Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 29er first ride review

Still goes fast, now with more go fast

27.5 29er All Mountain Trail Plus
The original Tallboy is an icon that helped many riders realize just how fun a 29er could be.

The original Tallboy is an icon that helped many riders realize just how fun a 29er could be (click to enlarge).

Earlier this week Santa Cruz released an all new version of the Tallboy, which attempts to blend the impeccable handling of the original, yet offers more versatility. To achieve this goal, they’ve made significant alterations to the geometry. Think long, low, and slack, then slash a half inch off the chainstays. These changes make the new Santa Cruz significantly more capable, which is highlighted by a component spec that now includes a stiffer 34mm fork, robust tires, and a dropper post.

If you want to learn more about the new frame, geometry, and component updates, you should check out our first look here.

The Tallboy3 is compatible with both 27.5+ and 29” wheels, but you’ll need a spare set of wheels and a 130mm fork to make the conversion.

The Tallboy 3 is compatible with both 27.5+ and 29” wheels, but you’ll need a spare set of wheels and a 130mm fork to make the conversion (click to enlarge).

To find out more first-hand, I dropped by the Santa Cruz Bikes Headquarters a couple of days ago to pick up a review bike. It came equipped with a 120mm fork and 29” wheels. Mtbr also received a set of plus wheels and a 130m fork, to experiment with during the course of our long term review. Since the bike just arrived, I’ve only had enough time to do a quick 15 mile shakedown ride with about two thousand feet of climbing, but that’s just long enough to get some solid first impressions.

A 50mm stem paired with a 780mm bar seem tell you a lot about this bike's intentions downhill.

A 50mm stem paired with a 780mm bar seem tell you a lot about this bike’s intentions downhill (click to enlarge).

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the components. This is a new bike for model year 2017, so it’s got a number of new products I hadn’t ridden yet, including the recently announced Level Brakes.

The new Level TLM replaces the old SRAM XO brakes.

The new Level TLM replaces the old SRAM XO brakes (click to enlarge).

These new stoppers from SRAM mate a two piston caliper with the same lever technology found in the Guides. They’re designed for XC/Trail usage, so don’t expect the same level of braking power that helped Loic Bruni win DH World Champs. Considering how light they are (claimed 356g. including rotor and hardware), the power is pretty impressive. Modulation is just as good as the Guide’s, but I did notice the levers started to pump up slightly on hard descents.

It’s too bad you can’t buy this fork aftermarket, because it would save a grip of cash without skimping on performance.

It’s too bad you can’t buy this fork aftermarket, because it would save a grip of cash without skimping on performance (click to enlarge).

The other component I was eager to sample was the new Performance Series suspension from FOX, with the black anodized stanchions. There are two different versions of this fork available. The aftermarket model has the new FIT GRIP damper, while the Elite that ships on the X01 Tallboy is OEM only. This version shares the same FIT 4 damper and internals as the Factory level Kashima coated model and I couldn’t detect a difference between the two in terms of performance.

A Maxxis DHF Minion is not exactly what you’d expect to see on a short travel 29er that straddles the border between XC and trail.

A Maxxis DHF Minion is not exactly what you’d expect to see on a short travel 29er that straddles the border between XC and trail (click to enlarge).

Before finally moving onto how the bike actually handled, I’d like to give the product team at SCB a high five for spec’ing real tires and a dropper. They could have skimped out and been able to market this bike as a sub 25 lb. machine, but that would have limited its capability. If you want a more XC oriented spec, you always have the option of building a custom bike from the frame up. The new Tallboy 3 is roughly 230 grams (or half a pound heavier) than the 2, but swapping to a 32mm fork, with a rigid post, narrow rims, and XC tires would help shave significant weight.

The latest iteration of VPP moves the upper link to the top tube (vs. the LT's placement on the down tube) and places the lower link above the bottom bracket.

The latest iteration of VPP moves the upper link to the top tube (vs. the LT’s placement on the down tube) and places the lower link above the bottom bracket (click to enlarge).

As is, the pedaling efficiency of the new model is excellent, both in and out of the saddle. Despite gaining 10mm of rear travel, performance is on par with the previous bike in this regard. I did have some concerns about the low bottom bracket, but didn’t experience any issues with pedal strike on any of the usual suspects.

Small frames are spec’d with a 125mm dropper, M-XL receive a 150mm Reverb, and the XXL gets a 170 mm post. Being able to get the post that far out of the way makes a big difference.

Small frames are spec’d with a 125mm dropper, M-XL receive a 150mm Reverb, and the XXL gets a 170 mm post. Being able to get the post that far out of the way makes a big difference (click to enlarge).

We are talking about the Tallboy, so of course it should climb well and handle like a Miata, but what blew me away was how well the little bike descended. Despite only having 110mm of travel, I found myself comfortably sending all the same features I would on a 5” or 6” travel bike. That’s not something I would have felt comfortable doing on the original Tallboy, especially on a first ride.

The EVOL can is available as an aftermarket upgrade on FOX shocks and makes a huge difference in the initial part of the travel.

The EVOL can is available as an aftermarket upgrade on FOX shocks and makes a huge difference in the initial part of the travel (click to enlarge).

Like the new 5010 and Bronson, the suspension is remarkably supple off the top thanks to a combination of higher initial leverage curve and the Evol canister. With the recommended 30% sag front and rear, I did find myself bottoming out on larger hits, but I was also riding like a teenage kid taking their parents sports car for a midnight joyride. Considering how surprisingly capable the new Tallboy is, I suspect my final suspension settings will be far closer to what I run on the 5010 – around 15% sag up front/ 20% out back.

The new Tallboy is a looker.

The new Tallboy is a looker (click to enlarge).

With only fifteen miles on the odometer however, I can’t give you a conclusive review of the new Tallboy, but this might be my new favorite malt beverage. It has the same basic taste profile as the original, but gives you the same confidence as downing two beers.

If you’re still interested in more information on the bike, I also sat down with SCB North American Marketing Manager Don Palermini to discuss the availability of more affordable models and XC oriented spec. Click through to page 2 to read the interview.

Continue to page 2 for the interview and full photo gallery »
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