Review: Santa Cruz Tallboy – A Bike Best Suited for the Rider Who Tackles a lot of Different Terrain
- Tester: John Arnoldson
- Age: 46 | Height: 5’10” | Weight: 190 lbs. | Inseam: 32”
- Price: $6,500
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL, XXL
- More info: Santa Cruz Bicycles
The Tallboy from Santa Cruz Bicycles has always been a class favorite 29er. It was just getting a little long in the tooth. So with knowledge garnered from the development of the Hightower and Nomad, the design team made some significant changes to the original and created version three. Some of the changes include a slackened head angle, shorter chainstays, steeper seat angle, lower bottom bracket and increased suspension travel—all wrapped up with the latest VPP design. The result is a much more capable, modern trail bike.
Oh, and there’s that one little additional alteration—an option to run the Tallboy not just with its 29 inch wheels, but with 27plus ones as well. Clearly bikes supporting both 29 and 27plus wheelsets are becoming more and more important in today’s landscape. Smart for the bike company: one frame, two SKUs. Smart for the consumer: choices.
First I’ll touch on how the Tallboy is able to swap between two different wheel sizes without affecting its overall geometry. Along with a fork swap, a 120 mm Fox 34 for the 29er and a 130 Fox 34 for the 27plus, Santa Cruz has decided to throw a chip into the mix. Where the shock attaches to the rear swingarm the Tallboy features a reversible chip which helps offset the remaining minor differences in the bike’s geometry when changing from a 29 inch wheel to a 27plus one. In use, it’s as easy as un-bolting the shock, flipping two bits of metal around and reattaching the shock. Pretty simple.
Sure if you want to run the Tallboy as both a 29er and 27plus bike it’s going to cost a bit to buy a complete bike, another fork and an additional wheelset—but most people are just going to chose one platform or the other.
I had just finished riding and reviewing another 27plus sized bike, so I thought it was prudent to take the Tallboy out in plus mode to start. I immediately noticed the decreased rolling resistance of the Tallboy’s 2.8 inch Maxxis Rekons as opposed to the larger 3 inch tires of the previous bike. This was most noticeable while climbing, where it just seemed easier to pedal, and cornering, where the Tallboy felt very direct. Santa Cruz uses a 3C Rekon on the front for better grip through corners and a dual-compound rear Rekon to extend life. Matched up to 40 mm wide ARC Plus rims from Easton Cycling, the Rekons performed incredibly well through the various terrains we are blessed with in Pennsylvania. Very confidence inspiring.
Suspension on the 27plus build is the same as the 29er, save the 10 mm of additional travel in the fork, and it feels very well balanced and smooth. The Fox Float shock, matched with 110 mm of VPP rear travel, provides for great bob-free climbs as well as consistent tracking through bermy, twisty singletrack. Since 110 mm isn’t a ton of travel, I did find myself bottoming out on some of the bigger hits, but it was never harsh and was perfectly suited for 99 percent of the trail.
After spending a lot of time with the plus-sized wheels, I swapped over to the bigger 29 inch hoops and found myself on a different bike. It wasn’t a huge, mind-blowing change, but there is definitely a different feel. Instead of just hard charging through roots and rocks, the narrower 29 inch tire requires a bit more finesse to maintain momentum through the fray. No longer could I just blindly roll over a bunch of wet roots; I needed to pick which ones looked like they would afford more traction. Where the 29 inch Tallboy required a bit more focus to ride, it felt like it allowed me to accelerate a bit faster, especially up hills. The 29er has some great rubber on it too, featuring a DHF Minion up front and an Ardent out back.
Helping out with those hills, the Tallboy is pretty light thanks to the component choices Santa Cruz made and the carbon frame. Also, the gearing is really spot on. The 11 speed X01 SRAM 10-42 cassette matched to the 30t crankset provided me with a gear for everything I ran across. We’ve got a lot of ups and downs around town, and I cycle through a lot of gears during my rides. I never found myself wanting that “one more gear.” Head and seat tube angles put me in a great position to allow good power transfer to the cranks and keep the front end from wandering about on those tough, slow climbs.
Summing this whole thing up, don’t let the name tag fool you; this is not the Tallboy of old; this is a whole new bike—and an awesome one. Santa Cruz has been doing a great job of learning what makes a bike excel in an aggressive trail setting and passing on those genes to the next generation of bikes. It worked here. I have never felt as comfortable and confident on a “short travel” trail bike as I have on the new Tallboy. Simply excellent.
If the Tallboy is of interest to you, chances are you’ve been drooling over the Hightower (reviewed in Dirt Rag 192) from Santa Cruz as well. I rode both and loved each for different reasons. Where the Hightower’s increased travel and slacker head tube made for a bike that can hold its own in a variety of gravity assisted runs, it is inherently less adept at maneuvering in tighter and slower singletrack spaces, especially when climbing, and a bit less efficient when pedaling. I feel the Hightower’s slacker stance is perfect for a rider who is willing to give up a bit of cross-country efficiency so they can take their bike into situations where the terrain requires more forgiveness, like a bike park.
The Tallboy is best suited for the rider who tackles a lot of different terrain, climbs fairly often and needs an efficient bike that handles pretty much everything they are going to come across. The Tallboy’s five sizes, compared to the Hightower’s three, may also equate to a better fit for some.
With 27plus/29 wheels; specs based on size tested
- Reach: 17.6/17.7”
- Stack: 23.8/23.7”
- Top Tube: 24.6/24.5”
- Head Tube: 68/68°
- Seat Tube: 73/73°
- BB Height: 12.9/13.0”
- Chainstays: 17.0/17.0”
- Weight: 27.0/26.5 lbs. w/o pedals