Santa Cruz’s shorter travel Tallboy 29er doesn’t compete on spec, but that’s largely forgiven when you jump on the bike. It’s characterful ride, which encourages you to push and pump through terrain, belies both its travel figures and the ‘budget’ kit plugged in to the alloy frame.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy Alloy R is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women’s bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.
As you’d expect from a ‘premium’ brand, the frame is nicely finished with neat touches including proper bearings and grease ports to keep the linkages running smooth.
Santa Cruz sticks to its tried and tested VPP suspension linkage, which on this XC-end of the trail spectrum bike gives a punchy, efficient feeling back end, suiting its 110mm rear wheel travel.
The VPP suspension linkage has been seen on Santa Cruz bikes for a long time now and offers a great ride Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
On smooth climbs and flatter trails, it encourages you to push hard on the pedals, making it consistently one of the fastest climbing and traversing bikes in our 2018 Trail Bike of the Year testing, despite the relatively conservative 73-degree seat angle, which doesn’t match more aggressively angled seat tubes that have been coming on to the market recently.
The WTB i23 rims aren’t super wide, but they give a fair bed on to which the Maxxis Minion DHF and faster rolling Crossmark are mounted, front and rear respectively.
That tyre combo seemed to suit the Tallboy. The Crossmark rolls fast, making the most of the efficiency of the suspension system, while the Minion hints at things to come when the trail returns to the valley floor.
SRAM’s NX 11-speed group isn’t fancy, but it does a decent job Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
It’s fair to say that the 68-degree head angle isn’t slack, and with a size Large bike having a reach of 450mm it’s no surprise that on steeper, rougher terrain the Tallboy isn’t completely at home. That steeper head angle doesn’t push the front wheel particularly far out front of the bike, and it can take careful tendering to maintain confidence and traction on looser or steeper tracks.
Likewise, the VPP’s 110mm of suspension can get overawed when slapped in to big rocks, with a noticeable kick through the pedals.
However, this is usually felt so conspicuously because of the speed the Tallboy encourages you to enter these trails.
The Grip damper on the Fox Rhythm 34 fork is as basic as Fox does, but it’s a super smooth feeling fork that belies its cheaper price Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
If the preceding trail is a touch smoother, or less steep, it’s more than likely that you’ve been working the bike through the trail, encouraging it to gain speed, such is its infectious attitude towards going fast — the shape, travel and nature of the bike isn’t all that far off an XC race bike, remember.
On twistier turns on trails with a more mellow gradient, the Minion DHF hooks up nicely and the low 330m bottom bracket keeps your weight planted towards the bottom of the bike, meaning the Tallboy carves easily between the apexes, with an agile, flick-the-back-wheel-around type attitude.
SRAM Level T brakes aren’t the most powerful Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
While the reach isn’t too long for a given size, the shorter seat tube and low-slung top tube mean that it’s worth looking at sizing up from your usual frame size, especially if you’re in the margins between sizes. For example, jumping from a Large to an XL will gain you an extra 25mm of reach. This would help create a little extra stability and confidence at speed.
As mentioned, the Tallboy struggles to compete on spec, but Santa Cruz has been careful with where it spends its money. The Fox Rhythm 34 fork is towards the bottom of Fox’s range, but it’s a smooth operator, with the 120mm chassis providing enough stiffness for a bike of this nature.
Adding a volume spacer to the Rhythm 34 wouldn’t be a bad thing, but it still impresses Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
The GRIP damper can be locked out for smoother climbs, though riders who are heavier, or want to ride the bike more aggressively, could do with adding volume spacers to the air spring to give that extra end of stroke support.
SRAM’s NX 11-speed kit is perfectly reliable, if not flashy, and the Level T brakes with 180mm rotors provide enough stopping power on the trails that the Tallboy excels. RaceFace provides a lot of the finishing kit, from the cockpit to the dropper and cranks, and it’s all largely functional kit that gives a premium look.
Santa Cruz knows where to spend the money: decent rubber is right up there in places where cash should be splashed Tom Marvin / Immediate Media
When we’ve tested Tallboys in the past we’ve slung 650+ wheels on there, and the alloy version has the same wide-tyre capabilities with its flip-chip in the suspension linkage, keeping the geometry as it should be.
Our experience of plus tyres on a Tallboy has been nothing but positive, with the bike gaining grip, confidence and speed. Santa Cruz sells the Tallboy with both 29in and 650+ options, so it’s worth exploring those possibilities or purchasing a second set of wheels to experiment yourself.
If you’re looking for alternative options, have a look at the following list. Each bike has been thoroughly tested and robustly reviewed. Click on the links for the full review.