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Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 Tested

All-new Santa Cruz Tallboy gets radical geometry and reworked suspension for more control. Guy Kesteven takes it to the edge on Yorkshire’s rowdy trails

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

The fourth-generation Tallboy is more about knee pads and trail raving than skin suits and marathon racing - it's brilliant

For

  • Massively confident aggressive/progressive geometry with high control, short-travel suspension

Against

  • Frames and complete bikes significantly heavier and less rider responsive than previous Tallboy

Santa Cruz’s short-travel Tallboy gets a total rework focused on ripping up radical trails all day long. Tallboy was Santa Cruz’s first 29er and it’s always straddled the short-travel race speed/trail tough line, getting heavier and more capable as that segment has got more rowdy. With a dedicated race 29er - the Blur - added to the Santa Cruz range last year, the fourth-generation Tallboy is definitely more about  trail slaying than marathon racing.

The Californian company have gone all out with the progressive transformation, too. For a start, geometry is within half a degree and a few millimetres of their 160mm and 140mm travel Megatower and Hightower bikes. It also gets the same lower-linkage-driven shock suspension design first introduced on the V10 DH bike, complete with a custom-tuned Fox Float shock. With a 130mm fork and 120mm rear shock it’s got 10mm more travel compared to the previous Tallboy. There’s no 27.5+ tyre option, but a chainstay chip can be flipped to fit a 29 x 2.6in tyre. There’s also a high/low chip in the lower linkage that changes angles by a barely noticeable 0.2-degrees and ride height by 3mm.

According to Santa Cruz that means 'the new 120mm Tallboy takes a leap further into what short-travel bikes really are capable of' and is 'back to being a genre-bending folk hero'.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 in action

TB4 was designed to decimate trails with assurance and poise while still delivering stellar levels of feedback

(Image credit: Santa Cruz)

Design and geometry

With a lowered bottom bracket, super-sloped top tube, all the suspension buried in the belly and the fork raked out in front, the Tallboy looks like it’s at full-travel just stood still. Flatter, broader tube profiles, slick swingarm/mainframe symmetry and internally routed cables sucked into the face of the headtube to eliminate paint rub, give it a really clean look, too. There are full alloy ‘A’ bikes and frames, ‘value carbon’ C level complete bikes and premium composite ‘CC’ bikes and frames, all with the same mustard and neon ‘Rock Steady Yellow’ or almost black ‘Stormbringer Purple’ colour options. The Juliana women’s version adds ‘Aquarius Green’ in XS-M sizes.

Angles are really radical for a short-travel bike, with a 65.5-degree head angle, and 75.8- to 76.5-degree seat angle depending on size. Reach is stretched to 470mm for a large, but the short seat tube means sizing up is fine (XL is 490mm) even if you have stumpy legs. The bottom bracket is low, but not crank threateningly so at 335mm. The sizing range spans XS to XXL, all of which get over and under downtube bottle mounts and big riders might appreciate the chance to extend the 430mm chainstays to 440mm to balance the bigger front end. All internal lines run through guide pipes for easy installation, the bottom bracket is threaded and both bearings and frame are lifetime warrantied. A bearing on the rear of the shock improves sensitivity and it’ll take piggyback dampers as well as single-can shocks in 190x45mm length/stroke.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 geometry

With a 65.5-degree head angle, and 75.8- to 76.5-degree seat angle depending on size, the new TB4 is radical for a short-travel mountain bike

(Image credit: Santa Cruz)

Components and build

We tested the CC X01 RSV (Reserve carbon wheels) Pike Select+ bike but there are three other ‘CC’ options (X01 Pike Select+, XX1 AXS RSV, Pike Ultimate and XTR RSV Pike Ultimate), plus three ‘C’ bikes (R with SRAM NX, S with SRAM GX and S RSV) and two alloy (D SRAM SX with Recon fork and R with SRAM NX and Fox 34).

Our bike came with a Pike Select dropped to 130mm travel for a super tight and precisely damped feel off the buttery top. The 27mm wide carbon rimmed Reserve wheels don’t save significant weight over the basic Race Face alloy option. They add a great balance of damped but still dynamic ride feel and a lifetime warranty though. Maxxis DHF 2.3in front tyre multiplies the radical handling advantage, but we’d be very tempted to switch the DHR on the back for something faster rolling on a bike that grips so well anyway.

SRAM X01 Eagle gives reliably positive wide range shifting with a 32T ring as standard and the frame is 36T compatible if you’ve got the power. Four-pot SRAM G2 brakes boost stopping power appropriately compared to the twin cylinders on the previous Tallboy. A full 800mm width Santa Cruz carbon bar provides power-steering leverage through a 50mm stem. A 175mm Rock Shox Reverb dropper capitalises on the super short seattube design.

The Tallboy 4 ripped along the flowing roller-coaster rise and fall red and blue trails of Dalby Forest so fast, we came back with neck and shoulders burning from straining round to see the next turn while still flat out through the previous one.

Guy Kesteven

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 in action on trail

Significantly less anti-squat means there’s no bouncing in and out of the saddle

(Image credit: Santa Cruz)

Ride, handling and performance

So what does this all mean on the trail? The obvious differences compared to previous Tallboy start as soon as you grab the bars and work out where the wheels are. If you like to attack trails flat out with stability and reaction time on your side, the slacker geometry and 800mm bar are brilliant.

While longer bikes will always need more wrangling on tighter trails, the taut-but-still-subtly-sprung-frame feel and the short-offset fork keep front wheel reactions quick and they’re properly rapid with a 35mm stem. Both fork and rear end start super supple before settling onto an impeccably damped mid stroke for maximising the g-forces. Add the low centre of gravity from the low-lung shock and it’s properly slavering to flick from corner to corner or scythe through long, slippery slingshot turns with the Maxxis rubber and Reserve rims at their rich grip limit.

That same shock character gives awesome climbing grip backed up by minimal bounce even with shock and fork dampers open. That lets you power up technical roots and rock gardens in the saddle regardless of gear ratio, or kick for a summit without worrying about wattage wasted in bounce.

Significantly less anti-squat and pedal pullback than the previous Tallboy means ride height is far more stable so there’s no bouncing in and out of the saddle or pedalling choke on square edges. The 3.1kg frame/shock/hardware weight (medium CC) is also 400g heavier than the previous Tallboy and complete bike weight is up 800g (X01/RSV) too. Add the DHR rear tyre and while it always encourages you to attack every climb and acceleration like an interval session the results aren’t as rabid as before. If that’s what you’re into then the 110/100mm-travel Blur TR (800g lighter frame, 1.6kg lighter complete bike) is definitely the Santa Cruz for you. 

Alternatively if you’re wanting extra travel for soothing away the terror of hitting a rock garden too fast or rolling up/over/off anything with casual indifference then the 150mm fork/140mm rear Hightower should be your choice. That’s because while geometry is near identical, the progressive rear rate of the Tallboy means deeper travel is all about feedback and precise control not forgiving, feature-erasing plushness. A custom rebound tune means trail connection is fantastic though and it’ll ‘cat land’ serious drops without a hint of hysterics or ricochet. Just a readiness to get hard on the gas immediately, ready to send the next section or rip the next corner a new one.

In terms of where that works, it ripped along the flowing roller-coaster rise and fall red and blue trails of Dalby Forest so fast we came back with neck and shoulders burning from straining round to see the next turn while still flat out through the previous one. Rock and root traction and speed are excellent on natural trails too and the steep seat angle gives great pedalling poise. The precision, grip and handling stability will let you go a lot faster and further on black trails than you might expect for the travel on offer. That same taut frame and suspension maximise the thrill gains too but also mean it’s not going to hide mistakes or suck up big geology if you get it wrong. More weight will always mean more effort on extended climbs but, for reference, Trek’s new Top Fuel 120mm ‘race/trail’ bike is the same 12.8kg overall weight in a comparable spec so added mass on short travel bikes certainly isn’t just a Santa Cruz situation. 

Verdict

After three generations of evolution, Santa Cruz have gone all out with the fourth Tallboy. Heavier weight and reduced suspension ‘kick’ won’t suit previous Tallboy die hards but that brings the Blur TR into the limelight. Impeccably damped and focused suspension character mean it won’t suit riders who like the lumps taken out of their trail or their hands held if they overstep their skill/speed ratio either.

However, if you want impeccably precise 3D feedback, brilliant ride height stability, glued-down traction, reaction-time-stretching slackness and low geometry to give you the clarity and confidence to ace those risk calculations right at the ragged edge - the Tallboy 4 has to be on your wish-list.

Usual premium Santa Cruz pricing does make the CC wish-list for most riders and while C and A bikes are more affordable, component comparisons for less exalted brands will never look good for Santa Cruz. Lifetime warranty on frames, bearings and carbon wheels makes them better investment value though and they’ve definitely future-proofed the Tallboy in terms of geometry, too.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 detail

There are full alloy ‘A’ bikes and frames, ‘value carbon’ C level complete bikes and premium composite ‘CC’ bikes and frames

(Image credit: Santa Cruz)

Test conditions

  • Temperature: 15-22 degrees wet and dry
  • Trails: Stainburn, Dalby & local singletrack (Yorkshire)
  • Terrain: Natural technical singletrack, man-made blue, red and black.

Tech spec: Santa Cruz Tallboy 4 CC X01 RSV

  • Price: £7,299 / US$8,199 / €8,399 (France, Germany)
  • Head angle: 65.5
  • Frame material: CC carbon
  • Size: XL
  • Weight: 13kg
  • Wheel size: 29-inch
  • Suspension (front/rear): RockShox Pike Select+ 130mm travel/ Fox Float Performance Elite DPS 120mm travel
  • Drivetrain: SRAM X01 Eagle transmission and X1 Eagle carbon crank
  • Brakes: SRAM Guide G2 RSC brakes (180mm rotors)
  • Wheels: Santa Cruz Reserve 27 carbon rims on DT Swiss 350 hubs with Maxxis Minion DHF Exo TR front, DHR Exo TR rear 29x2.3in tyres
  • Bar, stem and grips:  Santa Cruz AM Carbon 800mm bar, Race Face Aeffect R 50mm stem, Santa Cruz Palmdale grips
  • Dropper: RockShox Reverb stealth 175mm stroke dropper post
  • Saddle: WTB Silverado saddle