Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon C S Review
Cons: A little heavy for carbon, chattery over high frequency chop
Manufacturer: Santa Cruz Bicycles
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Should I Buy This Bike?
Beyond the name and the 29-inch wheels, the completely redesigned Tallboy doesn't have much resemblance to its predecessor. In fact, it looks nearly identical to all of the longer travel trail bikes in the Santa Cruz lineup. This bike has undergone a complete overhaul that includes a completely new modern progressive geometry, 10mm more travel front and rear, and the low-shock mount VPP suspension layout. Santa Cruz bills it as "the gravity rider's XC bike", though we don't think it feels much like an XC bike at all. This is a straight-up ripping short travel trail bike. Don't let the 130/120mm of front/rear travel fool you, this bike is extremely versatile and capable of handling just about anything that comes down the trail. Santa Cruz hit a sweet spot with the geometry, creating a bike that feels comfortable cruising smooth and mellow trails yet confidence-inspiring and stable at speed or when charging down aggressive terrain. The VPP suspension design has outstanding deep stroke support and a nice progressive ramp up that helps this bike feel like it has a little more travel than it actually does. The VPP design also provides a very supportive pedal platform combined with a steep seat tube angle to make this bike an efficient and comfortable climber. Our test Carbon C frame with the S build will set you back $4,999 and is relatively well-appointed and ready to rip straight out of the box.
It would be impossible not to compare the new Tallboy to the new Ibis Ripley GX. Both bikes have recently gotten complete redesigns and occupy the shorter travel trail bike slot in their respective manufacturer's lineups. They share the exact same travel numbers and have strikingly similar geometry measurements, though the Ripley has a slightly steeper head tube angle of 66.5-degrees. Testers found both bikes to be far superior and more capable than their predecessors and they can handle virtually any terrain with their only limits being their modest travel numbers. Testers noted that the Ripley felt a little more lively with marginally crisper handling, likely due to the additional degree of head tube angle, while the Tallboy felt ever so slightly more confident in steep and rugged terrain. The Ripley's DW link suspension provides better small bump compliance, while the VPP design of the Santa Cruz has a more stable pedal platform and excellent deep stroke performance. The Ripley retails for $300 more than the Tallboy with a very similar build, though it weighs 1 lb and 12 oz less.
The Specialized Stumpjumper ST Comp Carbon 29 is another interesting comparison. The Stumpy ST is Specialized's short-travel trail bike, but it is quite a bit different than the Tallboy. Again, both bikes roll on 29-inch wheels and have identical travel numbers, but that's about where the similarities end. The Stumpjumper has a significantly more conservative geometry that includes a 20mm shorter wheelbase and a 2-degree steeper head tube angle. It feels quick, nimble, and responsive, and is certainly quite maneuverable and a spirited climber. Due to the shorter wheelbase and steeper head angle, however, the Stumpjumper doesn't inspire the same level of confidence when things get steep or rough. Testers felt the Stumpjumper was more of a long-legged XC bike, especially when compared to the ready-for-anything trail bike feel of the Santa Cruz. The Comp Carbon model we tested retails for over $700 less than the Tallboy and is a solid choice for less aggressive riders and terrain.
Looking for a short-travel trail bike and don't want to spend that much? The Giant Trance 29 2 is a fun and ripping ride at a price that's much easier to stomach. This aluminum-framed 29-inch wheeled bike sports 115mm of rear-wheel travel paired with a 130mm travel fork. The Trance's geometry is modern but a touch more conservative than the Tallboy with a slightly shorter wheelbase and 66.5-degree head tube angle. Testers found the Trance to be a bit livelier and more playful than the Tallboy, with a supple rear suspension feel thanks to the Maestro suspension platform. The Tallboy is a bit more stable at speed and harder charging all around with its more progressive geometry. The 2019 Trance 29 2 we tested retails for $3,100 with an aluminum frame and a trail-worthy build for the price.
For 2020, Santa Cruz gave the Tallboy a complete redesign. In addition to the typical longer and slacker treatment, Santa Cruz added 10mm of suspension travel; bumping it up to 120mm in the rear and 130mm up front. Our test model had a Carbon C frame that has clean lines and a modern look. Like the majority of the other models in their lineup, they went with the low shock mount VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) configuration used on the Hightower, Megatower, Nomad, and Bronson. VPP suspension is a dual-link system, and the low-mount design has the shock attached low on the down tube and passing through a hole in the bottom of the seat tube to its attachment on the lower link. The lower link is attached to the rear triangle behind the bottom bracket and is attached at a pivot point on the back of the bottom bracket itself. The upper-link is attached to the down tube just in front of the seat tube and to the rear triangle at the top of the seat stays. Santa Cruz has also integrated a flip-chip into the lower shock mount as well as an adjustable rear axle to dial in the geometry. The frame has full-sleeve internal cable routing, room within the front triangle for a full-size water bottle, and integrated downtube and chainstay protection.
We measured our size large test bike and found the numbers to be spot on with today's modern progressive geometry trends. The effective top tube length was 619mm with a 470mm reach and a 1212mm long wheelbase. The flip-chip changes the geometry just slightly, 0.2-degrees in the head and seat tubes with a 3mm change in the bottom bracket height. The head tube angle was 65.7/65.5-degrees and the seat tube angle was 76.4/76.2-degrees in the high/low settings. The bottom bracket sat at 335mm in the high setting and 332mm in low. The chainstays measured 430mm in the short setting with the option to lengthen them to 440mm. Our Carbon C "S" build weighed in at 30 lbs 10 oz set up tubeless without pedals.
- Available in Carbon CC, Carbon C (tested), and Aluminum frame
- 29-inch wheels only
- 120mm of rear-wheel travel
- Low shock mount VPP suspension design
- Designed around a 130mm travel fork
- Air shocks only
- Flip-chip adjustable geometry
- Adjustable chainstay length
- Available in sizes XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL (XS and XXL in Carbon only)
- Carbon builds range from $4,199 up to $10,399
- Aluminum framed builds starting at $2,699
The Tallboy's redesign includes a dramatic update to its geometry that makes it one of the most capable short-travel trail bikes we've ever tested. It's a far cry from the more XC-oriented Tallboy of old, instead, it's a full-on ripper that shreds just about everywhere and excels at speed or when the trail turns steep and rowdy. The VPP suspension design shines on mid-sized and bigger impacts, and rarely did our testers feel the need to hold back on the descents.
The modern geometry of the Tallboy is the primary reason this bike is so capable. The measured wheelbase of 1212mm is bordering on long for a short travel bike, and when combined with the 470mm reach it helps give it the stable, planted, and confident feel that it has at speed. When you combine these generous measurements with a slack 65.5-degree head angle (in the low setting), it inspires the confidence to dive into steep rocky chutes and completely punch the throttle on any descent. Bikes this long and slack can often feel sluggish or sloppy in the front end at slower speeds but the reduced offset fork helps to compensate for that, and the Tallboy remains manageable with responsive handling. That said, it can feel a little long in really tight terrain, but it was far from a crippling issue.
The geometry is adjustable by a flip-chip which changes the head and seat tube angles by just 0.2-degrees and the bottom bracket height by 3mm. With the rear axle flip-chip, you can also lengthen the chainstays and wheelbase by 10mm. Since this bike isn't especially poppy or playful to begin with, our testers chose to leave it in the short setting for most of our testing. We tested it in both the high and low geometry settings and found that despite the minimal changes there was a noticeable difference in handling. Santa Cruz claims that the rear suspension is slightly more progressive in the low setting, and our testers found that steering felt a little sharper in the high setting. Testers were split on which setting they preferred. Our big backcountry epic tester was sold on the high setting while the harder chargers opted for low. It should be noted that it is not easy to flip the flip-chip as the drive side is quite difficult to access. Should you choose to flip the rear axle chip, Santa Cruz provides an alternate brake caliper mount and derailleur hangers to compensate for the adjustment.
As mentioned above, Santa Cruz has switched to the low-shock mount VPP suspension configuration on the new Tallboy. We feel this is an improvement over previous VPP platforms and the Tallboy has better small bump compliance than the previous version while still maintaining excellent deep stroke performance. We feel that there are other suspension designs that provide better small bump and high-frequency chop performance, but few handle medium to big hits with the composure of VPP. Despite having only 120mm of rear-wheel travel, it took a lot to bottom out the suspension thanks to the progressive VPP design, though it is still important to remember this is a short travel bike.
The component specification on our S build is middle of the road and about what we've come to expect at this price point; perfectly functional but not flashy. The Performance level Fox 34 fork and DPS rear shock worked very well and we have no complaints. Our large test bike came with a 175mm RockShox Reverb dropper post, a nice touch given the trail slaying capabilities of the Tallboy. The rest of the cockpit was generally well-appointed, although our tall testers would have preferred a handlebar wider than 760mm and with a little more rise. The SRAM Guide R brakes with 180mm rotors are fine, and the Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR II combo was appreciated. Our testers typically prefer tires wider than 2.3", but they worked well enough.
The Tallboy performs very solidly on the climbs. The VPP suspension platform is incredibly supportive, the geometry is comfortable, and this bike climbs impressively well. It's not XC race bike fast or anything, but it certainly holds its own among short travel trail bikes, especially those that rip on descents like the Tallboy.
Excellent supportive pedaling performance is one of the hallmarks of the VPP suspension design and that is true of the new Tallboy. When seated and pedaling, testers noted that there was almost no rear suspension movement on smooth terrain, it was so calm that it almost feels like you're using the climbing switch when the shock is fully open. In fact, the only reason our testers used the compression damping switch on the rear shock was to see how it felt. Otherwise, testers rode the Tallboy in the open mode at all times; it's that good. Out of the saddle efforts result in a little suspension movement but it's minimal and less than most other designs. There is so much support that it can feel a little harsh if you're coming off a more active bike, though it doesn't take long to get used to it.
The updated geometry is modern and helps to create a roomy and comfortable seated pedaling position. The 470mm reach is generous but never feels long thanks to the steep seat tube angle. The 76.4/76.2-degree high/low seat tube angle is properly steep and keeps the rider right up above the bottom bracket and power transfer feels very direct and efficient. Testers noted that the seat tube angle didn't feel that steep, it didn't feel bad, but the actual seat tube angle is slacker than the effective angle and our 6-foot tall testers run a lot of seat post. In this situation, the higher your seat post gets the slacker the seat tube angle becomes. The 1212mm long wheelbase feels planted and not excessively long unless you're trying to negotiate really tight switchbacks. Otherwise, this bike is a powerhouse on the climbs and everything from spinning up a fire road to scrambling up some rocky tech feels great.
For as comfortable and efficient as the Tallboy is, it doesn't strike us as the fastest bike on the climbs. We feel this is partly due to the overall weight of 30 lbs 10 oz which we feel is moderately heavy for a short travel trail bike with a carbon frame. This wouldn't discourage us from riding this bike all day every day, though it wouldn't be our first choice if we were planning to do a few XC races or are seeking to dominate friends on the climbs. The component grouping gave us nothing to complain about on the climbs. The SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain worked reliably and provided ample range. The Maxxis Minion DHR II is a tester favorite and there was no shortage of climbing traction no matter the trail condition.
At a retail price of $4,999 for the Carbon C S model we tested, the Tallboy doesn't come cheap. This is a pretty standard price for a carbon frame with middle of the road components these days but we feel this is a slightly above average value considering the well-rounded performance the Tallboy offers. This is a sensible option for a large portion of riders and locations, especially those who want to get after it on the descents.
Santa Cruz didn't pull any punches when they redesigned the Tallboy and they created a short travel 29er trail bike that is impressively capable and tons of fun to ride. Despite the modest travel numbers, the modern geometry makes it confident and composed and ready for just about anything. This is not an XC bike, this is a versatile trail weapon that climbs well and is just as fun to ride on smooth and flowy trails as it is punching down aggressive terrain at mach speeds. Before you get another bike that probably has more travel than you actually need, check out the new Tallboy.
The Tallboy is offered in complete builds with Carbon CC, Carbon C (tested), and Aluminum frames. It is also offered as a frame only in Aluminum for $1,999 and Carbon CC for $3,099. It comes in two color options, Rocksteady Yellow and Yellow (tested) and Stormbringer Purple and Black. Santa Cruz's women's line, Juliana, also makes a version of the Tallboy called the Joplin.
The base model Aluminum D build retails for $2,699 and comes with a RockShox Recon RL fork, Fox Float Performance DPS shock, SRAM SX Eagle drivetrain, SRAM Level brakes, and a WTB wheelset. It does not come with a dropper seat post.
The Aluminum R build retails for $3,399 and has an upgrade to a Fox Rhythm 34 fork, SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain, and a Race Face Aeffect dropper seat post. The Carbon C R build is identical but comes with the Carbon C frame and retails for $4,199.
There are three Carbon CC builds starting with the $6,999 XO1 build. It comes with a RockShox Pike Select+ fork, Fox Float Performance Elite DPS shock, SRAM XO1 Eagle drivetrain, SRAM G2 RSC brakes, a carbon handlebar, and the option to upgrade to Santa Cruz Reserve wheels.
The XTR Reserve build costs $9,799 and comes with a full XTR kit as well as a RockShox Pike Ultimate fork, Fox Float Factory DPS shock, and Santa Cruz Reserve Carbon wheels with i9 Hydra hubs.The XX1 AXS Reserve build goes for a head-spinning $10,399 and comes decked out with the SRAM XX1 AXS electronic drivetrain, carbon cranks, and SRAM G2 Ultimate brakes.
— Jeremy Benson, Pat Donahue, Kyle Smaine