First Ride: Santa Cruz Tallboy 2023 gets an update, not a rebuild

For Santa Cruz, the previous generation Tallboy was a bike that turned into something of a cult classic. It seemed to resonate with almost everyone who rode it, inspiring all sorts of unique custom designs, some focused on achieving the highest downhill performance possible, and others transforming into an XC machine with more comfort than a thoroughbred racing bike. Released in 2019, Tallboy 4 hit the spot for versatility, boasting a geometry that allowed it to tackle tougher, technical terrain without feeling bored and lethargic on gentler trails. It’s a trail bike with 29 ” wheels, 120mm of rear travel, and a 130mm fork.

Tallboy 5 Details

• Wheel size: 29 “
• Travel: 120mm, 130mm fork
• C and CC carbon frame options
• 65.5 ° or 65.7 ° head angle
• 76.6º seat tube angle (size L, low)
• Lower rear fork 438 mm (size L, low)
• Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 28.75 lb. / 13.04 kg (size L, X01 AXS RSV design)
• Price: from $ 5,299 to $ 10,399
• santacruzbicycles.com

Santa Cruz didn’t want to mess with the good thing, so the Tallboy 2023 doesn’t deviate that far from the previous model. The geometry has been adjusted slightly, the same is true for the kinematics, but this is a more precise tuning than a complete overhaul.

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

Details of the frame

The most obvious change to the Tallboy frame is the addition of a downtube storage box, which is now available on nearly every trail and enduro bike in the Santa Cruz range, with the exception of 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 for storing the tube, tools and any other snacks and accessories that will fit.

Aside from the new snack box, the details of the Tallboy’s frame haven’t changed that much. Fully guided internal cable routing, threaded bottom bracket, space for 2.5 ”rear tire and chain link mounts. 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 system

The Tallboy shock chip remains, but the ability to change the length of the chainstay by 10mm has been removed, replacing it with size-specific lengths for each size. The chain length ranges from 431 mm in the small size to 444 mm in the XXL size.

Tallboy seat tube angles are also size dependent, and they get steeper with each larger size. This helps prevent taller riders from landing too far behind the bike while climbing.

The new Tallboy isn’t any lighter than before, but it has lengthened a bit, and its reach was in line with the rest of the Santa Cruz roster. The reach of the large size is now 473mm in the low setting, an increase of 5mm. Slightly sloped seat tube angles offset this increase, creating a length of the top tube that remains relatively unchanged, meaning your sitting position while climbing will be almost the same as before.

Santa Cruz lowered Tallboy’s gear ratio to give it a slightly less progressive shock curve, also accompanied by less anti-squat at the start of the jump and a less aggressive drop in the later jump. These changes were made to make the bike more susceptible to small bumps and to provide a more predictable suspension feel at all points of the journey.

Building kits

There are 6 models on offer and prices start at $ 5,299 for a Tallboy CR, which has a SRAM NX drivetrain, Guide T brakes, a RockShox Pike Base fork, and a Fox Performance DPS shock.

At the top of the line is the $ 10,399 Tallboy CC X01 AXS RSV. That’s a lot of initials to show it has a premium Santa Cruz carbon frame construction, SRAM AXS wireless electronic drivetrain, and Reserve 30 SL carbon wheels. The suspension on this expensive model is supported by a Fox Float Factory DPS shock and RockShox Pike Ultimate fork.


Driving experience

Tallboy is not a downhill bike and he is not trying to be one at all. Instead, it is an all-round machine that has the “right” air to operate. There are no sketches or unpredictability – it is the rider who will bring these qualities to the table, not the bike.

Honestly, I could probably just throw in a link to Mike Levy’s Tallboy 4 review here and call it good. There are more similarities than differences between the two versions, and the overall driving characteristics are almost identical. It’s been a while since I last ridden a Tallboy, but starting from my somewhat blurry memories, I’d say the suspension is better than before – overall it’s a little softer which makes the bike more comfortable on rough stretches of trail. However, there’s still a lot of support, and even when I used the entire trip, there wasn’t any harshness at the end of the impact.

Tallboy’s strength is its versatility – it feels solid, free from unwanted jerks, even on more difficult, fast routes. The Maxxis Dissector / Rekon tire combination worked well in the dry, dusty conditions that have dominated lately, although I’d probably wear something a bit fleshier for wet conditions or really try to squeeze out the best downhill performance possible. I would probably also replace the G2 brakes with some codes if I were going this route as there is only a little weight and a noticeable difference in performance. Still, for general purposes, the G2’s brakes work fine, and upgrading the rotor to the new HS2 versions would be an easier way to add a little more stopping power.

The Tallboy’s handling is very smooth and predictable, and the same goes for pedaling efficiency – it strikes a good balance between performance and grip. That said, the weight coupled with the more muted suspension puts it closer to the short Hightower travel rather than the longer Blur travel.

That doesn’t mean it feels heavy or lethargic – far from it – there is just a noticeable difference between how it feels compared to something like the latest Trek Top Fuel or even the Transition Spur. These bikes all have 120mm of rear travel, but the Trek and Transition are on the more aggressive side of the XC and have a greater appetite for hill sprints than the Tallboy.

These lighter and livelier options are great for cyclists trying to scratch itch off-road, but when gravity takes over, Tallboy moves forward, with a more embedded feel that gives you the confidence you need to tackle higher speeds and rougher trails.

As the saying goes, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” and that’s exactly what Santa Cruz did with Tallboy. It’s a sophisticated trail bike with an easy-to-ride ride and all the frame features (and price tag) that Santa Cruz is famous for.


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