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a name-calling bully, but one you want in your corner when things get rowdy.

It was with great expectations that I bought my Megatower. I had an idea in mind for a quiver killer.

Yes, yes, we have all heard that before. And, most folks would not pick an enduro-style bike with 160mm of front and rear travel as a quiver killer. But this project was a bit different - it was a Whistler quiver killer. So consolidating the bike quiver was weighted more towards the rowdy side of riding. I was not racing XC this year, so the Trek Topfuel was sold. And then sold the Rocky Mountain Maiden, which was dedicated to use in Whistler Bike Park (and other BC bike parks). And lastly, I sold the 2018 Specialized Enduro, which was my ‘go to’ trail bike and also raced Enduro World Series the previous year. Down to one bike. All of a sudden the Megatower seemed like an ideal bike. Early reviews I read about the Megatower implied it was a big bike that like to be ridden hard, and that it felt somewhat harsh at times. I chalked this up to reviews by soft Wisconsin cyclists riding manicured trails in Bend, OR - ha! - and therefore that all seemed like a positive to me when I read these reviews and put them up against the tough steep trails of Whistler.

While shopping for the bike, I had to remark to myself the perceived value for money. The Santa Cruz Megatower, in XO build, is a beautiful well adorned bike. But at a price north of $10K Cdn, and I was staring at a non-Kashima fork and aluminum rims. Wow. This was absolutely the top end of my price range, so that’s the build I walked out with. But I had just given up a Specialized Enduro with Roval carbon wheels, with XO1, that had been in a similar price range. That’s inflation for you! (Insert old man story about the good ol’ times when a high end bike could be bought for much less.)

Initial riding impressions of the Megatower confirmed what others said about the harshness of the bike. Being early spring, I was relegated to easier trails in the Valley as the snow line was still quite low. On moderate Blue XC type trails, I had two overwhelming impressions. First, I was actually quite surprised at how balanced the bike was when climbing. It was a stable platform for climbing, with good power transmission through the rear wheel. Additionally the front wheel remained firmly planted on the ground, and I did not find myself excessively leaning forward or moving to the nose of the saddle in order to remain in control. This may be partly due to the steep, 76 degree seat tube angle. It’s worth noting when I picked up the bike, it was in long and low frame settings. In this long setting, tighter trails and especially switchbacks were noticeably harder and required some thought going into and coming out of with such a long wheelbase. Lots of XC trails in Whistler were built 30 years ago when short wheelbase 26” wheeled bikes ruled the land. The second impression I had was the harshness. I will introduce a new word to describe the feeling I had. Bully. The bike was bullying me. I could almost hear it egging me on, taunting me ‘Is that all you got? Can’t you ride me any harder? Don’t you have any tougher trails around here?’ You may be laughing, but I would come home from rides deflated because I felt I was not riding the bike to its potential.

A bit more about the spec of the bike. XO1 is nice. It’s not the gold bling of XX1 but nor is it the price. I think for a high end factory build, XO1 achieves a great compromise. And I like that XO1 usually means spec’d with carbon XO1 cranks too. The Fox 36 Performance Elite is similar to the XO1-XX1 comparison. All the function without the gold bling. Again this seems like a good compromise even if I was missing my Kashima. I opted for a coil spring, RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate. This decision was based upon my intent to ride the bike in Whistler Bike Park a lot, as well as my positive experience after retrofitting a coil shock on my previous Enduro. More on this decision later. And lastly the wheel set, while not carbon, were RaceFace ARC30. I’m an unabashed fan of RaceFace, and I’ve had great success with ARC30 wheels on multiple bikes. I really like the offset spoke hole design that is said to improve wheel strength and lateral stiffness. Oh, tires. The bike was spec’d with Maxxis Assegai EXO front and back. The Assegai is known to be a slow tire. And for Whistler, EXO is a minimum in terms of tire durability. And I found this out after tearing my sidewall on the 6th ride. After this I upgraded both front and back to DH casing tires. Again, more on that later.

Once the snow receded and some of the more classic Whistler trails opened, I got the chance to push back a bit against this bully. Rides included some locally infamous trails like Rockwork Orange, Dark Crystal, Crazy Train, Working Class, Howler, Jaws and PhD. The previous taunting I got from the bike disappeared. It was replaced with ‘Ya, give ‘er! This is so fun. Faster!’. The true colours of the bike revealed themselves. When the going got tough, the bike just soaked it up and kept going. I won’t lie and say it was pretty - this bike is a blunt instrument. It simply smashes through trails, but keeps the ride reasonably smooth and controlled in doing so. I continued to be impressed by the composed nature of the bike while climbing, but also began to dread those long climbs. It reminded me of dragging my 40lb Kona Stinky up North Shore trails in the 2000’s. I weighed the Megatower for interest sake and it was almost 37 lbs with the DH tires and pedals!

I bought a Whistler Bike Park pass with great expectations of riding the park all summer on my new beast. My park riding feedback will be brief, because on my 2nd afternoon out I broke my elbow and that was the end of the park for the season. I did manage a bit more park riding in Silverstar and Revelstoke late in the summer. Based upon about 4 days total of park riding, the bike continued to excel. My preference in bike parks is to steeper more technical trails rather than jump trails. Here, like the more technical trails outside of the parks, the bike pushed through with an almost unimaginable tenacity and style. It was not pretty, and probably pushed me to actually be a bit lazy in line choice, but I probably turned in some of the fastest laps without really any effort. When I did turn to towards some jumps, the bike felt long and less nimble in the air. This was a feeling similar to what I’d encountered trying a 29’r DH bike compared to 26/27.5” bikes. It was not as comfortable and didn’t feel like it had ‘flickability’.

Nearing the end of the summer, my fitness wasn’t improving substantially, and I was getting less enthusiastic about lugging the Megatower on big climbs. So I put it on a diet. I put back on the EXO casing front tire and swapped to a RockShox Super Deluxe Select+ air shock. The weigh in was now ~34.5lbs. I’ve had good luck with the EXO front tire so far, and feel this is a good balance if I’m not smashing bike park laps all of the time. For 2021, I notice that SantaCruz has spec’d DoubleDown casing tires front and rear, and replaced the rear Assegai with a DHR II. This is a great decision in my opinion. The air shock feels really good riding local trails, and I don’t really miss the coil. I feel that properly set up the air shock provides some additional small bump compliance and thus tones down the ‘bullying’ from the bike a bit.

What else have I changed on the bike? The stock 40mm stem felt short. I am only 5’ 10” and riding a large, but upgraded to a 50mm stem and it made the cockpit feel roomier. I too have a DHR II on the rear of the bike now. And I also purchased a RockShox Zeb when they became available. The Zeb is a new 38mm stanchioned ultimate enduro single crowned fork. I had it set up as 170mm, upping the front travel by 10mm. Again, Santa Cruz now provides the Fox 38 in 170mm as standard for the XO1 coil version. The Zeb took quite a bit of adjusting to get it set up, but now is an amazing addition to the bike. However, it’s worth noting that I didn’t feel as though I ever overwhelmed the Fox 36 that was stock. The 36 is a robust fork and likely the right choice but for the biggest and burliest of riders.

So was the project a success? Yes and no. The Megatower is a bully. It demands that you ride it hard. If you’re not regular riding double blacks, hucking features, riding steep slabs and loose fall line with baby head rocks, then maybe the Megatower is not your bike. You simple won’t enjoy it. And likely a different model or brand of bike may suit your riding better. For a Whistler quiver killer, the bike does well. It’s very at home on tough technical trails, inside or outside of a bike park. It climbs reasonably well, albeit slow. Going into 2021, I personally am envisioning more adventures of long days riding up and down big lines. Thus the Megatower feels like too much for me. I will have a leg thrown over a new bike for 2021 and we will see if it can up the ante on big long days without dialling back the fun on the descents.

Dale is a Whistler local and ambassador for Corsa Cycles in Squamish, BC. He is also the Race Director for the Whistler X Triathlon, an off road format triathlon, a PMBIA mountain bike coach, and high performance coach at TaG Cycling.