31 Jan 2020

The Santa Cruz Tallboy is so hot right now, proudly hitting the nail on the head with each trendy development in mountain biking. But where are all the fancy features, acronyms, proprietary things, how can it be so effortlessly cool?

You step inside, it’s dark, the music drones over the rumble of voices, taking a look around the bar, you notice an area off-limits reserved for the cool kids, hipsters and trendies. Huddled in a club, dressed to impress, indulging in top-shelf liquor is the Santa Cruz Tallboy. To the right is a confident Norco Optic snacking on poutine, a Pivot 429 shares a bowl of nachos with a Trek Top Fuel, occasionally flicking a corn chip to the Giant Trance 29. The Tallboy obligingly engages in polite conversation with the Yeti SB 100 but turns a shoulder to all onlookers with their petty sharp head angles and grossly short reaches, while a forlorn double chainring aluminium bike peers through the window from outside in the cold and dark night.

Hey, Tallboy.

“Hey, whassup, Tallboy’s the name, what’s your story?”

Humans like trends, recognising and following them is healthy, it comes from our youth and early adulthood when we’re most socially self-conscious. It’s especially worth taking note when such trends develop a name; in this case, we should all get used to the term ‘underbiking’. We’re not sure where it originated from, but its already stuck and we dig it.

Who else put riser bars on their XC bikes back in the day? Was that underbiking, long before it was cool? Were we trendy without knowing it? Damn, it!

Let’s go ‘underbiking’.

I chose to purchase the Tallboy for a few reasons, but without riding, I put a lot of faith in the geometry chart, and the way it seems to have been built similarly to the Megatower which I rode and got along with well. Appreciating how limited they are and in high demand, I snapped it up and attempted to extinguish the gut-wrenching buyer’s remorse that was washing over me.

It’s an elegant frame, I love its deep purple colour, like some kind of rich organic eggplant, and the lowly-slung top tube and compact shock area. The finish is sublime, well, it would have to, considering the price.

Looking back over the last three years, the bike’s that I’ve gravitated to and spent the most considerable time on have been the Norco Sight and Giant Trance 29. Short on travel but not race-oriented, lightweight in the chassis, and lively to ride. The Tallboy should mostly feel that way too, but on paper, it’s quite a lot slacker, longer, lower and has two points of adjustability.

The fourth-generation Tallboy, what’s new?

When released to the public in August last year, we compiled an in-depth look at what’s new. I won’t repeat myself, here is the link to that article, and a few key points below:

Visually speaking, the new Tallboy bears a striking resemblance to its bigger 29er siblings; the Hightower and Megatower. Structurally speaking, the new frame is chunkier, lower and more aggressive in its stance. The Tallboy kisses goodbye 2x compatibility, with the rigid one-piece swingarm adding a vertical upright in place of where the front mech would have sat, which boosts back-end stiffness.

The Tallboy 4 uses the lower link design with the business down low and very central.

Geometry pushes well into the future with a significantly longer front centre, a reduced fork offset, a pretty-steep 76° seat angle, and a very-slack-for-its-category 65.5° head angle. Bear in mind that’s the same head angle that the Hightower has, and only half a degree steeper than 160/160mm travel Megatower. Pwoar!

SRAM Eagle AXS, Zipp Moto 3Zero, SRAM G2, FOX 34, FOX DPS, RockShox Reverb AXS, yikes!

After returning recent long term test bikes; Focus SAM and Trance 29 to original spec, I had two complete groupsets on hand, Shimano XTR and SRAM Eagle AXS. I chose SRAM because I’m a big fan of wireless shifting, not only electric, its the wireless element that gets me. The clean aesthetic is like nothing else. And I wanted to give the Zipp Moto 3Zero wheels a proper spin, and currently, they don’t provide a Shimano Micro Spline freehub body to use with new 12-speed Shimano.

The Eagle AXS derailleur shifts with such power and consistency, the robots rule this domain.

The SRAM AXS derailleur in an impressive machine, super sturdy and concise. Fitment is a snack without a cable to thread and trim, and fine-tuning is child’s play by just pressing buttons to trim the position. There is no match for the consistency of shift that this system provides, I don’t think it has the same seamless shift as XTR, but it always shifts the same time, every time and without the chance of a half-shift due to a fast of slow thumb action, it’s very confidence-inspiring.

The large shift paddle feels a little foreign, to begin with, and the way it shifts can feel counter-intuitive, and other users tend to agree, but I’ve stuck with it and am now used to it. Some fellow AXS users have swapped the shift action around using the SRAM AXS app, but this setup is in its original configuration.

In the pursuit of ultimate cockpit cleanliness, all roads lead to AXS.

For up and down seat control, I’ve gone with the RockShox Reverb AXS dropper. While the name Reverb may induce horrific hydraulic memories from users over its long history, the new-gen Reverb’s are a mammoth improvement. The button is so light to press, perhaps too light at times, but you gain ultimate responsiveness from the wireless function, and the post drops with very little pressure required from your backside to make it move. It’s also the best pairing to the AXS drivetrain, leaving only the brake lines on the bars.

At nearly $3500 we’d prefer to fly to Tasmania and hire a Corvette to drive to Derby than buy a pair of wheels, but these low-profile single-wall carbon wheels from Zipp are so beautiful to ride. Aimed to deliver a composed and compliant ride, the single-wall construction feels totally different to regular carbon wheels. Intended for the all-mountain and enduro crowd, fitting them to a 120mm travel Talloy may seem a little overkill, but it’s all an experiment at this stage. Solid-yet-compliant wheels with 2.3″ tyres on a short-ish travel bike is a unique experience, hard to explain. Think; upgrading to Reef sandals from Havianna thongs, still light but more sure-footed at a push.

Check out our in-depth look at the Zipp wheels here – Zipp Moto 3Zero Wheels.

The Quark TyreWiz is another totally unnecessary item, but the way you can set the tyre pressure parameter on your phone, and if the pressure leaves that range the valves will flash red. If they are flashing green, you’re good to go. Sure, a tyre gauge isn’t a poor choice, but this is super trick technology, and it brings the tally of batteries to six on this bike, and it’s not even an e-bike. We also like the way they spelt TyreWiz with a ‘Y’…

Zipp’s new MTB wheels are phenomenal. Expect to see more of them on pro’s bikes in 2020.

For brakes, I chose the SRAM G2, which have been met with a mixed response around the traps. Introduced as a replacement for the somewhat troubled SRAM Guide, and touted as a ‘mini Code’ they blend aspects from both parties. The lever feel is very lovely, no lumps or clicks as you pull the lever, and the bite is certainly enough for a bike like this. Though on long descents with heavy braking, I’ve found them to fade quicker than I’d like. I plan to replace the organic pads with the metal option, so stay tuned to hear how that improves heat dissipation for my weakling hands.

Other notable mentions are the stunning stem and bar from Deity, the new 35mm clamp cockpit. Bringing a touch of bling and class to the build and the low-rise carbon bars feel just right with a familiar shape, and compliant ride quality.

Maxxis Minions in the classic DHF/DHR combo in 2.3″ width, and the moderately light EXO casings. I always carry a Dynaplug tubeless repair system in the back pocket; these tyres strike a right balance of support and weight. However, the light casing can slice if pushed into sharp rocks the wrong way, filled with Stans Sealant and a Dynaplug ready; I’m confident in most cases and happy to risk lighter tyres for a smoother ride and faster rolling wheels. Pressures are generally 17psi and 19psi for regular trails.

A perfect tyre is a tyre that you know well.

First rides; dialling, twiddling, and that new bike buzz.

The Tallboy is short on travel but big on muscle. It’s engaging, solid, confident and the chassis feels super-high quality. The front feels as strong as the rear, and under hard efforts of heavy slams, there’s a great deal of comfort in the way the frame doesn’t shake or shudder beneath you. Riding a bike that feels so solid, yet not long on travel is a hoot, you feel the terrain and can work with it, instead of feeling isolated from it. Pumping the backside of rocks, hopping from one side of the trail to the other, and jumping over obstacles is easy due to the low weight and short travel, but you tend to ride it more aggressively due to long front end and robust chassis.

It doesn’t feel as light and zingy as the super-light Trance 29 in comparison, but the rear end is far stiffer laterally, so pumping through the turns and steering off the rear wheel doesn’t result in an unnerving pinging sensation. It’s terribly cliche to say, but it rewards hard riding.

Like it states on paper, the steering is super-slack, too slack for the 140mm fork that I fitted, so the plans are to drop it to 130mm as soon as possible. Riders with more descending options may opt for a 140mm fork, but the climbs I’ve been tackling don’t like the wandering front end, and despite slamming the stem low, I still wish for a shorter fork for a more balanced cornering and climbing position.

Some Tallboy riders opt for a 140mm fork like this, but a 130mm fork is my goal.
I’ve lifted the lower shock mount to the higher setting to help with the head angle, until I drop fork travel to 130mm.

Not bad weight either, the bike weighs 13.2kg as pictured with pedals, the Zipps are 1960g, so there’s a little bit more weight than necessary at the wheels.

Fine and powdery summer dust christens the new Tallboy, welcome friend.

Keep an eye out on Flow’s Instagram Stories for more adventures with the Tallboy, it’s already racked up serious kilometres this summer, and that new bike buzz is still buzzing hard!


Mo’ Flow Please!

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