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The Cycle Life

First Look: Santa Cruz Tallboy

The first iteration of this whip defined the 29er genre. Can the redesign do that same for 27.5+ bikes?

The new Santa Cruz Tallboy. (JJAG Media)

The first iteration of this whip defined the 29er genre. Can the redesign do that same for 27.5+ bikes?

Originally launched in 2009, the Tallboy is the bike that helped full-suspension 29ers gain broad acceptance. Tighter, snappier, and more composed than pretty much any big-wheeler at the time, it won over many people who had otherwise dismissed 29ers outright. And though there have been small tweaks in the ensuing seven years—and lots of other great full-squish 29ers—the original has remained largely unchanged. Until now.

The 2016 Tallboy is a wholesale overhaul to the seminal model. The new iteration sports a whopping 2.2-degree slacker head angle for better stability, a steeper seat angle for pedaling efficiency, a longer top tube to accommodate the short stem and wide bar combo that has become the norm, and tighter chainstays for even quicker acceleration. The rear-end travel is longer—up to 110 millimeters—and the shock is said to be firmer at the start of the travel and more even across the suspension range, which is designed to give the bike a more consistent feel.

The biggest changes, however, are the modifications to accommodate both 29-inch and 27.5+ wheels. Like Santa Cruz’s more all-mountain-oriented Hightower, this bike has a chip in the suspension that raises and lowers the bottom bracket, with the lower position designed to compensate for the slightly smaller plus-size wheel circumference. The 29er edition ships with a 120-millimeter fork, while the 27.5+ gets 130 millimeters up front. Unless you’re dead set against plus wheels, I’d probably get the longer travel spec and swap in 29er wheels if that’s your preference. 

Overall, the new Tallboy is more fun and easygoing than the original. The combination of the backed-off angles with the wide bars (780 millimeters) and short stem make for better handling and high-speed stability on a par with longer-travel machines. But the bike is still light enough to race (26.1 pounds in this build), meaning it crushes both uphill and down. It feels like the rally car of mountain bikes.

The biggest debate will be wheel size, which will come down to your favored terrain and riding style. The geometries are nearly identical in both setups, but thanks to the flip chip, the 29-inch configuration feels faster and more immediate, while the 27.5+ offers ridiculous traction and crazy confidence. Overall, I’m leaning toward the 29-inch configuration, which feels like the best compromise between speed, weight, and enjoyment. In regions with loose trails like the Southwest, the 2.8-inch 27.5+ tires grip gravelly climbs and slick rock like Velcro, but somehow the bike just feels more sprightly (to me) with the bigger hoops.

When I’m on the Tallboy, I sometimes miss the extra forgiveness and capability of the Hightower. If you live in a place with rowdier terrain, that’s likely the model to consider. But the Tallboy should suit more people in more places because it’s lighter, snappier, and all-around more versatile. And it should be noted that in the right hands, the Tallboy can shred just as demanding of terrain as the Hightower. You just have to choose better lines and be able to hang it out a bit farther.

Will the new Tallboy be the plus-size benchmark like the original was for 29ers? It’s a great bike, but that’s tough to say in the face of competition like the Pivot Switchblade, Specialized Stumpjumper 6Fattie, and a host of other excellent new models. Bikes, all around, just keep getting better and more refined, and the Tallboy continues that trend. It’s a mountain bike that definitely won’t disappoint.

Santa Cruz always sends the best spec, so the model pictured (and ridden) runs an amazing and gobsmacking $10,000, complete with Enve wheels (subtract 20 percent if you skip the carbon hoops). But Santa Cruz offers the Tallboy in a vast range, with complete aluminum builds down to $2,600. The less expensive bikes won’t be as chipper or fast as our test sled, but they’ll still have the same geometries, pedaling efficiencies, and newfound descending confidence.

Filed To: Mountain Biking / Gear Review
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