Santa Cruz Tallboy Buyer's Guide: A Modern Classic, Refined

Written by Alvin Holbrook, on September 20, 2022

One could make an argument that the average mountain biker rides a bike with too much suspension travel. The argument goes like this: rather than lugging around a soft, slacked-out bike that feels dead and makes climbing tougher, why not carry exactly what is needed and little else? And with bikes like the Santa Cruz Tallboy that do more with less, less suspension travel might be exactly what a rider needs.

The latest generation Santa Cruz Tallboy - and its sibling, the Juliana Joplin trail bike - don’t offer a ton of surprises. 120mm rear wheel travel paired to a 130mm fork, just right trail geometry, and a slew of refinements are highly reflective of the roll Santa Cruz has been on this year. Who is the Tallboy for, what changes have been made, and which Tallboy is the best? We break it all down below.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 bike at Contender Bicycles

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Juliana Joplin 4 bike at Contender Bicycles

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Santa Cruz Tallboy Details

The key tenants are the same as the previous-generation Tallboy: a lower-link VPP suspension setup, a low-slung Fox damper, and overall lines that look a whole lot similar to most other models in the Santa Cruz lineup. It is still a light trail bike at heart, with geometry that allows riders to go faster than one might think a 120mm travel bike can go. And of course, 29-inch wheels are a must considering the Tallboy was perhaps the first mountain bike to make 29er wheels a success.

While the frame looks largely similar to the previous-generation Tallboy, there are a few key differences to the frame. The first is the inclusion of the Glovebox. We’ve talked about it in the past with other Santa Cruz models, but this generous in-frame storage capacity offers plenty of room for a tube, pump, tools, and other ride essentials. Santa Cruz even includes a pair of padded sleeves to keep the Glovebox’s contents from rattling around. Think of it this way: if you carry a small pack for your lunch rides, you can store your snacks and essentials lower on the bike and off your body. We’re big fans if you haven’t noticed.

Santa Cruz Tallboy downtube compartment

Another feature that adds a bit of convenience to the frame is a cutout on the non-drive side portion of the shock tunnel. Doing so makes it easier to check sag, which was notoriously challenging with the previous Tallboy. 

Santa Cruz is known for paying attention to the details, and Tallboy 5 does so too. The new Tallboy offers a max tire clearance of 29 x 2.5”, iSCG05 chain guide mounts, a SRAM Universal Derailleur Hanger, and a lifetime warranty on pivot bearings. Interestingly, the tube-in-tube routing Santa Cruz offers for brake hoses and shift cables now include the front triangle and rear triangle. Fewer folks use derailleur cables, and even fewer are working on their own bikes, but it is still a nice upgrade to see.

Santa Cruz Tallboy bike at Contender Bicycles

Tallboy launches with Santa Cruz’s C or CC carbon frame options. CC is generally about 200g lighter than the C carbon frame with no loss in stiffness or strength. Alloy frames are on the way, though they won’t be available until the later half of 2023.

Santa Cruz Tallboy Suspension

The new Tallboy has lower anti-squat values for the first PERCENT compared to the previous version, not unlike the treatments done to Hightower and 5010. However, the goal here was to make the bike feel poppier and snappier than the previous generation Tallboy in most situations, particularly in techy climbs and steeper uphill pitches.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 suspension kinematics at Contender Bicycles

Leverage ratios are actually a bit less progressive than before, both by lowering the leverage rate at zero and the max wheel travel. This does two things: helps the bike sit a bit higher in the travel while pedaling to improve pedaling responsiveness, and increases sensitivity deeper into the suspension travel. Doing so should help maintain slightly more consistent damping toward bottom-out.

Geometry

There are slight geometry updates made to the new Tallboy. You’ll find a degree slacker head angle and the inclusion of size-specific chainstay lengths. Reversible flip chips are gone. Seat angles remain roughly the same, however, at between degrees and degrees.

Santa Cruz tallboy 5 geometry Contender Bicycles

While the rear end flip chip is gone, there is still a .flip chip for the shock Changing its position results in a mm change in bottom bracket height. Folks want options, and even though these changes are small, it does offer slightly more tuning options.

Santa Cruz Tallboy bike at Contender Bicycles

Our Favorite Build Kits

The Tallboy lineup launches initially in two frame options, with alloy frame on the way. Tallboy historically has offered a wide array of build kits, and here it starts with the Tallboy C R Kit. All models feature a Fox Float DPS shock, and all models besides the C S Kit receive a Rockshox Pike fork (C S gets a Fox 34), Maxxis Dissector front tires, and Maxxis Rekon rear tires.

Tallboy Joplin frame options

The bread and butter for us has typically been two models: Tallboy C R Kit and Tallboy C S Kit. C R Kit bikes get the carbon frame, Fox DPS shock, a standard RockShox Pike 130mm fork, and a SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain.Raceface AR30 30mm rims, SRAM hubs, and a cable-actuated SDG Telis dropper is a reliable, usable, and inexpensive build kit.

Tallboy C S Kit is one of our favorites because it covers everything one might want but adds a hint of polish to the build kit. SRAM GX Eagle shifts just a little bit more smoothly between gears, and the Fox 34 fork offers just a little more adjustability. It also receives a RockShox Reverb dropper post and an upgrade to DT Swiss 370 hubs. 

Our same advice regarding the Tallboy also applies to the Joplin. The Juliana Joplin offers everything one might want without many sacrifices. The key differences between the Tallboy and Joplin include a change in handlebar grips, saddle, and a lighter suspension tune. Of course there is also a change in paint scheme; which one you choose is based on your personal preference.

Last thing to note - build kits with the RSV designation receive the new Reserve 30 SL wheels. These rims are lighter than ever at 440 grams per rim, which should add quite a bit of zippiness to the Tallboy’s ride when so equipped. Paired to the lifetime guarantee and stated no rider weight limit, these rims - and the Industry Nine 1/1 hubs they’re laced to - could be a worthwhile upgrade.

Santa Cruz Tallboy vs Blur

Both the Tallboy and the Blur TR offer 120mm rear suspension travel. When that happens, why would someone choose the Tallboy over the Blur TR?

Think of it this way: if the Blur TR is downcountry (XC with some the edge taken off), then one might call the Tallboy Tech-C. The Tallboy might search for a bit more riding through technical terrain, is more likely to want more speed on a descent, and wants the extra traction from climbs that the Tallboy has. Blur TR is lighter by a few lbs between build kits, but the Tallboy offers a blt more margin for error out on the trail.

Either bike will feel great out riding, but unless you place a high value on having the lightest bike possible, the Tallboy might be better for the average rider.

Conclusion

The previous generation Tallboy is and was an excellent bike, but polishing off the sharp edges and what little pain points there were make this a better bike. The changes to suspension and geometry that climbing responsiveness round out what is one of the most versatile trail bikes anywhere. Poppier, more responsive, and more feature-filled than ever, the Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 continues to be one of our go-to short travel bikes.

SHOP SANTA CRUZ TALLBOY IN STOCK

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Santa Cruz Tallboy bike at Contender Bicycles

Words by Alvin Holbrook. Photos courtesy of Santa Cruz.


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