Project Alloy trail bike

Nicer frame or better spec?

29er Cross Country
Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 TB3 aluminum 29er 110mm

We chose the Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 for this build because it’s available in both alloy and carbon with similar stiffness numbers. The key difference is weight.

Why aluminum?

Most educated riders will argue that you will get the best bang for your buck by dressing up an aluminum frame with the nicest components you can afford. That makes a lot of sense. Generally speaking, aluminum bikes share the same geometry and suspension kinematics as their pricier carbon counterparts, they just weigh more.

If you can look past the extra pound or two, you can literally save thousands. So, when looking to buy, should you invest in a nicer frame or better spec? To find out, I built a custom trail bike.

At the heart is an alloy Tallboy 3 from Santa Cruz Bikes. It was finished with a mix of mid to high-end components. In this build thread, I’ll give an overview of each of the components and why they were chosen. Over the next few weeks, I’ll follow up with individual reviews. At the end, I’ll compare it to the stock X01 carbon TB3 in my garage.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 TB3 aluminum 29er 110mm

This bike may scream XC on paper, but it’s rowdy enough for most of my riding.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 Frame

Unless you have serious terrain in your backyard, most people don’t need an ultra slack enduro bike. For everyday use, something will less travel and versatile handling makes a lot more sense.

Read our first ride review of the Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 here.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 TB3 aluminum 29er Frame Weight

Weight for the TB3 Frame with shock and axle was 8 lbs (3.65kg).

There are dozens of great bikes in this category, but last year I fell in love with the new Santa Cruz Tallboy 3. The frame with shock retails for $1,899 and weighs 8 lbs. For comparison’s sake, the top tier carbon frame weighs 2.4 lbs less and retails for $1,100 more ($2,999 USD).

NOX Teocalli Rim

The Teocalli is Nox’s XC/trail rim.

Nox Composites Teocalli Wheels

By going with an aluminum frame, I theoretically had an extra thousand bucks to spend on upgrades. The best place to burn that cash? Wheels and suspension. Since the frame is on the heavy side, going with a lightweight wheelset was a no brainer.

NOX Teocalli Rim

Nox hand builds all their wheels in the United States.

I’ve been hearing great things about Nox Composites, so I gave them a call. They suggested a set of their Teocalli rims. Rated for all-mountain abuse, they’re light enough for trail or XC applications. The 29” version weighs 380g and has a 26mm inner width.

Nox hand builds all of their wheels here in the United States, which means they can offer a ton of customization to satisfy rider demands and preferences. I ordered this demo wheelset with purple Industry Nine hubs and 28 spokes hole drilling. You can order yours with just about any high-end hub you can imagine. They’ll even do custom nipple colors and hubs.

Nox Teocalli Industry Nine I9 Torch Hubs 29 Wheelset Weight

Weight for the NOX Teocalli rims laced to I9 Torch hubs was 1600g w/ valve cores and rim strips installed.

This wheelset weighs a respectable 1600 g with valve cores and rim strip installed. Retail for the custom wheelset was $1649.

X-Fusion McQueen Plus Fork

The McQueen is technically a plus fork, but it can easily fit a meaty 29” tire.

Xfusion McQueen Fork

Since the Tallboy 3 can easily be converted between 29 and Plus, my criteria for a fork included compatibility with both tire sizes and Boost spacing. Both Fox and Rockshox make forks that fit this description, but the the high-end stuff retails for over a grand.

X-Fusion McQueen Plus Fork

The Rough Cut RCP version of the McQueen has adjustable low-speed compression and a pedaling platform.

Luckily, X-Fusion recently started shipping the new McQueen. It uses a closed cartridge system similar to the ones employed by the big boys, but retails for considerably less. It’s marketed as a 27.5+ fork, but can easily accommodate a meaty 29” tire.

X-Fusion McQueen Fork Weight 130mm

Weight for the McQueen fork with uncut steer tube was 4 lb 7 oz (2 kg).

Weight for the fork is 4 lbs 7 oz (2 kg). Retail is $750 USD.

Box One Derailleur

11 speeds. No gimmicks.

Box Drivetrain

Box first teased their mountain bike drivetrain back in 2013. It’s been a long road, but they’re finally shipping. What makes their product unique is the shifter. It uses a single paddle for both up and down shifts.

Box One Shifter

Single shifter. Dual action.

How do I like it? It takes some getting used too, but I’ve had zero issues with dropped chains or chain slap. So far, so good. Stay tuned for the full-length review.

Retail for the shifter is $75. The rear derailleur costs $180.

Praxis Cadet Aluminum 1x Cranks

The new Praxis Cadet Cranks offer excellent value for the money.

Praxis Cadet Cranks

Praxis is trying to carve out a niche for itself by producing smartly designed products that are lighter and cheaper than the competition. The new Cadet Cranks are a perfect example. But how do they stack up long term? Stay tuned.

Magura MT Trail Polished Caliper

Polished calipers.

Magura MT Trail Brakes

Technically, this project is about getting the best bang for your buck. But, then I saw these brakes. Just look at those polished calipers. They’re gorgeous. They’re also really expensive. That’s because they combine all of Magura’s best technology in one package.

Magura MT Trail Brake

Carbon!

If you’re actually on a budget, order a set of the Shimano Deore or SLX brakes. There is no better brake for the money. They may not be as full featured or light, but they look and perform on par with Shimano’s pricier stoppers. The Guide R from SRAM is also a great alternative, but they’re simply not as affordable.

Fox Transfer Post

There’s a reason we named the Fox Transfer the best dropper post of 2016.

Fox Transfer

The Fox Transfer is the best $500 dropper you can get for under $300. It’s easy to install, has a well-designed lever, and has proven to be pretty damn reliable. While there are other competitors that meet similar criteria, they all retail for considerably more.

This post is available with either a black coating or golden Kashima. The black version is cheaper, but we already had this post in for review. You can catch that story here.

Paul Components Boxcar Stem Purple 50mm MTB Stem

Pretty in purple.

Paul Boxcar Stem

A stem is a stem, this one just happens to be made in the United States. And it comes in purple. Did you notice the Torx hardware?

WTB Deva Ti Rail Saddle 2017 Black

Ladies love Deva.

WTB Deva

Saddle choice is deeply personal, but 9 out of 10 women agree that the WTB Deva is the best saddle ever. Ok, I made that statistic up. BUT, this saddle is amazing. It was actually discontinued a few years ago, but so many women called in looking for a replacement, that WTB had to bring it back.

This is the fancy ti railed version. It weighs 200g and retails for $129. Generally speaking, saddles aren’t the place to try and shave weight. You’ll get much better value upgrading other components, but this is what WTB wanted MTBR to review. Poor me.

Deity TMAC Purple Pedal

After a year of abuse, the only thing wearing on this pin is the ano.

Deity T-Mac

The Deity T-Mac isn’t the thinnest or lightest pedal, but they’re grippy as hell. I’ve been running this same set on different review bikes for over a year without any issues. Catch my review here.

Price is $169. Weight is 409g.

Lowdown

While I could have saved money in certain areas like the drivetrain or brakes, overall this build is a solid representation of the custom mid to high end builds many forum users are riding. Most of us are on a budget and buying a 10k bike is out of the question. We’ve either bought a frame and swapped over parts or carefully upgraded a complete build over time.

Overall, this entire build has been eye opening. Most manufacturers don’t offer alloy bikes with higher end build kits. They assume you want a carbon frame, so you’re stuck with lower end components. However, most builds offer tremendous value for the money. If you were paying MSRP to build a custom bike, that makes it a less desirable choice. But if you’re on a tight budget initially or want to reuse som parts from the old bike, then this can significantly soften the initial investment.

Stay tuned for a side by side comparison of this alloy TB3 and the carbon version, as well as individual component reviews.

What about you? What’s your choice on this issue? Bling frame or parts? Go all in on the investment or ease into it slowly?

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  • Alex says:

    Is the point to make a nice trail bike or to actually compete with carbon?

    This is a $5900 build without accounting for grips, bar, bottom bracket, or cassette. That’s within spitting distance of the carbon Tallboy with SRAM Eagle, Factory shock, Fox fork, and carbon cranks, and way beyond what I’ve ever seen from anyone’s alloy build. Probably because it doesn’t make sense.

    Let’s start with the wheels. They’re $900 more than Stan’s Crest MK3, slightly wider, and weigh the same. Is a stiffer wheel and a bit more width worth 2.4 lbs of frame weight? IMO, if you’re not abusing the bike (and you shouldn’t given that the Tallboy is borderline XC), not a chance.

    Box appears to have no advantage over Shimano XT or SRAM GX. Why spend the extra $125? Same with the Praxis cranks relative to GX 1400. What benefit to these third parties?

    The Magura brakes are about 100g lighter than SLX. They’re also $275 more, and as you say, both perform fine. Same with your $100 stem relative to a dozen others at half the price.

    There’s only one possible conclusion here, though I’m expecting a wash in the followup comparison with a lot of unverifiable commentary about floating up hills on carbon wheels. Can’t wait.

  • alex says:

    You could have done SLX or even XT 1×11 for much, much cheaper and im sure it would have performed as well or better than “box”

  • Rene says:

    what was the final build weight?

  • Rene says:

    Frame weight is high for these alloy santacruz’s, transition smuggler with shock is 7.3 lbs

  • John says:

    agree with most of the other posters here. I thought the theme was, hey, can i build a better bike with an alloy frame and then use the 1k for fancier stuff, then the stock carbon one? Instead you went with a very eclectic and not inexpensive parts mix (except for the xfusion, good call). Hey its your bike have fun, but not sure what the value of the exercise is.

  • david says:

    I will probably get the Tallboy3, C with the slx 2x package offered by S.C. I’m waiting for my local shop, who will sell one to me for $3,400, to get one to demo. Look forward to your review of the bike.

  • I'mRight says:

    AL tallboy from CBO $2999, Tallboy 29 AL R1/SRAM Kit, add your personal touch and call it done for less.

  • Mag says:

    Thank you for this!
    This is an excellent article, as the reader can follow the logic behind your choice of components and it is a very valid objective (carbon vs. alloy frame).
    While it provides good info on costs, specs and weight of components, one can still feel the writer’s passion that went into it.
    I am into the repair and build of my own bikes for > 25 years (kid’s and spouse’s bicycles included) and it seems this is my personal form of meditation. Keep more articles like this coming, please.

    Greetings from Bavaria, M.

  • kvs says:

    Comments are smart. Those new to the sport might not understand that carbon is brittle and a single crash can destroy a carbon frame. All carbon is fine but unnecessary. Also frames and components are constantly being “blown out” by retailers. Deals can be had if one does some research.

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