Fast, furious and full-send - the Santa Cruz Tallboy may be a short travel bike but it's one that's designed for full-on aggressive fun.
The Santa Cruz Tallboy is the short 120mm travel 29er but don’t let the travel numbers decieve you – this is a bike that’s designed to be aggressively fast, full-send friendly, and a hell of a lot of fun. One of the best mountain bikes we’ve tested? Quite probably yes.
Need to know:
- Fully self-serviceable, grease ports on the links are a real bonus on a hard working 120mm bike
- Carbon lay up is tuned for each size, along with different effective rear end lengths and subtle changes in proportional geometry.
- Two grades of carbon, cheaper ‘C’ only available on complete bikes and the 250g lighter ‘CC’ blend here
- Glovebox with ‘tool wallet’ and ‘tool purse’ keep stowed items quiet and organised but can be a squeeze to get in/out.
The 120mm Tallboy is the shortest travel bike in Santa Cruz’s almost identical looking trail to Enduro line up, but relative to bikes like the Yeti SB120 T-Series T1 or the Pivot Trail 429 Pro XT/XTR, it’s by far the most aggressive. In fact, it might be one of the most unapologetically aggressive feeling bikes we’ve ever tested.
Frame geometry and design
You don’t have to look far for one of the major reasons either. The squared downtube has been expanded to almost e-bike proportions to make the new ‘Glovebox’ internal storage worth having.
The top tube is bodybuilder broad and the upper linkage and triangular lower linkage are both industrial in scale too. Together with the massive chainstays of the one-piece swingarm it creates a steroidally hench structure. The frame is so chunky in fact, it makes the Fox Float DPS shock poking through the seat tube tunnel look comically small.
The bearings and the frame come with a lifetime warranty, which is a really big deal in terms of bike-for-life back up. The lower linkage pivots also get grease ports for purging out contaminants between services, so you’re getting dump truck durability as well as dump truck toughness.
And yes, Santa Cruz can be extra smug about sticking with threaded bottom brackets now that almost everyone else has come scuttling back from their ill advised press fit phase. Cables are internally routed via the head tube sides, not the headset, and once again Santa Cruz isn’t getting caught up in the latest trend.
Well not that one. The satisfying sealed and solid latch of the Glovebox lid adds 83g alone and there’s a lot of well shaped, ribbed rubber armour on potential impacts points which nudges the frame weight over 3kg.
There’s also geometry adjustment, but be warned, trying to switch the flip chip is a nightmare, even with surgical forceps and the rear shock removed to swing the lower linkage clear of the frame. The resulting geometry difference is barely measurable too, let alone tangible in the ride, making it even less of a useful feature.
Our measured geometry was also half a degree slacker and 10mm longer in the wheelbase than the official figures. That makes the Tallboy significantly more progressive in shape than the Pivot Trail 429 and the Yeti SB120.
By tweaking the pivot layout on the Tallboy, Santa Cruz has reduced anti squat / pedal kickback and increased sensitivity. And while it’s not a trunnion mounted shock, the back end of the shock uses an oversize bearing for extra smoothness, with a plastic fender to keep the shock clean. It’s hard to see the O-ring when setting sag though, and the low speed compression lever is a long way down if you need to flick it on while riding. It also measured 15mm short on travel, at 105mm.
Up front, the 130mm RockShox Pike Ultimate fork is a plus/minus balance too. Most of the time it’s a silent, super supple and outstandingly controlled attack fork that suits the Tallboy brilliantly. Occasional savage spiking that we still haven’t found the origin of, despite testing multiple Pike forks, can make it seriously painful in some situations though. To which RockShox haven’t given us a proper response.
The stiffness of the latest generation of Santa Cruz’s lifetime warrantied carbon handlebar doesn’t help when the Pike spikes either. Combined with the rare but welcome use of oversized RockShox only Torque Caps on the front hub it completes the hyper direct rider to ground connection of the Tallboy.
The Reserve 30SL rims (also lifetime warrantied) and lightweight, and large volume Maxxis Rekon rear tyre are the only things adding some compliance to the ride character and they also save weight and boost acceleration. SRAM AXS drivetrain delivers instant shift time after time and feels like a perfect match to the urgency of the Santa Cruz too.
While we tested the X01 Tallboy at £9199, if you check out the GX AXS RSV spec at £8,799 the Tallboy is comparatively good value. Namely, you’re getting carbon ‘wheels for life’, carbon crank and wireless shifting for a few £100 more than alloy wheels and analogue shifting on the Pivot and Yeti.
So with more aggressive geometry, enduro henchness, good value, internal storage, a bunch of lifetime warranties and practical features all on its side, the Santa Cruz is the clear winner here, right? Well that depends entirely on where and how you ride.
If you identify with the full send, berm smashing hooligans on our test team then this really is the ‘Downhillers XC bike’ that Santa Cruz claims. They finished runs on the Tallboy frothing rabidly about how they’d sent serious drops to flat without any issues from the back end and then jumped ten metres out of a catch berm they normally fight to get five out of.
They didn’t care about the lack of grip from the race tread rear tyre because that just meant more speed. Nobody noticed the lack of actual travel but if you feed off the feel of a fully G’d out turn, you’ll love the communication and support from the almost ‘Flight Attendant’ auto suspension consistency. The slacker, lower geometry is the perfect DJ booth to drop the heaviest bass lines from and when it’s flowing the Pike is a superb MC up front.
Riders as aggressive as the bike will also be happy to trade the brutal structural and occasional spike hammering from the front end in exchange for phenomenal precision and unshakeable confidence when charging straight down the barrel of big consequence off piste or black grade trails.
No surprise then that the phrase, “I don’t think I need/want any more travel than this, when it’s this good” got used a lot during Tallboy test sessions. Especially on faster, bigger, man made flow or jump trails.
It’s very stable under power on smooth ground too, so while the compression lever on the shock is hard to reach we rarely felt the need to firm things up. Light, lively wheels and the lowest overall weight on test are an obvious bonus when heading back up or hustling out of corners too.
Now, throw roots, rocks, square edges, tight turns and general off piste randomness into the mix, and the Tallboy literally comes unstuck very quickly. While the rear suspension is more supple than the previous Tallboy it still can’t flow and connect through the mid-stroke like the Pivot or Yeti. The Pike spike when compressing from fully extended, or brake loaded into steep, slow sections often kills rollover momentum or knocks the bike off line if lightly loaded.
Even when we switched in the Fox 34 from the Yeti, and fitted the softer previous gen Santa Cruz bar, the super stiff front end sheers off from side loads rather than flexing and gripping. Yes, you’ll learn to lean harder but the slacker geometry and longer wheelbase means more chance of the front end running wide so it’s more awkward to nip through some tighter sections of trail on the Tallboy too.
Slipped tyres, fork slaps and relentless rigidity despite the normally forgiving Reserve wheels also make the Tallboy a seriously tiring bike to take on longer rides.
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With the Tallboy, Santa Cruz has created a deliberately divisive bike. The bristling in your face aggression of the brutally stiff frame, ‘fast or F-off’ suspension and progressive geometry creates a whole new level of ‘short-travel bike syndrome’ that hard charging hooligans will love. Combined that with seriously efficient pedalling, low weight, excellent warranties, unique longevity tweaks and high relative value and it earns the Tallboy a deservedly high score. If you’re more likely to see an actual fox on your rides than someone wearing Fox then the longer, slacker geometry, lack of grip and relentless rigidity will put your tail firmly between your legs.