Tuesday, March 14, 2017

2017 Santa Cruz Hightower

2017 Santa Cruz Hightower 29 Setup
Santa Cruz Hightower Components 2017
It has been a while since I last update about mountain bikes. Stopped for a while due to work commitment. Finally has time to build a new rig and write about bikes. Having owned and rode Nomad 2, Pivot M6 and Yeti Sb6c, and the fact that I will be crossing half millennium soon, it is time to focus more on XC, trail and backpacking rides. The plan to build a all rounded rig has become more apparent. Did a lot of research and finally narrow down to two, Yeti SB5.5+ and Santa Cruz Hightower. In the end, chose the  Hightower over SB5.5. My decision are influenced by the followings:

Bottle cage
Santa Cruz Hightower design enable bottle cage to be installed inside the triangle, which is my preference. One thing to note, only use side loaded bottle cage.
Hightower Bottle Cage location
Side Load Bottle Cage
Bottle Cage on Hightower

Santa Cruz Hightower


Frame Warranty
Santa Cruz offers lifetime warranty compared to Yeti 5 years warranty. I will most likely get a new bike by 5th years but Santa Cruz lifetime assurance gives me more confident.

Quality
Yeti frame chipped easily. My Yeti SB6c got paint chip issues after first trail ride. My 2 riding buddies sent their Yeti SB5 triangles for warranty claim in less than a year. I owned a Nomad II since 2012, never have an issue despite multiple major crash and overseas ride.

Design & Geometry
Adore the interchangeability of 29er and 27.5+ wheelset without comprising the optimized geometry. The 29 setup provides stability, fast and comfort ride for long distance XC trails, while the 27.5+ setup provides playfulness and responsiveness for snarly technical trails. Santa Cruz Hightower offers optimized geometry in both 27.5+ and 29 setup via High (27.5) / Low (29) setting on the upper link. Yeti SB5+ does not have that feature. After intensive ride on the same trails, switching the flip chip between High and Low for numerous times, decided to flip the chip to 'High' position for 140mm fork on 29er wheelset. IMHO, this is the best geometry for 140mm fork and 29er wheels combo.
Hightower High/Low Setting on Upper Link
Flip Chip on Upper Link to set High/Low Position
Flip Chip High & Low Position
 

Ease of Maintenance
Hightower has a clean design and easy to maintain. Yeti Infinity is awesome but a nightmare to maintain. The inner tube are known to trap water. Besides, Hightower has easy to maintain and reliable threaded BB compared to Yeti press fit. The integrated headset does not require special tool to install, easy to maintain as well.
Hightower Threaded BB
The ride
Since I will be doing more XC and trail rides, plus occasionally overseas bikepacking, Hightower seems to be a better choice over Yeti Sb5+. Did a lot of research, Hightower seems to match my expectation more than Yeti SB5+.

2017 Santa Cruz Hightower Features  & Technical Info

The Hightower has all the latest specifications in the market, including Boost and ability to use both 29er and 27.5 plus. The carbon frame is CC, supposed to be the lighter and premium version compared to C. Seat post size is 31.6mm instead of the usual 30.9mm adopted by Santa Cruz. Those looking to re-use their old seat post will be disappointed. Hey, good excuse to buy new dropper!
  • 135mm (5.3") VPP™ suspension
  • 148x12 Rear Axle Spacing
  • 110x15 thru-axle fork
  • 27.5 Plus-Compatible
  • 29" wheels
  • Bottle cage mount within front triangle
  • Carbon CC frame
  • Double sealed pivots
  • Integrated Headset (IS41; IS52)
  • Internal carbon tubes
  • ISCG-05 chainguide format
  • Threaded Bottom Bracket
  • Headset Integrated; IS41 upper, IS52 lower
  • Seat Post 31.6mm
  • Seat Clamp 36.4mm
  • Eye to Eye length 200mm
  • Stroke 51mm
  • Fork Compatibility 140mm, 150mm
  • Max Tire Size 3"
  • Brake Types IS-mount disc

BUILDING HIGHTOWER CC 29 140MM 

This was my first attempt to build a mountain bike from ground up. In contrary to popular believe, it actually cost less to build than buying a complete bike. In addition, you buy the components you preferred, and not live with the components you dislike. Fortunate to have my kaki Ian helped me along. The components were purchased from the following source:

1. ReEvolution
2. Tiong Hin at Sin Ming
3. RideWorx
4. Rodalink
5. Lightbicycle
6. AbsoluteBlack
7. Chainreactioncycles
8. Evancycles

Below table illustrates all the components used to build my Santa Cruz Hightower. Measured the components weight with my kitchen and handheld weighing machine. Most of the components weigh more than what were claimed by the manufacturers. Total weight approximately 12.56kg (27.7 lbs), excluding shift cable which maybe offset after cutting the fork steering.
Full Components List
Harold from ReEvolution who sold me the Hightower CC frame was assigned to build my rig. He used to be the National Youth Downhill Team during his younger days. Five years ago met him at Pulau Ubin Mountain Bike Park. He came to the rescue when a crash damaged my Nomad2 derailleur. Harold repaired it on the spot! Forever grateful and happy to buy Hightower frame from him.

Building Hightower at ReEvolution

SHOCK
The Rockshock RT3 works well for XC and light trails ride. Upgrade to Fox X2 and longer fork if you intend to take big drop and ride snarly rock garden. Off course, pro-riders can ride any bike on anything throw to them. Pumped the RT3 to 185 psi to achieve 30% sag. I weigh about 72kg with all the gears on. Set the rebound to mid level between fast and slow. Keep the compression lever at medium (left) most of the local rides. Only time set to open is during 'drop' practise.

Bought the customized Rock Shox RT3 orange decal from Invisiframe. The orange blend well with the Matte Mint Carbon Hightower. Decal size a bit too wide for the RT3, need to cut a few mm to fit. Very good quality but hope it stick well under the rain and mud.
Rock Shox RT3 Shock
Rockshox RT3
After 2 weeks of intensive riding, decided to upgrade the shock to Fox X2. It was a decision that should have been made in the beginning. The Fox X2 escalate the Hightower to another level. It was so plush that my Hightower just float over all the snarly rock section and absorb everything that comes along. My Hightower would have been bounce around with RT3!
Fox X2 is 100g heavier than the stock RT3 shock. The additional weight worth every bit, given the plushness going downhill and ability to handle technical and steep climb much better than RT3.  (Fox X2 Spacer Installation)

2017 Fox X2, 200 x 51mm
2017 Fox X2 on Santa Cruz Hightower CC
FORK
My initial plan was to get a Fox 34 Factory Series Fork, but all the dealers ran out of stock. I even approached KH Cycle, the distributor for Fox suspension. Unable to wait longer, went ahead to buy the Performance Series. After all, the stealth color looks cool and blend well with my carbon matte frame and black RT3 shock. According to reviews, the performance and weight of Performance Series fork are similar to Factory Series fork but priced much lower. The compression setting is easy to use 3-position (Open, Firm & Lock) lever that allows rider to set on the fly while riding. However, you are unable to tune the fork to a specific riding style, as it does not come with HSC and LSC adjustment. To do that, I need to upgrade the fork to Factory Series!

Fox 34 140mm Performance Series Fork
The best customized decals are from Slik Graphics. The price including shipping is reasonable, and the quality is excellent (better than original!). The customized Fox 34 Performance Series decal (see photo) cost 21 pounds including shipping. The experience gained from installing invisiframe protector on Hightower frame, putting on these customized fork decals seems like a piece of cake. The photos illustrated the transformation of the fork from dull to live!
Customized Fox Fork Decals from Slik Graphics
Installing Decals on Fox Fork

CHAINRING
Unable to ride normal ring except oval. All my rides are installed with AbsoluteBlack oval ring. As I was riding 32T on 42/11 cassette on my previous rig, the X01 Eagle 50/10 cassette on my Hightower should theoretically translate to 36T. Decided to go for 34T oval (equivalent to 36T round ring), and surprise the weigh is 6g lighter than X01 32T despite larger in dimension.
AbsoluteBlack Oval Ring 34T Boost
AbsoluteBlack 32T Oval Ring Boost
During installation, realized the AbsoluteBlack 34T Oval Ring Boost is too tight for Hightower. At the tightest sector, the oval ring almost touch the Hightower chainstay. Even with a boost ring (3mm spacer) installed at the drive side, the clearance remains tight. The non-boost 34T version may hit the chainstay. Feedback my concern to the CEO & Founder of AbsoluteBlack Marcin. He was in the opinion that the tight clearance is acceptable, since the gap will be wider when the rider seats on the saddle. ReEvolution owner Winson shared with me a photo that shows a 36T ring having the same clearance as mine, scratched the chainstay when the 36T ring flexed. In the end, Marcin offered  60% discount for a 32T Oval ring. So far, I have 30T, 32T & 34T AbsoluteBlack Oval Ring for GXP crank and a 34T AbsoluteBlack Oval Ring for Shimano crank. Marcin should give me a VIP card!
AbsoluteBlack 34T Oval Ring Boost Clearance
X01 Eagle Boost 32T Ring Clearance on Hightower
X01 32T Chainring
AbsoluteBlack 32T Oval Ring Boost
X01 EAGLE 12 SPEED DRIVE SYSTEM
Went through the transformation of drive system from 9 speed, 10 speed, 11 speed to 12 speed! The evolution was driven by SRAM. The 50/10 one piece cassette is genius, it makes the front derailleur obsolete. Bike can be built lighter, and rider has full range of gear for climb and speed. With the 50/10 and 12 speed design, riders who use to ride 32T ring can now go for 36T without significantly affect its ability to pedal. However, there are arguments that the huge cassette and boost rear may reduce the lifespan of the chain, as it has to be built thinner to fit 12 speed cassette.

X01 50/10 12 Speed Cassette
X01 Shifter
X01 Rear Derailleur
X01 Eagle 12 Speed Drive System

CRANK ARM
Used to be 1.76m tall at my peak, but shrink progressively to 1.74m recently. Have been riding 175mm crank arms since the day I bought my first serious mountain bike (Trek Fuel). For Hightower, I was advised to ride 170mm crank arm, as the low BB height (13.27") may cause pedal strike on rock section. More effort is needed to climb on shorter crank arms. However, shorter crank helps to reduce pedal strike on rock sections. A good compromise?
X01 Carbon Crank 175mm
X01 170mm Crank Arm

BRAKE
IMHO, the most reliable disc brake you can get is Shimano XT or XTR. Have been using XTR brakes since Nomad II, Hightower makes no exception.

XTR Brakes
XTR Brake Lever
XTR Brake

ROTORS
Kept an old Maguna 180mm rotor from my previous Pivot M6 bike. Measured the weight out of curiosity and surprised to obeserve the great difference of 45% weight reduction. Tempted to switch over to Maguna rotors but brake is sometime I would not want to compromise. Decided to go for heavier but more reliable Shimano RT86 rotors that fit the XTR brakes.
Shimano XT-86 Rotor
Shimano RT86 XT Rotor 180mm

WHEELSET
My initial plan was to buy ZTR Arch 29 aluminum rims but was convinced by someone in mtbr forum to try out Lightbicycle (LB) carbon rims instead. Did some research and realized many seasoned riders gave good comments on LB carbon rims. The reviews were mainly positive. A pair of carbon rims including shipping cost about S$600, just a tiny fraction of what we normally paid for ENVE rims. What's more? it came with one year warranty and 2 years crash warranty. Nowadays, most major branded carbon frames are made in China. In fact, China is playing leading role in carbon technology and manufacturing. Sad to say, some consumers still stuck with the old mindset of buying western branded carbon rims at inflated price. In fact, most of these western branded carbon rims are made in China OEM factories (Lightbicycle is one of the OEM Manufacturers). Very impressed with the quality and workmanship of the carbon rims.

Lightbicycle 38mm Wide Carbon Rim (RM29C14)
RM29C14 Heavy Duty Weight
Bought the wide rim (38mm external, 31.6mm internal) version for stability and stiffness. The weight for normal version is about 465g per rim. Bought the heavy duty version which weigh about 512g on my kitchen weigh scale. The heavy duty version has a reinforced layer wrapped around the rims, for more aggressive riders. LB offers many different decal colors to match your frames. Some prefer to customize the decals from third-party to match their rig's design.

Serial Number on LB Carbon Rim

All LB carbon rims come with a unique serial number for the purpose of tracking and identification in the event of warranty claim. LB recently setup a warehouse in USA to cater for US and Canada markets via a local carbon rims company. Some speculated that the USA local carbon rims company OEM its rims from LB.

Chris King Front Hub Boost 110 x 15

Chris King Rear Hub Boost 148 x 12
The best hubs money can buy is Chris King from USA. The reliability and quality are top notch. All my previous wheelsets on Nomad II, Pivot Mach6 and Yeti SB6c used Chris King hubs. It comes with 5-year built-to-last warranty; patented RingDrive system with 72 simultaneously interfaced points and easy to service. Bought the rear boost 148 x 12 and front boost 115 x 15.

Orange Nipples
Color management! Decided to go for orange nipples for the wheelset. Hope it blend well with the frame.

Harold from ReEvolution
Lightbicycle 38mm 29 Heavy Duty Rim (32mm Internal)
Lightbicycle 38mm Heavy Duty Rim (32mm Internal)
Tire Clearance for 29 Minion 2.3 on LB38 RIm
Tire Clearance for 29 Minion 2.3 on LB38 RIm

The wheelset with LB 38mm rim and Minions 2.3 tire looks beefy. Extremely stiff! For the first time, a lady hiker commented the rims looks nice while I was climbing BT hill. Did not get this response when I was riding SB6c on ENVE rims, haha!

Tire clearance was very generous at both sides of the lower triangle (see photo) even for the beefy 29 Minion tire on LB38 wide rim. However, the inner stay tube maybe tight for 29 Minion tire on LB38 rim (See photo). Some riders have no issue with wider tire on narrow rims. The biggest 29 tire recommended for LB38 rims on Hightower should not be more than 2.35.

Tyre Pressure
Depends on trail conditions (dry or wet) and preference, usually maintain 23psi on rear tire and 21psi on front tire. The advantage of running tubeless tire is the ability to maintain low tire pressure for better traction. Pumped up both tires to 30psi for XC rides, especially fire roads and wide trails

STEM & BAR
Decided on Renthal 60mm stem as the plan was for more XC and trail oriented ride. After 2 weeks intensive riding on 60mm stem, I felt comfortable with the posture and climbing is easy. Swapped over to 40mm stem and realized the Hightower became more playful but sacrifice on the climb. Need to lean forward more to prevent the front wheel wheelie. For more XC, climb and long distance ride, will use 60mm stem for sure. Going bike park and doing more downhill ride, will use 40mm stem. Will The Renthal stem and bar combo looks great!

Renthal 40mm Stem
Renthal 60mm Stem
Hightower Cockpit (Renthal stem & bar)
FOX TRANSFER DROPPER
Initial plan was to get Fox Factory Series (Kashima coated) Transfer Dropper. As usual, all the dealers ran out of stock and had to settle with the Performance Series (Black coated). Did some research and realized the difference between the two in terms of performance and weight are virtually zero. In a nut shell, you pay heaps more for gold looking but useless coat. Since my built going to be stealth black, choosing Performance Series is easy decision. Select the 125mm version, to safe weight and match my height.

Fox Transfer Dropper 125mm
Fox Transfer Dropper 125mm
Fox Transfer Dropper does not come with remote lever, you have to buy separately. Nothing new, all the dealers in Singapore ran out of stock for Fox 1X remote lever. Bought a color matching Raceface Turbine remote level online and realized it was incompatible. Out of desperation, one of my kaki dealers Jia Long from Tiong Hin recommended Wolftooth Remote Dropper Lever that integrate with Shimano brake. It not only safe weight and space, but easy to engage. Blessing in disguised :)

Wolftooth Remote Dropper Lever
SADDLE
Saddle comfort is important for long distance XC ride. My priority is light weigh and comfort second.  The Selle Italia SLR Superflow Titanium Rail Saddle fit the roles. Despite the thin profile, the saddle is gentle to my umm...ayem!

Selle Italia SLR Superflow Titanium Rail Saddle
Selle Italia SLR Superflow Titanium Rail Saddle

PEDALS
Used to ride 1st generation Point One flat pedal, the best flat I ever rode. Naturally went for Gamut Podium pedal (Point One acquired by Gamut) for my Hightower. However, was told by kakis not to buy Gamut Podium as the aluminum pins trashed easily. Went ahead to buy Gamut Podium but replaced the aluminum pins with steel version, problem solved.  The advertised weight was 270g but actual measurement was 300g with aluminum pins. The steel pins upgrade increase the total weight by 21.5g. Still light compared to other pedals.

Gamut Podium Pedals

SANTA CRUZ HIGHTOWER 29 COMPLETE BUILT

ReEvolution took half a day to build my Hightower. Headed straight to Chestnut MTB Trail the following day to fine tune the suspension and adjust the stem and dropper height.

2017 Santa Cruz Hightower CC 29 with RT3 Shock

2017 Santa Cruz Hightower CC 29 with Fox X2 Shock
Adjustment and Fine Tuning
The best way to adjust and fine tune the bike is to ride the trails. For 3 consecutive days, rode all 3 major mountain bike trails in Singapore; namely (1) Bukit Timah (BT) Mountain Bike Trails; (2) Chestnut South and North Mountain Bike Trails; and (3) Pulau Ubin Mountain Bike Trails.

The Hightower with RT3 shock seems to be too responsive for my comfort. I am used to long travel bikes and plush suspension. Riding over rock section needs good control. The plushness could be improved by replacing the RT3 with X2. 

Going downhill is fast and furious. The 29 tires roll over anything that comes along. Hopping and floating over rocks are easy with highly responsive shock and high performance fork.

Started with putting 2 spacers below the stem, and replaced with one spacer on second ride. Decided to go back to 2 spacers, as it feel more comfortable on my back.

Shockwiz
What is the point of owning a top-end full suspension mountain bike without getting it dialed in? Invest another S$600 to buy a Shockwiz, a Bluetooth Suspension Tuning Device. To read in details how I used Shockwiz to tune my Fork and Shock, click here.

The final settings for my suspension are:

2017 Fox X2 Final Setting
Rider's weight: 150lbs
Riding Style: Balanced
Spacer: 1
Pressure: 140psi
Compression ratio: 2.3
LSR: 20
HSR: 17
LSC: 22 limit (Closed)
HSC: 22 limit (Closed)

2017 Fox 34 FIT Final Setting
Rider's Weight: 150 lbs
Riding Style: Balanced
Spacer: 3
Pressure: 45psi
Compression ratio: 2.4
Compression: Open
Rebound: 7 (from closed)

Chestnut Nature Park Car Park
Chestnut Northern MTB Trails
Mud Fest at Chestnut Northern MTB Trails
Ketam MTB Park at Ubin
Changi Village Car Park
Boat Ride from Changi Village to Ubin
Muddy Trails Meter at Chestnut Southern MTB Trails Entrance
TroyLee A1 Helmet

Verdict

1. Sexy
Santa Cruz Hightower is the best looking bike I owned so far. During my first ride at Chestnut, a few riders compliment my Hightower. When I was climbing Bukit Timah Hill, a lady hiker commended my rig looks gorgeous. Never have that kind of response when I was riding SB6c and Mach6. As what Credic Gracia said, "If you are slow, looks good on your bike" :)

2. Handling
In comparison to 26 and 27.5 wheels, tight switchback on 29 Hightower need more effort. Riding style and habit need to change. With more practice, should be able to adapt pretty quickly. Perhaps, it is a mental thing that I need to overcome. I was surprised to be able to clear a BT rocky climb with tight switchback 100% of the time with my Hightower, something I only achieved occasionally on SB6c. The fact that I replaced 175mm crank arm with 170mm may affect my climb ability. After 4th ride, almost could not feel the difference. The high responsiveness of RT3 need some adaptation. Have been riding 160mm travel and 250mm big barrel shock all my life, changing to 140mm travel and 200mm single barrel shock definitely needs different riding style. In general, Hightower 29 will roll over anything as long as you maintain the line and let the bike do the work. 

3. Climb
Depends on the terrain and bike setup, the VVP,  RT3, 140mm fork and Minion 2.3 tires combo enable the Hightower to climb like a goat. Having said that, tight-switchback on the climb may be easier for 26 & 27.5 on smooth trails, but 29 performs better on rocky tight switchback as the big wheels rollover anything that comes along.

4. Downhill
Hightower 29 is a beast going downhill. Never experience that kind of madness speed while going downhill. The question is, are you ready to handle that speed? The 29 Hightower setup will do wonder in large berm and provide speed and stability. It may not be more superior than 27.5 and 26 in tight switchback. While still getting use to the bike during first few rides, cautiously tap the brakes to stay within comfort zone...do not want to end my ride prematurely!

5, Flat Terrain
On flat terrain, Hightower 29 certainly beats most 27.5 and 26 setup bike. If you put on 36T Ring and blast on 10 socket, the Hightower 29 will fly like rocket. For my setup, I put on 32T AbsosluteBlack Oval ring and 50/10 X01 Eagle cassette, never experience that kind of madness speed when I pedal full force on a long stretch of trails. It was awesome!  

6. Versatile
Always wanted a do all bike. A bike that can do bikepacking, XC, trails, all-mountain and enduro. Santa Cruz Hightower seems to be the best option. Flip the chip at the link to low and put a pair of 29er wheelset, you have a XC, trails and bikepacking capable bike. Flip the chip to high and put a pair of 27.5+, you have an all-mountain, enduro and bikepacking capable bike. Install long travel shock and fork if you prefer aggressive ride or race enduro. 
Ratboy achieved 8th position during 2017 EWS at Rotorua on Santa Cruz Hightower 29 setup with DHX2 coil and Fox 160mm fork. Scotts achieved top 10 in the same race with Hightower 29 with 160mm fork as well. If you can only own one bike, this is it!

7. Stiffness
The Hightower CC carbon frame and 148 boost rear provide exceptional stiff ride when combine with carbon rims. In fact, the carbon frame and wheels are so stiff that the suspension need to be spot on to enjoy the ride. Some riders may prefer flex over stiff, as the ride may be more forgiving and gentle to their joints. Most of us who prefer control tend to go for stiffness.

8. Maintenance
Santa Cruz Hightower design is simple and clean. The threaded BB, VVP linkage and grease ports allow DIY service with ease. The integrated headset can be installed without special tool. It is easy to remove for maintenance too. So far, only Cane Creek provides integrated headset for Santa Cruz Hightower. Will be great if Chris King provides the option too. The lifetime warranty on Santa Cruz carbon frames and lifetime free bearings replacement give me peace of mind.

9. Future
Not too long ago, many mountain bikers said 27.5 won't make it. Now, we see most mountain bikes on 27.5 wheels including Enduro and Downhill discipline. Danny Hart said 29 wheels on Downhill bike will happen if it is faster. Aaron Gwin said it is highly possible. In fact, the Santa Cruz Lago Garay, Josh & CG have been racing Enduro on Hightower long travel 29 setup, and have recorded significant improvement in speed and timing. Ratboy Jose race to the top 8th position while Scotts to top 10 during 2017 EWS Rotorua on Hightower 29 long travel setup. You cannot go wrong with Hightower.

Lago Garay with Santa Cruz  EWS Hightower (Photo Credit: Pinkbike)

Conclusion

Well, think I have found my life partner. The satisfaction to build the Hightower 29 from ground up is similar to 9 months pregnancy to bear a baby. The emotional attachment and ability to customize the build added to the enjoyment. My plan to move back to New Zealand is one of the reasons for building Santa Cruz Hightower 29. The long and wide trails, snow capped Alpine, sub-tropical Forest and endless XC and All-Mountain trails are best ridden on Hightower 29. 

Having said that, the long 780mm bar and big 29 wheels need good riding skills to navigate in Singapore tiny trails, especially the endless tight switchback and dense forest where 700mm bar has higher probability to pass without hitting the handlebar on the trees. In time to come, will get a 160mm fork when the itch to ride Enduro surface again!

Posing on my Santa Cruz Hightower 29er
Video Clips on Santa Cruz Hightower

(Cedric Gracia's Santa Cruz Hightower 29)

(Lago Garay's Santa Cruz Hightower 29)

(Ratboy Santa Cruz Hightower 29)

(Hightower 29 Review by YumYum)

(Hightower 29 Test Ride by Scherney)

  (Hightower Shred Redwood Forest in Rotorua, New Zealand - By Cedric Gracia)

Demo Ride at Wilder Ranch Mountain Bike Trails
Top of the Engelsmans Loop
Santa Cruz Bicycle HQ for Demo Ride