In the first of a new (semi) regular series where we take a bit of a deeper look at the bikes behind-the-scenes of the Enduro World Series, we check out our resident producer and presenter Ric McLaughlin’s Santa Cruz Megatower CC.
Santa Cruz class the Megatower as a ‘modern day brawler’ and, given my unique lack of style and the amount of battling I tend to do on my way down most EWS stages, that kind of feels somehow apt. This bike is my second Megatower, my former ‘fry sauce’ pink machine stood me well across a seasons-worth of course previews, riding throughout event weeks and the late evening team spins and down day lift laps we occasionally get to enjoy whilst on the road.
Ric’s minty fresh Santa Cruz Megatower CC relaxing in the picturesque old town of Pietra Ligure. Pic: Duncan Philpott
The phrase ‘last minute packing’ can, in typical EWS terms, be easily shortened to simply just ‘packing’. And so it was, the night before we were due for a 4am departure to Specialized EWS Zermatt, that I first got to meet my new bike at Tweed Valley Bikes in Innerleithen. Normally, when you get a new bike there’s a time for a good bit of incredulous gazing and admiring but, time being of the essence, it was straight off the peg and straight into my bike bag with only the application of the then new DYEDBro ‘mountains’ frame protection kit to slow progress.
Ric runs Santa Cruz’s AM Carbon handelbars, uncut at 800mm, he rides an XL. Pic: Duncan Philpott
Arrival at events is traditionally followed by meetings, work and sleep (sometimes the order differs) so the Megatower was rebuilt and the very first time I got to ride it was on the EWS course preview with Ruaridh. Now, when attempting to go faster than you can actually ride whilst also attempting to talk authoritatively about bike racing, familiarity with the bike is often preferable but as I’d experienced last year behind Chris Ball, it might be scary but it doesn’t really make a difference.
Getting to grips with the Megatower CC on the famous trails of Finale Ligure. Pic: Duncan Philpott
As predicted, Ruaridh pulled the now familiar disappearing trick but only after letting me go first for a short section. Having spent all year riding either a short travel trail bike or a thumping great e-bike, the sensation of being back aboard a big travel, big-wheeled, just generally BIG enduro bike was fantastic. The suspension felt limitless yet, thanks to having spent a lot of time on the electric machine, the bike felt featherweight and the acceleration gloriously resistance-free. All the usual little first ride gremlins were present - slightly too little air in the suspension, a few clicks needing to be made on the adjusters and a couple of millimetres of adjustment needing to be made to the saddle position - but other than that, the bike felt great.
Diving in – stage one of Vittoria EWS Pietra Ligure! Pic: Duncan Philpott
Specialized EWS Zermatt ended up being a short but dramatic race and all the time I was actually eyeing up our down week in Pietra Ligure which would follow and a real chance to get to know the submarine green (someone told me that this is the actual colour that the inside of nuclear submarines are painted as it best wards off sea sickness) machine.
I also had a secret weapon arriving in Pietra Ligure. Well, I don’t know if you can call something a ‘secret weapon’ if it’s pretty well organised and everyone knows about it but thanks to the efforts of Shimano’s incredibly professional race technician, Ray Waxham, my Megatower got a new suite of XTR M9100 fitted. In a greenhouse which was being used as an artists studio, as it turned out…
I am by no means an ex-pro but I’ve ridden enough bikes to know that nine and a half mile singletrack descents with not even a hint of brake fade is something to truly marvel at. You can read more about XTR M9100’s development here but in summary it’s a nerd-fest of little details which combine to make it the best groupset I’ve used. The shifting is beautifully mechanical and thanks to HYPERGLIDE+ you don’t have to ease off the power to do it. I’ve been a fan of Shimano’s brakes for a long time and knew they’d be good but the combination of the sheer breadth of modulation, colossal end stroke power and the fade-free cooling was exceptional.
Shimano’s XTR M9100 brakes were a revealtion for Ric. Pic: Duncan Philpott
XTR has long been a moniker I internally associate with light weight but with M9100 there’s definitely been a lot of performance meat added to those bones.
We also received a couple of boxes of fresh rubber from event sponsors Vittoria. Tyres are easily one of the most divisive components on a bike and are instantly either amazing or the worst things ever. I’d never ridden any of the Italian brands tyres so was slightly apprehensive but when GMBN’s Neil Donoghue mentioned in conversation that they were really good I was reassured. I went for their Mazza model front and rear whilst I put the Martello on the rear of my Heckler.
The Mazza was superb on home turf, it’ll be interesting to see how it gets on in Scotland. Pic: Duncan Philpott
I rank predictability highest when it comes to tyres - grip is obviously pretty fundamental too but if it’s hard to work out at what point a tyre runs out of it then it can be a lot less useful. That being said, the Mazza’s aggressive, widely-spaced tread pattern seemed to fit with the Megatower’s inbuilt need for speed on the fast and loose trails of Pietra. We were lucky enough to ride Finale Ligure that same week the day after a rain shower (by far the best time to ride there) and the tyre did an equally good job in tackier conditions too whilst also clearing well too.
So there you have it - my Megatower is now safely back in the UK after its time spent in the stunning surroundings of the Swiss Alps and Italian Riviera. What it will miss in arid high mountain rock fields and limestone gulleys it will recoup ten fold in dark Scottish slop and ruts. I’m intrigued to find out how the Mazza’s hold up and have my eyes on a couple of cheeky suspension changes so will report back later in the year.