The Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon 29 XE Complete Mountain Bike isn't strictly a cross-country bike. It's also not a trail bike. Well, not only a trail bike. It's a bike whose wheels and geometry seem at odds, yet blend well for a bike that pedals like an XC racer and handles terrain like an all-mountain bike. If you're running lift and shuttle laps, you probably don't need a bike like the Tallboy; however, it's almost ideal for cyclists who spend most of their rides pedaling and primarily use the lift to access sidecountry networks. It's got a more spacious geometry than its predecessor, and it also benefits from the reworked linkage that we've been seeing on SC's latest models. This do-it-all mentality is reinforced by the XE build kit, which features Shimano XT in all-mountain matrimony with Race Face finishing bits and a RockShox dropper.
The Tallboy is currenty on its third iteration, and SC equips it with a host of features imported from its all-mountain bikes. These include Boost axles, re-designed linkages, a slacker head tube, and the brand's latest tech widget, a flip chip that adjusts the upper linkage to keep the geometry the same whether you're running 29in wheels or 27.5+. Those updates and the flip chip's degree of flexibility mean that the Tallboy's classic 29er geometry is virtually futureproof, making it a tall bar for the competition to meet.
The frame's chainstays and reach also join the modern geometry movement; the stays are shorter by 13.3mm and the reach bumps up dramatically, gaining an average of 40mm depending on the size. (At 34.2mm, Large gained the least, and sizes Small and XX-Large gained the most: 43.8 and 45.6mm, respectively.) All told, the geometry tweaks add up to a chassis that's far more capable in virtually every trail situation than its predecessor.
The VPP suspension has also taken a turn for the crunchier. It gained an additional 10mm, which aligns the Tallboy 3 perfectly with the emerging crop of 4.5in, do-it-all trail 29ers. That's not to say it's just rolling off the press as a faceless frame in a sea of similar models, though, since the inclusion of Santa Cruz's Flip Chip means the Tallboy 3 can also revel in loose conditions with 27.5+. The Tallboy 3 is essentially two frames: the race rocket 29er with a long, stable geometry featured here and a plus-size barge for floaty traction on surfaces ranging from off-trail snowscapes to rain-slicked root lattices when converted to 27.5+. The beauty is that, instead of shelling out for two separate premium machines, you just need the Flip Chip, two wheelsets, and two forks.
Despite all the tweaks to geometry, the inclusion of a Flip Chip, and the centimeter of additional travel, the VPP design remains the same updated version featured on frames like the Bronson 2.0 and 5010 2.0. It's inspired by the previous generation Nomad, which was a decidedly enduro-minded machine. The result is that the links stay out of the way so the Tallboy now accommodates a piggyback shock's external can without giving up the bottle cage. The repositioned links also make for more ground clearance, lower standover, and an additional boost in stiffness to the already stiff Boost back end.
The latest VPP's changes aren't limited to wandering links, though; the system's tuning has also been tweaked. Where the old suspension curve described a deep "U," the new VPP's curve resembles a flattened check mark, with less dramatic ramping on either end of the arc. The results are that, during the initial and mid stroke, it boasts increased bump compliance to keep the tires glued to the trail for more traction across lumpy trails and root latticed climbs. It also maintains its predecessor's firm feel during accelerations, so it won't dampen the Tallboy 3's spirited kick while jockeying for position in a mass start or a finishing sprint. The shock's ramp-up arc doesn't dramatically alter as the shock compresses, so the pedaling platform stays consistent across travel, with less wallowing, bob, and bottom-outs — even while the Boost axle's path turns rearward to absorb bigger hits deep in its travel.
As with the its slacker stablemate, the Hightower, the Tallboy 3's reworked linkage means it's one-by only, making it the ideal recipient of SRAM's beat-'em-up NX drivetrain. The threaded bottom bracket is another feature that we've come to just expect from the California-based brand, and it's a strong selling point for those who don't like dealing with the tricky tolerances and creaky interface of press-fit models. The Tallboy 3's 27.5+ mode accommodates every manufacturer's 2.8in tires, but some 3in models may have clearance issues. Understandably, its clearance decreases as a 29er, but SC still ships it with 2.3in tires, which approach the sweet spot of cush and traction without getting top floppy and muddying trail feel.
- A 29er trail bike with a pedigree of cross-country speed
- Responsive pedaling platform with 4.5in of VPP travel
- Spacious geometry for sending bigger lines
- Flip chip is compatibile with 27.5+ and 29in wheels
- Carbon construction reduces weight and increases stiffness
- Dropper post adapts the cockpit to terrain
- Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes occupy the business end of all-mountain