Ride Review - Santa Cruz Hightower Vs. Bronson
Like many siblings, these two Santa Cruz trail machines look a lot alike. We field lots of inquiries about how they compare, which one does what better and how best to decide between the two. Well, we’re here to help break all that down and let you know our impressions of each bike.
Are they the same bike?
Well no, which you already know as they are labeled differently. But stand a couple feet back and look at them side by side, and if they were the same color you would be hard pressed to know which one was which. This is totally understandable. With the same head angles, reaches, similar frame lines and VPP linkage they look nearly identical.
But they do have some differences, mainly that rear wheel. The Bronson, in true 80’s new wave Duran Duran style, has a mullet (or MX) set up. This means the bike uses a smaller wheel in the rear, and a bigger wheel in the front, as opposed to the same wheel size F/R like on the Hightower. But how does this make the bikes feel? In our head-to-head tech review of them before, we dicussed how they are “supposed to feel.” But now with those notations in our head, we had the chance to ride them side by side in sunny St. George, Utah and actually find out how different they really are.
How they actually ride
With a good mix of red rock, slabs, drops, techy trails, nice long climbs, and some flow these bikes got the true test of being “trail bikes” and all rounders. The bikes, for how similar they look on paper, handled pretty differently.
In techy climbing, the Hightower was more capable. The increased rollover from the 29er rear wheel, in combination with the higher BB, made for a bike that could get up those slippery rock step-ups in a way the Bronson couldn't. We found when you tried to get up things like that on the Bronson, either the smaller rear wheel would catch, or with the lower BB, we were crank striking and pedal striking more unless my pedal strokes were timed perfectly. For climbing, not all was bad for the Bronson. When things got a little less technical, we were very pleasantly surprised with how well it climbed. MX wheel bikes are not know for being the most efficient pedaling bikes. The Hightower certainly feels more efficient than the Bronson but not nearly by the margin we thought it was going to be. Out of all the mullet style bikes we've ridden, the Bronson by far takes the cake for being one of the best pedaling ones. Although when faced with a longer climbing day, we would choose the Hightower for being more manageable.
Climbing aside, how did they do when pointed down? After all, this is what people came to find out. The Hightower liked to go fast in a straight line. Very fast. You pointed it down at something, it would blast over it and confidently so. The Bronson was less so, but was much easier to change lines on, letting you maneuver with a little bit more ease than the bigger wheeled Hightower.
In corners, the Hightower did surprisingly well, but it’s not quite up to par with the Bronson. The smaller rear wheel of the Bronson, when pushed hard into a corner, will spit you out of the corner just as fast. Very responsive and easy to corner, the Bronson definitely wins on that front. When doing steeper descents, the feelings got mixed. While the bigger 29 wheels on the Hightower led to a feeling of stability in very steep rolls, the Bronson’s mullet setup lets you get your weight farther over the smaller rear wheel for those same steep rolls. This meant that neither really felt better than the other in steep rolls or drops, just different.
In more technical descents, I liked both bikes fairly equally but for different reasons. In downhill tech, the Hightower ate the chunk up nicer, with the better rear rollover. But the Bronson lets you navigate the same chunder and rocks with a lot less effort. Again, different, but not one better than the other. I found the Bronson was more fun to jump, the rear wheel felt more poppy, and the rear end of the bike easier to throw around in the air. On rolling, smoother terrain we much rather liked the Hightower, carrying more speed and just feeling more efficient in general.
Which one is for you?
Both bikes are so very capable, we think most people would be happy with either. But if you wanted to do longer days, find yourself on longer climbs, do more all around riding, or have more flowing and rolling local terrain, we would go with the Hightower. If you do a lot of trail riding, but also hit the bike park occasionally and like side hits and jumps, go with the Bronson. Both bikes are pretty amazing, and you can check them and other Santa Cruz Bikes out here.Visit us in the shop to look at one for yourself, or chat with us here on our website if you have any questions!