First Ride with SRAM AXS and Santa Cruz Hightower

In 2019 SRAM released its new electronic AXS components that changed the mountain biking industry and pushed it in a new direction. I was excited to get my hands on a Santa Cruz Hightower that was fully equipped with the new SRAM AXS groupset. At first glance it makes the frontend of the bike look super clean. I love a minimal cockpit setup, so if that is your style, I would suggest looking into these further. There are no cables that run to the shifters or derailleur – everything is Bluetooth.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Santa Cruz bikes until I rode this Hightower. Full suspension bikes can come in pretty heavy but for the short time I was on this, I noticed right away how light and smooth it handled. Coupled with the SRAM AXS package makes the ride experience all the more comfortable. With no wires to internally fish through the frame and nothing to bleed, you just have to clamp and bolt everything on, which is pretty incredible.

To get off and running SRAM gives you everything you need to get this system started out the box (if not set up by your bike retailer) and all could be mounted with just a few basic bike tools. The set up for this groupset correctly at the outset will be very important. Once everything is mounted to the bike, you will need to start with powering the derailleur then shifter so that everything can get paired up.

From here you bridge over to the phone and connect to the SRAM AXS app to connect everything. This part can be a bit foreign to some riders who have probably never connected a bike to a phone app before, welcome to the new age of digital technology. The app allows you to set up paddle shifter functions to your own personal preference, check battery life for every component, and it can link with a Wahoo or Garmin bike computer.

While this all sounds pretty cool or daunting for some riders, the most important factor is how it actually feels when riding. One word – awesome. Whether you are in a mountain bike race or on a tech section during a single track ride, the shifting will be seamless. The reach and placement of the throttle shifter were effortless to control. It has what SRAM calls Multi-Shift, which gives the capability of rapidly changing gears if you press and hold. I see that coming in handy during climbing up a steep section or even during a sharp corner. I also felt that it made the ride experience more natural and gave me more opportunity to focus on my ride.

The Fox Transfer dropper seat post was a real treat when riding the Hightower as I was able to control that wirelessly as well with the SRAM AXS. The response time was quick and smooth.

As for the batteries, they are interchangeable and charge via USB. SRAM gives you 24 hours of ride time on the derailleur and 40 hours on the dropper post. I imagine the AXS system being fun for a short bike packing trip but possibly worrisome for more extended travel as you would need to carry an extra battery or two.  

SRAM made these components very strong and durable, but I would also worry about smashing the rear derailleur on a rock during a trail ride. The rear derailleur is a bit shorter than the mechanical version but if it does take on impact it automatically sets itself back to its original state so that shifting will not be thrown off.

The Sum Up

What I enjoyed about riding the SRAM AXS group was how effortlessly it was to control everything. It was easy to actuate the buttons for both the derailleur and dropper post, the bike shifts quickly and drops the seat post on a dime.

This groupset does come with a hefty price tag and is a luxury component. With the price of 1 SRAM AXS groupset, you can get 3 or 4 other mechanical groupsets by SRAM. These components are currently the best technology in mountain bike componentry and a great way to deck out the bike. Comment below if you have this groupset and share your thoughts in the below on how it rides for you.

For more information and to purchase this bike, support your local bike shop or click here for the SRAM AXS 12-Speed Groupset.

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Ridden & Written by

Dwayne Burgess (Manual Pedal)


This review is based on my personal opinion and experience. This was a test ride only, links provided are affiliate partnerships with Amazon & Brands Cycle & Fitness.

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