First Impressions: Santa Cruz Tallboy 4

The evolution of a legend

The original Santa Cruz Tallboy was one of the first great big-wheel trail bikes that proved 29ers could be much more than stupid cross country bikes. The Tallboy was fun. It could be ridden hard and fast, didn’t mind getting off the ground, and it hit far above where its diminutive travel number would predict. It was one of the first of its kind to make the disadvantages of the larger wheel vanish.

That was a decade ago. Nowadays, hardly anyone will argue that 29ers have no problem being both fast, and fun. The larger wheels dominate nearly every category of mountain bike. I remember sitting at a Bike Mag Roundtable in the fall of 2010, where the entire table unanimously agreed that 29-inch wheels would absolutely never find their way onto downhill bikes.

 

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Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Bicycles

 
Well, they have, and in its own small way the Tallboy helped them get there.

So what’s next for the legend? If you pay any attention to mountain bike trends, you likely already know the answer: More. More travel, more stiffness, more reach, more aggressive.

And while it is all those things, the Tallboy is still relatively the same. “Relatively” being the key word. It’s by no means anywhere close to the bike that it was 10 years ago, but it fits right in where it used to. Which, of course is in the super-quick-but-also-dangerously-capable category.

To get it there, Santa Cruz decided to redesign the Tallboy with the lower-link VPP design first developed for the company’s longer-travel bikes. I don’t love the way the frame obscures the shock in such a way that it makes setting sag slightly tougher, but I do love literally everything else about it, starting with ride quality.
 

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Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Bicycles

 
Most notably, the Tallboy seems to suffer from almost none of the pedal feedback that has plagued VPPs of past. Yet, it still has impressive pedaling efficiency. It doesn’t completely cut the suspension off under power, so you don’t really get that “sprints like a hardtail” thing you’d get from previous VPP bikes. However, the suspension feels like it’s more neutral. It can still absorb some impacts if you’re mashing through a rock garden, and that’s the sort of behavior that saves energy in the long run.

It’s also about how the Tallboy’s 120-millimeters of rear travel is delivered. It’s more supportive throughout the stroke, so rather than losing speed in corners, the Tallboy loads up and pops you out. It’s a more predictable, more modern feeling suspension curve, and it’s one part of why the Tallboy does so well in all conditions.
 

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Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Bicycles

 
The other factors are stiffness and geometry. Before we get into geometry numbers, it’s worth noting that the new Tallboy is impressively torsionally stiff, both at the front and rear ends. It stays on your chosen line without needing to fight it, and can be pushed hard into corners without splaying or twanging. Which is a good thing, because the bike’s slack 65.5-degree head angle with reduced offset 130-mil-travel fork, modernly-long reach (470 millimeters, size large), short 430-millimeter chainstays (which are actually adjustable to 440 millimeters if you prefer stability over maneuverability), and low bottom bracket, make the bike ultra good at getting out of trouble.
 
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Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Bicycles

 
It has aggressive enough geometry to ride ultra steep descents, but it still feels quick and snappy underfoot. Will it steer as quickly as the previous Tallboy? Probably not at first. The Gen 3 Tallboy is 2.5 degrees steeper, has a normal offset fork, has a vastly shorter wheelbase, and less travel. But that’s okay. This is not a small revision to an existing model, it’s a full rebuild to put the Tallboy back to where it all started—pushing boundaries.

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