29/11/2012 | 21 comments
The aluminium version of Santa Cruz’ revered Tallboy 29er trail bike gives nothing to its carbon stablemate except for a few grams a smaller hole in your bank balance.
Santa Cruz’s first foray into the 29er world was the carbon fibre Tallboy, at a time when there was much more scepticism towards the bigger wheels than there is today. It’s fair to say it’s been well received and is one of the most popular 29ers in the UK right now. No wonder either that it’s their best selling model.
The carbon fibre version that it launched with was far from cheap though (£2,499), and this year they produced an aluminium version which at £1,749 is £750 cheaper. A significant saving and instantly putting the new frame into the realms of affordability for more people. We’ve been riding and racing one for the best part of the year and we can see why it’s such a hit. It’s one of the most refined and capable 29er full-sussers we’ve yet ridden.
Santa Cruz use the VPP linkage design to great effect on the Tallboy. There are two short linkages, one behind the bottom bracket and the other between the shock and seat tube. They work in unison to reduce rider-induced squat. This prevents the bike sinking too deep into the travel and bobbing when you’re giving it the beans on the pedals, so more of your energy helps to propel you down the trail and far less is lost in the suspension.
A very stable and pert suspension is the overriding feeling riding the Tallboy. It’s very active over the small stuff still, and takes everything from medium to bigger obstacles and drops in its stride. It may only have 100mm of travel, but it feels like a lot more. This is no flexy cross-country whippet. It’s tough and barrels through rough terrain with confidence.
Whether you’re in the saddle or out of it, hard pedalling doesn’t provoke the suspension into excessive bobbing. The rear axle follows an up and back path that helps it tackle steeps and sharp-faced rocks or roots with ease. With the Fox shock set in the light low-speed compression damping setting, the VPP controls the 100mm of suspension very well. It doesn’t soak up your energy when riding along and makes for a very sprightly-feeling bike.
We’re reviewing the frame here so won’t labour on the build kit too much, but it’s worth mentioning that our bike weighed in the region of 26.5-27.5 lbs throughout the test period. It varied from time to time as we used it as a test mule to review components and we experimented with lighter racier builds and burlier trail parts over the year. The kit we ran most often was a Shimano XTR group and race brakes, Mavic Crossmax ST wheels and Schwalbe Racing Ralph 2.25in tubeless tyres.
With a 120mm Magura fork plugged into the short tapered head tube the head angle is 70.5 degrees. The Tallboy provides 100mm rear travel so you could fit a matching fork, but Santa Cruz UK importer Jungle tell us that most people are opting for a longer 120mm fork. And it’s all the better for it, slackening the head angle a smidgen and giving you a bit more travel to play with.
To explore the capabilities of the Tallboy our riding took us right across the country and riding spectrum. There were a couple of 12-hour solo mountain bike races, a handful of cross-country races, and lots and lots of trail riding from Surrey to Wales to Dartmoor and a few other places in between. In every situation, whether it was a race or just a trail ride, the Tallboy proved thoroughly capable. It was light and offered a decent turn of speed for racing, yet it was rugged enough for throwing down the sort of trails where you weren’t quite sure what they’d throw up around the next blind corner.
We’ve been aboard a size large and ran it mostly with a 50 or 60mm stem, combined with 740mm bars, a combination that produced the level of control and handling we want. This fitted the 5ft 11in test pilot perfectly with plenty of reach for comfort over longer rides but still easy to sling through tightly packed trees on singletrack. With this short-stem-wide-bar set up the handling isn’t at all twitchy, instead it gives more leverage and lets you really tackle corners with gusto.
It has been utterly reliable in the time we’ve been riding it. The bottom VPP linkage has a grease port and a couple of times we squirted some new grease in the bearings to keep well serviced. The rest of the hardware has been subjected to an occasionally sloppy maintenance routine but that doesn’t appear to have bothered it. The shock, as we mentioned in our review of the Fox RP23, provided smooth and well-mannered damping that suited the dynamics of Santa Cruz’s suspension design.
The Tallboy has gone a long way to convincing us of the merits of 29ers. We are converted, well and truly. It so well handles technical trails, root gardens, rocks, steps, obstacles of all sizes, that we find it ever harder to go back to 26in wheels. Never thought we’d be saying that a year ago. but here we are, saying it. A big surprise was how it absolutely loves air time and is supremely stable over jumps, more so than a 26er.
The frame in detail
Usually, a bike company will first make a new model in aluminium, then add a carbon version the year after. Santa Cruz did things backwards, by first releasing the Tallboy Carbon, and following up with the Tallboy Alu. Santa Cruz told us this meant the frame is actually heavier than it would have been if they had taken the normal route, and because they wanted the alu frame to deliver on the stiffness front meant that it carried a few extra grams.
Frame weight for our size large is 6.3lb. That’s 1.25lb more than a similar sized carbon frame. Geometry is shared with the carbon Tallboy, with the same 71 degree head angle and 73 seat, short 444mm chainstays and 1108.7mm wheelbase. In all but material the Tallboy Alu is identical to the carbon version.
The frame here is finished in a beautiful satin coat finish. This clear coat finish exposes the brushed metal, it looks fantastic in real life. Unlike the many painted options Santa Cruz provide, this finish shows off the full beauty of the hard graft that has gone into producing the frame. The chunky but neat welds are exposed for all to see. The brush marks are clearly evident across the surface of each tube. Catch it in the right light, and this frame really stands out. It’s a classic.
A short, tapered head tube has a 1.5in lower diameter, which sets up the proportions for the rest of the frame. A huge square sided downtube follows a mostly straight trajectory towards the regular bottom bracket. No press-fit or BB30 here, a standard bottom bracket with outboard bearings.
The top tube drops quite steeply giving loads of standover clearance, and just before the kink is welded the shock mount The seat tube is curved to provide clearance for the rear wheel and carries the mount for the top VPP linkage, forged from aluminium. The linkage is a smoothly finished two-piece rocker that drives the shock from the rear triangle. Both linkages roll on sealed bearings with 15mm axles.
An asymmetric design sees a vertical truss connecting the seat stays to the chainstay on the non-drive side to delivery increased stiffness. There’s a short strut closer to the axle on the drive side to balance out the stiffness in the swingarm. The rear axle is a standard 9mm quick release and didn’t significantly affect the stiffness of the bike. A neat detail is the bottle opener atop the axle on the drive side. In case you get caught short with a six pack and not bottle opener to hand…
Which all results in a very stiff frame. Chucking the Tallboy around the trail and stamping on the pedals shows that it is very hard to get it to flex in any plane. It doesn’t quite have the zip and instantaneous response of the carbon version, but it’s very very close. If the small weight penalty is of little concern to you then then Tallboy isn’t just a close second to the carbon Tallboy, but a very good bike in its own right. And as our build shows, it’s possible to get an all-up weight of 27lb.
The one aspect we always take away from a ride on the Tallboy is how fast it is over all sorts terrain. It devours lumps and bumps. It makes a mockery of tight and twisty trails. Sure it’s a little stumped on longer climbs compared to the lighter carbon framed version of the Tallboy, but it’s far from heavy. And did we mention the saving?
We’re picking hairs though, the Tallboy in its aluminium guise is a fantastically well designed bike that just delivers rampant speed with control, stability and… and most of all it’s just bloody good fun to ride. And that’s what we all look for in a mountain bike isn’t it? We’ll be sad to see the Tallboy leave the Bikemagic long-term test fleet when it goes back.
In making the Tallboy out of aluminium Santa Cruz not only made their successful 29er more accessible, but built a bike that isn’t second best, but is brilliant in its own right. Great handling, suspension performance and a lot of fun to ride, the Tallboy Alu is one hell of a bike
Better value than the carbon Tallboy
Not as stiff as carbon version
What Santa Cruz says about the Tallboy
Our Tallboy Carbon took the big wheel market by storm when it was introduced, earning praise from the 29″ faithful and skeptics alike, and also created a demand for an aluminum sibling. So along came the aluminum Tallboy; same 29″ wheels and award winning handling as the carbon bike, same 100mm travel, same velvety plush but crisp pedaling VPP® suspension, same angular contact bearings and oversized aluminum pivot axles. It is the value packed alloy clone of the trail bombing, racer friendly carbon Tallboy, identical in almost every way except for material choice and price tag.
- 29″ wheels
- Hydroformed aluminum tubing
- VPP® suspension
- 100mm travel
- Grease ports, angular contact bearings
- Frame weight with Float CTD shock – Approx 6.6lbs