A More Capable Tallboy
The Santa Cruz Tallboy debuted in 2009 and immediately began winning over 29er haters. Here, for once, was a big-wheeled bike that didn’t feel like it’d been slipped a bottle of horse tranquilizers. It was nimble. It was capable. It was, against all odds, fun. The Tallboy hasn’t changed much since. Sure, Santa Cruz went back to the drawing board in 2013 and made the bike a bit more efficient, stiffer and lighter, but they never fooled with the fundamentals…Not until now.
As far ahead of the curve as the Tallboy was, it was starting to get a bit long in the tooth when compared alongside the latest crop of longer, slacker, more aggressive 29er trail bikes. This new model raises the bar with entirely new geometry and the ability to wear both 29" and 27.5+ wheels.
• Intended use: cross-country and trail riding
• Rear wheel travel: 110mm
• Fork travel: 120mm
• Wheelsize(s): 29-inch or 27.5+
• Carbon front and rear triangles
• Clearance for up to 27.5 x 3.25'' tires
• Internal dropper post routing
• 73mm threaded bottom bracket
• Boost (12x148mm) hub spacing
• Sizes: S / M / L / XL / XXL
• Weight as shown: 26.74 pounds
• MSRP: $9,799- $6,499 USD
The Tallboy was already famous for being a capable trail bike in cross-country clothing. This new version steps it up significantly in that regard. Santa Cruz lopped 2.2 degrees off the head tube angle to improve stability and steepened the seat tube angle half a degree with an eye towards improving your climbing position aboard the bike. Next, they grew the top tube 40 to 50 millimeters (depending on the size of the frame) and then trimmed 11 millimeters off the chainstays (which now measure 432 millimeters/17 inches). Finally, they sliced 30 millimeters from the top of the seat tube, to help improve maneuverability. The end result? A next-generation Tallboy that the company claims is more stable and centered when under pressure, yet is still decidedly snappy and agile in tight conditions.
In addition to giving the Tallboy a geometry update, Santa Cruz also tweaked the bike's rear suspension. The Tallboy bounces along on 110 millimeters of Santa Cruz's latest-generation Virtual Pivot Point rear suspension. This iteration of VPP (which is also spec'd on the most recent Nomad and Bronson re-boots) features a higher beginning leverage rate and a flatter suspension curve. The goal here is to give the new Santa Cruz models better small-bump compliance and a more consistent feel throughout the travel. Santa Cruz pairs the tweak in kinematics with a more progressive shock tune, so you don't find yourself blowing through the travel at the worst possible moments.
The Tallboy also sports a flip chip on the rear shock link (a la the new Hightower model) that enables you to run the bike with either 29" or 27.5+ wheels and tires, yet maintain nearly identical geometry in both configurations. It's a fairly straight-forward proposition: Set the chip in Low mode and run the bike as a 29er with a 120-millimeter fork or flip the chip into High mode and outfit the frame with a 130-millimeter travel 27+ fork and 27+ wheels. Making the swap isn't rocket science. Deciding which wheel size to go with is, frankly, the bigger head scratcher. The 29" tires offer a snappier feel, the 27+ tires offer crazy-good flotation and grip. Choices, choices...
What About the Juliana Joplin?
The Tallboy chassis has been re-made with an eye towards making it more capable and the same ethic extends to the bike’s new component kits. To wit, the Fox 32 and pinner XC treads that came stock on Tallboys of the past have been replaced by stouter forks (Fox 34) and meatier, grippier tires. The 29er model, for instance, is spearheaded by a 2.3-inch Maxxis Minion DHF 2.3 while the 27.5+ version gets Maxxis Rekon 2.8s. Rims, no surprise, are wider as well. The stock build kit includes Easton ARC 24 wheelsets. Santa Cruz also offers an Enve wheel upgrade for the 29ers—a set of M60 HVs will add another $2,000 to the sticker price. Finally, the build kits now include dropper posts.
As of press time, Santa Cruz is offering the Tallboy in three guises—two 29er versions (the XX1 and X01 kits) and one 27.5+ model (X01 kit). As you read this, bikes are already in the pipeline and will be available to the public within a week. Will Santa Cruz eventually offer the Tallboy as a frame-only option? Yup. They’ll also roll out more affordable build kits, though the release date for the frame and less-expensive configurations is still up in the air at this point.
You might be wondering whether Santa Cruz will offer separate fork and wheelset kits for people who want to also pick up the parts necessary to convert the Tallboy from 29er to plus-size bike (or vice versa). Nope. You’ll need to pick up the alternate wheelset on your own. You don’t necessarily need to buy a whole new fork—the 130mm travel 27+ fork will work with a 29er wheelset. Alternately, you can swap out the fork’s air shaft.
With all this talk about the new Tallboy, you might be wondering if Santa Cruz is fielding a corresponding model for women riders? They are. The Juliana Joplin gets all the same tweaks at the Tallboy. Indeed, we’re talking about identical frames, drivetrain, brakes and wheel kits. Joplin pricing, no surprise, is also identical to that of the Tallboy. The difference between the Tallboy and the Joplin (aside, of course, from frame color) is that the Joplin is equipped with a lighter rear-shock tune that's better suited to female riders who, at any given height, generally weigh less than men. The Joplin models also roll out with female-friendly saddles and some size-proportional parts spec, including size-specific Reverb dropper posts. First Impressions
The new Tallboy just showed up on my doorstep last week, so I won’t pretend to give you a review here. These are just my initial impressions after a handful of rides. Take `em with a pound of salt. Disclaimer aside, the new Tallboy has a more centered and planted feel than its predecessor. The "old" bike was never what I'd have called nervous or twitchy, but on steep descents, the shift in geometry comes across as a welcome change. The increase in standover height is also a plus when you’re shifting the bike beneath you.
The flipside to slackening the head angle and growing the front center—and there’s always a flipside to every design choice—is that the wheelbase has grown a bit as well. On supremely tight trails, I miss the old Tallboy’s wickedly-sharp handling. If forced to pick between the two iterations, however, I’d go with the new Tallboy in a heartbeat. It’s still a lot of fun on twisty sections and the gains in stability and confidence far outweigh the cost of adding almost two inches to the wheelbase.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’d love to tell you what I thought of how the new Tallboy rides when shod with its 27.5+ wheels, but since this thing just showed up, I’ve still got a lot of playing to do with the 29er set up before I even slap the plus-size hoops on there. How's it climb? How does it compare to the Ripley LS or Evil Following or Pivot Mach 429 Trail?
It's way too early to say. Stay tuned for a full review later this year.
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