What it is: Santa Cruz's long travel 29 bike specced with their mid level component build.
I will caveat this: I only spent about 5 hours on the bike while on a guided ride in Santa Cruz, CA. I demoed the bike from an awesome local shop, but didn't really get a ton of time on the bike compared to those I've owned. I also didn't get a ton of photos, something I regret, since I was in a rush to get some food after riding all day. Regardless, I feel I've gotten somewhat of a feel for how the bike handles and my feelings on it.
We rode ~25 miles in Santa Cruz, CA, which consisted of a wide range of terrain: hardpacked and fast, dusty and smooth, and rooty with some drops scattered throughout and a few steep sections.
I think that, deep down, I was hoping the Megatower would ride similar to my Sentinel and, in some ways, it did, but in others it was very different and not in a good way.
For starters, the complaints on the suspension performance, which I read elsewhere, I felt were unfounded. I haven't ridden a lot of 160mm 29 bikes, so I can't really compare to the others, but the performance was on par with my Sentinel (admittedly, the Sentinel is 20mm shorter in the rear). I typically expect less small bump compliance and better pedaling from VPP bikes, but I felt the Megatower performed great with the stock air shock and recommended settings. It may not compare to the other 160mm+ 29 bikes out there, or even some of the 140mm 29 bikes, but it felt better than I expected given the reviews, which complained about a lack of tracking and traction. I think a lot of the complaints on the suspension performance come down to other issues masquerading as suspension issues, when it really is a lack of stability compared to more aggressive geo bikes.
After riding my Sentinel, the bike did not feel intuitive to me and I think a lot of that came down to the length and HTA. The reach on the L is a fair bit shorter than other bikes in its category, as is the wheelbase. For a 160mm bike, I struggle to understand why they made the geometry so moderate. The HTA is 1 degree steeper, the wheelbase is 16mm shorter, and the reach is 5mm shorter than my Sentinel (both L frames). Somewhat bizarrely, the less aggressive Hightower has a 3mm longer reach than the Megatower and only a .5 degree HTA difference.
After about 2-3 hours, I grew into the bike and became more comfortable with it, but it definitely lacks that point and shoot tracking ability the Sentinel has. It doesn't hold a line as well and it doesn't feel as stable as the Sentinel does, which ultimately made me cross it off my list. It felt more like I was sitting on top of a prior gen 29er instead of inside of the bike, like how some of the newer 29ers feel.
I think this has less to do with the suspension performance and more to do with the geometry of the bike. Personally, I would have liked to see the geometry figures more in line with other bikes in its category, so that is longer and slacker.
So who would I recommend this to?
For extended downhills with long straightaway sections or fast corners, the Megatower loses out to more aggressive options with a longer wheelbase and slacker HTA. The bike feels cramped and too short to have the same level of stability as it's competitors.
That isn't always a bad thing, though. If your trails are chunky, with a lot of big features, but are also tight/twisty and require a bit more pedaling, the Megatower could be a good option.
It felt to me like a long travel trailbike. It was responsive, nimble, and handled tight/twisty terrain well, but when it got steep or fast, it gives up stability and comfort to longer bikes.
vs. Transition Sentinel : The Sentinel is a very long, aggressive bike. It's not suited to a lot of terrain, especially when trails require a lot of climbing or pedaling in the middle or are tight/twisty. The Sentinel is great at handling high speed features and it tracks better than the Megatower, but for riding outside of mountainous areas, the Megatower would probably pedal better, be more responsive, and more nimble, although sacrificing stability at speed over the Sentinel. For narrower trails that are twistier, the Megatower would be a much better choice.
vs. Transition Smuggler : I know it seems weird considering the two bikes are so different, but I felt the Smuggler was a more apt comparison than the Sentinel. The Megatower felt more in line with the way the Smuggler performed, in that it was nimble, responsive, but definitely tracked better than the Smuggler. The Smuggler has a bit more stability at speed, but can be more of a chore on tighter trails, similar to the Sentinel
vs. Santa Cruz Hightower : I haven't ridden the 2020 Hightower, but felt it was worth noting the geometry differences. In the 'High' settings on both, the new Hightower has a 3mm longer reach, .5 degree steeper HTA, 2mm shorter chainstays, and identical wheelbase. You have the option to lengthen the wheelbase on the Megatower, but I didn't get a chance to try that.
Santa Cruz bikes have excellent fit and finish, the little details on their bikes are very well thought out
Suspension performance felt great to me, it tracked well on chunky terrain
Responsive, light, and cornered fairly well
The build kit felt great, although I wasn't a fan of the wheels, I'm a bit spoiled in that regard
Pedals very well and is a bit more efficient than the Horst bikes like the Sentinel
Less of a chore on technical climbs
I felt it gives up stability at speed and on steep sections to the Sentinel and other bikes, mainly due to being shorter and steeper
Felt less confidence inspiring on steeper technical sections
Compared to a 140mm aggressive geo bike, the suspension performance was on par, I could see compared against other big travel 29ers where it doesn't perform as well