2020 Santa Cruz Megatower
Duration of Test (so far):
- Eric: 4 rides
- Dylan: 15 rides
Size Tested: Large
Geometry: See Below
Build Overview (S / Carbon C 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
Wheel Size: 29′′
Travel: 160 mm rear / 160 mm front
Blister’s Measured Weight: 32.7 lbs without pedals
MSRP (as built): $6599
- Eric Freson: 5’10”, 165 lbs; Ape Index +1.5; Inseam 31″
- Dylan Wood: 5’11”; 155 lbs; Ape Index +0.5; Inseam 32”
The Megatower is a relatively 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 change that Santa Cruz has been implementing on many of their newer Trail / Enduro bikes, including the new Hightower that we’re also reviewing (stay tuned for a review this summer).
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?
First we’ll dive into the specs, geometry, build, etc., then discuss both Eric Freson & Dylan Wood’s thoughts on the ride.
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.
As with most of Santa Cruz’s current full-suspension 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.
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 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). You can also upgrade to Santa Cruz’s carbon Reserve wheels on the S / Carbon C and X01 / Carbon CC builds for an extra $1200. 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.
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:
Initial Thoughts on Sizing and Geo
Eric Freson: 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.
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.
Dylan: The Megatower was also the longest bike I’d been on when I first started riding it, though it certainly didn’t feel too long and only took a couple laps to get used to. The seated climbing position felt great and standing climbing felt adequately roomy. I agree with Eric in that it feels very balanced on the downhill and the geometry numbers seem appropriate, given this bike’s intended use.
At 5’11,” I fall squarely in the middle of Santa Cruz’s height recommendation for a size Large, and that size feels great for me. I have long legs and to achieve my ideal seat height (76 cm), I have the 170 mm Reverb dropper post set up with about 6 cm of room to spare from the seat collar. So, FWIW, people considering a size Large who have shorter legs can get away with the stock 170 mm dropper and those with longer legs can upgrade to a longer dropper if they choose. So far, I’ve been happy with 170 mm.
I’ve also been using this bike in the High geometry setting. That has felt most appropriate for the riding I’ve done so far, which has mostly consisted of trail riding on the desert-esque, somewhat rocky trails of Hartman Rocks in Gunnison, Colorado. These trails typically consist of everything from steep rock rolls, technical rock gardens, and fast, flowy, & smooth descents. I’ve kept the chainstay length in the short position so far, but I do plan on spending time in all of the possible geometry configurations in the near future.
Initial Thoughts on the Build
Eric: 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 a 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.
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 personally, 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.
Dylan: I also think the C S Reserve kit is a good, practical build kit (albeit, a pretty expensive one with the wheel upgrade). I’ve been very happy with the performance of the Super Deluxe shock both in the bike park and on mellower trails. I’m a huge fan of Santa Cruz Reserve wheels and, personally, I think they’re a solid investment on the C S build. I agree with Eric’s assessment of the wheels’ nice balance of stiffness and compliance — it translates to a damp yet precise feel on the trail. Obviously, not everyone needs or wants carbon wheels, but I have really enjoyed the Reserve wheels on a couple different bikes.
In my opinion (and as you just read, Eric’s), one of the biggest weaknesses of this kit is the Fox 36 Performance fork. I find myself wishing I had further damping controls for steep rock gardens and brake-bumpy bike parks. If I were to make an upgrade right now, it would be installing a Grip2 damper on the Fox 36. It’s also worth noting that the Code R brakes on the Megatower required a bleed pretty quickly (after ~10 rides), though there’s a good chance that this was an isolated issue with the pair on the Megatower (reviewer Luke Koppa used a different pair of Code R’s all of last summer with zero need for a bleed).
On the Trail
Eric: 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. 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 a problem once you figure out what you like, but you’re going to be working for it in the meantime.
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 often found myself locking out the shock). At almost 33 lbs and with slow-rolling Maxxis Assegai 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.
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, I think the progressive leverage curve of the rear suspension is at play here. At high speeds and with any sort of feature, to me, the Megatower felt very willing to get airborne. This didn’t feel like a bike (at least set up with an air shock) that was 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, I think 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.
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.
Dylan: My first day on the Megatower was riding the lift-accessed trails of Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s bike park. I was riding it on trails with which I am very familiar, preparing for a collegiate downhill race the next day. Riding the steep, fast race track (Captain Jack’s), it wasn’t difficult for me to start riding the Megatower as fast as I was riding my Hightower LT (the bike I’d previously been riding). The Megatower felt very precise and predictable in steep rock gardens and held speed and solid traction in flat corners. I found myself opting to keep my hands off the brakes in sections where I will usually check my speed a little bit. That evening, I participated in the whip-off event, hitting my favorite bike park jumps on it with ease. Predictable, fast, & stable — I was sold.
Unfortunately, a crash on race day (that had nothing to do with the bike) kept me off of lift-served terrain for the rest of the season. Since then, I’ve ridden the Megatower on lots of mellower, desert-esque riding at Gunnison’s Hartman Rocks. Looking back, the Megatower definitely felt most at home on a steep, loose, rocky downhill track. This didn’t come as a surprise, since the Megatower was designed with Enduro racing in mind, but it is worth noting given the variety we’re currently seeing in the ~160mm-travel category.
I’ve spent two seasons on a Santa Cruz Bronson V2 and Hightower LT, both of which used the upper-link-mounted version of Santa Cruz’s VPP suspension design. Now that I’ve used the Megatower, I’m a huge fan of its lower-link-mounted shock and more progressive suspension design. The Megatower’s suspension has felt very supportive on big hits and fast g-outs, while still doing a decent job of smoothing out rocks and roots on the trail. I agree with Eric in that the Megatower’s suspension is more “harsh” (or as he put it, “sporty”) than “plush.” That said, I also believe that this comes in handy when I’m really working the bike and need to stay on a precise line through a tricky and fast rock garden. Yeah, it might not make all of the rocks and roots under me feel like they were never there, but it does allow me to really push the bike into corners and through technical terrain without all of that energy going into the suspension. No big complaints here, other than the fact that, yes, this shock is hard to access and flipping the geometry flip-chip is harder than it should be. These are easy sacrifices to make given how much I get along with the Megatower’s suspension.
I spent an entire year on the Santa Cruz Hightower LT before riding the Megatower. The Megatower effectively replaced the Hightower LT, and it was no surprise that it came with Santa Cruz’s lower-link-mounted shock (which seems to be the norm for their new bikes) and some more progressive geometry. Comparing the two bikes, the Megatower trades some of the liveliness and poppiness of the Hightower LT for increased stability on fast, rough descents. I believed one of the Hightower LT’s greatest weaknesses was its slack 73.7º seat tube angle. This was addressed in the geometry of the Megatower, with the effective seat tube angle on a size Large being 76.6º in the high setting and 76.3º in the low setting. These numbers add up to the Megatower having a more comfortable seating climbing position and increased front-wheel traction on steep climbs. However, I would say the Hightower LT was a more efficient climber. There’s a chance some of this comes down to the fact that the Hightower LT had a higher amount of anti-squat (105%) than the Megatower (around 100%, depending on the geometry setting) in the lowest climbing gear. Overall, the Megatower seems to be even more oriented toward Enduro racing than its predecessor, whereas the Hightower LT feels like a slightly better all-arounder.
I also agree with how Eric has assessed the Megatower’s climbing ability and don’t have anything new to add. If you don’t like the way this bike climbs, you should probably be on a shorter-travel bike.
I am also a big fan of how good this bike feels on low-speed technical moves like steep rock rolls and rock gardens that require a precise approach. However, I don’t completely agree with Eric’s comments on how poppy the bike is. To me, it feels like a fairly poppy and lively bike, but not to a very surprising degree. It is a long, heavy bike and it takes me quite a bit of effort to get it into the air if I don’t have a five-foot-tall lip to help. I actually like this characteristic of the bike, because to me it means that it will stay planted on the ground in most high-speed rocky sections, instead of bucking me around. The Megatower certainly doesn’t prevent you from catching air or taking a gap when you need to, but it’s not a 5010.
Currently, I am also running about 33% sag and I bottom out more than I should. After doing some research, this seems like a common issue among Megatower owners. I believe this problem will be fixed with a few volume spacers, which I plan on installing in the near future.
Bottom Line (For Now)
Eric: The Santa Cruz 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 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.
Dylan: I agree with everything Eric said. It takes a lot of speed to get this bike to truly come alive. If you enjoy riding fast, steep, long descents, spend a lot of time riding lift-served terrain, and / or race Enduro, you might enjoy the stability and speed this bike has to offer. However, I don’t see this bike being a very practical one-bike quiver for most riders.
I like the Megatower because it lets me confidently push myself on steep and chunky terrain, all while being able to pedal my way to the top with few complaints. I look forward to being able to race this bike again when the world goes back to normal. If you like to go fast, I’d recommend throwing a leg over a Megatower and seeing how you get along with it.
We’re also planning on spending more time on the Megatower and playing around with the suspension & geometry a bit more, so stay tuned for updates.