Who Needs Carbon? We Test & Review The 2018 Santa Cruz Tallboy Alloy R

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In Issue #115 of Singletrack Magazine, Barney tested and reviewed three alloy iterations of popular carbon fibre mountain bikes

When the first 100mm travel Tallboy appeared, it quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in 29er circles. A full-suspension 29er, no less, when such things were more prone to raised eyebrows than nods of approval – that is, until you rode it. In the eyes of many, 29er full-sus trail bikes began to make sense; not just because Santa Cruz had dipped into the fray with all the kudos its marketing budgets could muster, but because the Tallboy was a damn fine bike indeed.

Since then, there have been a couple of iterations of the Tallboy, but recently, it’s fair to say that the Tallboy had somewhat fallen down the list at Santa Cruz, eclipsed by other machines such as the Bronson, the 5010 and, of course, the Hightower. This last, a modern-geometry update of the longer travel 135mm Tallboy LT, which can also run 27.5+ wheels, has garnered some impressive reviews, and has now engendered its own longer travel child in the 150mm Hightower LT.

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Santa Cruz is best known for its carbon superbikes, but it makes alloy frames too.

But what of the original parent, then? Destined to forever languish in the short and steep geometries of yesteryear? Not a bit of it – last year, the Tallboy Mk3 was born, taking many cues from the Hightower and repackaging them in a shorter travel, hard-hitting trail slayer that can also run 29 or 27.5+ wheels.

So what do we have here? Well, true to our test, this Tallboy is an aluminium framed 29er – while the initial launch and a lot of the kudos focuses on the two flavours of carbon available, there are aluminium bikes available in two different kit levels. Ours luxuriates in the designation ‘R’.

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This is the 3rd generation of the venerable Tallboy.

The Bike

But let’s look firstly at the frame. Our test size L is a very, very pretty looking thing, in a black and gold colour scheme somewhat reminiscent of John Player Special racing cars of the ’70s. The bike sports a 68° head angle to keep the steering precise, a 73° seat angle with 432mm chainstays, and we’ve got a comfy reach of 450mm.

The Tallboy uses Santa Cruz’s VPP v3 suspension system, providing 110mm of boing thanks to a Fox Float Performance DPS shock. Up front on our ‘R’ spec. level bike we have a Fox Rhythm 34 shock with 120mm of travel.

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Fox Float DPS rear shock out back with the EVOL air can.
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The Rhythm 34 fork is OEM only, but it is a very good performer.

There are a pair of WTB i23 rims on Novatec hubs running Maxxis Minion on the front and Crossmark II on the rear, and the whole thing is powered by a 1x SRAM NX drivetrain and Race Face Aeffect cranks. The frame even has space to run a front mech, unlike Santa Cruz’s longer travel 29ers. Stopping in a hurry is catered for with SRAM’s Level brakes clamping onto 180mm rotors. The Tallboy is topped off with Race Face finishing kit (stem, bars, dropper post) and a WTB saddle.

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The ‘R’ build kit gets a 1×11 drivertrain with Race Face cranks.
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The back end of the Tallboy is Boosted to 148mm wide.

The back end of the Tallboy is Boosted, and is designed to run 29er wheels (our test bike) or 27.5+. Slight variations in the diameters between the two sizes is accommodated by a little flip chip in the upper pivot, and by running a 10mm longer fork with the slightly smaller 27.5 wheelsize.

It’s perfectly possible, however, to run whichever wheels you fancy with whichever build kit, and just take the hit regarding the alterations in geometry – running 29in wheels with the longer fork will make for a slacker machine, and conversely, running 27.5+ wheels with the shorter one will make things a little more nervy. Santa Cruz, of course, officially recommends running the appropriate fork with the appropriate wheel size, but there’s nothing to stop you from experimenting.

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It may be the shortest travel full suspension model from Santa Cruz, but the Tallboy ain’t no skinny race bike.

The Ride

The Tallboy is much more of a cross-country/trail bike than the other two bikes on test; it’s somewhat steeper of head angle, it’s somewhat slacker of seat angle, and (crucially) the travel is around 20mm less all round. But that doesn’t mean it’s a worse bike by a long chalk. The 760mm wide ride bars are about as narrow as I’d like these days – I’d honestly prefer 20mm more at least [Barney is 6ft 4in by the way – Ed] – but the cockpit is comfy enough, and simple physics dictates that the Tallboy is initially notable in one category. It goes uphill with alacrity.

The suspension redesign on this latest Tallboy evens out the suspension curve, and the Fox shock sits up reasonably high in its travel (with around 25% sag).

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There’s 110mm of travel out back via the VPP2 suspension design.

No, it’s not the lightest bike, and those wheels won’t satisfy the most obsessive weight-weenie, but where many bikes will winch upwards quite readily, the Tallboy scampers. On the steepest climbs, traction was readily available and I could just perch on the end of the (perfectly comfy) WTB saddle, and climb away. For the most part I was able to leave the shock in its open setting, only flipping it onto the platform for the most soul-sapping of drudgy climbs.

I wasn’t sure initially about grip from the Crossmark II tyre, but it’s an improvement over the initial design, and it proved surprisingly sure-footed in both dry or moist conditions during the test. The Minion on the front is a reliable performer in a range of Yorkshire conditions, and I have no complaints at all.

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The Tallboy loves being thrown about – it’s whippy and agile.

The head angle, at 68°, is somewhat steeper than the other two machines, but suited the travel available, and meant that it was possible to corner without requiring quite as much body English as other more modern bikes are prone to. While it’s perfectly possible to hoik your weight over the front and scoot the back end round, the Tallboy also responds to a gentler touch.

The Fox Rhythm 34 fork is (at the time of writing) an OEM model offered by Fox to offset the impressive market penetration of forks such as RockShox’s Yari. In a similar vein to its rival, it’s designed to achieve similar levels of performance at a lower price point, and it achieves this in spades. There are fewer adjustments available, the fork is made from cheaper raw materials and the internals are simpler, but for all that it feels as good and as stiff as other aftermarket (and, therefore, more pricey) Fox 34s I’ve ridden. It’s initially plush and well supported in the mid-stroke. Perhaps there’s a touch more spike on bigger hits when descending, but a very impressive fork nonetheless.

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Cornering is this bike’s forte.

And of course, we haven’t talked about the Tallboy’s descending capabilities yet. As good as it is climbing, and as limited as the suspension travel is, it can’t be any cop going down, can it?

Well, yes and no. It’s essentially the same system as on its longer travel stablemates; it’s confident and stable enough that you can ride down unexpectedly gnarly terrain at speeds you’d not expect, and that suspension platform and shock work well to keep up. But inevitably there’s a point at which it can’t quite cope with (say) 93kg of lummox trying to ride a relatively short travel bike at speed through a boulder field. It’s to the Tallboy’s enormous credit, though, that this point is considerably beyond the one you’d expect, and normally occurs shortly after you remember you’re on a bike with 110mm of travel, and should probably put the brakes on.

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All the kit works well, even the basic Race Face dropper post.

All of the kit performed perfectly for the period of the test – the dropper survived a handful of wet rides with nothing more than a hose down and a quick wipe, which is always encouraging, the shifting was snappy and flawless and the brakes worked fine. The driveside crank arm does seem to sit slightly close to the chainstay on our test model, but there’s sufficiently little flex in the system that this wasn’t a problem, until one of the lower pivot bolts loosened. A quick tighten up with an Allen key, though, and there have been no problems since.

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The Tallboy is a short travel bike with attitude that punches well above its digits.


The Tallboy means that there are now three models in the Santa Cruz 29in and 27.5+ pantheon in a variety of travel guises from the Tallboy (110mm) through to the Hightower LT (150mm). The Tallboy, then, occupies a more cross-country/trail niche than the other full-suspension machines in the line-up, and does so with enough dexterity that surprising amounts of gnarl are overcome with ease.

The alloy frame gains weight compared to its carbon counterparts, which are hundreds of pounds dearer, but it doesn’t seem to give up much in terms of stiffness. No, this isn’t a full-on cross-country bike, and nor is it a massive big hitter, but if you’re in the market for a short travel 29in trail bike, this has to be close to the top of the list.

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No carbon, no worries!

2018 Santa Cruz Tallboy Alloy R Specifications

  • Frame // Hydroformed Alloy Tubing, 110mm Travel
  • Fork // Fox 34 Rhythm, 120mm Travel
  • Shock // Fox Float DPS EVOL Performance Series
  • Hubs // Novatec Sealed Bearing, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // WTB STP i23, Tubeless Compatible, 23mm Internal Rim Width
  • Tyres // Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 2.3in Front & Crossmark II EXO 2.25in Rear
  • Chainset // Race Face Aeffect, 30T Steel Narrow-Wide Direct Mount Chainring
  • Front Mech // N/A
  • Rear Mech // SRAM NX 11-Speed
  • Shifters // SRAM NX 11-Speed
  • Cassette // SRAM XG-1150 11-Speed, 10-42t
  • Brakes // SRAM Level T, 180mm Rotors Front & Rear
  • Stem // Race Face Ride 35mm, 50mm Long
  • Bars // Race Face Ride 35mm, 760mm Wide
  • Grips // Santa Cruz Palmdale
  • Seatpost // Race Face Aeffect, 125mm Travel
  • Saddle // WTB Volt Race
  • Size Tested // Large
  • Sizes available // Medium, Large, X-Large
  • Weight // 14kg / 30.8lbs

Review Info

Brand:Santa Cruz Bicycles
Product:Tallboy Aluminum R
From:Santa Cruz UK, santacruzbikes.co.uk
Tested:by Barney Marsh for 3 months

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