Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Santa Cruz Tallboy Aluminum

By Maurice Tierney

The kids at Santa Cruz Bicycles went straight to carbon fiber when they came out with their first 29er, the Tallboy, in late-to-the-game 2009. I have to say that this bike made quite an impression on the scene. Good move to go with carbon first; the Tallboy quelled the fears and stoked the aspirations of many a rider with its lightweight frame and stellar performance. I reviewed the carbon version in Issue #148 and liked it enough to keep it around.

Nowadays, nearly every bike company on the planet is going full steam ahead with 29ers. Some even staking their entire line on big wheels. The 29er movement has even taken hold at Santa Cruz. And by movement, I mean the whole enchilada, because while SCB offers 15 other mountain bike models, the Tallboy is their best selling individual model.

The bike

Since we’re just working stiffs here at the ‘Rag, we get real excited when a solid bike comes in at a price point attainable by mere mortals. Enter the $2,299 aluminum Tallboy complete. While SCB normally operates with a pick-your-kit bike purchasing method (Will that be XT or X0, madam?), spec’ing a complete bike with a carefully selected assortment of parts can result in an affordable, yet functional package. It’s a beautiful thing.

There are certain advantages to aluminum. I am definitely less worried about scratches, crashing or throwing my bike around when it’s made of metal. Aside from that, there isn’t a heck of a lot different between the alloy and carbon Tallboys. Rear travel (102mm) is the same. Head and seat tube angles (71-degrees/73-degrees, respectively) are the same. Same VPP suspension, same angular contact bearings, same grease ports to lube said bearings.

The lower pivot on the alloy model is offset, making it easier to run different chainring combinations or a chainguide. Other than that, the differences between the aluminum and carbon Tallboy come down to more weight and less money: the aluminum frame weights approximately 1.25lbs. more than the carbon version, but costs $700 less. You do the math.

So that’s the frame. You can hang any parts you like on it. But the story here is of a complete bike at a down-to-earth price point. How’d SCB get there? What, if any, corners had to be cut? The drivetrain is a mix of Shimano Deore and SLX. Good functional, serviceable stuff, just not the lightest and not the “finest”. Then there’s the fork, a RockShox Recon Silver with steel stanchions, and a pair of tires with wire beads.

As for some other parts, the Easton bar, stem and seatpost are of the EA30 variety. They look more expensive than they are, and while they’re on the heavy side, they sure don’t look cheap. The Avid Elixir One brakes stop as well as Avid’s fancier models, they just lack the bells and whistles—I kinda like ‘em simple like this. All in all, solid, serviceable stuff, not too heavy or light. My XL test bike weighs near 32lbs. That’s 5lbs. more than the XT/Fox fork-equipped carbon bike I tested.

The ride

Simply put, I’d say this bugger rides 90% as well as its pricey carbon sibling, and may do some things better. On a recent ride I was able to swap the aluminum Tallboy for the previously tested carbon model. Sure the carbon model is quicker to accelerate, snappier to handle, and offers a stiffer chassis, but these small differences in performance did not affect the joy of the ride at all. Another thought that came into my brain was the heavier bike fit my heavier fitness level. I’m a rider who is happy bringing up the rear on group rides. Do the extra pounds make any difference to my enjoyment of the ride? No, but the extra cash in my wallet does. Something to think about, is it not?

The other story is in the wheelbase. My last test ride (Breezer Cloud 9, issue #158) had a wheelbase 50mm shorter than the Tallboy’s 113.5cm, which resulted in a style change moving to the Tallboy. Not picking lines so much, but plowing over anything in my way. While switchbacks felt a bit tighter, rock gardens were rolled over with authority. On steep drops the long wheelbase and chainstays gave me some confidence that I would not endo. And on steep, sustained climbs the large cockpit gave me room to breathe, sitting or standing.

Limitations? I was pretty darn satisfied with the way everything worked. While I lamented the lack of a thru-axle on the Recon fork, I did come to believe that the steel upper tubes were adding some stiffness to the front end. This made me less likely to call for an early fork upgrade. I say ride the Recon now and upgrade later. With fewer adjustments to make, the RP2 shock seemed to have limitations as well. I deciphered a bit more pedal-induced motion from the suspension in certain less-efficient gear combinations than with the RP23 I rode on the carbon Tallboy, but generally, it was good as VPP gets.

Final thoughts

I really liked the carbon Tallboy. It typifies everything Santa Cruz has to offer. But I have to say I enjoyed the value of the aluminum version even more than I enjoyed a fancy $4,900 carbon wonderbike. At $1,850 for the frame and $2,299 for the complete bike, this bike is a steal. Black or clear are two fine color selections, hope you like one of them.

Tester stats

  • Age: 53
  • Height: 6’4”
  • Weight: 230lbs.
  • Inseam: 34”

Bike stats

  • Wheelbase: 44.7”, 113.5cm
  • Head Angle: 71-degrees
  • Seat Tube Angle: 73-degrees
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.8”, 325mm
  • Chainstay Length: 17.5", 445mm
  • Weight: 31.5lbs., 14.29kg
  • Sizes: M, L, XL (tested)
  • Price: $1,850 (frame), $2,299 (as tested)
  • Made in Taiwan
     
 

 
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