Pete spent a week in the highest of Scottish Highlands to see what the new Santa Cruz Tallboy can do when the going gets tough.

This two from the top model adds the carbon Reserve wheels to the mix, giving the Santa Cruz Tallboy as seen here a price tag of £7,299.99. Hailed as the ‘downhiller’s XC bike’, can this 120mm travel, full carbon 29er live up to the hype?

Key features:

  • Rockshox Pike Select + 130mm fork
  • Fox Float Performance Elite shock
  • SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed drive
  • SRAM G2 RSC brakes
  • DT Swiss 350 hubs on Santa Cruz Reserve 27 carbon rims
  • Rckshox Reverb Stealth dropper
  • £7,299.99 RRP
  • SantaCruzBicycles.com

Santa Cruz launched a redesigned Tallboy, and Juliana Joplin simultaneously late August and a month later, Pete had a second from the top model to test out at home in the Scottish Highlands.

The new Tallboy features a lower link-driven Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) link, much like the new version of the Hightower and this change comes with it an extra 10mm travel, increasing from 110mm to 120mm.

Out front, the damping is handled by a 130mm fork, steering a 29″ wheel, giving a head angle of 65.5 degrees.

The medium Tallboy tested here sports a roomy 450mm reach and a 405mm seat tube. At 5 foot 4 inches, it’s pretty much bang on for me. Interesting to note that the seat angle combined with the lower link mounted shock means the bike may well feel shorter in the saddle than it does when you’re up on the pedals.

The flip chip allows the chainstay to be adjusted +/-10mm, with the low setting adding more progression to the suspension. There is also an axle flip chip on the carbon models only that allows larger 29″ tyres up to 2.6″ to be used.

All this change is designed to make the bike handle higher speeds and tougher trails than the outgoing model which was far more cross country-orientated, a role no doubt taken on by the 100mm travel Blur.

Spec

There’s very few things that you’d need to change on this bike before giving it the beans, and other than adding pedals, I didn’t change anything before the Tallboy’s opening sortie.

This is the first in the range to sport the CC level carbon frame and the cheapest of the three to do so.

Drive train is full SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed with an X1 carbon crank. SRAM G2 RSC brakes bring in the stopping power. Stealth Reverb is in full effect. A 130mm Pike Select+ rounds out the SRAM group setup.

Interestingly, the shock is a Fox Performance unit, in this case a FOX Float Performance Elite DPS. Personally, I have preferred the Performance range from Fox for better small bump sensitivity in recent years.

Wheels are 28 hole DT Swiss 350 hubs laced to Santa Cruz’s Reserve 27 carbon rims via some DT Competition Race spokes. These are shod with a Maxxis Minion DHF 3C EXO TR and a Minion DHR2 EXO TR, both in 29 x 2.3″.

In the cockpit, steering is handled by Santa Cruz’s AM carbon bar in 35mm x 760mm with their Palmdale grips. The stem is a RaceFace Aeffect R 50mm unit and the headset is a Cane Creek 40 IS number.

First impressions

Unsurprisingly, the Tallboy in the CC guise with the SRAM XO1 groupset and Reserve rims, feels very light indeed without feeling like it would float away on a stiff breeze.

After setting the sag at around 25% on both the fork and the shock, I added two clicks of rebound to both, finding that most bikes come out of the box a little fast for my liking. I ran the Charger damper on the Pikes fully open to suit my sub-60kg frame. On a quick blast of the local forestry trails, the bike seemed pretty numb, that was, until I dropped a shoulder into a turn and left the panic levers alone…

This was the first time I noticed that the Tallboy tries to throw you out of turns. Load the bars and the front wheel with it, attack the turn ahead and you’ll be rewarded by being slung out of the corner with more speed than you know what to do with.

Merida eOneSixtytea

SRAM’s G2 RSC brakes provided plenty of stopping power all week but I couldn’t for the life of me stop them howling at me. Despite cleaning and straightening the rotors and pads with some suitable cleaner and my thumbs, they were still a disturbance of the peace for the duration…

After weaving my way down some proper boulders in the northwest Highlands, I opted to speed the rear shock up and boy did the bike come alive. Moving the brake levers almost to the outer extremity of the bars to suit my hand position and I felt like the Tallboy would go anywhere I had the power and skill to take it. I did find the Palmdale grips a little hard and fat for my hands, that’s personal preference though.

As I became more comfortable on the bike, the more the bike shone. Light enough for daft, slower than walking, see if you can get up techy trails; always keen to go forwards if you have the legs or fancy leaving the brakes alone and an alarming tendency to gather speed on level ground like no other bike I have ridden.

When the going gets fast and rough, the Tallboy doesn’t make you feel like there isn’t a lot of travel on tap. Naturally, smoother lines mean even more speed, but it’ll do a good job of getting you out of as much trouble as you can get it into.

What do we think?

During 95 miles over 35 hours ride time and 13,500ft descent in six days, the Tallyboy did everything I asked of it. No punctures and no mechanicals, despite the ferocity of the Scottish rock eyeing it up, it didn’t put a foot wrong.

I’m really looking forward to really getting to grips with the Tallboy, despite a very good opening account.

We love:

  • Confidence-inspiring ride
  • Excellent damping
  • Fantastic brakes
  • Low weight

Could do better:

  • £7,299.99 is a lot of money
  • Grips are a little firm and fat for my liking

Check out the full Santa Cruz Tallboy range over on their website here.


Long Term Test Update

So we’re into April 2020 and lockdown is in effect, giving me a little more time to put down my thoughts on how the Tallboy has performed since September both in terms of ride and reliability.

From the off, the Tallboy was quick, very quick, but there were a few nagging doubts that meant that I kept feeling there was an overdrive gear I couldn’t quite access.

In the depths of winter, with rain omnipresent in this corner of western Scotland, I decided the time was ripe to investigate the possibilities. One trip to see Keith at Mugdock Country Cycles to perform some minor surgery later and the Tallboy emerged a different beast altogether.

Surgery solved a number of issues both performance and reliability-related. Always feeling like the dampers could offer more in the way of plushness, something that others had commented as a hallmark of the Tallboy. To that end, I had all the air volume tokens removed to make them more linear, and the internals relubed as they’d done more than their fare share of hours to that point.

The Minion combo that had performed so well on the summer’s rocky-heavy trails were now struggling on the soaking wet steeps at home so were swapped out for some Continental Der Baron Projekt 2.4 numbers. Tubeless, naturally.

These two changes made the bike come alive wholesale. Traction and tracking increased exponentially and a bike I had come to love already, just kept giving.

Less major surgery was performed by swapping the Santa Cruz 35mm bar and stem combo out for a 31.8mm Answer/Spank combo courtesy of Hotlines. Even with the bike being far more comfortable to ride, 35mm bars are just completely unnecessary for a human of 8 stone 4, and led to some seriously sore and tired hands. I had also change the grips for shorter, skinnier grips in the form of WTB’s Wafel numbers. Pure bliss.

The SRAM G2 brakes were never right from the off, and I took the opportunity to get these back to the UK service centre who diagnosed them as having seized pistons and promptly replaced the units. Stopping power returned, it was time to charge (pre-lockdown, obviously), but bigger rotors would really help keep tabs on the Tallboy’s inherent keenness for speed.

Sadly, the SRAM bottom bracket, Cane Creek headset and DT Swiss front hub bearings all had met their makers and needed a full bearing transplant. The former two being replaced outright, the latter just needing some fresh 6902s.

While the Tallboy truly came to life after some suspension twiddling, new cockpit, winter tyres and some fresh bearings, I can’t help but think that I’d be a bit miffed if I’d had to pay for essentially a fork and shock service; new brakes, BB, headset and front wheel bearings had I dropped over seven thousand pounds on the bike some months earlier.

Any decent bike shop would help you get your dampers and brakes right before you left the shop, so you could maybe overlook those, which narrows down the real issues to the front hub  bearings.

Check out the full Santa Cruz Tallboy range over on their website here.