Dario DiGiulio's Santa Cruz Tallboy
It's been a few weeks since the Downieville Classic swept through the Lost Sierra, but I'd bet the dust is still settling out there. It was a wicked hot year, with plenty of fresh snowmelt to keep the river crossings high and exciting. This was my first year racing the Classic, and though I'd ridden in Downieville a couple times prior, I didn't really know what made for a dialed bike setup for the place. So based on what I'd seen of past winners bikes, friends' setups, and general terrain in the area, I took an educated guess and ended up with the configuration you see here.
• Intended use: long XC, but make it fun.
• Travel: 120mm rear / 140mm fork
• Wheel size: 29"
• Frame construction: carbon fiber
• 65.5° head angle, 493mm reach, 440 chainstays
• Weight: 30.8 lb / 13.97 kg (size XL w/ pedals)
Let's start with tires, as those are one of the most critical elements to the Downieville race. You need a fairly light setup with low rolling resistance for the long initial climb in the XC, and for the no-brakes sections of the DH, but with enough cornering traction and cut resistance to keep you and the bike upright and unscathed.
After trying out a few different options, I ended up going with the stock combo: 2.4 Dissector front, 2.4 Rekon rear, MaxxTerra rubber, EXO casing. Faster options exist, but if I weren't racing I'd be running full-bore downhill tires for a day in Downieville, so I figured it was better to err on that side of things. EXO scares me, so I ran a Rimpact insert in the rear, which helped loads with tire squirm and any potential for rim damage on the many square rocks encountered at speed.
Miraculously, I had zero issues with flats over the two days of racing, despite some very sloppy lines and plenty of sharp rocks. That insert certainly helped me get away with 25psi in the rear tire, but I think the 22psi in the front was mostly just luck.
Those tires were mounted up to a wheelset I've really come to love - the original Eudae wheels made by a brand called Logos. I had them for review a while back, purchased them after the test period was finished, and have continued to use and abuse them without issue for a little over a year since. They never seem to need tension or true work, and the ride quality is zippy and pleasant. Add to that the relatively quiet original-DT-style hub, and you have a pretty solid wheel.
I was waiting on a set of test brakes when the time came to build up the bike, but sadly they didn't show up quite in time. A pair of SRAM Codes scalped from my personal bike did the trick, and provided the unfussy performance I expected them to. The stock 4-piston Levels on the bike really didn't provide the power I wanted, but more on that at a later date. The upside to popping the updated Codes on here was the second hand position you get with the bar-parallel levers; great for a narrower grip and upright body position.
Drivetrain was also SRAMmed up, as I ran the XO Transmission that comes on the high-end spec Tallboys. I swapped the 175mm cranks for 170s, changed the button arrangement into the correct orientation (top button moves the chain up the cassette, bottom button moves it down), and traded out the 32t ring for a 34t WolfTooth Drop Stop ring. Their updated tooth pattern works wonderfully with T-Type chains, and I had zero issues with retention or performance.
Touchpoints were mostly cobbled together from other bikes in my garage, with a 40mm Industry Nine stem pulled off a test bike, some 35mm rise OneUp bars (cut to 770mm), and a WTB Pickup Devo saddle added for comedic value and comfort. I ran the Sensus Lite grips, as they're one of my all-time favorites, especially in the off chance I'm using gloves - which proved to be the way given how sweaty things were over the weekend.
On the suspension front, I ran the stock Fox Float Factory shock, which has a tune that really nicely compliments the character of the bike. Settings weren't too far off from Santa Cruz's recommended, with 200psi to hit sag and a bit less rebound damping.
The fork was a little less straightforward, as I wanted to make the Charger 3 Pike feel a little different than it comes stock. While the new model does a great job of keeping you high in the travel, avoiding too much dive even on steep trails, it loses some of the buttery suppleness that the older-model Pikes delivered well. In order to get back to that, I upped the travel to 140mm from the stock 130, and added a Vorsprung Luftkappe to the air spring. Essentially the Luftkappe softens the initial bit of the stroke by changing the positive/negative spring balance, letting it suck into travel far more readily than the stock version. This put the ride height back around 130mm, and gave a much softer top-end, which was great for the skittery corners and overall grip.
Finally, the frame itself. Santa Cruz did a great job balancing grip, support, and efficiency in a nicely-packaged frame, making for a versatile and capable feeling bike. No, it's not an XC whip, but it's definitely the speediest bike I have in the garage right now, and it certainly wasn't a slouch at an all-mountain XC event like Downieville. Creature comforts like the Glovebox, easily-serviced bearings, and simple cable routing made it a great option for long-term testing as well. I think you could build up a similarly capable bike that weighed less if you went with a different frame, but the Tallboy feels robust and stiff enough to handle burlier components and trails, which I like for the terrain where I live.
The stock white color had immediate appeal, but I wasn't crazy about the teal graphics that came alongside that base coat. To enhance the *deep custom* nature of the build, I had my friends at Fanatik Bike cut some chrome and white decals for the frame and fork. Slapping those stickers on the bike changed the look entirely, and I'm a big fan of the result. They can cut decals for all sorts of frames and components out there, and now that I've gone through the process it has me thinking about how I can spruce up other bikes I'll be keeping around for a while.
That's all, for now. I'll be messing with this bike a ton this summer, swapping parts and playing with the setup to suit various needs and wants. Luckily I have a setup I can refer back to though, because I really enjoyed the way this rode.
To read the post-race writeup, check out event photos, and see how the race results stacked up, head over to the Downieville Recap
More high-res photos here