In 2016, our readers’ survey highlighted two standout brands: Santa Cruz and YT Industries. In your eyes, Santa Cruz build the best bikes, but you’re more likely to buy a YT. This finding led us to set up the ultimate duel between the Santa Cruz Hightower and the YT JEFFSY CF Pro. Now it’s time to ring the bell for the battle.
Both bikes share two things in common: their ability to turn heads and get jaws wagging, and the impact of their launches. For weeks trail chat was dominated by one question: “Who the hell is JEFFSY?” Likewise, the bike world stood still when the Hightower hit sales floors fresh from California.
The ultimate polymaths
Both bikes are genuine do-it-allers. The combination of the 29er wheels, around 140 mm of travel, and lightweight builds makes them capable of fast loops on home trails as well as epic mountain adventures, taking on climbing and descending with ease. For a realistic battle, we’ve tested both bikes in multiple scenarios, taking in fast, flowing singletracks, bike park days, and many long hours in the saddle to wring out their suitability for long-distance rides.
Santa Cruz Hightower CC X01 AM
The latest bike to drop from the Californians, the Santa Cruz Hightower is completely unlike their previous models and comes sporting significantly more aggressive geometry, characterized by its long 450 mm (size L) reach. The Hightower also boasts Santa Cruz’s own patented Virtual Pivot Point rear-end design with 135 mm of travel. With a flip-chip on the bottom of the rear shock mount, you can adjust the height of the bottom bracket so that the Hightower can be ridden with either 29″ or 27.5+ wheels. Santa Cruz recommends using a fork with 140 mm of travel if you’re going for a 29er set-up, and 150 mm for plus-size tires. The frame is available in two different carbon versions: C or CC. Depending on the frame size, the C models weigh in around 250 g heavier, but has the same rigidity, geometry, and durability as the significantly pricier CC frame.
Fork: RockShox PIKE RCT3
Rear shock: RockShox Monarch RT3
Drivetrain: SRAM X01
Brakes: SRAM Guide RSC
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Stem: Race Face Turbine
Bars: Santa Cruz Carbon
Tires: MAXXIS Minion DHR
Wheel size: 29″
Rims / Hubs: Race Face ARC 27 / DT Swiss 350
YT JEFFSY CF PRO
Even before it was officially on sale, the YT JEFFSY’s pre-launch marketing campaign was a huge hit, electrifying the riding community. YT promised that the JEFFSY would not only be sharing visual lines with the rest of the YT range, but also that the JEFFSY would rival their most fun bikes to date, entering the scene as “a trail bike with YT genes.” Coming in six different models, YT offer the JEFFSY in three aluminium and three carbon models. They all feature the flip-chip in the bottom of the rear shock mount to slacken the head angle and drop the bottom bracket – and during testing, this was our preferred geometry mode. All of the bikes also sport the Boost rear axle standard and can be ridden with a double chainring if you like the security of more gears. To nail a balanced handling package, the YT has 5 mm longer chainstays (440 mm) for the size L and XL frames.
Fork: FOX 34 FLOAT FACTORY
Rear shock: FOX FLOAT DPS FACTORY
Drivetrain: SRAM X01
Brakes: SRAM Guide Ultimate
Seatpost: RockShox Reverb Stealth
Stem: Renthal Apex
Bars: Renthal Flatbar Carbon
Tires: Onza Ibex
Wheel size: 29″
Wheels: DT Swiss XMC 1200 SPLINE
The naked figures
The bare figures for the two bikes going head-to-head reveals that they’re not actually all that different, with just a few millimeters to distinguish them in their geometry. The Hightower’s reach is 5 mm longer at 450 mm, and its chainstays are 5 mm shorter. The JEFFSY has a 0.1° slacker head angle, and 0.4° steeper seat angle. They’re both still just as similar when you drop their BBs. Seen as a whole, we’d say that both bikes are incredibly balanced – although the JEFFSY test bike is trimmer, weighing in 340 g less than the Hightower.
The elephant in the room
There’s a giant elephant in the room bearing shiny ivory tusks – we’re talking about the Santa Cruz Hightower and its substantial € 3,000 premium over the YT. But let’s put that aside for now, and consider what really matters: the performance. Does the Hightower merit the additional dollars? We buy bikes not with pure pragmatism, but with our hearts, and ultimately it’s always a personal decision. The entry-level carbon Hightower starts from € 4,299, whereas the cheapest carbon JEFFSY begins from € 3,599 and its aluminium brother is available from € 1,999.
The frame at the heart
Both bikes are built around sleek carbon frames with tidy cable routing and Boost rear ends. However, the Hightower flaunts a threaded bottom bracket that makes it much easier to change, and offers the option of riding with plus-size tires. On the downside, the Hightower only starts from a size M frame, which is a slap in the face for smaller riders who’ll have to make do with a Bronson or Tallboy. YT’s JEFFSY comes in four frame sizes from S to XL.
Cutting to the chase: both bikes are kitted out with beautifully curated specs that give little room for complaint: from the drivetrain to the brakes and the cockpit, it’s all first-rate. We won’t go into details here, but it does suffice to say that there’s little to distinguish the bikes, and it again comes down to personal taste. Visual highlights on the YT include its expensive and lightweight DT Swiss carbon wheels – although these shone through somewhat negatively on test.
Up the hill – which bike climbs best?
As trail bikes, these rigs aren’t just designed for mad grins on descents; they’ve got to deliver on the climbs too. Hard graft on the climbs will rapidly show any shortcomings – and that’s a no-go in our eyes. Fortunately, both bikes get a stamp of approval here. They have similar riding positions and levels of comfort. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are met with efficiency, and both bikes keep traction whatever the gradient. It’s worth reaching for the climb switch on the JEFFSY’s rear shock to get better efficiency , as when it comes to pedal bob it’s no match for the composed Hightower. The JEFFSY does boast quicker acceleration thanks to its lighter carbon wheels and overall lower weight, although its rear end has a little bit more flex. When the climbs are technical, however, the JEFFSY lacks the comfort and traction delivered by the Santa Cruz (when neither bike has the climb switch activated).
“29ers rock! This hoop size has never been so damn hot on the trails!”
Party hard on the downhills
Given their very similar geometry, it’s intriguing to spot distinguishing elements in the bikes’ handling. Both bikes are agile and respond to every move. Their geometries see you sitting snugly between the big wheels, and the lower bottom brackets means that you can really put the pressure on the pedals in those hard turns. Both the JEFFSY and the Hightower are super-balanced, which gives them a nice dose of predictability in their steering.
On flat, flowy trails, there’s a head-to-head with the bikes. Both bikes have progressive rear ends that allow you to ride dynamically. For manuals and pushing hard, they’ll both have you grinning from ear to ear, and the low standover height on both bikes means you’re not short of room for playful riding. The RockShox PIKE and the FOX 34 Factory deliver an almost identically great performance.
But once the terrain gets gnarlier, the Hightower has an edge: despite having 5 mm less travel, its rear end keeps noticeably more planted and dishes out more traction. The JEFFSY is still within its limits, but it asks for a firmer hand to hold its line choices. The JEFFSY’s DT Swiss XMC 1200 wheels – which were a bonus on the climbs – have significant flex on the downhills despite having carbon rims. This is particularly noticeable when braking. At the end, you’re left concluding that the JEFFSY rides like a really solid trail bike, while the Hightower can masquerade as a potent enduro whip.
This duel ends with a standout winner, but no obvious loser. The Santa Cruz Hightower is a more potent and versatile bike, so it dons the victor’s crown. While the duo both tackle climbs superbly, the scales are tipped in favour of the Hightower with its extra comfort and bigger reserves on descents (strengths that come at no cost to its speed and agility). However, before you brush off the YT JEFFSY CF Pro as the second-placed finisher, realize that it offers so much more than just serious value-for-money. Not only will this impeccably-made bike leave some cash in your wallet, it’s also super-fun and will leave you smiling all the way to your next long, flowing trail ride and bank statement.
Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer