100 on a vintage Specialized Stumpjumper
Our own Spencer Powlison still rides his 1983 Stumpjumper Sport. He even raced the Leadville Trail 100 on it!

Specialized founder, Mike Sinyard, was just getting into the mountain bike craze himself and envisioned the Stumpjumper as a mass-produced bike that emulated the geometry and performance of custom mountain bikes. The design was based on an early Tom Ritchey bike Sinyard owned, as well as a custom Lighthouse Cycles Chaparral designed by Tim Neenan. Neenan drew up plans for the original Stumpjumper and went with Sinyard to Japan to source a producer.

To make the Stumpjumper suitable for mass-production, the frame was TiG welded instead of fillet-brazed (a technique used for many custom frames of the time). This reduced labor and manufacturing costs. The bike was an immediate success and played a huge role in mountain biking’s booming popularity through the '80s and '90s. Today, the original Stumpjumper is historically significant enough to be on display in the Smithsonian.
Ned Overend's 1992 Stumpjumper race bike
Ned Overend's race-winning 1992 Stumpjumper M2.

Over the years, legendary racers like Ned Overend and Christoph Sauser have ridden the Stumpjumper to victory in major cross country events. But as mountain biking has evolved, so has the Stumpjumper, gaining more travel, and more progressive geometry to cater to the growing segment of trail riders who wanted more capable bikes for descents.
A modern Specialized Stumpjumper mountain bike
Recently, the Stumpjumper was redesigned from the ground up to become the new benchmark for trail bikes. This 2019 model uses an asymmetric carbon frame based on the previous generation Demo downhill bike. A carbon arm extends around the right side of the rear shock adding support and lateral stiffness for better tracking through rough terrain. The Stumpjumper uses a 150mm fork. 27.5” versions have 150mm of rear travel and 29” versions have 140mm. There is a flip-chip in the rear shock yoke to adjust between high and low geometry positions. 

Alloy frames are available for entry-level builds and carbon frames for Comp, Pro, and S-Works builds. One of the frame’s nicest features is the SWAT box storage system in the downtube, which stores spare tubes, tools, food, or other small items in a covered compartment built into the frame.

Santa Cruz Hightower

Before the Hightower, Santa Cruz offered the beloved Tallboy LT, a long-travel version of the Tallboy 29er XC bike. When it was discontinued, riders eagerly awaited a successor. The Hightower finally arrived in 2016, a transitional period in mountain biking. 29er mountain bikes were on the cusp of widespread acceptance outside of XC racing, and the new, wider, plus tire size (27.5+) was dominating industry headlines.
Bruce's personal Santa Cruz Hightower mountain bike
My personal 29er Hightower CC saw a lot of use.

The Hightower featured Santa Cruz’s proven Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension platform and 135mm of travel (the same as the Tallboy LT). But unlike the old Tallboy, the new bike took design notes from the more downhill-focused, 27.5" Bronson trail bike. The Hightower was longer and slacker, and it functioned in the line-up more like a big-wheeled version of the Bronson than a hopped-up XC bike. A new flip-chip in the rocker arm allowed riders to adjust the geometry for 29” or 27.5+ tires. It used a 140mm fork for 29ers and a 150mm fork for 27.5+ versions.

The Hightower was an instant success that earned stellar reviews and strong sales. To the surprise of many 29er doubters, Santa Cruz’s pro enduro racers began to choose the Hightower over the longer travel, Bronson and Nomad 27.5” bikes. It became clear that the larger 29” wheels offered a significant advantage for enduro racing.

It soon became popular for riders to slack out 29" Hightowers with 150mm and 160mm forks, and some even used longer-stroke shocks to increase rear travel. People were hungry for a Hightower that offered a bit more downhill capability so Santa Cruz responded with the Hightower LT, a long-travel version with 150mm of rear travel.
Santa Cruz Hightower mountain bike
For 2020, the Hightower was completely refreshed. The LT version is gone and now there is a single 140mm travel model with a 150mm fork. The flip-chip remains, but the bike is now designed specifically for 29” wheels with no 27.5+ option. The biggest change is the switch to the lower-link shock configuration, which is used on Santa Cruz’s more downhill oriented models. Geometry has been further tweaked to make the newest Hightower the most capable downhiller yet. The frame is available in high-end carbon CC, carbon C, and aluminum versions.

Geometry

Geometry

Specialized Stumpjumper 29 (Med)

Santa Cruz Hightower (Med)

Reach

425mm (high/low)

453mm / 450mm (high/low)

Stack

614mm

610mm / 612mm

Head angle

67° / 66.5°

65.5° / 65.2°

Seat angle

74.5°

77° / 76.6°

BB height

348mm / 342mm 

344mm / 340mm

Chainstay length

437mm

433mm

Wheelbase

1169mm

1207mm

Mountain bike geometry has evolved a lot in the last five years. Both the previous generation Stumpjumper and Hightower were on-trend when released, but by the end of the decade, they lagged slightly behind cutting-edge geometry. In response, both Specialized and Santa Cruz modernized their flagship trail bikes by making them even longer and slacker.

The new generation of Stumpjumper 29 (2019+) gained about 10cm in reach, and the head tube angle became a full degree slacker. The new Hightower (2020+) took things even further, increasing reach about 15cm and slacking out the head tube 1.5-1.7 degrees.

The Stumpjumper 29 and the Hightower have the same amount of suspension travel, so geometry is the biggest differentiator between them. Because the Hightower is so much longer and slacker than the Stumpjumper, it is in line with current trends for downhill-capable trail bikes. The Stumpjumper uses a more conservative all-rounder geometry.

The Hightower also has a steeper seat tube. Current trends have been pushing seat tubes steeper and steeper to improve climbing performance.

Both bikes come with flip-chips at the rear shock to adjust geometry into high and low positions. High positions steepen the head tube and raise the bottom bracket, improving maneuverability. Low positions slack out the head tube and lower the bottom bracket, improving stability.

Chip position comes down to personal preference. High is generally better for enhancing pedaling and climbing characteristics, while low is better for improving control and confidence on steep and fast descents. Stumpjumpers come from the factory in the LOW position while Hightowers come standard in the HIGH position. 

Note that the  Stumpjumper 27.5 uses different geometry. The head angle is one degree slacker than a Stumpjumper 29, and the seat tube is slightly steeper. The Stumpjumper EVO model also provides a more progressive version of the Stumpjumper. It comes in two sizes with more reach and an ultra-slack 63.5-degree head angle.

To learn more about what the numbers represent, read our explanation of How Bike Geometry Works.

FSR vs. VPP suspension

FSR

Specialized introduced FSR suspension over 20 years ago. It stands for “Future Shock Rear” and it’s been applied to everything from XC to downhill race bikes. FSR is also referred to as a "four-bar" suspension or "Horst-link" design. This type of system is easy to identify because the rear axle is located on the seat stay and another pivot is positioned just in front of and below the rear axle. It's a popular system, and several other brands use variations of this design.
Specialized FSR suspension close-up
FSR’s main advantage is that it’s a very “active” design, meaning it moves freely throughout compression and rebound. This helps the bike quickly respond to terrain, and it provides good small-bump compliance. Braking and chain forces have less effect on the suspension’s movement. FSR systems experience less brake jack, meaning the suspension stays active rather than locking out or extending under braking, and they have less pedal kickback, where suspension movement and chain growth cause the pedals to move. Four-bar systems also make it easy for bike designers to control shock leverage ratios.

Specialized claims that the active nature of FSR increases tire contact with the ground for a greater percentage of the time, improving traction and control.

The downside to FSR, and four-bar systems in general, is pedaling efficiency. FSR systems have less anti-squat, so they rely on the rear shock tune or a lockout to provide a firm, efficient, bob-free pedaling platform. The Stumpjumper has about 80% anti-squat in most gears, which isn’t terrible, but riders will notice more pedal bob on smooth surfaces and extended climbs if the shock isn't locked out or firmed up.

The leverage rate for Stumpjumper’s suspension is on the progressive side and it will work with a wide range of rear shocks, including coil shocks. Stock coil shock options are available and riders interested in improving performance for enduro and downhill riding can swap in an aftermarket coil shock.

VPP

Santa Cruz Hightower VPP SuspensionSanta Cruz uses VPP suspension, which stands for “virtual pivot point.” VPP is a “twin-link” style system that is identifiable by a solid (one piece) rear triangle that moves on two short links connected to the front triangle. VPP actually works in a similar way to a four-bar design. If you can imagine moving the position of the chainstay pivot much closer to the front triangle, you have the basis of a twin-link system.

There are other twin-link systems, but VPP uses counter-rotating links that turn in opposite directions, instead of co-rotating links that turn in the same direction. This movement produces an anti-squat profile that peaks in the middle of the travel, which helps provide pedaling efficiency without pedal kickback.

Santa Cruz claims that VPP strikes the right balance between pedaling efficiency and all-out bump-chomping prowess. The Hightower has more anti-squat than the Stumpjumper and most riders won’t need to lock out the shock except on road climbs.

Some riders feel that VPP bikes are not as plush as FSR bikes. This is the trade-off for better pedaling. Though VPP won’t feel harsh, it won’t feel as active or willing to move in rough and chattery terrain. It can sometimes seem like the rear wheel gets hung up when going through chunky sections with square edges. Because of this trait, faster rebound settings tend to work better on VPP systems. 

The new Hightower has very high anti-squat numbers — over 100% in most gears — which provides an excellent pedaling platform. Even with such high anti-squat, the amount of pedal kickback remains moderate. Very sensitive riders might feel a slight amount of pedal kickback. There is also some brake-jack when the rear brake is applied, more so than the Stumpjumper, but it doesn’t have a huge effect on handling and it is still low compared to most trail bikes.

The VPP suspension leverage rate is very progressive, more progressive than the Stumpjumper. Surprisingly, Santa Cruz's 2020 Hightower is incompatible with coil shocks and high-volume air shocks. New Hightowers fit lightweight piggyback shocks like the FOX DPX2 and the RockShox Super Deluxe. This keeps the Hightower more focused on trail riding. Riders interested in coil shocks and downhill performance will need to look to the 160mm travel Megatower

Descending

Specialized StumpjumperFormer Downhill World Champion, Miranda Miller, descends fast on the Stumpjumper.

Both bikes descend well, but we all know that rider skill makes the biggest difference in downhill performance. That being said, the Hightower is clearly more downhill-oriented than the Stumpjumper. The Hightower’s slacker head tube and long reach make it stable, improving confidence on steep, high-speed downhill trails.

The downside to the Hightower’s head angle and increased length is less maneuverability compared to the Stumpjumper. This comes into play on tighter, slower, more technical trails. If you encounter a lot of narrow switchbacks on your local trails, the Stumpjumper might negotiate them more easily.

The Hightower’s VPP suspension, with its high leverage rate, is better suited to handling big hits from features like rocks, jumps, and drops. The Stumpjumper may bottom-out more when attacking the same big features. For loose, bumpy, and off-camber terrain, however, the active nature of the FSR suspension can improve traction and confidence in the rear tire.
Santa Cruz Hightower VPP suspension
One interesting feature on the new Hightower is a special tailgate shuttle guard on the downtube to protect the frame when shuttling downhill trail in a pickup. Santa Cruz knows it's catering to a certain type of rider. 

In general, if you like to point and shoot, let off the brakes, drop the heels, and smash everything in your way when going downhill, the slacker and longer Hightower will suit your style. If you like to play around, jump off little trail features, and whip around tight corners, the steeper, active Stumpjumper is the more playful bike.

Climbing

Santa Cruz Hightower climbingReaching the descents requires climbing, the other half of the trail bike equation. Some riders even like climbing. To that end, both the Stumpjumper and Hightower provide great rear traction and enough anti-squat to make long climbs bearable. Because the Stumpjumper’s FSR suspension is a bit less efficient, most riders will find themselves using the lockout lever on the shock more than they would on the Hightower. When locked out, both rear ends have similar performance.

With its shorter front end, the Stumpjumper is easier to maneuver around tight uphill switchbacks and up technical sections. But the Hightower has a steeper seat tube angle, great for helping riders scoot forward on steep terrain to get over the bottom bracket and front wheel. This makes climbing steep grades easier, especially on modern long and slack bikes that tend to have a front wheel that wanders around on climbs. The Stumpjumper uses a more traditional seat angle.

On average, a Stumpjumper often weighs one or two pounds less than the Hightower with a similar build. We know this because every bike sold on The Pro's Closet is weighed with a precise digital scale. The FACT Carbon 11m Stumpjumper frame seems to be built just a bit lighter than a similar-sized Hightower CC carbon frame. The component spec has the biggest effect on overall weight, but for weight weenies, this little bit of frame weight could make a difference.

Competitors

Ibis Ripmo

Ibis RipmoThe Ibis Ripmo happens to be one of the most popular bikes at The Pro’s Closet. To date, five employees have purchased a Ripmo as their personal bike and given it stellar reviews. The Ripmo has 29” wheels and 145mm of travel paired with a 160mm fork. Its head angle is in between the Hightower and Stumpjumper, but Ibis's seat angle and reach are comparable to the Hightower. The Ripmo uses DW-Link suspension, a twin-link system that, like to VPP, provides excellent pedaling efficiency. It’s a good choice for riders looking for a bike that splits the difference between the Hightower and Stumpjumper.

Yeti SB130

Yeti SB130Yeti is a high-end rival to Specialized and Santa Cruz. The SB130 is Yeti’s quiver killer, mid-travel superbike. It uses 29" wheels with 130mm of travel paired with a 150mm fork. Its geometry numbers are very close to the Hightower’s, with near-identical head and seat tube angles. The reach, however, is about 10mm longer than the Hightower's, which makes it even more stable on fast downhills. It uses Yeti’s Switch Infinity suspension system to provide pedaling efficiency similar to the Hightower's. The leverage rate is flatter than the Hightower’s so the SB130 relies more on the shock tune for support during big hits. It’s a good option for riders looking for a bike with comparable performance to the Hightower but with more boutique style.

Popularity

The Pro’s Closet is the world leader in used bikes. Our employees love cycling, obsess over bikes, and have access to a huge selection of products. They are all knowledgeable and opinionated so I polled riders in our shop to see which trail bike they preferred between the Stumpjumper and the Hightower. We had over 50 respondents to this poll and many explained why they would pick one over the other.

The chart below shows the results.

Specialized Stumpjumper vs Santa Cruz hightower popularityOur local terrain features a lot of tough climbs and long descents, ideal for this style of bike. Our employees have a lot of experience with mid-travel trail bikes and several have even owned a Stumpjumper or a Hightower. In our poll, the Hightower just edged out the Stumpjumper with a little over half preferring the Hightower.

Interestingly, geometry played a fairly small role in our riders’ preferences. Only two respondents even mentioned geometry when explaining their choices. One preferred the more progressive Hightower geometry because he was focused on pure downhill performance and wanted to use the Hightower for occasional enduro racing and downhill bike park riding. The other respondent liked the Stumpjumper geometry because it felt more neutral and suitable for a larger range of terrain and riding styles. The shorter reach and steeper head tube would also, in his words, “be more fun to throw around.”

Specialized StumpjumperFor most respondents, the two biggest factors in their decision were looks and brand loyalty. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For many, one bike just had the right shape or color options to attract their eye. One employee pointed to the Stumpjumper’s asymmetrical frame and carbon arm wrapping around the shock as “the hottest thing in mountain biking.” Another liked the “squareness” of the Hightowers top tube and downtube.

Several riders reported preferring Santa Cruz’s VPP system over the FSR system since they prefer not to lock out their shocks for the long and technical climbs we encounter in Colorado. However, one of our most talented climbers, a former pro XC racer, chose the Stumpjumper because he will “always lockout [his] suspension for climbing no matter what.”

Several riders chose the Hightower because “it’s not a Specialized.” Specialized is one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world and this draws ire from some more opinionated riders. Others prefer Specialized because of its reputation for performance and quality, and its history of race success. A few riders prefer Santa Cruz for its skater-like brand image and downhill history.

One respondent noted that the S.W.A.T. Box storage system in the Stumpjumper frame was enough to sway him.

Final thoughts

Stumpjumper vs. Hightower is actually a decision I have played around with myself. I’m always thinking about my next bike, and these two are top contenders for replacing my current trail bike.

I’m a bit partial to the Stumpjumper because I do think it is a beautiful bike. I like the sculpted shape of the frame. I think Specialized paint is always gorgeous and of high quality. I like having the option to run a coil shock. I’ve also already owned the previous generation Hightower and Hightower LT. So it would make sense for me to change things up.

Santa Cruz Hightower descendingBut somehow, I think if it came time to put cash down, I’d jump on the Hightower. The one thing swaying me is geometry (I’m the one respondent in the poll who chose the Hightower for its geo). Having ridden many bikes over the years, I’ve come to think that a head tube angle between 65-66 degrees is ideal for my style of riding. I do a lot of very steep and technical descents, and the slacker head tube helps boost my confidence. 

Would I be able to descend well on the Stumpjumper? Yes, totally. But my mind is weak, and I need the reassurance of a number on a chart to trick me into feeling safe. Specialized’s enduro race team has proven that the Stumpjumper is capable of competing at the highest level in Enduro World Series events. So it’s more a problem with me and not the bike.

 

Which bike would you choose? Or is there another mid-travel trail bike out there we need to watch out for? Let us know in the comments!

Photos courtesy of Specialized Bicycles and Santa Cruz Bicycles.


7 comments


  • I have been lusting for a mt. bike for a long while. I made the mistake of buying a Giant Roam in New Orleans and I have DESTROYED it on our raggedy streets- also I just really desire to bomb the sh*t out of everything. So anyway- I madly desire a Stumpjumper- but I’m not sure Specialized actually sells bikes anymore- I’ve been trying to get my hands on one for 7 months… I took a trip to Miami last month, Specialized has a store there and they had a Stumpjumper there… I touched one- they are real!! – the store won’t ship it to you though. IT’S A RUSE! But seriously I REALLY want a Stumpjumper – sigh- someday slimmy….someday.

    Brian J. on

  • I currently ride a HT gen 1 and was a numerous Stumpy owner prior. My opinion, which you discussed, is the HT is much more dynamic. It climbs well and descends well. In a spectrum of 1-10 (climb to Descend) I would give it 2-8. The Stumpy even after having the shock reworked by PUSH still was a 3-7. The stumpy is static to the way the shock is tuned. The HT I have had two different shock and bike handled similar with both. My comment on the VPP is i do notice more brake jack and have learned on numerous repetitive small bumps opportunity braking to not affect the suspension. Again these comments are based on 2017 HT and 2015 Stumpy.
    Your article is the best information i have found to compare both bikes 2020 performance and changes that have been made. With what you said I will still buy a New HT.

    Shamo on

  • I have a Stumpjumper Carbon 29er and its definately the most versatile, capable and engaging ride ever for me. It happily devours Bike Park Wales days hammering the reds but is equally at home doing long miles and climbs around Radnorshire and the Elan Valley. Hopton and Bucknell, Bringewood and all my local trails feel like they were made for this bike. Specialized have really done the name justice. I’ve had the bike 2 years now and I’m not the slightest bit ready to move on. It is probably more capable than I will ever be and chances are it’ll stay with me now.

    Joe Heaven on

  • Would like to see a comparison with the new Orbea Occam

    Jason Bowen on

  • Had a Hightower 1 and Hightower lt. Now have moved to a stumpy. The bikes brand new like 6 rides but so far I think I’ve made a grave mistake. The front end feels about as good but the problem is the back half. No comparison really the Hightower was a more capable climber. Accelerated better. The stump is more plush maybe and does seem a little better in techy short ups but that’s all lost in longer climbs shifting weight and pedaling. Sprinting like motions.

    LEe w on

  • Great comparison for those really pushing the limits, but for the rest of us… I didn’t like the slack geometry of the SC and the riding position. I found the Stumpie a very natural transition from a 26 S works.

    Scott Dittrich on

  • I have read up a lot on all sorts of bikes, and I know a thing or two about bikes because I’ve owned more than I care to admit. This is a really well written and thoughtful piece on these bikes and mountain bikes in general . Well done Pro’s Closet! I’m sure many will find this article really helpful in their decision making process.

    Andy Jensen on


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Newsletter Sign Up