Exclusive: Dream Bikes–the Extended Version

A deeper look at one editor's 2013 favorite--the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc

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To see all of our Editors’ Dream Bikes, check out the December issue of Bike, on newsstands now

By Vernon Felton

Smack.

Dang…

Smack.

Damn.

Smack.

Gawdammit!

Smack.

F@ck this!!!

I threw the 29er to the ground and stalked off into the woods. Godalmighty, I hated these things. Stupid-long rear centers, senile shopping cart handling up front and some kind of evil Gypsy curse against the whole breed of wagon wheelers that made performing the smallest of wheelies and manuals some kind of Herculean feat of strength.

I hated 29ers. It was that simple.

We were in Bellingham at the time, testing bikes for the 2011 Bible of Bike Tests and I couldn’t thread the needle to save my damn life. This is my backyard. I configured the damn test loop myself. These are trails that I can ride blindfolded, senile and stoned, and yet that day, I was smacking my handlebars into cedar after mossy cedar.

I’d ridden the same trails all season and I had that shit dialed. Hell, I’d ridden `em the day before on several 26ers and everything was roses and kisses. These wagon wheelers, however, were killing my love for everything I loved.

Just as I was about to swear off all 29ers, I hopped on the Santa Cruz Tallboy—the original, four-inch travel version—and within a mile I was back in my happy place. The bike steered well. It swept through tight corners the way bikes are supposed to. It was…fun. Yeah, that was what was missing from the bulk of the other 29ers. Fun. They might have been great for big, endurance rides but they were as fun as a bath full of razor blades. By the time I finished that days riding on the Tallboy I had just one question: When will Santa Cruz make a long-travel version of this bike?

Well, the Tallboy LT and LTc (the carbon version here) have been out for a year and change now and I’m still a big fan of the bike. Yes, we’ve reviewed it before, you can check out last year’s Bible of Bike Tests review RIGHT HERE.

I wound up holding onto that bike for the season. This was my BC Bike Race beast—a snappy rig that pedals like an XC racer, but uses all of its 5.3 inches of quality squish to mow through tough terrain like the all-mountain machine it truly is.

Years ago, Santa Cruz had seriously crappy pivots. The second generation stuff that has been on bikes for a good many years now is top notch--very durable, easy to work on (when that time eventually comes) and generally silent.

Years ago, Santa Cruz had seriously crappy pivots. The second generation stuff that has been on bikes for a good many years now is top notch–very durable, easy to work on (when that time eventually comes) and generally silent.

Let me back up a second and say that if the day’s goal is to go out, catch a little air and noodle around on the steeps, I’ll still opt for a smaller-wheeled, 6-inch rig like a Specialized Enduro or Yeti SB66, which are both more playful than this 29er. In fact, my other main rig for the year was a 26er Enduro and I love the hell out of that bike—the short chainstays, low bottom bracket and roomy cockpit are genius and, frankly, most of the bikes I like (the Yeti and Kona Process are good examples) share similar traits. And while I’m not one of those guys that spends much time airborne, the Enduro feels great when I do launch off a drop.

For a good chunk of 2013, however, my goal was different. In fact, the fact that I even had a “goal” was different. I was bent on logging long miles over rocky and root-covered trails and the Tallboy LTc has few equals in that department. The fact that it ticks off those boxes while also being a hoot to ride is just gravy. Really tasty gravy.

There are so many things I like about the Santa Cruz—the beautifully formed carbon frame, the peerless locking-collet pivot hardware, ISCG-05 mounts, aggressive geometry, outstanding lateral rigidity, a frame weight of just 5.18 pounds (as advertised) and, last but not least, the fact that the frame doesn’t saddle me with a creaky, press-fit bottom bracket.

I realize that, aside from the low frame weight, that some of those details don’t sound titillating. Okay. I get that. But bear with me: bottom brackets shouldn’t creak. You shouldn’t have to slather them with Loctite to keep your $300 to $500 crankset assembly from going all wonky mid-ride. Pivots should last. They should be easy to work on when you get the chance.

I swapped out the stock Shimano XT kit on our test bike for a SRAM XX1 drivetrain. I shaved serious weight and haven't had a problem with the single-ring system in a year's worth of riding in crap conditions. I kept the XT brakes on there--I prefer the feel of Avid, but there's no denying the reliability of Shimano brakes.

I swapped out the stock Shimano XT kit on our test bike for a SRAM XX1 drivetrain. I shaved serious weight and haven’t had a problem with the single-ring system in a year’s worth of riding in crap conditions. I kept the XT brakes on there–I prefer the feel of Avid, but there’s no denying the reliability of Shimano brakes.

Look, bikes are expensive today. Crazy expensive. When you drop a lot of coin on them they shouldn’t be a pain in the ass to live and ride with. If you keep the chain clean, if you lube it frequently, if you maintain proper air pressure in your suspension…everything should be hunky dory. Your bike shouldn’t require an arsenal of proprietary widgets and a pint of unicorn blood to keep it running. The Santa Cruz isn’t saddled with any kind of feature that leaves me waving a wrench in the air and cursing the Gods of Bicycle Repair.

Could the Tallboy LTc be better? Sure. I’d really love shorter chainstays. If I could change one thing that would be it. The Tallboy LT sports 17.7-inch chainstays and while there are bikes with longer rear ends, lopping half an inch off these suckers could be really, really cool. Still, the Tallboy LT handles better in close quarters than the geometry chart would suggest. I live in the trees, so I wouldn’t ride it if that weren’t true.

At the end of the day, I can ride just about anywhere on the Tallboy LTc with nary a thought about whether it’s the “right” bike for the trails in question. That’s priceless.

I did make a few modifications to the original (SPX am 29) build kit. Specialized’s Roval Control 29 carbon wheelset weighs just 1,580 grams, yet has withstood a season of serious pounding and costs about half the price of other carbon wheelsets. Likewise, I’m a huge fan of SRAM’s XX1 drivetrain, which I ran the entire season without a single hiccup. Even with the addition of a dropper post (RockShox’s Reverb remains my favorite) I was able to chop more than a pound-and-a-half from the Tallboy LTc’s original weight with no less in durability. Total weight for a bike that could take a ton of abuse, pedals like a rocket, and is problem free? A hair over 28. With the dropper post. And flat pedals.

My dream bike is capable, efficient and versatile. Though these traits don’t make for the wildest of dreams, they certainly help me sleep tight each night.

To see all of our Editors’ Dream Bikes, check out the December issue of Bike, on newsstands now.

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