A mountain bike in its purest form: this is how Santa Cruz describes the Hightower X0 AXS RSV, which relies on the Californian brand’s distinctive design and proven VPP rear suspension system, rather than pushing the boundaries with new extremes. How did Santa Cruz’s 29” trail bruiser fare against the competition?

Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV | 150/145 mm (f/r)
14.3 kg in size L | € 9,999 | Manufacturer’s website

Never mind “looks like a Session” – trying to distinguish the Hightower X0 AXS RSV from the rest of the Santa Cruz range is like playing a game of “Where’s Wally?” Like most of their bikes, it relies on the manufacturer’s characteristic frame silhouette with a horizontally mounted shock, positioned low in the frame. The Hightower wasn’t designed to push the boundaries in any way, and instead was designed to be a versatile, balanced all-rounder. Like most of Santa Cruz’s bikes, the frame of the € 9,999 Hightower X0 AXS RSV is covered under a lifetime warranty, with free replacement bearings. Santa Cruz have a massive portfolio, offering a suitable option for all tastes and requirements. Tipping the scales at 14.3 kg, the Hightower is the full-29” counterpart to Bronson mullet trail bike, which has already impressed us with its nimble handling in previous group tests. Can the 29” Hightower deliver the same excellent performance with its 150/145 mm of travel?

For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best trail bike 2024 – 15 of the most exciting trail bikes in our 2024 comparison test

The Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023 in detail

The Hightower X0 AXS RSV employs Santa Cruz’s high-end CC frame, which relies on a larger proportion of higher strength fibres, than the cheaper C version. According to the manufacturer, this allows them to achieve the same degree of stiffness at a lower weight. In typical Santa Cruz fashion, the Hightower looks incredibly classy, but our test bike already showed cable rub on the head tube after a few laps, caused by the brake lines. The cables disappear into the frame just behind the steerer tube and aren’t clamped at the ports. Fortunately, they’re routed very tightly, so they don’t slap against the frame. However, the lines of the SRAM Stealth brakes run close to the handlebars, rattling loudly against the head tube on the trail. A generously sized, removable down tube protector shields the frame against impacts, while a shuttle guard protects it during tailgate shuttle rides. A small mudguard prevents mud and water from splashing on the shock. The seat tube is split in two by the shock, and has a peephole on the non-drive side that makes it easier to read the sag, which should speed up setup. The Glovebox storage compartment in the down tube, which comes standard with all new Santa Cruz bikes, is a big opening in the down tube with a plastic frame around the edges to prevent you from scratching your hands on the raw carbon. The closure system is easy and intuitive to use, even with gloves, and seals the compartment tightly.

The spec of the 2023 Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV

The 2023 Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV is one of only three bikes in this test to rely on RockShox suspension, combining a Lyrik Ultimate Charger 3 fork with ButterCups and a matching Super Deluxe Ultimate shock. As always, both deliver a tremendous performance on the trail and offer countless adjustment options, which, together with the practical RockShox online setup guide, allow you to fine tune the suspension to match your needs and requirements. The OneUp V2 dropper post offers a generous 180 mm of travel and is paired with an ergonomic shifter, which makes it one of the favourite droppers amongst our editorial team. SRAM CODE Silver Stealth brakes do stopping duties and only renounce the carbon levers of the flagship model. They’re paired with a 200 mm SRAM HS2 rotor at the front and smaller 180 mm disc at the rear. We recommend running big rotors both front and rear, as these dissipate heat better, improving braking performance and modulation, especially on long descents. SRAM also supply the X0 Transmission drivetrain with a direct-mount rear derailleur, which should simplify setup, and allows for shifting under load. As the RSV suffix suggests, Santa Cruz rely on an in-house Reserve 30|HD carbon wheelset, which is paired with MAXXIS DHR II tires in the EXO casing front and rear. For more trail performance, it would make more sense to use the tougher EXO+ casing. The rear tire comes in the harder, more durable MaxxTerra compound while the front one has the soft, grippy MaxxGrip compound – excellent!

With its unmistakable frame silhouette, the Hightower is distinctly recognisable as a Santa Cruz. The smart, well thought-out frame details also bear the Californian brand’s signature.

What are you looking at?
The small peep hole in the seat tube makes it easier to read the sag.
Shield Activated
The small mudguard protects the shock from flying muck and debris.
Fits like a glove
The Hightower’s Glovebox storage compartment in the down tube is well thought out and allows you to carry all your trail essentials directly on the bike.
The soft MaxxGrip rubber compound gives you more traction and control control at the front, but we would have preferred tires with the more robust EXO+ casing.
CC top (tube lettering)
The CC lettering on the top tube tells you that the bike is made from a higher-grade carbon and fibre, which ensures the same degree of stiffness at the same weight.

Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV

€ 9,999


Fork RockShox Lyrik Ultimate 150 mm
Rear Shock RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate 145 mm
Seatpost OneUp V2 Dropper Post 180 mm
Brakes SRAM CODE Silver Stealth 200/180 mm
Drivetrain SRAM X0 Transmission 1x12
Stem Burgtec Enduro MK3 40 mm
Handlebar Santa Cruz Carbon 800 mm
Wheelset Reserve 30|HD Carbon 29"
Tires MAXXIS DHR II, EXO, MaxxGrip/MAXXIS DHR II, EXO, MaxxTerra 2.4"/2.4"

Technical Data

Weight 14.3 kg

Specific Features

storage compartment

Tuning tips: Bigger 200 mm brake rotor at the rear | Tires with more robust EXO+ casing

Helmet Troy Lee Designs Flowline SE | Glasses Delayon Line Tracer | Hip Pack Camelbak Podium Flow
Jersey Alpinestars Racer Lurv | Pants Alpinestars Stella Drop Algorithm
Shoes Crankbrothers Mallet Speedlace

The geometry of the 2023 Santa Cruz Hightower

The Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023 is available in 5 sizes, S to XXL, offering a suitable option for riders between 155 cm and 201 cm tall. In the three most popular sizes M, L and XL, reach values increase in smaller intervals to prevent riders from finding themselves between sizes. Our test bike in size L has 472 mm reach, which makes it one of the shortest competitors in this test. The conservative reach, however, is paired with a short 430 mm seat tube, which ensures plenty of freedom of movement on the bike. A flip chip in the shock mount allows you to change both the seat and head angle by 0.3° to 76.9° and 64.5° respectively. This also raises the bottom bracket height by 3 mm. We mainly rode the Hightower in the low setting.

Top tube 571 mm 599 mm 626 mm 647 mm 674 mm
Seat tube 380 mm 405 mm 430 mm 460 mm 500 mm
Head tube 100 mm 115 mm 125 mm 145 mm 160 mm
Head angle 64.5° 64.5° 64.5° 64.5° 64.5°
Seat angle 76.7° 76.7° 76.4° 76.6° 76.7°
Chainstays 431 mm 434 mm 437 mm 440 mm 443 mm
BB Drop 34 mm 34 mm 34 mm 34 mm 34 mm
Wheelbase 1,183 mm 1,217 mm 1,244 mm 1,276 mm 1,310 mm
Reach 427 mm 455 mm 472 mm 492 mm 517 mm
Stack 613 mm 627 mm 636 mm 654 mm 668 mm

The Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023 on the trail

The Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV positions you in a comfortable yet slightly rear heavy pedalling position. While the position is very pleasant per se, and doesn’t put a great deal of pressure on your hands, on steeper climbs it causes the front wheel to lift off the ground quite easily, forcing you to actively weight the front wheel to keep it tracking. The suspension is pleasantly firm, making it easy to negotiate climbs without having to reach the climb switch.

Girls (and boys) just wanna have fun – that’s exactly what the Santa Cruz Hightower is made for. The predictable, intuitive handling and agile character make it a real fun machine.

As soon as you drop into a trail, the Hightower is nicely balanced, with the weight distributed evenly between the front and rear. This means that you can focus on the trail ahead instead of having to continuously shift your weight. The bike integrates you nicely between its wheels and impresses with intuitive, familiar handling, responding to steering input predictably and making you feel as if you had ridden it all your life. As a result, it’s very forgiving of the odd riding mistake, making it easy to shred your way back down into the valley even if you aren’t a pro. The rear suspension delivers a tremendous performance, providing excellent small-bump sensitivity and thus generating huge amounts of traction – a trademark characteristic of Santa Cruz’s VPP suspension design! However, this becomes increasingly firmer in the mid-stroke, providing tons of support when pumping through rollers and berms. The Santa Cruz also offers a decent amount of pop, encouraging you to take off small ledges and awakening your inner jib master – the Hightower just loves it when you pop off a natural kicker and flick its rear end into a corner. This is where the super agile handling comes in handy, making it easy to throw the bike from one berm into the next. Overall, its character is pretty similar to the Yeti, and only our test winner, the YT, raises the bar even higher. On the downside, the Hightower isn’t the most composed bike in this test, lining up right next to the Merida and Trek. As a result, the Santa Cruz isn’t the ideal bike to blindly throw yourself down the side of the mountain, but it allows you to change your line spontaneously or gap nasty rock gardens.

Who should take a closer look at the 2023 Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV?

The Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023 is a great choice for anyone who wants a stylish, premium bike that isn’t too extravagant, because despite the high entry-level prices, Santa Cruz is a well-represented brand. With the Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023, you’ll get sensible, clever detail solutions and a well-tuned bike. It’s a capable, fun all-rounder and proved to be one of the best bikes in the entire test field on all kinds of trails. However, the excellent performance doesn’t come for free.



  1. sluggish
  2. efficient


  1. cumbersome
  2. playful


  1. nervous
  2. confident


  1. demanding
  2. balanced


  1. harsh
  2. plush


  1. planted
  2. poppy


  1. terrible
  2. very good


Cross Country




Our conclusions about the 2023 Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV

While the Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV 2023 might not look spectacular on the paper, it comes with a few clever, well-implemented features, like the Glovebox compartment in the downtube. On the trail, the Hightower is a strong all-rounder and a real joy to ride, and significantly more capable than many other trail bikes in this test. It might not be the ideal bike to get rowdy, but makes up for this with very agile, fun handling.


  • Very agile
  • Well-implemented storage compartment
  • Very intuitive handling


  • Not the most composed
  • Brake lines rattle loudly against the stem

You can find out more about at santacruzbicycles.com

The test field

For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: The best trail bike 2024 – 15 of the most exciting trail bikes in our 2024 comparison test

All bikes in test: Cannondale Habit LT 1 (Click for review) | Cube ONE55 C:62 SLT 29 (Click for review) | Ghost RIOT Trail Full Party (Click for review) | Merida ONE-FORTY 10K (Click for review) | Mondraker Neat RR SL (Click for review) | Nicolai Saturn 14 Swift HRZ (Click for review) | Orbea Occam LT M10 (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Heckler SL XX AXS RSV (Click for review) | Santa Cruz Hightower X0 AXS RSV | Scor 2030 X01 (Click for review) | SCOTT Genius ST 900 Tuned (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo SL (Click for review) | Trek Fuel EX 9.9 X0 AXS T-Type (Click for review) | Yeti SB140 LR T3 X0 (Click for review) | YT JEFFSY CORE 5 CF (Click for review)

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Words: Simon Kohler Photos: Peter Walker

About the author

Simon Kohler

​​Simon loves speed. He has many years of racing experience as a longboard downhill skater, blasting down alpine passes on his board. In the meantime, he’s swapped four wheels for two, charging down trails and bike park lines aboard his mountain bike instead. He’s savoured some of Europe’s finest trails on various road trips through the Alps. Having lived in Austria for some time, he knows the local Austrian bike parks like the back of his hand. He’s a tech nerd through and through, using the skills and know-how from his engineering degree and his attention to detail to put the latest bikes and components through their paces for our reviews. As an early riser and self-declared muesli connoisseur, he lives his life powered by oats and the strength of his legs.