2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy (V4): First Ride
The all-new 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy was revamped with lower-link suspension, 120 millimeters of travel, and an interesting axle flip-chip that allows 10mm of chainstay adjustment and clearance for 29 x 2.6″ tires. We had a chance to ride one prior to today’s launch. Here’s our impressions, photos, and details about the bike…
Action photos by TJ Kearns
If there was an official historical record of the 29er, the venerated Santa Cruz Tallboy would likely have its own chapter. The original Tallboy debuted back in 2009—at a point when the mainstream mountain bike world still viewed the 29er as a passing fad, and fully suspended 29ers as sheer insanity. But the Tallboy set the bar for what’s possible with a 29er and arguably helped changed the minds of many skeptics. Since then, the full-sus 29er has slowly become widely accepted and most major bike manufacturers have developed well-conceived and fully capable variations on the theme. Even so, the Tallboy remains the archetype. Prior to the 2020 redesign, the Tallboy got upgraded paint schemes and component specs annually with three major revisions, the Tallboy 1 (2009-2013), Tallboy 2 (2013-2016), and Tallboy 3 (2016-2019). We were excited to get the chance to pre-ride the new Tallboy 4, specifically, the 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy CC X01 RSV. Read on to find out what’s changed, specs, details, impressions, and loads of photos.
Technically, the Tallboy fits neatly in the short-travel 29er class—those in the 120-millimeter travel range, give or take a centimeter—a niche that’s alive and well, albeit a little directionally challenged. One reason that these bikes are popular is that they manage to maintain excellent climbing capability and add enough rear travel to amplify the roll-over-anything advantages of 29er tires. The result is (usually) a bike that maintains good pedaling efficiency, reduces rider fatigue over long days in the saddle, and still punches above its class on more rowdy descents. Bikepackers who are also avid trail mountain bikers (like me) get it, which is why bikes such as the Santa Cruz Tallboy can almost always be found on your local blue-black trails, as well as on the starting line of singletrack-heavy bikepacking races, rides, and routes. With all that said, there’s a shift in thinking to what these bikes can and should do…
- Angles: 65.5° Headtube, 76° Seattube
- BB Drop/Chainstay: 65mm/430-440mm
- Bottom Bracket: 73mm threaded
- Hub specs: TA, 15x110mm, 12x148mm
- Seatpost: 31.6mm
- Max tire size: 29 x 2.6″
- Weight (XL-as tested): TBD
The 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy: What’s Changed
Although 10mm of additional travel doesn’t seem like much, Santa Cruz insists that the new 120mm Tallboy furthers what short-travel bikes are capable of without sacrificing what short-travel 29ers are known for. That’s the basis of the redesign—bringing the Tallboy back to “being a genre bending folk hero.” The Tallboy was one of Santa Cruz’s last models to get an overhaul, so the changes won’t surprise those following the company. However, pairing a promising suspension redesign with a modern 130mm fork, new-school geometry—and mechanisms to tweak it—should make the Tallboy suited for a little bit of everything. Here are the specifics…
Lower-Link VPP Suspension
The most visible difference between the former (version 3) Tallboy and the V4 model is the move to a lower-link suspension design. This clearly follows the lead and shares engineering principles with the popular and well-reviewed 140mm Santa Cruz Hightower. According to Santa Cruz, this maximizes the efficiency of the VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) design and allows a more responsive, lightweight chassis. From a utility standpoint, this means a single, large(ish) triangle that’s better suited for a frame bag (or a large water bottle). Speaking of bottles, bravo to Santa Cruz for leaving the pair of mounts under the downtube.
Historically speaking, short-travel 29ers have been designed around steeper and more conservative geometries, in part because short-travel bikes are usually pegged for XC-style trails and expected to be ridden more conservatively as a result. However, this is changing. Bikes such as the revamped Ibis Ripley (review coming soon), have slacker head angles, steep seat tubes, and longer stances than their predecessors. Similarly, borrowing traits from the Hightower, Santa Cruz’s (more) aggressive 140mm trail 29er, the 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy has a 65.5° head-angle, generous front center, and steep 76.6° seat tube, numbers that are typically reserved for longer-travel bikes. In essence, the new Tallboy could almost be considered a short-travel Hightower—an enduro rider’s XC bike, if you will. But, all this doesn’t mean it lost its ability to pedal well, which we’ll get to.
Shock and Axle Flip Chips
One of the most interesting changes, partially borrowed from the Hightower, is the use of two flip chip mechanisms to tweak the Tallboy’s geometry. The oval shaped lower-link flip chip sits at the base of the shock mount and adjusts the BB height up and down. When in the rearward (Low) position, it makes the suspension more progressive (more bottom out resistance), and lowers the bottom bracket a hair (38mm vs 40mm in High). This also adjusts the stack height a tad and slackens the head angle by 0.2°.
Even more compelling is the axle flip chip. This swappable pair of drive side axle plates (and reversible non-driveside chip) changes the chainstay length by +/-10mm. The axle flip chip works by moving the threaded axle mount forward or rearward depending on which plate you use (each version—long and short—also corrects the proportions of the derailleur hanger). This provides a rider with the ability to tweak how the bike rides or fits. The shorter chainstay length (430mm) is more playful and lively, and the longer (440mm) is more stable descending and provides more traction for climbing, as well as more stability and comfort over long rides. It also means that taller riders can tailor the fit of the bike and create a balanced front-rear proportion. Additionally, with the rearward plate in place, the Tallboy can fit 29 x 2.6″ tires.
2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy CC XO1 RSV Build Kit
The version 4 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy (and the new Juliana Joplin, which shares the same frame) comes in aluminum, and both C and CC carbon frames. In a nutshell, CC is Santa Cruz’s top tier carbon layup, meaning that they are able to use less carbon than in the C frames, yet retain the same strength, making it a lighter frame. There are also nine build options between the aluminum and carbon models, ranging from the $2,699 AL D to the high end CC XX1 AXS RSV for $10,399. You can also get a CC frame only for $3,099. I’m testing the $8,199 CC XO1 RSV model ($6,999 without the carbon Reserve (RSV) wheels). Here’s the full build kit with impressions following.
- Frame Carbon CC 29 120mm Travel VPP
- Rear Shock FOX Float Performance Elite DPS
- Fork RockShox Pike Select+, 130mm, 29″
- R. Derailleur SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
- Shifters SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
- Cassette SRAM XG1295 Eagle, 12spd, 10-50t
- Chain SRAM X01 Eagle, 12spd
- Bottom Bracket SRAM DUB 68/73mm Threaded BB
- Headset Cane Creek 40 IS Integrated Headset
- Rear Tire Maxxis Minion DHR II, 29″x2.3″, EXO TR
- Front Tire Maxxis Minion DHF, 29″x2.3″, 3C EXO TR
- Front Hub DT Swiss 350, 15×110, Torque Cap, 28h
- Rims Santa Cruz Reserve 27 29″ Carbon Rims
- Spokes DT Swiss Competition Race
- Rear Hub DT Swiss 350, 12×148, XD, 28h
- Rotors Avid Centerline 180mm
- Brakes SRAM G2 RSC
- Crankset SRAM X1 Eagle Carbon 148 DUB, 32t – 165 (XS) 170mm (S), 175mm (M-XXL)
- Handlebar Santa Cruz AM Carbon
- Stem Race Face Aeffect R
- Saddle WTB Silverado Team Saddle
- Seatpost RockShox Reverb Stealth, 1X Lever, MatchMaker, 31.6
- Grips/Bar Tape Santa Cruz Palmdale Grips
I’m fairly impressed with this build, overall. With Pisgah as the proving ground, I was happy to see a 2.35″ Maxxis DHF up front and the DHR in the back—a great combo for greasy roots and technical terrain. The Reserve wheels are always impressive, although I’d opt for the Reserve 30 or the new Reserve 37 over 27mm internal width rims, as specced. And, if I’m splitting hairs, I’d take the I9 Hydra hubs over DT350s for the added engagement speed on technical trails. While the Reverb has come a long way over the years, I still prefer a cable-actuated dropper post. Lastly, for an $8,000+ bike, I would have expected the high-end Pike Ultimate to make it into the build. The OEM-specific Pike Select+ functions well enough, and shares the same Charger 2 damper, but it lacks the high speed compression adjustment dial (Open, Pedal, and Firm).
On the Trail
This is where this pre-review will get cut short (and be continued). Due to timing and improper sizing, I didn’t get to put many miles on the new Santa Cruz Tallboy. I only got about three afternoon rides in, which were more to discover that the size XL Tallboy (which I hoped would work for me) was just a bit too large to make a full qualitative review. At just over 5′ 11″ tall, I’m definitely within the fit range for a large, which Santa Cruz claims is between 5′ 9″ and 6′ 1″. I was actually hoping the XL would work, but in the end, it was a little awkward when climbing on steep and technical trails, and not as nimble on turns as I expect the large to be.
At any rate, I’m pretty stoked about this bike and look forward to putting it through its paces once I get the large in later this week. I will say that when not pushed on the extreme ends of terrain, where sizing makes a substantial difference, it felt really good. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, I think Santa Cruz made some great decisions redesigning the Tallboy. Alongside a decent size frame triangle (for a full-squish rig), two pairs of bottle mounts, and a clever axle flip chip (which allows geometric flexibility and 29 x 2.6″ tires), I think the shift in geometry might make it an excellent bike that toggles perfectly between trail riding, singletrack-focused bikepacking, and backcountry exploration.
Stay tuned for a more in depth review as our demo 2020 Santa Cruz Tallboy gets a new frame bag, 29 x 2.6″ tires, and sees many more miles. In the meantime, learn more about the bike and options over at SantaaCruzBicycles.com.
Pisgah local Luca Shaw showing folks what can be done on the new Tallboy 4: