First Ride: The 2023 Santa Cruz Tallboy is updated, not redone

For Santa Cruz, the previous generation of the Tallboy was a bike that became something of a cult classic. It seemed to resonate with almost everyone who rode it, inspiring all sorts of unique custom builds, some of them focused on extracting as much downhill performance as possible, and others on making an XC machine with more comfort as a thoroughbred race bike.

Released in 2019, the Tallboy 4 hit the sweet spot in terms of versatility, boasting geometry numbers that allowed it to handle tougher, technical terrain without feeling dull and lethargic on a softer trail. It’s a trail bike through and through, with 29” wheels, 120mm of rear travel and a 130mm fork.

Tallboy 5 Details

• Wheel size: 29″
• Travel: 120mm, 130mm fork
• C & CC carbon frame options
• 65.5º or 65.7º head angle
• 76.6º seat tube angle (size L, low)
• 438mm chainstays (size L, low)
• Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 28.75 lbs / 13.04 kg (size L, X01 AXS RSV build)
• Price: $5,299 – $10,399 USD

Santa Cruz didn’t want to mess with a good thing, so the 2023 Tallboy doesn’t deviate that far from the previous model. The geometry has been tweaked slightly, and the same goes for the kinematics, but it’s more of a fine-tuning rather than a complete overhaul.

Gloss Ultra Blue and Matte Taupe are the two color options for the fifth generation of the Tallboy.

Frame details

The most obvious change to the Tallboy’s frame is the addition of downtube storage, a feature now found on nearly every trail and enduro bike in Santa Cruz’s lineup except for the Bronson (at least for now). A small latch next to the water bottle cage allows access to the compartment, and two pouches are included to store a tube, tools and any other snacks and accessories.

Other than the new snack, the Tallboy’s frame details haven’t changed that much. There is fully routed internal cable routing, a threaded bottom bracket, room for a 2.5” rear tire, and mounts for a chain guide. There’s also a universal derailleur hanger, and a flip-chip on the rear shock mount that allows for very subtle geometry changes.

Geometry and suspension layout

The Tallboy’s shock flip-flop remains, but the ability to change the chainstay length by 10mm has been removed, replaced by size-specific lengths for each size. Chainstay lengths range from 431mm on a size small to 444mm on an XXL.

The Tallboy’s seat tube angles are also size-specific, getting steeper with each larger size. This helps ensure that taller riders won’t end up too far over the back of the bike when mounting.

The new Tallboy isn’t any sleepier than before, but it’s grown a little taller, with reach numbers matching the rest of Santa Cruz’s lineup. The reach for a size large is now 473mm in the low setting, an increase of 5mm. The slightly steeper seat tube angles balance the increase, creating a top tube length that is relatively unchanged, meaning the seated climbing position will feel almost the same as before.

Santa Cruz lowered the Tallboy’s leverage ratio to give it a slightly less progressive shock curve, a change that also comes with a lower amount of anti-squat early in the travel, and a less aggressive drop later in the stroke. Those changes were made to increase the bike’s small bump compliance, and to give it a more predictable suspension feel at all points in the travel.

Build Kits

There are 6 models in the lineup, with prices starting at $5,299 USD for the Tallboy CR, which features a SRAM NX drivetrain, Guide T brakes, a RockShox Pike Base fork, and a Fox Performance DPS shock.

At the top of the line sits the $10,399 Tallboy CC X01 AXS RSV. That’s a whole lot of initials to indicate that it has Santa Cruz’s highest carbon frame construction, SRAM’s AXS wireless electronic drivetrain and Reserve 30 SL carbon wheels. Suspension duties on that expensive model are handled by a Fox Float Factory DPS shock and a RockShox Pike Ultimate fork.

Driving impressions

The Tallboy is not a downcountry bike, and it doesn’t try to be. Instead, it’s a do-it-all machine that has a ‘just right’ air to its handling. There’s no sketchiness or unpredictability to be found – it’s the rider who will bring those qualities to the table, not the bike.

Honestly, I could probably just drop the link to Mike Levy’s review of the Tallboy 4 in here and call it good. There are more similarities than differences between the two versions, and the overall ride characteristics are almost identical. It’s been a while since I last rode a Tallboy, but going by my somewhat vague memories, I’d say that the suspension feels better than before – it’s a bit softer overall, which makes the bike more comfortable on bumpy parts of the trail. There’s still plenty of support though, and even when I used all the travel, there was no harshness at the end of the stroke.

The Tallboy’s strength is its versatility – it feels solid, free of any unwanted twist, even on rougher, high-speed trails. The Maxxis Dissector / Rekon tire combo has worked well for the dry, dusty conditions that have prevailed lately, although I’d probably put on something a little beefier for wet conditions or really trying to wring out the most downhill performance possible . I’d also probably trade the G2 brakes for a few codes if I were to go that route, as there’s only a small weight penalty and a noticeable performance difference. Still, for general duty the G2 brakes work well, and a rotor upgrade to the new HS2 versions would be an easier way to increase the stopping power a bit further.

The Tallboy’s handling is very calm and predictable, and the same goes for the pedaling performance – it strikes a nice balance between efficiency and traction. That said, the weight combined with the more cushioned suspension feel makes it feel closer to a short travel Hightower rather than a longer travel Blur.

That’s not to say it feels heavy or lethargic – far from it – it’s just a noticeable difference in how it feels compared to something like the latest Trek Top Fuel, or even a Transition Spur for that matter. All those bikes have 120mm of rear travel, but the Trek and Transition sit more on the aggressive XC side of the spectrum, and have more of an appetite for sprinting uphill than the Tallboy.

Those lighter and livelier options are ideal for riders trying to scratch that itch in the country, but when gravity takes over, it’s the Tallboy that pulls forward, with a more planted feel that delivers the confidence needed to take on higher speeds and hitting more challenging trail features.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s exactly what Santa Cruz did with the Tallboy. It’s a refined trail bike, with easy handling and all the frame features (and matching price tag) that Santa Cruz has become known for.

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