Santa Cruz Tallboy: First Ride Review
The 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy is here and spoiler alert, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
The V3 Tallboy was getting a little long in the tooth (weird horse reference but whatever.) Just this week Santa Cruz dropped the new Tallboy V4 with a lower link suspension design, slack geometry and the perfect amount of travel for maximizing fun on the trail. Santa Cruz is calling it the downhiller’s XC bike — and they’re not wrong.
Geometry, sizing and money stuff.
The geometry of this bike is pretty wild considering it’s a 120mm travel Trail/XC/UpDuro/Downcountry/Singletrack Weapon…. Let’s just call it a mountain bike. It has a super slack 65.5° head tube angle, 1211mm wheelbase and 76.2° seat tube angle (size L.) Or in terms that aren’t meant for nerds, the Tallboy was designed to go up mountains, down mountains and pretty much anywhere you can fit two wheels and a bike frame. It’s made to climb quickly, descend even faster and make the most out of every little bonus feature and side hit on the trail. It also features adjustable geometry to fine tune your ride. There’s a flip chip at the lower shock mount allowing you to change the head and seat tube angles by 0.2° and the BB drop by a whopping 3mm. These are pretty minute changes, but can alter the way the bike feels. Keep in mind that the “low” setting makes the rear suspension slightly more progressive providing more ramp up at the end of the stroke. In addition to the flip chip, the Tallboy can run an alternate chain stay length using a rear axle flip chip to add 10mm of length. The extra length will provide more stability and a more balanced feel for riders on XL and XXL frames. Alternatively the shorter chain stay length will give the bike a more poppy and maneuverable ride quality. It comes down to preference here.
I rode the XL for this first ride review. It felt like pretty much every other Santa Cruz I’ve ridden lately in terms of fit. I’m 6’2” and typically ride an XL frame. The reach is nice and roomy providing a lot of bike in front of you. The seated position is upright and comfortable without feeling cramped. The stock bars felt a little too wide, but that’s an easy fix. Santa Cruz offers the Tallboy in a huge range of sizes from XS - XXL. So unless you’re better suited for the circus, you should be able to find the right size.
Now we are down to the money stuff. Santa Cruz doesn’t make or sell a cheap bike. They put quality components on every build regardless of frame material. There’s a little peace of mind in buying a bike that you know will hold up for more than a season or two. With that in mind, you’ll be happy to see that you can get an aluminum Tallboy for under 3k. I’m just as surprised as you are. Prices go up from there with carbon builds starting at $4200 and topping out at a whopping $10400 for a bike that makes your neighbor’s Tesla Model X look like a Power Wheels Princess Jeep.
The Tallboy climbs more like a trail bike than an XC bike. To be fair, a lot of that could be in the tires. It ships with Maxxis Minions front and rear. Not exactly lightweight, fast rubber. That said, the Tallboy feels significantly lighter than its bigger brothers the Hightower and Megatower. Honestly it’s one of the first things I noticed on the bike. The wheels spin up quicker, the bike doesn’t feel like it’s dragging and the overall climbing experience isn’t too miserable. It’s not all candy and roses, though. At 30% sag, the Tallboy’s rear suspension is a little on the active side — meaning, there’s a bit of pedal bob. Firming up the suspension to 25% sag, obviously changed the climbing ability quite a bit. However, there are some tradeoffs when it comes to descending, which we will get to a little later (I know, I have you sitting on the edge of your seat now.) I chose to keep the shock at 30% sag and just flip the climb switch to firm things up for long, smooth fire road climbs. The active nature of the bike was actually very appreciated once I hit the more technical singletrack climbs. A more active rear suspension platform helps “push” your rear wheel back into the ground, generating a lot of traction. It also helps the rear wheel to get up and out of the way of rocks, roots, bumps and other things that get in your way. This is probably the biggest reason I ran the shock at 30% sag. I’ll take a slightly less efficient fire road climber for a better singletrack ascender any day. On my test ride the rougher and steeper the trail became, the better the Tallboy climbed.
Side Note: If I could actually get a set of calipers on the shock to measure sag precisely, I’d probably run it closer to 28.59% but with the lower link design it’s damn near impossible to do. That’s honestly one of my biggest complaints about the lower link. The shock goes through the frame making it tough to get access. It’s hard enough to get my fat fingers in there to pull the O ring up to the shock body, let alone measure sag with a ruler or set of calipers. Queue my request for Santa Cruz to add a sag indicator a la Evil Bikes. Or queue my request for Fox to print sag measurement on their stanchions.
I could sum up this whole section with one word - fun. I’ll give you a little more than that though…. it’s really fun.
All joking aside, the Tallboy is one of those bikes that likes to spend time in the air, leaning over in corners or doing some cool trick that involves riding on only one of the two wheels provided. In other words, if you liking having fun on a bike, the Tallboy is a no brainer. Just because you like to ride a bike with both wheels firmly planted on terra firma, doesn’t mean you’ll dislike the Tallboy. In Fact, it also does that thing mountain bikes should do very well — it rides dirt trails on mountains. It descends with a lot of confidence, likely due to the slack head tube angle, stout Rockshox Pike fork (on the higher end builds) and a whole lot of bike in front of you. It handles corners better than any bike I’ve ridden recently. It doesn’t make every tight switchback a 13-point turn. Instead, with a little lean, it holds a line through a corner without feeling squirrelly or cumbersome. This is where those beefy tires really help out. The large side knobs dig in and help the bike stay planted through the corner. And now we come to the part where the bike performs better than it has any business doing — the chunky bits. A 120mm bike shouldn’t be able to ride through rocks and roots with as much ease as the Tallboy. When I jump on a shorter travel bike I tend to take it easier through the rock gardens. You know, for my health. The first rock garden I came to on my test ride, I went though at a reasonable and safe speed (read: slow.) Then the Tallboy laughed at me. The next bit of rocky trail I came to I went a little faster, and faster and faster as my ride went on. I got to the point where I was riding rock gardens like I’d ride them on my Megatower — fingers off the brakes, a big smile on the face and a lot of hootin’ and hollerin'. Santa Cruz didn’t lie when they called this the downhiller’s XC bike. The planted stable nature is another reason I chose to keep the tallboy at 30% sag. The bike just sits in and takes rock hits like a champ. At 25% sag the back end skipped around just a little more.
Now back to talking about the fun things the Tallboy does very well. The tallboy is one of the easiest bikes I’ve ridden to get in the air. It doesn’t take much effort to pull off a quick bunny hop. It also doesn’t need much of a lip to get higher off the ground than you’d probably like. It makes finding those little natural doubles on a trail very rewarding. You have sharp and pointy rocks in your way? Jump them. Need to get up and over a root? Jump it. You’re on a flat boring bit of trail? Yeah, jump that too.
quick comparison to the ibis ripley
The Tallboy and the Ripley are similar bikes when it comes to geo charts and travel numbers. In the real world though, they’re quite different. The Tallboy beats the Ripley on the descents where the opposite is true for climbing. Honestly if you didn’t know it, you’d have a hard time believing the two bikes have the same amount of travel. The Ripley is more for the person who puts a big emphasis on climbing quickly while the Tallboy is for the rider looking to have the most fun overall. Stay tuned for a full showdown (I know you want one.)
the all arounds
I’ll sum things up with this bold statement. The Tallboy has me reconsidering my Megatower. The two bikes are nothing alike. One is fat and the other is slim. One plows while the other pops. One is made for going face-melting speeds on tough trails while the other is meant to be ridden almost everywhere at normal speed. The reason the Tallboy has me thinking I could get rid of my Megatower is how much fun it was on the trail. It honestly had me thinking I could change the way I ride bikes because it was such a blast. My Strava descents weren’t as fast and I wouldn’t race enduro on the Tallboy, but is that the only reason I bike? Do I need to plow through the chunkiest terrain as fast as possible? Or would my ride be more enjoyable if I slowed down and found bonus features? Now if I could only find the cash to have both.