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Hands-on Gear Review
Santa Cruz Tallboy D 29 2017 Review
Cons: Weak build kit
Bottom line: An excellent all-around option for a rider who wants to attack a wide range of trail types.
Capability meets efficiency with Santa Cruz's newly redesigned 2017 Tallboy D. The Tallboy provides nearly unrivaled downhill performance for a 100-120mm travel bike while maintaining a spritely personality and high fun-factor. This bike has superb cornering abilities, allowing riders to pilot it aggressively with minimal effort. We credit the super short chainstays and a semi-slack head tube angle. Our testers give the Tallboy high marks for its climbing abilities, comfortable positioning, and efficiency. It is both confidence inspiring and playful on trail. Our main complaint is the Tallboy's build specification, which leaves a lot to be desired. We would upgrade to a dropper seatpost and a more adjustable fork. While $2,599 is a hefty price tag for a bike with sub-par components, the dialed frame design and stellar suspension design are top notch.
Best Applications — This bike is the most capable in the test on gnarlier and steeper terrain. Riders who want an all-around trail bike that leans a little more towards aggressive terrain will love the Tallboy. Those seeking a more cross country style rig might lean towards the Specialized Camber.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Analysis and Test Results
Our professional bike testers put five short-travel trail bikes to the test over a six week period. The Santa Cruz Tallboy D squared off against the Giant Anthem 2, Trek Fuel EX 7 29, Niner Jet 9 1-Star NX1 29, and Specialized Camber Comp 29 for trail-slaying supremacy. We ranked the bikes by their fun-factor, climbing abilities, descending abilities and build specifications to calculate a product score. The Tallboy pulled a 86 out of 100 to win the test. Read all about the process in our How We Tested article.
Frame Design and Suspension Overview
The Tallboy uses Santa Cruz's Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension design, featuring short, stout suspension links that rotate in opposite directions as the bike moves through its travel. This results in a progressive suspension design, providing different levels of stiffness throughout the stages of its travel. This suspension design is widely-regarded as one of the most effective for isolating pedaling and braking forces from the suspension. One drawback is that this design can be high-maintenance. The angular contact bearings require significant attention, proper torque, and are reputed to be creaky. We didn't run into any issues with the Tallboy during our test period.
It is important to note that the Tallboy is available in a women's model. The Juliana Joplin features the same exact frame geometry and travel numbers as the Tallboy. The major difference is that it is outfitted with a lighter shock tune to better suit the average weight of a woman rider. In addition, the Joplin features women's specific contact points. This bike is available in aluminum or carbon with 29" or 27.5" build kits ranging from $2699 to $7999.
We measured the Tallboy's head tube angle at 67-degrees, which is slacker than was typical for a short-travel 29er a few short years ago. Back then, 29ers of this travel range sported ultra-steep 71-degree head angles. The newer, semi-slack geometry makes the bike comfortable on steeper downhill terrain and higher speeds. The tradeoff can be less direct steering on climbs. This isn't an issue with the Tallboy as its 436mm chainstays provide a stiff rear end and nimble and playful trail manners. The bike features boost spacing, with an extra 10mm of axle spacing up front and 6mm in the rear. Internal routing for a dropper post and rear derailleur make for clean lines.
NOTE: Santa Cruz constructed the Tallboy with adjustable geometry, activated via a flip chip in the frame, to accommodate 27.5+ wheels. Since we tested the Tallboy as a 29er, we focus on the low/29 geometry setting.
This Santa Cruz likes to party. Our testers unanimously agree this bike has the highest fun factor in the test due to its maneuverability, downhill prowess and obvious desire to be airborne. This bike is a prime example of the kind of modern geometry that can silence the 29er hate. Imagine monster truck wheels with rally car handling, and you have the newly iteration of the Tallboy.
If you are like most of the mountain bike world, you live for the downhills. Simply put, downhills are fun. The semi-slack head angle and stout chainstays result in a balanced bike that provides excellent stability, a stiff rear end, and optimal body positioning when attacking the descent. Testers agree the Tallboy is extremely comfortable in the air and inspires riders to seek out any roll, stump, or rock to launch. This bike is extremely wheelie friendly, inviting the test riders to manual or raise the front wheel often.
Santa Cruz outfitted this bike with the ultra-aggressive Maxxis Minion DHF Tire, allowing for maximum bite while leaning into corners. This reliable traction provides riders with the ability to carry speed through berms as well as flatter corners. Carrying additional speed through corners reduces the amount of pedaling required to get back up to speed to attack the next trail feature. Holding speed is crucial when it inherently takes more power to get the wagon wheels rolling from a standstill. Working smarter is fun, working harder is not.
Our testers agreed that the lack of a dropper seatpost is an enormous hindrance on the Tallboy. Not being able to move your seat out of the way when the going gets rough is nearly a cardinal sin in 2017. Also, testers feel the weight of this bike is tiresome on longer rides when bouncing and popping around almost 32 pounds of bike gets exhausting, tedious and sloppy.
Our testers scored the Tallboy a 9 out of 10 for fun factor. The Giant Anthem is second place for fun factor, posting an 8 out of 10. The Anthem's 27.5-inch wheels and dropper post allow for proper slicing and dicing through technical and turny terrain. On the other end of the spectrum, the Niner Jet 9 received a 5 out of 10 due to its long geometry and sluggish handling.
The Tallboy is a speed demon that attacks challenging trail features and gnar in a manner that no other test bike can. The Tallboy has the chops to charge technical trail features and provides the illusion that riders are piloting a burlier, more aggressive vessel. Wide open descents are stable, composed and fast. Unfortunately, the lack of a dropper post forces you into a more upright position than is desirable and prevents testers from charging this bike to its full potential.
While the power is adequate, testers didn't care for the cheap feel of the Sram Level brakes. We're being pretty picky here, the brakes functioned well enough when it was time to shut things down.
When pure speed is your idea of fun time, the Tallboy is an excellent option. This bike maintains its composure at high speeds and doesn't flinch when the gets got choppy. Testers find the smaller Giant Anthem to be a better option for those who seek a nimble feeling on tighter trails. Still, the Tallboy felt quick in all downhill sub-categories including getting up and over obstacles and fast cornering and exit speed.
Testers described the Tallboy as confidence-inspiring. It rides in a more aggressive manner than its 110mm of travel might suggest. Gone are the days where a bike's rear wheel travel determines the rowdiness of terrain it can handle. Traditionally, a bike equipped with 110mm of travel should be an XC race bike or super-light trail bike. This Santa Cruz defies that logic in a loud manner. Riders repeatedly stated that they would be comfortable taking the Tallboy on burlier all-mountain terrain without hesitation. A slacker head angle allows riders to aim it down steeper terrain without feeling like they will get ejected over the bars without notice. The lack of a dropper post seriously limits testers from comfortably cranking the speed to 11. The Maxxis DHF inspires serious confidence to attack the trail while keeping the front wheel out of trouble.
The Tallboy has sharp and precise handling. It responds well to rider input and continues to dispel the perception that 29ers handle like hot air balloons. Testers note that it's easy to get the front end up and over trail obstacles while the ultra-short chainstays encourage manuals and wheelies. Santa Cruz's VPP suspension, mated with the previously discussed Maxxis Minion DHF front tire, assures excellent traction. The bike feels grounded through chunkier terrain. The Maxxis Crossmark rear tire leaves something to be desired although testers state that it is largely a non-issue in our rather dry test conditions.
We gave the Santa Cruz a 9 out of 10 for its downhill skills. The Tallboy came in just ahead of the nimble and well-equipped Giant Anthem followed by the wagon wheeled and longer-travel Trek Fuel EX. On the other end of the spectrum, the Niner Jet 9 scored a 6 out of 10 due to sloppy handling and seemingly one-dimensional skill set. We weight the downhill metric at 25% in this category of trail bikes meant to be well-rounded vehicles.
If it sounds like the Tallboy is a playful, downhill crushing vessel, that is correct. Santa Cruz also created one of the best climbing bikes in our trail bike review. This bike places climbers in a comfortable and efficient seated position, getting in and out of the saddle, and keeping your weight balanced while doing so, is effortless. The Tallboy doesn't require too much labor to punch it uphill or maneuver through switchbacks. Many bikes with slack head angles feel like the front end wants to wander if not properly weighted. The semi-slack Tallboy tracks well and allows the rider to relax and enjoy the burn on the ascent.
Our timed uphill benchmarking trials reported that the Tallboy is the fastest climber among our test bikes. The test course was three minutes long on average and is a switchbacking climb with a few rocky sections and one rock step. The Tallboy edged out the second fastest Giant Anthem. The Trek Fuel EX was the slowest climber overall.
Multiple testers complained that the Maxxis Crossmark rear tire does not hook up well on loose, sandy climbings while out of the saddle. There is no worse feeling than being gassed near the top of a long climb and having your rear wheel spin loose. The lack of traction on the Crossmark would be a crippling issue in wetter and leafier locations. Swapping it out for another tire, say a Maxxis Minion DHR or High Roller II, is a relatively inexpensive upgrade with huge performance benefits. Multiple testers say that despite being the heaviest trail bike in our test, the extra heft was not often noticeable when climbing. Only one tester notes that the weight is an annoying inconvenience when powering uphill.
Santa Cruz's VPP suspension design provides an excellent pedaling platform, and the Tallboy doesn't ride too far down in its travel. We don't get more than the occasional pedal strike, and pedal feedback is a complete non-issue. As with most 29-inch bikes, if you stall out on the climb, the first few pedal strokes are laborious to get back to speed and regain momentum. Climbing is one area where our skepticism about the lower grade components on the Tallboy did not materialize.
The Tallboy scores a 9 out of 10 for its climbing prowess. This bike rolls in just ahead of the more cross country oriented Specialized Camber, which posted an 8 out of 10. The Tallboy also beat out the Trek Fuel EX and Giant Anthem which both score a 7 out of 10.
Cornering, Handling, and Body Language
OutdoorGearLab testers praise the Tallboy for its confidence and predictability in the corners. The bike allows testers to confidently dip into corners with a good sense of where the dreaded break-away point resides. One tester did use the common qualifier that the bike cornered well for a 29er. Cornering on this wagon-wheeled speed machine does require some attention, anticipation and proper setup. There is a penalty for coming into corners on a sloppy line. Poor corner entrance can lead to harsh braking through the corner, which kills valuable momentum. In contrast, the Giant Anthem's smaller wheels and dropper post allow riders to make last minute adjustments more quickly.
One tester notes that the lack of a dropper post makes for an upright stance when riders would prefer to be low in the attack position. The Tallboy requires that shoulders dip and rear ends shoot skyward when navigating rough terrain. We find that the lack of a dropper post results in a feeling of being on the bike as opposed to being in the bike.
Despite having a rigid seatpost and seat constantly bumping your nether regions, this bike handles beautifully. Having the Maxxis Minion DHF, with its gloriously-defined shoulder knobs, wrapped around the front wheel only intensified the pleasure of guiding the Tallboy through corners. The Maxxis Crossmark mounted on the rear wheel made for a bit of a drifty rear end that toed the line between fun and sketchy. The rear tire would be a serious issue in wetter, muddy conditions.
Fork and Shock — Santa Cruz outfitted this version of the Tallboy with a RockShox Recon RL 120mm travel fork. Testers admit that they were skeptical about the fork, but its performance is respectable. Still, multiple testers experienced difficulty setting up the rebound adjustment. Purchasing a stiffer and more adjustable fork is a spendy endeavor, but options such as the RockShox Pike or Fox Float 34 would undoubtedly enhance the ride.
The stealthy Fox Float Performance shock received praise from testers noting that it is predictable and efficient. This shock is ultra-reliable and easy to use, however, advanced riders might seek out a shock with more adjustability.
Wheels and Tires — The Tallboy comes with WTB STP i23 tubeless compatible 32 spoke rims laced to Novatec hubs. Our bike, which we ordered through Competitive Cyclist, came set up tubeless. A 23mm internal width is definitely on the narrow side by modern standards but seems reasonable for the cross country/trail application. The Novatec hubs have decent engagement and go unnoticed.
The Maxxis Minion DHF 29 x 2.3" mounted up front provides excellent bite and is an overwhelming favorite amongst OutdoorGearLab testers. The fast rolling Maxxis Crossmark rear tire is questionable on climbs and could prove troublesome in wet conditions. The Crossmark is an obvious and relatively inexpensive component to swap out.
Groupset — This Tallboy comes outfitted with a SRAM NX1 1x11 drivetrain with 30-42 gearing. SRAM NX is the relatively new 11-speed groupset that is one step below GX1. Testers found this drivetrain to be solid and perform shifting duties consistently and reliably.
The SRAM Level brakes had adequate stopping power in all conditions we encountered through our test period. Testers found the brakes to have a low-quality look and complained that installation requires removing the grips from the bar assembly.
Handlebars, Seat and Seatpost — One thing became very clear during testing, the Tallboy needs a dropper post. In 2017, being able to move your seat out of the way for cornering, technical sections of trails and downhill sections is the norm. All of our testers wanted one on this bike, and we believe it will enormously enhance the Tallboy's performance.
This bike has a 760mm Race Face Ride Lo-Rise with a 35mm clamp. This newer bar diameter adds an element of stiffness, and the width seems appropriate for a medium sized cross country or trail bike.
Notables — It's nice to have a water bottle cage option in the front triangle.
OutdoorGearLab scored the Tallboy a 6 out of 10 for its build specifications. This tied with the Niner Jet 9 for the least impressive build kit and puts the Tallboy significantly behind the Giant Anthem, which posted a 9 out of 10. We weighted build quality at 15%.
We tested the Tallboy Aluminum D build which rolls in at a $2,599. Santa Cruz offers plenty of build kits to address rider needs.
The 27.5+ version comes in at $2,699 and is also spec'ed with a RockShox Recon SL fork and SRAM Level brakes. The plus-sized version sports the same frame but features wider tires and will offer enhanced traction and confidence.
The Aluminum R1X build kit gets you a Fox Rhythm 120mm fork and upgraded SRAM Level T brakes for $2,999. Those who prefer a more supple fork might find the extra $400 justified, it's probably one of the least expensive ways to upgrade the Tallboy's front end. Other than that the R1X build is not tremendously different than the D build we tested.
To get a dropper post, you need to drop $4,599 for the Carbon S build, which features a Fox 34 fork, A Sram GX 1x11 drivetrain and high-end Sram Level TL brakes. Consumers hell-bent on a dropper post might opt to purchase a one for the aluminum Tallboy without making the cost leap into carbon fiber.
Santa Cruz is a well-respected brand in the mountain bike world. With that premium name and build quality comes a premium price tag. $2,599 is a tough pill to swallow for a bike with no dropper post that sports a RockShox Recon SL fork. That being said, the frame and suspension design performance are worth top dollar and this bike is an excellent option for someone looking to upgrade components over time.
As one tester puts it, the Tallboy is "a bike to grow with." You'll want to upgrade a number of components over time, as your budget or skill level demands. We'd start with a dropper and a new rear tire. Next, we would move on to a burlier, more adjustable fork and possibly a higher grade rear shock. Again, that R1X build could treat you well if you want a better fork right out of the gate.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy can conquer a wide variety of trails with confidence. This bike handles long climbs like a cross country racer and charges burly downhills like an all-mountain bike. Those looking for the most bang for the buck might look towards Giant Anthem, which has an excellent build and playful performance. What the Tallboy lacks in components, it makes up for in a well-designed frame, dialed geometry, and a great suspension platform.
— Pat Donahue, Joshua Hutchens, Kurt Gensheimer, Kate Blake, Clark Tate
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