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Tallboy Test: Santa Cruz’s New Aluminum MTB

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Santa Cruz Bicycles dropped into the 29er market two years ago with its carbon Tallboy and plenty of riders put down the cash on a frame that currently retails for $2,550. The carbon frame is now the company’s best-selling model, and so it makes sense that this summer Santa Cruz unveiled an aluminum version. The Tallboy aluminum, which debuted in June, costs a few hundred dollars less ($1,850) but it weighs at least a pound more, depending on frame size.

Premium aluminum: Santa Cruz’s new Tallboy complete

By my observations, a lot of riders seem to be singing the aluminum Tallboy song already — the bikes are everywhere in my hometown of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Since June, I’ve had one to test, and I have put it through some serious evaluation on the XC trails around Mammoth as well as in the diverse terrain at the Mammoth Bike Park, which is complete with tech descents, fast paver berms, and as many gnarly options as you could want.

My take? I offer these two words as a review for any rider of the non-hucking set: Quiver killer. Santa Cruz pimps the aluminum Tallboy as being “at home anywhere from remote alpine singletrack to crowded jittery start lines” and this is not hyperbole — the bike is as quick as almost any 29er on the market, and with its dialed geometry the Tallboy steers and rides nearly as responsively as a 26-inch bike. Switchbacks were gobbled up on my rides, and the bike jumped to a start like a drag-race car when I was crushing into a sprint.

The responsiveness can be credited to a few things on this design, but most notably perhaps to the frame’s 71-degree head angle plus a shorter 17.5-inch wheelbase, which is seen on the medium to XL frame sizes in the line.

100mm rear shock sucks up the bumps

In my test around Mammoth, the bike ate up ruts and little bumps like Pac Man. The Tallboy’s suspension — a Rock Shox Reba RL 29 100 fork paired with a 100mm Fox RP2 rear shock — made short work out of medium hits in the park. Santa Cruz’s proprietary “ProPedal” feature helped to minimize shock movement when I climbed.

The frame is stiff and bomber — Santa Cruz overbuilt the aluminum version slightly to make sure it doesn’t flex under a heavy load. Overall, the Tallboy is beefier than your average trail bike and with more oomph than a proper XC racer might like.

For the most serious riders, you will want to skip the aluminum frame and proceed straight to carbon. Casual racers or hardcore all-day recreational riders will love the aluminum Tallboy, and they will also love saving the $800 that the carbon upgrade requires.

—Stephen Krcmar lives and rides in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

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