Santa Cruz introduced the Megatower back in 2019 as its full-blown, ride-just-about-anything enduro machine.
The US brand offers this “brawler”, as it puts it, in both the ‘C’ and ‘CC’ carbon frames and in a multitude of builds ranging from the cheapest ‘C R’ seen here all the way up to the range-topping CC XX1 AXS Reserve builds at £9,499.
Bike of the Year 2020
The Santa Cruz Megatower C R is part of our annual Bike of the Year test.
Head to our Bike of the Year hub for the full list of winners, categories and shortlisted bikes, as well as the latest reviews – or read our behind-the-scenes feature on how we tested Bike of the Year 2020.
Santa Cruz Megatower C R frame and suspension details
The Megatower C R that I tested is constructed using Santa Cruz’s cheaper ‘C’ level carbon, which is claimed to offer the same strength and stiffness as its pricier ‘CC’ carbon but is marginally heavier.
To handle everything a typical enduro bike might be subjected to, Santa Cruz has equipped the Megatower with 160mm of rear wheel travel, delivered by its VPP design.
The bike features Santa Cruz’s VPP linkage design. Steve Behr
This design attaches the front to the rear using two counter-rotating short links, the lowest of which drives the shock – as is common with pretty much all current Santa Cruz bikes.
Santa Cruz says that the Megatower is progressive enough to allow the use of an air shock, here that’s a RockShox Super Deluxe Select, or a coil sprung shock.
RockShox’ Super Deluxe Select rear shock. Steve Behr
Santa Cruz has included plenty of useful adjustment on the Megatower too. Ovalised chips slotted into the rear dropouts allow 10mm of chainstay length adjustment, while another chip at the lower shock mount enables you to alter the head angle by 0.3 degrees and raise/lower the bottom bracket by 3mm.
It’ll also alter the leverage ratio of the bike making it more progressive in the lower setting and slightly more linear in the higher setting.
There’s plenty of rubberised protection to keep the carbon chassis from harm which is good to see. A chunky driveside chainstay protector with a ribbed upper section helps to calm chainslap and mute things when you do start getting bucked around on the trail.
There’s plenty of frame protection on the bike. Steve Behr
There’s also a solid chunk of protection at the base of the down tube where it meets the bottom bracket to help protect from rock strikes, as well as an additional piece located mid-way down the down tube. This should guard against scrapes and scratches if you like to sling your bike over the tailgate of a pick up truck.
The shock is exposed to spray and debris from the rear wheel (the shock pierces the seat tube), so Santa Cruz has included a small fender to help keep the shock shaft clean and better protected.
The fender helps to protect the rear shock from mud and debris. Steve Behr
Finally, there’s plenty of room in the front triangle for a water bottle, ISCG 05 tabs to fit a chain device should you wish to add one, and a threaded bottom bracket for hassle-free maintenance.
Internal cabling keeps things clean and tidy too. Steve Behr
Santa Cruz Megatower C R geometry
Santa Cruz offers the Megatower in an impressive five sizes (small to extra-extra-large) which means most riders should find a frame for them. And, thanks to the short seat-tube lengths, potentially you could size up if you’re looking for a little more in terms of reach.
On the subject of reach, these vary from 425mm to 515mm, and all bikes sport 29in wheels.
The adjustment I mentioned at the rear dropouts allows you to alter the chainstay length between 435mm and 445mm.
With five sizes of Megatower available, most riders should find a bike to fit them. Steve Behr
In the high setting, the medium Megatower I was testing has a reach of 450mm, which is roomy enough for a nice, stable ride when stood up on the pedals, but not so long it feels awkward or cumbersome in tighter sections of trail.
I measured the head angle to be a slack 64.6 degrees, while the bottom bracket sat just 340mm off the ground (with 29mm of drop). A steep 76.7-degree seat angle promises to keep climbing nicely efficient.
With the chainstays set to the shorter measurement, the wheelbase measures in at 1,206mm but can be extended to 1,216mm in the 445mm setting.
Sizes (*tested): S, M*, L, XL, XXL
Seat angle: 76.7 degrees
Head angle: 64.6 degrees
Chainstay: 43.5cm (or 44.5cm) / 17.13in (or 17.52in)
Seat tube length: 40.5cm / 15.94in
Top tube (effective): 59.6cm / 3.94in
Head tube length: 10cm / 3.94in
Wheelbase: 1,206mm (or 1,216mm) / 47.48in (or 47.87in)
Bottom bracket height: 34cm / 13.39in
Standover: 71.4cm / 28.11in
Stack: 61.6cm / 24.25in
Reach: 45cm (high setting) / 17.72in
Santa Cruz Megatower C R kit
The ‘C R’ build I opted for is the cheapest Megatower available and, while you get the nicely finished carbon frame, the parts bolted to it aren’t the most droolworthy.
Like Specialized’s Enduro Comp, the Megatower also uses a SRAM NX Eagle 1×12 drivetrain. And, just as I said when I reviewed the Enduro, while the NX Eagle gearing works well enough, it’s a touch disappointing to see on a bike that costs this much money.
Santa Cruz misses out further here, though, with the omission of one simple part; the SRAM MatchMaker.
It sounds like a very simple part to overlook, but the reality is that by not including one and using separate mounts for the gear shifter and brake lever, it’s really awkward trying to get your controls to sit in the right position – more on this later.
Race Face’s Aeffect 150mm dropper post. Steve Behr
It’s nice to see a Race Face Aeffect 150mm dropper post and while it works well in on the trail, be warned that it’s very sensitive to how its cable is routed/tensioned.
Attempting to adjust the post height on the trail can cause some operational headaches and I found it best to fiddle around with it in the workshop.
Adjustments to the dropper are best made at home and not on the trail. Steve Behr
Other finishing kit comes courtesy of e*thirteen and is all decent, functional stuff.
I’d have rather had a higher rise bar though, because I had to sit the stem atop all of the available steerer spacers to get the bar height just about right for me – the Megatower has a 100mm head tube on the size medium. Those wanting to go even higher would struggle.
Maxxis 2.5in Assegai tyres with EXO+ casing and the 3C MaxxTerra rubber compound. Steve Behr
The 2.5in Maxxis Assegai tyres are definitely a highlight. The EXO+ casing is tough enough to ward off most nasty knocks (I had no issues with flat tyres while testing) and they manage to feel stable when running lower pressures.
It’s a plus that these use the 3C MaxxTerra rubber compound, which feels consistent and predictable on pretty much every surface going, even when it’s stinking wet out.
Santa Cruz supplies the Megatower set up tubeless, too, which removes a lot of effort on your part and is a real bonus.
RockShox’ Yari RC fork with 160mm travel has a Motion Control damper. Steve Behr
Both the fork and shock come from the RockShox line up.
The fork’s chassis is stiff and accurate, especially for my 68kg weight, and the 160mm of travel feels like plenty, but the older Motion Control damper that sits inside the fork struggles to keep up with the Charger-equipped RockShox forks you’re likely to find on a lot of bikes at this price, and some significantly cheaper too – the Whyte G-170C RS 29 actually uses the Charger 2.1 damper inside it’s Lyrik Select+ fork.
SRAM’s Guide RE brakes work really well and while they don’t quite compete with Codes for outright feel and power, they’re definitely better suited to a bike like this over the less punchy G2 brakes we’ve seen on other bikes in our Enduro Bike of the Year test.
Oh, and I bloody love the Santa Cruz Palmdale grips. They’re skinny but not so much that you’ll get sore hands on really chattery trails, and only use a single lock-ring to keep them secure on the bar.
All in, my Megatower C R build weighed 15.59kg.
Santa Cruz Megatower C R ride impressions
I rode the Megatower on a wide variety of trail types, varying from bikepark style tracks that feature high-speed rock gardens, high-load berms and plenty of jumps, and spent a good portion of time riding natural trails that were littered with slippery rocks and root spreads.
The natural trails were generally a little steeper and slower than those at the bikepark.
This all helps to provide a well-rounded impression of the bike and how it would handle a multitude of scenarios.
It’s also worth noting that nearly every outing on the Megatower was on wet, muddy trails in the UK and ridden back-to-back with the nine other bikes in our Enduro Bike of the Year test.
The trails were pretty wet and muddy throughout testing. Andy Lloyd
Santa Cruz Megatower C R climbing performance
When seated and spinning up a climb, the Megatower pedals quite well, with little in the way of suspension bob.
Low-speed, high-torque efforts will get the back-end to squat down though, which does nip at the bike’s efficiency.
The lack of low-speed compression lever on the shock means these can’t be avoided. It’s not the end of the world, but noticeable when you’re tired after a long day riding lap after lap.
The seated ride position feels comfortable thanks in part to that steep 76.7-degree seat angle. It’s not the most stretched out bike on test, with a 596mm effective top tube, but I had no comfort issues or problems with the front wheel lifting on steeper inclines.
And I can’t knock the range of the 11-50t NX Eagle cassette. I always had a suitable gear for the climbs and at no point did I miss the 10t sprocket found on the pricier SRAM cassettes.
Santa Cruz Megatower C R descending performance
The Megatower feels low-slung with its 714mm standover height. Andy Lloyd
The Megatower certainly feels low-slung. Just compare its 714mm standover height with that of the Whyte, which sits at a lofty 844mm, and you’ll get some idea of where I’m coming from.
Slam it into the first turn and, with the bulk of the bike’s weight sitting down low by the bottom bracket, along with the fact the bottom bracket itself is already pretty low, it’s clear to see that this machine will rail a turn with reckless abandon but plenty of control.
You can rail a turn with reckless abandon on the Megatower. Andy Lloyd
Carving from turn to turn on the Megatower is ridiculously fun too. The well-considered tyre choice helps here, where the grip on offer feels super predictable only adding to confidence.
There’s also enough support at the rear to let you load the bike in high-speed turns, really letting you pop from the exit of the turn.
The Megatower’s back-end isn’t the most sensitive, though, and I had to spend some time fiddling with shock pressures to get it to my liking.
But while that initial touch isn’t the lightest, work the bike hard and it’ll drop into a pocket of travel where it’ll use it more eagerly and soak up the hits well-enough.
It can struggle on thick root spreads and is more composed on smaller lumps and chatter. Andy Lloyd
It won’t absorb the hits with the same ease as the likes of the Specialized Enduro or the Whyte G-170, though, and in really rough terrain things don’t feel quite as composed or smooth either. Here, the Megatower feels like it needs more effort to maintain that all important momentum.
Up front, the Yari fork doesn’t help with the fight to conserve momentum when you enter rougher terrain.
While it will remain relatively controlled and composed on smaller lumps and chatter, thump it hard into braking bumps or thick root spreads and it feels like it begins to struggle.
This leads to feedback through the bars (and hand pain on extended downhill runs) and can, at times, stifle momentum further.
I did experience some feedback through the bars and hand pain on extended downhill runs. Steve Behr
Dropper air pressure does help a little when it comes to reducing feedback and adding a little comfort, but the fork does lack support and can struggle with bigger impacts. Considering the price, it’s a shame there’s not a Lyrik bolted up front.
SRAM’s NX gearing works well enough but doesn’t feel as crisp as its pricier equivalents found on some of the Megatower’s closest competitors (of which, some are cheaper).
It’s a shame a MatchMaker bracket isn’t fitted to help with setup. Andy Lloyd
Now, back to the lack of MatchMaker bracket and getting the control set up. While this might not be an issue for some, I really struggled to sit the gear shifter where I wanted it on the bar.
If I placed it between the brake lever and grip, I’d hit the knuckle of my thumb of the upshift paddle.
I ended up leaving it in-board of the brake clamp, which ensured I wouldn’t hit my hand on it but did make reaching it tricky when stood up out of the saddle and trying to shift into a harder gear while sprinting. Not ideal but a cheap and easy fix.
I really struggled to sit the gear shifter where I wanted it on the bar and ended up leaving it in-board of the brake clamp. Steve Behr
While much of this sounds very negative, it’s not all bad, especially when you’re riding smoother, natural trails where the Megatower can really be a lot of fun.
When things get steeper and slower, the Guide RE brakes offer plenty of stopping confidence and, again, I need to sing the Assegai’s praises.
Overall, the Megatower can be a fun bike to ride and it does love to rail a turn. The main issue I have is the build kit, which isn’t exactly great considering the price of the bike.
Some small changes would make a massive difference to performance and complement the solid geometry. That said, it does feel like the rear suspension of the Megatower isn’t as sensitive or as capable as others in this category.
Santa Cruz Megatower C R bottom line
The C R build doesn’t offer the best value for money, especially when compared to the best on test. Andy Lloyd
The Megatower C R promises a lot but can’t quite deliver on the trail.
I got on well with the geometry (and the fact that there’s five sizes to choose from) and appreciate that there’s some useful adjustment on offer, but the rear suspension lacks some of the sensitivity and bump swallowing capabilities compared to similar bikes in this category.
The main issue is with the C R build though, which doesn’t offer the best value for money.
While the Megatower C R can still carve a mean turn, it’s got some catching up to do if it’s going to beat the best in the category.