2020 Santa Cruz Megatower

2020 Santa Cruz Megatower

Size Tested: Large

Geometry: See Below

Build Overview (C S Reserve Build Kit):

  • Drivetrain: Sram GX Eagle
  • Brakes: Sram Code R
  • Fork: Fox 36 Float Performance
  • Rear Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ Air
  • Wheels: Santa Cruz Reserve 30 Carbon

Wheels: 29′′

Travel: 160 mm rear / 160 mm front

Blister’s Measured Weight: 32.7 lbs without pedals

MSRP: $6599

Reviewer: 5’10”, 165 lbs; Ape Index +1.5; Inseam 31″

Test Location: Gunnison Valley, CO

Duration of Test (so far): 4 rides

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower
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Review Navigation:  Specs //  Intro //  The Frame //  The Builds //  Fit & Geometry //  Initial Impressions //  Bottom Line

Intro

The Megatower is a recent addition to the Santa Cruz lineup, effectively replacing the Hightower LT, bumping up to 160 mm of travel at both ends, and featuring significantly more aggressive geometry than the outgoing bike. The Megatower also switches to a lower-link-driven rear shock, a recent change that Santa Cruz has been implementing on many of their Trail / Enduro bikes, including the new Hightower that we’re also reviewing.

Santa Cruz calls the Megatower “a modern day brawler, as suited to diehard racers as it is to riders wanting to conquer their hometown trails.” That seems like a pretty straightforward claim for a longer-travel Enduro bike, but how does the Megatower stack up against the rest of the (very deep) field in that class of bikes? Check out our First Look below for our initial impressions, and stay tuned for our full review.

The Frame

As with all of Santa Cruz’s full-suspension bikes, the Megatower uses their VPP (“Virtual Pivot Point”) suspension design. The Megatower is only offered in a carbon frame, but there are two subtly different versions available — the Carbon C and Carbon CC. The C is spec’d on the more budget-oriented builds while the CC is used on higher-end ones. If you want the frame only, the CC frame is the only available option. The difference between the two frames is in the carbon layup, with the CC cutting a modest amount of weight (Santa Cruz claims somewhere around 280 grams), allegedly at no cost of stiffness or strength. Both versions have 160 mm of rear-wheel travel, and the complete Megatower builds come with 160mm-travel forks to match.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower — downtube protection

As with Santa Cruz’s latest crop of long-travel Enduro bikes, the Megatower drives the rear shock (either an air or coil, your choice) from the lower link. This design change produces a much more progressive leverage curve than Santa Cruz’s Trail / Enduro bikes of old, and loses the digressive section in the first half of the travel that those bikes all had. These are changes that should make it more supportive through the mid-stroke and better suited to coil-shock use.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower's revised VPP suspension

The Megatower routes all three cables internally and, thankfully, features a threaded bottom bracket shell, along with space in the main triangle for a water bottle. Befitting a modern Enduro bike, there’s no provision for a front derailleur, but ISCG ‘05 tabs for a chainguide are provided.

The Builds

The Megatower is offered in a range of builds. At the lower end there’s the R / Carbon C with a Sram NX Eagle drivetrain, Rock Shox Yari RC fork, and Super Deluxe Select shock for $4,499, while the XX1 AXS Reserve with a Fox 36 Float Factory fork, Rock Shox Super Deluxe Ultimate rear shock, and Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheels tops out the build options at $10,499. All builds from the S and up are available with either a Super Deluxe air or coil shock for the same price. The Megatower CC frame is also available with a Super Deluxe Ultimate shock (again, in air or coil) for $3,299. Every full-bike build for the Megatower comes with 2.5″ Maxxis Assegai Exo+ tires front and rear, and all apart from the R build get a RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper (the R gets a Race Face Aeffect dropper). For more details on the build kits offered for the Megatower and every Santa Cruz mountain bike, check out our Santa Cruz Brand Guide.

Fit and Geometry

The Megatower is offered in five sizes, from Small through XXL, with reach numbers ranging from 425 mm to 515 mm. All feature a flip chip, which offers two different geometry settings. In the lower position, the Megatower has a 64.7° headtube angle and a 340 mm bottom bracket height. The change to the high position is subtle, bumping those numbers up to 65° and 343 mm, respectively.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower adjustable geometry via rear flip chip

Seattube angles vary slightly by size, but are all around 76°. (That’s the effective angle, with the actual angle being significantly slacker. Santa Cruz doesn’t publish a figure for the actual seat tube angle.) There’s also a chainstay flip chip that toggles between 436 mm and 446 mm chainstays. The Megatower’s geometry is quite modern, and solidly within the norm for the latest class of burly Enduro 29ers.

A few highlights of the geometry (Size Large, Low position):

  • 470 mm reach
  • 64.7° head tube angle
  • 76.3° effective seat tube angle
  • 436 mm / 446 mm chainstay (adjustable with a flip chip)
  • 1232 mm wheelbase

And here’s the entire geo chart for reference:

Santa Cruz Megatower Geometry Chart (High-setting geo on left, Low-setting geo on right)

Initial Thoughts on Sizing and Geo

Pick a number from the chart… the Megatower is a big bike. With a reach of 470 mm and wheelbase of 1231 mm, the size Large Megatower is one of the largest and longest bikes I have spent real time on. But I also say that pretty much anytime I swing a leg over a new Enduro bike. As numbers keep growing and companies keep pushing the limits of geometry, the Megatower is actually fairly average by the numbers when you compare it against the current field of long-travel Trail / Enduro bikes. But unless you jump on a lot of new bikes each year, this would likely be your largest bike to date, too.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Eric Freson on the Santa Cruz Megatower, Gunnison Valley, CO.

And while I’m on the shorter side (5’10”) of the Santa Cruz sizing chart for a Large frame, I’m not interested in sizing down to a Medium. With the 40 mm stem and a relatively short top tube, I don’t have any issues meshing with the Large. While climbing, my seated pedaling position is comfortable, and at 5’10” I don’t really have the issue of over-extending the seat post and consequently putting my weight too far off the back. Standing and attacking out of the saddle, I have plenty of room to move about and get as forward as I need.

While descending, I have still enjoyed the Large. It’s long and very easy to keep my weight forward of center for great front-end traction. If you’re riding a bike like the Megatower, hopefully it’s because you want to go fast. And if you like going fast, there’s a good chance that you’re going to like the geo numbers of this Santa Cruz.

During my very initial time on it, the Megatower has been living mostly in the High geo setting, as I enjoy the slightly steeper head angle and slightly more linear leverage curve on the very fast but generally mellow terrain in my area. I have not yet experimented with the chainstay length and have been riding it in the shorter of the two options. Mostly, this is because I don’t have the derailleur hanger to try the longer dropout. But we will be playing around more with the Megatower’s adjustable geo going forward.

Initial Thoughts on the Build

I like Sram Code brakes. And I like 170 mm cranks. Turns out, I also really like Reserve 30 wheels (this is my first time on a pair). I don’t personally like Fox 36 Performance forks.

Overall, the Megatower S Reserve build and I have gotten along just fine so far. I think it’s a practical mix of components you are unlikely to break right away, that will do the job admirably, and won’t completely crush your wallet. The Reverb feels great right now, the GX drivetrain is shifting crisply, and the Super Deluxe has been well composed without feeling overdamped. Santa Cruz’s Reserve carbon wheels are a splurge here, but man oh man, they have wonderful feel on the trail. Their nice balance of stiffness and compliance also meant that I didn’t find myself needing to get the tire PSI perfectly dialed to achieve my desired balance of sidewall support and traction.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower — S Reserve Build

But the more time I spend on the Fox 36 Performance forks, the more I want to go back to the Grip 2 dampers on the higher-end versions. At low speeds, the 36 Performance fork does an excellent job with both rebound and compression damping. But when the speeds kick up, I really begin to miss the ability to adjust high-speed rebound and high-speed compression. The 36 Performance just doesn’t keep up with me, which leads to harsh feedback and a front end that gets kicked around by obstacles in the trail more frequently than I think it should. The Megatower is a very fast bike, and the 36 Performance fork has been the only part of the build that was slowing me down so far.

On the Trail — First Impressions

First, I think the Megatower’s revised, more progressive leverage curve is a huge improvement over older-generation VPP Santa Cruz frames I have ridden. Like many people, I struggled with the digressive portion of older VPP bike’s leverage curves when setting up my bikes. It was always a challenge to get the sag set where I wanted, and not end up punching through the travel when climbing or descending. The Megatower and its leverage curve are less sensitive to small changes in shock settings, and I experienced huge improvements in mid-stroke support both while climbing and descending.

Right now I’m running 33% sag in the Super Deluxe, and 80psi in the 36. I’ll begin messing with volume spacers over the next couple rides. One thing worth noting about the Megatower’s linkage-driven shock is that, due to its placement in the frame, it is a huge pain in the ass to mess with when you are initially setting it up. Removing the shock or adjusting and monitoring your sag are impeded by the frame. It’s a visibility and accessibility issue that will not be an issue once you figure out what you like, but you’re going to be working for it in the meantime.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Santa Cruz Megatower's lower-link-driven linkage makes things a bit tight and difficult to initially set up.

On the way up, the Megatower climbs well for what it is. I truly didn’t feel the need to flip the shock’s lever to firm things up very often, and this is a departure from previous Santa Cruz bikes I have ridden (where I found myself often locking out the shock). At almost 33 lbs and with slow-rolling tires, the Megatower is effective on the uphill, but it’s no rocket (no surprises there). Efficient cadence and targeted energy outputs will send you up the hill in a hurry if you have the legs, but it’s not a bike that easily accelerates uphill. If you’re honest with yourself when it comes to how your long-travel Enduro bike is supposed to climb, the Megatower will impress you with its efficient and straightforward manners. But don’t expect the Megatower to blow you away in terms of what a 160mm-travel bike is capable of on the uphill.

Really, you should be considering a Megatower if you like to go fast on the descent, don’t want to worry about what you encounter on the way down, and like to smashy smash stuff. Suprise suprise, you get that here.

As expected with its long wheelbase, low-ish BB, and 29” wheels, the Megatower has made quick work of just about anything I’ve encountered on the trail. Its wheel and tire combo provide an extremely high threshold of traction, and the frame is what I’d call “the right kind of stiff.” With the Megatower frame and Reserve wheels, their overall stiffness and flex pattern complement each other, so you aren’t working as hard to isolate each when tuning, and this makes it easier to quickly dial in your final psi numbers.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Eric Freson on the Santa Cruz Megatower, Gunnison Valley, CO.

Two areas where I was impressed by the Megatower more than I expected were slow-speed technical maneuvers and high-speed lips, ramps, jumps, and bumps.

At low speeds, the long wheelbase, short-ish top tube, fairly slack head angle, moderate chainstay length, and supportive suspension gave me a ton of confidence to roll into and drop over unknown obstacles without using up all its suspension. This is a bike that does a good job of resisting packing up its suspension, and affords you a big margin for error in such instances (whereas a less progressive suspension design often requires precise body positioning to not blow through its travel).

And you know all those photos you see of Iago Garay in the air with a Megatower tucked up underneath him? This bike will let you do that, too. Might not look as good, but hey.

Again, the progressive leverage curve of the rear suspension is at play here. At high speeds and with any sort of feature, the Megatower is very willing to get airborne. This isn’t a bike (at least set up with an air shock) that’s going to stay glued to the ground at all times. So far, the Megatower has shown a lot of proclivity to take to the air, and is what I would call “lively.” That said, its lively nature could be a handful for some; you had better stay on top of it and in the driver’s seat when you encounter trail features because the Megatower wants to set airtime distance records mid-trail. Those photos of Iago make a lot more sense now.

Eric Freson reviews the Santa Cruz Megatower for Blister
Eric Freson on the Santa Cruz Megatower, Gunnison Valley, CO.

One aspect of the bike’s character that I have been a bit let down by is the Megatower’s general lack of rear-suspension compliance throughout its travel — most especially on sharp / square / large impacts. This is a bike that really lets you know what the trail is doing under the wheels. I wouldn’t quite call it “harsh,” but I would call the Megatower’s rear suspension “sporty.” For lack of a better analogy, it’s kind of like the way a high-end Porsche is going to beat you up while driving to the race track on rough side roads, but that same firm suspension is necessary when you throw it into an S-curve on track at 90 mph. The Megatower offers a powerful ride and I think it’ll let proficient riders ride very, very fast. But if you aren’t someone who is looking to push this bike hard, that precise, but not super forgiving ride quality can be unnecessary and maybe even undesirable.

One thing I am eager to experiment with is a coil shock. I think that swapping to a coil shock could change the Megatower’s ride quality and make it more compliant when rolling through chunky trail, so we’re planning on testing that theory in the future.

Bottom Line (For Now)

The bottom line, for now, is this: the Megatower is fast. It’s not as plush as you might expect a long-travel 29er to be, but the flip side to that coin is that, at pace, you are going to have the supportive suspension platform to deal with whatever you might encounter at whatever speed.

In my initial opinion, its revised rear-suspension linkage and progressive leverage curve are overall major improvements over previous iterations of the VPP platform. Strong riders may find that the S build’s Fox 36 Performance fork holds it back a bit. But if you ride a lot of smooth, fast, or machine-built trails, this bike is excellent. If you ride slower, steeper, and / or chunkier terrain, you’re going to need to think a bit more about where you fall on the support vs. forgiveness continuum, and be a bit more honest with yourself about what you’re hoping to get out of your long-travel Enduro bike.

I’ll be spending more time on the Megatower, and Dylan Wood will also be getting on it, so stay tuned for our full review.

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5 comments on “2020 Santa Cruz Megatower”

  1. I’d love to see you guys compare a new Hightower and Megatower. I’ve tried a Megatower and while it seemed hella capable, I’d say it’s kind of a one trick pony-and that trick is enduro race sled. How much does giving up 20mm of rear travel cost in terms of capability??

  2. Having ridden both the new Hightower and Megatower, I also found to Mega to ride “harsh” yet was surprised how much more compliant/comfortable the Hightower rode over the same square edge roots and baby heads. The Hightower SuperDeluxe Air comes with a Low/Low (rebound/compression) tune while the Megatower comes Med/Med. I’m curious how much of the feel is due to the shock tune vs. kinematics (have heard that a light tune may be recommended by custom tuners such as Vorsprung for the Megatower).

  3. I have an XL Megatower and agree, it rides harsh over rough stuff, even with a Super Deluxe coil. I replaced the Super Deluxe with a EXT Storia V3 Lok, with a light compression tune, medium rebound tune, and it is MUCH better. Pairs really nicely with the Fox 36 GRIP 2. It’s possible having the SD shock changed to a lighter compression tune would be an improvement on the stock setup too, but I didn’t try that, just invested those funds into a new shock. It still pedals really well with the light compression tune, but just a much nicer ride – I find I can ride it faster on the downhills now it is more compliant, and I love the way this bike rides. On the XL, I find the balance better in the long position. It’s a bit harder to manual, but cornering and jumps feel more balanced.

    • As another XL rider I too prefer the Megatower in the longer chain stay position for the same reasons, a more balanced feel. It’s a real shame that both the Tallboy and Mega come with the adjustable position yet the Hightower does not, such a missed opportunity.

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