The original Tallboy took our Bike of the Year title last year, and it was already a machine that took trail capability and big wheel expectations to a whole new level. The long-travel LTc – up to 135mm from 100mm – absolutely rams that status home, making it worthy of the What Mountain Bike Benchmark Buster award for 2012.
Here’s what the judges had to say…
"With an all-new front end including chainguide tabs, armour strips and a screw-through rear axle, the Tallboy LTc is both stiffer and more hungry for chaos than the original.
Yet at 2.4kg (5.3lb) it’s barely heavier, and it’s far lighter than its competition; even with a dropper post and Fox’s chunky 34 forks it’s no heavier than most 26in trail bikes.
Despite the superlative statistics, the ride is remarkably normal at first. As usual, the big wheels quieten trail noise and reduce the rattle that provides much of the sense of speed. The balanced rather than radically slack geometry means a reasonably keen turn in and decent carve on tight corners.
The sweetly direct drive of the VPP2 suspension and low overall mass offsets the inevitably heavier wheels, while frame and fork stiffness keep it tracking very accurately.
At the Arizona launch we repeatedly terrified ourselves realising what we had just ridden flat out down and across while following far better riders. It was only later, when we registered just how fast this bike could blast along our benchmark test trails that its truly outstanding performance began to sink in.
We found ourselves cruising up technical climbs that normally leave us scrabbling for traction or gasping for breath; within a couple of runs we were carrying more speed than we normally do on 160mm bikes. It’s stunning.
Drifting loose turns without drama and clearing rocky descents we normally trickle down in a single leap became the default descending mode. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s pretty much pressed the reset button on all our expectations of what’s doable on a trail bike."
Read on for our full review of the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTC:
This bike certainly has a lot to live up to. Santa Cruz’s ﬁrst 29er, the 100mm Tallboy, was crowned our benchmark-setting bike of 2011. So how does this new Long Travel carbon (LTc) version stack up? Turns out Santa Cruz have set another new benchmark for trail bike speed, control and conﬁdence whether you’re climbing technical stuff, bombing descents or ripping up the singletrack.
Ride & handling: Prepare to press the reset button on your riding
While the combination of weight, stiffness and travel set totally new benchmarks for big-wheelers, ﬁrst impressions are of a remarkably normal, not radical bike. Typically for Santa Cruz the geometry is conservative, rather than super-slack and low. That keeps it interested in uphill turns and it’s got an easy snap around slow, ﬂat turns, rather than the desire to wander away into the outside ditch like some 29ers.
Even the superlative Fox 34 fork feels normal, but that’s exactly what provides the trigger to realizing just what this bike is actually doing. While ﬁtting a burly 34 into our long-term Tallboy made it feel almost hardtail-like, the LTc totally balances the impact response front to rear. Even full travel off a 6ft drop doesn’t create any drama and the big wheels steamroller smaller bumps with impunity.
The combination of the shallower tyre impact angle and an initially-rearward axle path sucks up anything mid-sized you don’t pump or jump seamlessly. The overall effect is disarming smoothness and control across seriously rough terrain, as it sustains speeds outstandingly on trails where most 140mm 26in bikes choke and stumble.
Like the Tallboy, the rider-reactive suspension makes wheelies and drop-offs far easier than most glued-to-the-ground big wheelers, so it’s no trouble to chuck around. While not everyone is a fan of the feedback through the feet, that’s part of the VPP suspension signature.
The traction information and tenacious drive can really boost responsiveness and climbing ability. Cruising up normally unclimbable inclines became a regular feature of our test rides. With the lighter, stiffer Enve wheels the effect was even more dramatic, bringing immediate acceleration and crux-cleaning surge however steep the climb.
The way you hit technical sections faster off the top of climbs also makes the Reverb post invaluable. We used the seatpost remote button far more than the front shifter, which stayed in the big ring a startling amount of the time.
The grip from the longer tyre contact patch and an aggressive shock tune that sits the bike into a ﬁrm cornering platform also showcases the excellent axle-to-axle stiffness of the chassis.
Even with a mid-width bar and 90mm stem you can rip it around smooth berms or rocky/loose corners alike, relying on a predictable and easily sustained slide as you reach the traction limits. Stick on a shorter stem and a wider bar and you can tear the arse out of turns or random rock sections in a shower of scree.
This is an impact-shrinking, speed-multiplying big wheel/long(er) travel combo. It offers vast grip and outstanding cornering accuracy, plus responsive traction feedback and 3D agility in an ultra-light but feature-loaded chassis. Put like that the phenomenally controlled, relentlessly rapid and outrageously fun performance of the Tallboy LTc shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet its ability to excel everywhere is still a shock, every time you hit the trails.
Frame & equipment: Ultra-light, ultra-capable, all-round technical trail bike
While it looks similar to the 100mm Tallboy, a lot has changed on the LTc. The VPP2 (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension architecture runs on the same serviceable, grease-ported collet bearings but now delivers 135mm of rear wheel travel. The lower linkage is offset to allow a chain device mounting in the ISCG05 (International Standard Chain Guide) format.
The proprietary Santa Cruz carbon layup is reinforced with a strip of extra armour under the down tube to protect from ﬂying rocks. With minimal alloy inserts and an almost totally net-moulded construction – only the two swingarm halves are bonded – chassis weight is remarkably low. At 2.4kg (5.3lb) for the naked carbon option it’s only 0.09kg (0.2lb) heavier than the Tallboy, and 0.13kg (0.3lb) lighter than the 26in-wheeled Blur LTc.
The yellow painted version seen here weighs an extra 0.14kg (0.3lb) but the Tonka tones suit its tough personality really well. There’s nothing close in weight for this much travel from anyone else, although the heavier alloy version does have some direct competition.
As usual for Santa Cruz you can buy just a frame or opt for the better value of a pre-selected build kit. We tested the range-topping XTR XC29 build, complete with Kashima-coated Fox 34 RLC fork and RP23 rear shock. The wheelset includes an oversize Hive front hub (designed by Joe Graney, the LTc’s head project engineer) and a fast-reacting ‘star ratchet’ DT Swiss rear.
The Kashima-coated Fox Float RP23 shock is part of the high-end XTR XC29 package
Our sample bike had non-standard broad, tubeless-ready WTB Frequency rims, but normal spec is Mavic’s TN719. Maxxis Ardent LUST tyres replaced the usual CrossMark 2.1in rubber. They added serious volume and fully tubeless toughness, but with a hefty weight penalty – each one is close to a kilo.
The RockShox Reverb hydraulic dropper post adds extra mass too, but it’s a brilliant match to the bike’s character and entirely worth it. Cable/hose guides for dropper posts are standard.
Halfway through testing we upgraded to a set of carbon Enve All-Mountain wheels (an ofﬁcial option from July), which took the responsiveness and carving accuracy up a whole extra level.
It’s more than just a pumped up Tallboy. The tapered head tube is conﬁgured around a 130-150mm fork, and the Fox shock mounts on the down tube, not the top tube. The bottom bracket is a conventional screw-in type for maximum compatibility, and a clamp-on rather than direct-mount front mech gives more spec options – plus a cleaner look with a single chainring.
Further back, the chainstay to seatstay strut has been thickened and moved forward to create a direct connection between upper and lower pivots, and a 142x12mm DT Swiss through-axle completes the stiff skeleton with a particularly neat, replaceable threaded insert. There’s the option of Shimano’s new sharper-shifting direct-mount mech ﬁtting, too.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.