Have you ever wanted to spec and build your own no-nonsense and reliable super bike? Me too! In this feature we look at our custom build spec and our initial thoughts on the Santa Cruz Hightower CC.

The decision

I have ogled over the whole range of bikes from Santa Cruz for some time now. Their current range of bikes is extensive. From the latest incarnation of the Alloyed framed Chameleon hardtail right up to their World cup proven downhill race bike the V10, there is a bike or frameset for every form of riding off-road covering gravel and cross bikes through the popular trail and all mountain bike market. With all the travel and wheel sizes of trail full suspension mountain bikes utilising the Virtual Pivot Point or VPP suspension platform. With high-profile race teams with some of the worlds biggest names in mountain biking piloting their bikes and creating awesome videos for social media, making this brand highly desirable. But it’s not all race bikes and fast guys that make Santa Cruz bikes so popular.

It was a tough choice when you are looking at spending upwards of £2500 on a frame set. Many brands with their own take on some awesome equipment its a maze of choice and options. 27.5 or 29, ‘regular wheels and tyres or ‘plus size’. You really have to honest with yourself as what type of riding you will be doing the most. Of course there is likely to be some kind of a compromise whether its is tyres, wheel size, frame size and travel amount.


To help narrow my sights I had decided that the bike had to be able to take the Ohlins RXF 34 that I had been so impressed with last summer in the Alps. Also I really wanted the frame to be carbon fibre for the only reason that I had yet to own a carbon bike of any type.

So now the search was narrowing,  A 29er, with around 140mm of travel with a frame made from carbon fibre. The next decision was to buy as a frame only and custom build with my pick of parts or keep with a full build and look to swap in the beautiful Ohlins fork. It might not be the most cost-effective way to buy a bike but as I already had the forks and I had never built a bike up from frame only I really wanted to spec this bike myself to create a strong, reliable and dependable package.

I found myself coming full circle again after looking around at the many brands and other options on the market. I still came back to my ‘love at first sight’ the Hightower and the decision was only finalised when you take a look at the amazing after care service from Santa Cruz and its lifetime frame warranty which speaks volumes in this day and age. The warranty treat is then extended further, Santa Cruz also offer lifetime frame pivot bearing warranty!


The Hightower is extremely adaptable and can be run as I am building up with 29 inch wheels (low setting) or thanks to a neat little “High/Low” setting on the upper link that flips to adjust bottom bracket height this frame can run with 27.5+ wheels (high setting). It also has the modern touches you would expect like 150mm of seat dropper, a water bottle mount, and internal routing reflect an armada of killer details.

So that was that! I signed on the dotted line and the Hightower was ordered. I decided on a size large after comparing my trusty Orange Five 29 geometry which I found slightly too cramped and the fact that I rode a Large Santa Cruz V10 whilst in Whistler and with a bounce on the Hightower in Scotland.

The Build

I protected the frame with the superb kit from Invisiframe. This kit is supplied with instructions and is simple enough to fit if you’re patient and take your time. It should protect the frame for years to come.

Next up was the build, I would have loved to have said I would have ordered up the latest Shimano Di2 setup, but I felt that I could not justify the cost…….yet!

I had run both 9 speed and 10 speed Shimano XTR on previous bikes I had owned. But I had been so impressed with the 11 speed XT I had on my Five 29, It worked faultlessly and costs a fraction of the XTR rear mech, cassette and shifter. I also lusted after the Hope spiderless crankset since first setting my eyes on them after they had been released, so they would complete the drivetrain setup perfectly. The Hightower is 1x only drivetrain with no provision for a front mech.


Stopping power is also from Shimano. Fitted is their XT M8000 brakeset with Ice-tech rotors and pads (Front 180mm, rear 160mm).

Continuing along the theme of Hope, I also ordered their Tech Enduro wheelset after owning a set before. I found them reliable, easy to maintain and service. I feel they represent amazing value for money being around half the price of the cheapest carbon rim wheelsets. Hope hubs are well sealed for the harshest winter conditions and so easy to maintain with Hope’s famous after sale care and replacement parts. Hope also supply the chain guide for added reliability, also the magically sealed headset and bottom bracket keep the muck out and ensure the bike feels tip-top for longer. The finishing details of items like the seat clamp I also looked to Hope.


Flat pedals are the critically acclaimed Vaults from DMR. The last set of Vaults I owned proved to be the most reliable flats I have tried. In fact they may look a little tired these days, but they are still working perfectly even after 800 miles! I have choosen the Magnesium model that are pleasingly light weight. These are nicely thin and concave to create one of the best pedals in grip tests especially when paired with Five Ten shoes.

The cockpit setup is from Renthal. Choosing to run a flat Carbon Fatbar Lite which is 760mm wide paired to an old Duo stem whilst I await the new Apex stem. I am also trying the Santa Cruz Palmdale grips for the first time, these nicely match the frames orange accents.


Rubber is from Schwalbe. I have shod the Hope 28mm width rims with Magic Mary 2.4 super gravity casing with a soft trailstar compound. These tyres are ace for the late winter / early spring slop of our local trails currently. They are however big and heavy and are effectively a full DH tyre. The offer amazing amounts of grip in dirt, but I’ll be looking to swap them out for something lighter and faster rolling once the weather eventually turns for the better. I have also picked to run tubes for the moment, although that will change once I have settled on a final tyre pairing.

After deciding to try something different from the industry standard and super impressive Reverb dropper post from RockShox. I also have previously tried the original KS LEV a while back. This time I picked the KS LEV Integra (internal routed cable actuated) 150mm seat post.  I decided to pair it to the KS Southpaw lever which is conveniently placed under the bar in the position of your front shifter.


The past six weeks I have bolted on the stunning carbon ALM saddle from Fabric (full review to follow soon!). It is a beautiful work of art, designed in collaboration with engineers at Airbus Group Innovations.This is a light weight carbon railed perch that has to be seen to be believed.

So now this beast is built, I will post up a full review and a list of any issues I have encountered and also anything that has performed really well once she has had a proper shake down and given the bike the time it deserves. I am also awaiting the arrival of the Ohlins STX air rear shock to complete the pairing with the forks. They have been delayed somewhat whilst Ohlins has completed a revised update of their universal STX shock.


Santa Cruz Hightower CC Current Build Spec

Frame size Large

RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock

Hope Tech Enduro 29er rims

Hope Pro 4 hubs (boost rear hub)

Ohlins RXF 34 fork

Schwalbe Magic Mary trailstar tyres (with tubes)

Hope cranks (175mm) & 34t spiderless chainring

Shimano XT 11 speed cassette 11-42t

Shimano XT rear mech 11 speed

Shimano XT 11 speed chain

Shimano XT 11 speed shifter

Shimano XT brakes M8000 (180mm front 160mm rear Ice Tech disc rotors)

KS LEV Integra 150mm dropper seat post with South paw lever

Fabric ALM carbon saddle

Hope seat clamp

DMR Vault mag pedals

Hope chain guide

Hope bottom bracket

Hope headset

Renthal Fatbar Lite Carbon handle bars flat with 740mm width

Renthal duo stem 50mm

Santa Cruz Palmdale grips in orange

The details

Santa Cruz Hightower CC Frame only from https://www.stif.co.uk/

Price: £2,849.00 (frame only)

Now available in frame sizes small through to XXL

Many thanks to https://poole.rocketsandrascals.com/ for the build.