SB130 vs Hightower - Trail Bike Showdown
The Yeti SB130 and the Santa Cruz Hightower. Pitted against each other. To the death... Well, not quite, but still pitted against each other.
Two very cool things happened recently. Santa Cruz released the 2020 Hightower and we added Yeti bikes to our lineup. Apparently this shootout was destined to happen. These two bikes are very similar on paper. They both fall on the burlier side of the trail bike category, their geometry is within a few degrees and to be honest they are at the top of the cool bike food chain. Luckily I had the chance to ride them both back-to-back and get a feel for how these bikes are similar and more importantly, how they are different.
Santa Cruz Hightower
Rear Travel - 140mm
Front travel - 150mm
Wheel Size - 29”
Head tube Angle - 65.5°
Reach (L) - 473mm
Wheelbase (L) - 1231
Rear Travel - 130mm
Front Travel - 150mm
Wheel Size - 29”
Head Tube Angle - 65.5°
Reach (L) - 480mm
Wheelbase (L) - 1230
Santa Cruz Hightower
Suspension Design - VPP
Suspension - RockShox
Adjustable Geometry - Yes
Frame Shape - Looks like a Santa Cruz
Paint Colors - Royal blue or tan
Suspension Design - Switch Infinity
Suspension - Fox
Adjustable Geometry - No
Frame Shape - Like the rest of the new Yeti bikes
Paint Colors - Turquoise duh, dark grey or dark blue
Believe me yet? These two bikes couldn’t be more similar on paper without actually being the same bike. On the trail the differences become rather apparent.
The YetiSB130 feels like you’d expect a burly trail bike to feel. It almost feels like that Goldilocks bike — not too hot or too cold, but just right. It feels balanced and comfortable right from the get go.
On the climbs the SB130 is rather good. It doesn’t have the sprightly handling of an XC bike but it certainly is quicker than a long-travel hog. The Switch Infinity platform offers enough anti-squat to keep the bike high in the travel and efficient. The steep seat tube puts you in a comfortable position even when the trail gets closer to vertical. The industry shift toward steep seat tubes has been very welcomed, especially with taller riders like myself. The more upright climbing position allows you to get your hips over the cranks and your weight more centered between the wheels. It’s a win win. The SB130 is a little on the heavy side when compared to other 130mm travel bikes but it’s not unreasonable. Then again, most 130mm travel bikes don’t come with a 36mm stanchion fork, piggy back shock, meaty tires and big, powerful brakes. For a bike this built, the weight is rather impressive.
When you turn the bike back downhill, the SB130 reveals its true nature — a through and through trail weapon. It has a very balanced way of approaching all kinds of terrain. It’s planted enough without being wallowy and sporty enough without being a white-knuckle ride from hell. The great thing about a bike so well balanced is it covers a huge spectrum of trail riding. Want to go hit flowy blue trails all day? It’s got you covered. Feeling a little zesty and want to ride the steeps? Just like a billboard attorney, it’s got your back. Want to race an enduro or two? Go for it. The SB130 is down for anything. It will require you to bring your A game when things get really rough, though. It’s not a point-and-shoot rig like its big brother the SB150.
My favorite thing about the SB130 is how well it cornered. I’m not sure I’ve ever ridden a bike that corners quite like it. Even on an XL frame I never really struggled too much to get the bike around a corner. Some of the really tight switchbacks gave me a bit of trouble, but overall I couldn’t have asked for any better through the twists and turns of my test rack. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the SB130 just wanted to be driven through a corner. I found myself confidently weighting the front end and trusting the bike. Not something that can be said about every bike I’ve ridden. My exit speed was apparently higher than on other bikes. I don’t know what kind of voodoo magic Yeti has worked here, but kudos.
Very well balanced
Big jumps between sizes
No budget-friendly options
If you jumped on the new Hightower and the first thing you said was “It feels like a Megatower,” you wouldn’t be wrong. The two bikes are very much alike — and that’s a good thing. The Hightower descends like a bigger, burlier bike while having the more mild mannered geometry and build of a trail bike.
The Hightower is a solid climber. The new lower-link design from Santa Cruz does tend to make the bike slightly more active, however. A more active bike has a bit more pedal bob, but it’s that same active feel that gives you such great traction, small bump performance and planted nature. Bikes are a game of compromises and true to their roots, Santa Cruz have made sure their bikes like to party on the downhills. That’s not to say they make bikes that can’t climb worth a hill of beans. The Hightower climbs about how you’d expect a 140mm trail bike to climb. It’s not ultra fast, but it’s not slow either. Once the trail got steep and rocky, the Hightower started climbing better and better. The added traction and small bump performance helped get the Hightower to the top of my tough (read: miserable) test climb. The traction became apparent as the grades hit 25% and it took all I could do to turn the pedals. The rear tire didn’t slip even when I was standing and mashing the pedals.
The place where the Hightower felt the most like a Megatower was on the descents. Doesn’t that sound nice? A bike that descends like a brawler while climbing better and being lighter. Santa Cruz hit the nail on the head here for someone looking for a bike that will get you to the top of those tough trails and back down them quickly. The Hightower feels plush and grounded. It takes a bit more input to get it in the air, but it’s not unreasonable. The extra plushness makes the bike track through rocks and roots very well. It feels a bit more like a point and shoot style bike without going too far towards a bike that can only descend in a straight line over massive boulders. It’s certainly not a monster truck. It’s more like a trophy truck — made for going fast in rough terrain rather than smashing cars and doing backflips. Cornering felt very stable. There were a few bumpy corners on my test track and the bike didn’t bobble or bounce off line through the chunk. It held its line and kept traction like a champ. The Hightower feels natural through corners and doesn’t require any funky rider input to get it to corner.
If the “party on the downhill” scale goes to 10 the Hightower is definitely above a five. Probably closer to six or seven. It wants to be challenged with tough terrain and aggressive riding. It will hold its own on the climbs but would rather let gravity be what gets its wheels spinning.
Punches above its weight class
Rides a wide variety of terrain
Great technical climber
Limited shock compatibility
Not the fastest climber
Here’s where we pit the two bikes against each other in a death match. 3…2…1… Fight.
Climbing - yeti SB130
The Yeti wins the best climber award between the two. It’s more efficient and overall performs better when pointed uphill. There’s an exception to this. When the trail gets really rocky, loose or steep, the Hightower keeps traction and rolls over bumps better.
Descending - Santa Cruz Hightower
The Santa Cruz is a more capable descender overall and will ride a wider variety of terrain without getting you in over your head. The Yeti feels a little snappier and better in the corners, though. If you mostly ride intermediate to difficult terrain but shy away from the really rough stuff, the Yeti might be a more enjoyable ride. Also the more playful and jibby rider might appreciate the SB130’s handling better. If you want to race enduro or like to ride the meanest trails around, the Hightower will probably suit your riding style better.
Overall - Depends on how you ride a bike
As an all-purpose trail bike, the Yeti is the more responsible and practical option. It climbs better and is more mild mannered on the downhills. As a one-bike-to-rule-them-all option that will have you covered on the daily as well as races and bike park days, the Santa Cruz wins. It descends with more stability and confidence without sacrificing too much everywhere else.
Want to find out for yourself? We have demos available in both bikes.