Santa Cruz Tallboy D 29 2017 Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
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 newest 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.
The Tallboy is among the fun factor standouts. It's playful, but not nearly as spritely as the Ibis Ripley. Where the Ripley slices precise lines and willingly hops from one to the next, the Tallboy prefers to hold a steady trajectory. It's still maneuverable but has hints of an aggressive attitude. The aggressive Santa Cruz Hightower LT and Yeti SB5.5 score well for their jolly charging attitudes. longer travel Santa Cruz Hightower and Commencal Meta TR both score an 8 out of 10 for their more capable personalities.
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 Ibis Ripley 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.
The Tallboy is in the middle of the bike pack for its downhill skills. It is very good for its travel range but doesn't come near the capabilities of some the longer-travel options. For more authoritative downhill skills in a 29er, check out the Hightower.
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.
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 earns top honors for its climbing prowess. Due to its comfort and pedaling efficiency, this is among the best options for long climbs. Only the Ripley compares to the Tallboy's ratio of climbing proficiency to descending skills. The Pivot Mach 429 Trail can keep up on the climbs, but it's not as exciting heading up or downhill.
We pitted the Tallboy against four other short-travel trail bikes in timed uphill benchmarking trials. They reported that the Tallboy is the faster climber than the Giant Anthem, Niner Jet 9, Specialized Camber, Trek Fuel EX. The test course was three minutes long on average and is a switchbacking climb with a few rocky sections and one rock step.
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. This is where the 29-wheeled Ibis Ripley really stands out. It corners like a 27.5-inch bike.
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 seat post 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.
Ease of Maintenance
Price is important when deciding which bike to purchase. It is also beneficial to keep maintenance costs in mind. Full suspension bikes have suspension pivots, linkages, and bearings that allow the front and rear triangles to move. Some designs are more complex than others. It can be a good idea to ensure that your local shop is knowledgeable about a certain design prior to purchasing an exotic boutique brand. In addition, forks, rear shocks, brakes, drivetrains, and dropper posts all require attention. That's the only benefit with our Tallboy having a rigid seat post.
Santa Cruz bikes use a dual-link suspension system with collet axles to hold everything together. This is a relatively straightforward design that requires some light torque values. The stock bearings are low quality and tend to wear out quickly. RockShock recommends more frequent service intervals for the bike's fork and rear shock than Fox alternatives. SRAM brakes require a more involved bleed process and corrosive fluid than Shimano. Find out more about our maintenance rankings in the Trail Mountain Bike Review.
Frame Design and Measurements
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.
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.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy D scored well in our performance rankings. The same is not true of its components. While the frame geometry is undeniably dialed-in, Santa Cruz opted for some less than stellar components on this particular build. We feel the components fit the style of riding intended for the bike but skimped in performance.
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 during 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.
We tested the Tallboy Aluminum D build which rolls in at a $2,699. 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. $2,699 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. What the Tallboy lacks in components, it makes up for in a well-designed frame, dialed geometry, and a great suspension platform.
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