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Beatdown: Santa Cruz Megatower Dream Build

An accidentally-famous bike, ridden through the wringer. This is what's been changed, broken, serviced or left untouched in two-and-a-half years.


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Perhaps I should start by introducing myself, as I’m not a totally regular contributor to the gear department here. I’m Beta’s video guy, and a bit of an accidental specialist when it comes to tech writing–when my byline pops up here it’s likely followed by words about a bike product that’s been ridden hard, long and without a terribly high amount of preventative maintenance. I’m not a tech editor whose desk sits beneath a waterfall of new stuff that has to be analyzed and shared as quickly as possible. Instead, I tend to be picky about what gets out on the trail with me, but then ride my gear until it wears out. Enter my Santa Cruz Megatower.

Back in 2019, before Beta was Beta, Ryan Palmer built my Megatower as a Dream Build. It was my first time parting out a bike and having it built from the frame up, and so it was the result of years of daydreaming, trying out bikes and parts, and mentally assembling my perfect bike. It was also the first Dream Build Palmer and I ever filmed together, under the guise of our previous employer; an experiment in bringing a spotlight to a process that had long been hidden behind pages of complete, blingy bikes in a magazine. I froze my ass off in Palmer’s Bellingham, Washington, shop, circling him with a camera, giddy as my bike came together beneath his masterful hands. Then by some clear fluke of the algorithm, millions of people watched the resulting video. Statistically speaking, I’m sure it’s the most popular video I’ll make in my whole life, and we’ve been bemused by the whole thing ever since.

To me though, that’s all generally irrelevant. When I think of my Megatower, I don’t think about YouTube views. Instead, I think of the most perfect bike I’ve had the pleasure to get to know. A lot of bikes have come through the garage since then, even another Dream Build. But nearly every day when I go ride, I grab the Megatower. I’m fairly spoiled for choice when it comes to bikes, but when I take a break from writing in a few lines to go pedal, guess which chain I’ll lube?

I have never, ever had a bike feel as good, as dialed, as nice, and as jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud, yank-off-every-lip-and-smash-every-root awesome as this Megatower did on lap one.

In all honesty, even after all of my scheming and dreaming, I had some real trepidation as this bike was coming together. I was a die-hard 27.5 guy before the Megatower, and also had reservations that a long-travel 29er would be too much for an everyday bike. I pedal a lot (when life allows), and while I love a lot of squish underneath me, I also really enjoy pretending I can throw a bike around a bit and playing around on the trail. A definite uncertainty nagged at me as parts trickled into Palmer’s shop–maybe a Hightower or a Nomad would’ve been a better fit?

Ha, nah.

I’ve had a lot of fun on many different bikes and many different trails, but I have never, ever had a bike feel as good, as dialed, as nice, and as jaw-dropping, laugh-out-loud, yank-off-every-lip-and-smash-every-root awesome as this Megatower did on lap one. And sure, New Bike Day is always great and usually makes a bike feel pretty good, but the beauty of this particular machine is that some variation of that feeling has tailed me ever since.

Ultimately, this piece will get into a rundown of how the bike has evolved and held up, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give the mile-high overview of why my Megatower is so darn fun. First, it gets to the top. No embellishment needed there—it’s a big, slack bike that will always prefer gravity, but it’s comfortable enough climbing that it’s never held me back from riding as long as I want. Going down—to sum it up in one attribute that’s actually two—is this bike’s near-holy-grail-esque ability to hit chunk like a Baja truck, and then a moment later dance and play like a jester at ballet school. Surely it’s not as playful as a 5010 or as capable as a V10, but for me, it’s just the right balance that I want in a bike. I know, bike media instant face palm: using “confidence-inspiring” and “playful” in the same sea of text. But to take the cliches and make them just the tiniest bit my own–this is not the bike for everyone, but for me, it’s the best at enabling me to ride in the way that I have the most fun. Simple.

And now, after two-and-a-half years of bumping this bike into things, here’s a brief rundown of some of what I’ve changed, broken, serviced or left untouched:

Santa Cruz megatower lower link

Frame: I’ve pulled the linkage totally apart three times to clean and regrease everything. Well, most everything–very contrary to Santa Cruz’s recommendations, my busy life and lack of the correct grease-gun fitting has prevented me from ever greasing inside the lower link. Whoops. I’m sure that’s highly inadvisable, but the thing still seems to go nicely. Other than that, there are a few very minor paint scratches, and one sorta less minor abrasion that was the result of a rock jamming between the chainstay and bottom bracket area, on the same ride that I blew my shock out and had it start spitting noises like a new trumpet player. I thought I was being treated to quite the “enthusiastic” solo jazz performance that day, but had I known it was a duet of damaging noises, I could’ve unjammed that rock a lot sooner.

Shock: The original DHX2 coil was dreamy, and I absolutely preferred the coil on the Megatower. Unfortunately I may have sent it with a camera pack one too many times, and eventually something inside gave up. Thankfully, my parts sponsor/workshop mentor/personal mechanic Mr. Palmer had a Float X2 laying around that plugged right in. However, said shock has a slightly longer stroke length than is specced on Megatower’s, giving my bike both a little more travel and one of it’s better nicknames: “Ol’ Overstroke”.

Fork: After a year and change with a Fox 36, the orange ripened and became a 38. That update obviously made the front end stiffer and the bike slightly slacker, all changes I’ve become accustomed to and feel complement the capabilities of this steed. The shock swap also slackened the ride a tad (more stroke+more sag=sitting lower in the rear end), so all told this bike won’t be winning any silly switchback races. No complaints here.

Santa Cruz megatower long term review
maxxis assegai

Wheels: I mysteriously sprang a hole in my rear rim one day, “gently” rode it a while longer over a bunch of rocks, and eventually swapped to a warranty rim from Santa Cruz. (You can watch that rim swap–and maybe learn a new trick–HERE. Thanks Palmer.) 

As for tires, the back wheel has gone through a Maxxis Dissector, a Schwalbe Magic Mary, a WTB Judge and is now on a Nobby Nic, while the front went Assegai, Magic Mary, then back to the original Assegai. For what it’s worth from that rear tire list, I’d give the Dissector “best DH-ish tire for pedaling”, the Judge “best hooker-upper” and the Magic Mary “best all-rounder.” Hopefully it doesn’t feel neglected by the lack of words, but the Assegai just gets “best.”

The rear Chris King hub got a rebuild sometime last year. It still sounds cool when you go fast.

Brakes: The Codes feel quite good today, but they’ve needed some love over the years to be that way. I’ve had some piston issues in both calipers, but luckily I have some resourceful and generous colleagues that helped me finagle them back into shape. The pads have been swapped and the systems bled three or four times, but after the last bleed these brakes felt better than a nearly-brand-new set of Codes on another bike in my garage.

sram axs Santa Cruz megatower

Drivetrain: Real neglected, real impressive. When the bike was about a year old, it got a full teardown and clean after a particularly mucky week in Bellingham. Besides that and one other time removing the cassette to give it the toothbrush treatment, “maintenance” here has started and ended at lubing the chain. The AXS derailleur has been bashed pretty good, I rarely charge the batteries (and have never changed the shifter battery), and besides the very occasional small misshift when downshifting under load, the train just keeps tweeting its way along the tracks.

Pedals: This set of Saints has some play and a whole lot of scratches, but they keep clipping, unclipping, and being my favorite pedal ever. I haven’t touched them, except with my shoe, cleat, and clearly a healthy list of some of the finest rocks, roots, trees, poles, curbs and concrete in the western hemisphere.

Seatpost: The Reverb AXS post gets me every time. There’s a small amount of play up top now, but not enough to bother me. I’ve never killed the battery and never have had the post miss an actuation or even think about slowing down.

Santa Cruz megatower

Cockpit: The Pacenti bar and stem combo still seems to be about as niche as they come, but it absolutely makes how this bike rides for me. The 20mm stem gives so much control over a bike this big. If I had style, well then that combo would be why. The grips are the original Sensus Meaty Paws. They’re worn nearly through the rubber in a spot or two, but that just makes them fit my gloves more like, well, a glove.

So that’s that. This bike barely creaks or complains, it just goes, and it’s given me a heckuva lot of fun days these past few years. It’s not even close to retirement (you can’t do that to a bike until it’s been through at least two chains, so I’ve got a while yet), but invariably it’ll be time someday to move on and hang this guy up. I’m not sure what can replace it, but I won’t soon forget this bike. In the meantime, you know what I’m riding.

Not the first time.