Bike Check: Andy’s Santa Cruz Megatower Enduro Bike

Santa Cruz Megatower

Andy has spent over a year on Santa Cruz’s flagship enduro race bike, and when it came time for him to decide which model to go for this year, it was a fairly easy choice for him to make. Let’s take a closer look at why Dirt School’s Head Coach went for the same Megatower as he did last year.

Rider Details

Andy is 177cm (5 ft 9 inches), weighs in at 75kg, or 82kg with kit, and he rides a large frame.

Why the Megatower?

As Dirt School’s most experienced team member I tend to find myself running all of our most technical courses. Coaching something like BASE, or our Advanced Academy, means that I’m always operating in the most challenging areas of the forest. The Megatower allows me to keep up with my college students and perform my demos on Innerleithen’s trickiest sections without feeling like I’m overstretching my limit. It’s a bike that feels so incredibly stable on the most technical trails in the Tweed Valley, and one that I absolutely love riding. 

Andy Barlow riding at Innerleithen

Suspension Set Up

There are a couple of differences to this new Megatower over my old one. This year I went for 170mm forks instead of 160mm, and the frame came with an Fox X2 shock instead of a RockShox unit. The X2 is one of the best shocks on the market just now, and is a noticeable improvement over last year's RockShox unit. The extra 10mm travel on the Lyrik forks means I can run them a tiny bit softer to help my hands and arms out on rougher terrain. With both these changes in place the bike genuinely feels more supple than my previous bike and a lot more comfortable. The softer feeling set up feels like there is better traction as a result.

Santa Cruz Megatower with Rockshox Lyrik Ultimate

I run my large frame in ‘low’ chip mode and short wheelbase. The Megatower is such a stable platform that you don’t really need any extra length for stability, so the shorter chain stay allows for a bit more manoeuvrability and a slightly smaller circumference for balancing manuals. 

I’ve gone for a pretty stock set up this time around and set my fork up for 82kg to allow for clothing and a leader’s pack. This equates to 76psi and -8 clicks of rebound from fully wound in. At the moment I’m running both the high and low speed compression fully off, but I’m thinking of adding more high speed to take larger hits as I grow more confident on the new set up.

Santa Cruz Megatower with Red Burgtec Chainring

As for rear shock, I’m on the standard recommended setup from Fox. The X2 is a bit tricky to get your head around at first but once you understand what you’re doing it’s really no more complicated than normal. Basically it’s got a negative air chamber that you have to charge with pressure. This means that as you add pressure with a shock pump, that you have to cycle the shock a few times to balance out the two chambers. Doing this loses air from the main chamber that you then have to top up until you have it set up to your desired sag. Pretty simple really. Once I had the right pressure worked out, I followed the settings for dampening from the Fox website and I haven’t touched it since. This works out at 200psi, 7 clicks of LSR, 4 HSR, 10 LSC, 5 HSR. 

Cockpit Set Up

I absolutely love riding wide bars, but unfortunately the trees in Innerleithen are pretty close together in places so I end up having to cut my bars down a little narrower than I‘d like. The Burgtec grips add 5mm per grip, so this means that a standard set up would give me a total bar width of 810mm. Amazing, but totally un-rideable in the Tweed Valley. I find that a good compromise is to run the bars at 780mm, then let the grips take it to 790mm overall. It’s still pretty wide but fits though most gaps in the forest. 

The SRAM Code brakes feel great and I run both my shifter and dropper post lever out of the way so I can get my hands around the grips without catching my thumbs on the controls. 

Burgtec MK3 Red Stem

I run a 50mm Burgtec MK3 Stem. I tried a 35mm on my last Megatower for a few weeks but I find the extra length in the 50mm means I can get my weight in the right place, keep my position stable, and it actually offsets the slack angles and means it still feels light to tip into corners.

Wheelset & Tyres

I’m riding the Santa Cruz Reserve 30s and they are absolutely bombproof. No inserts, just tough casing WTB tyres and a standard measure of 140ml of Muc Off sealant per wheel. 21psi front and 23psi rear, both checked regularly with a digital tyre pressure gauge. The Industry Nine Hydra Hubs are so quick to engage that your pedal strokes feel instant.

We’ve been riding WTB tyres at Dirt School for a few years now and they just keep getting better and better. The Verdict up front is perfect for the Tweed Valley, and the Judge on the rear is so deep that it hooks up on even the steepest trails. Both tyres are the High Grip / Tough Casing option and it’s been years since I had a flat.

WTB tyre on Reserve Rim

Drivetrain

2021 is my first year on SRAM in my entire life and I’m liking it so far. The XO1 drivetrain seems solid and reliable so far and shifts smoothly. The 170mm cranks mean I can run a low BB height without any problems, and the 32T Burgtec chainring is well suited to the 10-50t Eagle cassette. 

Brakes

The SRAM Code RSC brakes are the most powerful and confidence inspiring brakes I’ve ever used. They have more than enough power when you need them, but enough feel that I rarely lock a wheel. A very impressive balance from something that feels so light at the lever. 

The Ride

In my opinion, the way you ride a bike like this is to get close, sink into the suspension, and keep it heavy on the ground. It’s got so much travel that you can be confident there’s room to absorb any small features like roots and stones, so you can afford to be really aggressive and heavy with your drive against the grip points. It actually generates more stability in the rough stuff if you ride it this way. The overall wheelbase, proportions of the frame, and larger wheel size, all mean that your feedback from the trail is tidy and predictable. Provided you are riding close enough to the bike, and that you’re using your range of motion to drive the bike heavy against the trail, it’s absolutely solid. 

Riding at Innerleithen

Full Specification

Frame/Shock: Santa Cruz Megatower CC size large with a Fox X2 shock (160mm travel)

Fork: RockShox Lyrik Ultimate (170mm travel)

Wheelset: Reserve 30 rims on Industry Nine Hydra hubs

Seatpost: KS Lev Integra 31.6 / 175mm travel

Tyres: Verdict 2.5 High Grip Tough Casing, Judge 2.4 High Grip Tough Casing

Cockpit: Burgtec Carbon 20mm Rise Bar - 780mm, Burgtec 50mm MK3 Stem, Burgtec Minnaar grips

Drivetrain: SRAM X01 170mm Crankset, X01 12speed cassette - 10-50t 

Brakes: SRAM Code RSC with 203mm rotor front and rear

Santa Cruz Megatower

If you’re interested in a Santa Cruz Megatower, drop us a line at shop@tweedvalleybikes.co.uk.


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