SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LTc – Quick Test: by c_g

Here at twentynieninches Europe we really get to ride many different bikes each year, but rarely was I so full of anticipation about a test bike than with the SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LTc. After the brief taste through the quick-test of the SC Tallboy (here) it was evident to me what an exciting bike Tallboy LT could be … if it managed to maintain the same ride character. We had been fortunate to receive the first existing Tallboy LTc in Germany for this short test.

For all technical innovations and features of the Tallboy LT series with 135 mm of travel on the rear, I you should go to the earlier post on the introduction of the Tallboy LT posted here.

Visually, the Tallboy LT clearly is the big brother of the former Tallboy. Would it not be for the 142/12 rear axle and the down tube shock mount (instead of the top tube mount of the Tallboy), they could almost be mistaken for one another. I really like those flowing lines of the bike.

Our yellow carbon frame (SANTA CRUZ aptly calls it “Solar Yellow”) come with a component kit dubbed “SPXAM29″ – which translates into a complete XT drive train (3×10) and brakes (180 front /160 rear!), Fox Float F34 CTD Factory 29″er fork and RP23 Factory shock (the production bikes will come with the new 2013 CTD Factory shock), DT-Swiss hubs / WTB Frequency i23 rims and Maxxis Ardent tires. While one can argue with the tire choice (for our varying conditions, the Ardent isn´t one of my favorites), the XT brakes with 180 mm front and 160 mm rear definitely are undersized for what this bike deserves! Unusual by modern standards (but welcome from our point of view), were the external cable routing and the BSA bottom bracket.

By this build it is obvious that the bike wouldn’t end up super light in spite of the extremely light frame (SANTA CRUZ claims 2355 grams for the full carbon frame of the LTc) – our scale read 12.85 kg (w/o pedals). The LT alloy frame is stated at 3250 g. Since we also wanted to close the test on the Reynolds MT29″er Carbon wheels (the report is published here), I have left the original wheels untouched and mounted the carbon-REYNOLDS (with CONTINENTAL Mountain King IIs) … which immediately shaved off 750 g.

The frame is available as a kit with the shock for USD 2698.- (€ 3299.- here in Europe) or USD 6078.- (€ 6699.-) for the complete bike as tested. There are multiple built kits available for your personal dream bike.

Yes, bargains do look differently – but what you get is a very enigmatic bike with an state-of-the-art carbon frame. If you look for a more budget bike with identical technology (only with a quick release rear) go for the alloy version of the Tallboy LT.

But now the RIDING IMPRESSIONS of the SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LTc:
We have had the SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LTc for about 2 ½ weeks and rode it a lot in that time – the testing took place on our usual trails on which we ride every bike, but also some really hot alpine trails. The test fell into a time with a short trip to Switzerland and we gladly took the opportunity to gather more experiences on the LTc.

And here are the compiled ride impressions from local and alpine trails:

HANDLING: If you know the SANTA CRUZ Tallboy (100 mm) and like it, you will not be disappointed by the Tallboy LT – it retains much of its agile handling and terrific central seating position. Unlike some of the long-travel 29″er bikes we have ridden, the LT managed to hold on to most of its playfulness and is a lot of fun even on tight trails. Granted, the LT is a bit more stable (due to the slacker head angle and longer wheelbase), which helps keeping up the confidence in tricky or very fast sections, but as far as handling is concerned the Tallboy LT is an extremely fun trail bike in (almost) everything.

Another awesome trait is the super precise handling – one of my home trails includes a stream crossing on a 4 inch wide log, where I always dismounted … but the Tallboy LT felt so precise, that for the first time I have ridden it in both directions. As little as this may tell you – for me this is a great compliment to the rigidity and steering precision of the frame which is further assisted by the Fox F34 Float.

SUSPENSION PERFORMANCE:
SANTA CRUZ (http://www.santacruzmtb.com) is a free thinking company and the suspension of the Tallboy has always been combining efficiency and capability with a character of its own … and the LT with its increased travel (135 mm) takes that even further. Subjectively the suspension feels almost „endless“. This is mainly due to the very linear mid-stroke and late progressive end stroke. The LT is not very small bump sensitive, although it definitely is more sensitive than its “little brother” but once the trail moves beyond cat litter the Tallboy wakes up big time! All medium and large obstacles literally disappear but not without a very good amount of trail feedback, which to me is a must for all long travel bikes … on rough, blocky trails and downhills the SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LT for me is one of the best 29″er full-suspension bikes, I know – regardless if it is on fast and flowing or technical and twisty trails. The gentle progression in the end stroke effectively keeps the rear from bottoming out which I was able to prove in Lenzerheide Bike Park by big jumps and up to 8 ft drops – brilliant how the bike handled this terrain even though it wasn´t entirely at home there ;) .

The suspension action of the Tallboy LT belongs to the category that I would describe as „noticeable“ – not like other bikes, that „somehow disappear“ under the rider. It is hard to put into words, but this is my best way of telling it and while I usually prefer the latter kind, in the Tallboy it has given me such a fun ride, that I really loved it.

Everything perfect in paradise? Not everything, because the Tallboy LT is no fan of out of the saddle climbing (the maximum platform damping helps to calm it down to a good level) and its VPP suspension is clearly optimized for middle ring riding. There it pedals and climbs pretty neutral, but the granny ring induces some real world kickback. Fortunately this is only noticeable only when climbing extremely steep things and in slow cadence, specifically on smooth surfaces – as such it was very little distracting on my gnarly home trails, but very much so on the epic alpine climbs. I have discussed this with a SANTA CRUZ engineer (thanks for your time Nick ) and the refreshingly open answer was that this compromise for the granny gear had been allowed in order to get the very most trail performance out of the suspension … and by the great ride I tend to agree.

Moderately steep uphills, regardless if they are smooth, loose or gnarly, are handled rather well by the Tallboy LT – it is only the super steep climbs where it behaves awkwardly. On rough trails the pedal kickback is there, but strangely it bugged me on some rides and on others I felt it to even assist in finding just the right amount of pedal pressure.

COMPONENT SPEC: Although the frame has been clearly the focus of the test, here are a few words about the specs of the test bikes. For standard hilly terrain. Like I have at home all was great, without any complaints … maybe a little heavy for what I´d put on this frame. But on the alpine slopes of Switzerland with seemingly endless descents the strong XT brake system with 180/160 discs were running clearly short of the bike´s potential – here I´d recommend at least a 180/180 combination if not larger rotors. Another thing I would have liked for the long climbs were a travel adjustable fork (as offered in other trim levels of the LT) … oh and a dropper seat post should come standard on this bike. As it is this criticism is directed more to the specific test configuration than the bike in general, for you to consider when ordering.

QUICK TEST RESULT: The Tallboy LTc as tested is one of the best 29″er trail bikes we know. The geometry and riding position is almost perfect, and allows an agile, active riding style as well as in the well known „unstoppable roll over everything“ riding style. Then there are the very direct handling and great precision … rarely did we have so much fun on different trails and downhills (on any long travel 29″er full suspension bike) than on the Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc.

The rear end makes sensational use of the 135 mm of travel and even in this aspect the Tallboy LTc has the potential for one of the best trail bikes. Only the pedal kickback in the small chain ring does affect the otherwise perfect performance of the bike. To me the Tallboy lt would be a prime candidate for the XX1 group with a 30 front ring. So if you are a climber, loving to pedal up anything, no matter how steep, then the Tallboy LT may not be what you want, but if the general trail performance is more important and/or you ride most in the middle chain ring anyway or rarely fail to keep a decent cadence in the granny (as opposed to mashing in the granny) then you will need to search high and low for a better bike than the Tallboy LT. Our verdict – that SANTA CRUZ Tallboy LTc combines an ultra-modern, and very light frame with an ingenious Trail 29″er geometry and brilliant performance. For me, the only compromise is in then uphills in extremely steep stuff (you don´t have to ride everything, do you ;) ) and in the spec of our test bike that doesn´t meet the bike´s potential completely.

RIDE ON,
c_g

EXTRA NOTE: Just when I was about to file this report on the Tallboy LTc, I got the option to ride the LTa (in almost the identical spec – only with a 2013 CTD shock) for a few days … and aside the 800 g of weight increase, this bike was just as much fun to ride – a awesome trail bike, that only compromises in (extremely steep) uphills.