First Drive: 2023 Santa Cruz Tallboy Updated, No Major Repairs

First Drive: 2023 Santa Cruz Tallboy Updated, No Major Repairs
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The previous generation Tallboy for Santa Cruz was a bike that became a cult classic. It resonated with just about everyone, inspiring all kinds of unique custom builds, some of which focused on getting as much downhill performance as possible, while others focused on making an XC machine that was more comfortable than a purebred race bike.

Launched in 2019, the Tallboy 4 boasted geometry numbers when it came to versatility, allowing you to handle tougher, technical terrain without feeling dull and lethargic on softer trails. It’s a trail bike with 29-inch 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, lower)
• 438 mm chainstays (size L, lower)
• 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 stray too far from the previous model. The geometry has been tweaked slightly, and the same goes for the kinematics, but it’s more of a tweak than a complete overhaul.

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

Frame details

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

Aside from the new intake, the Tallboy’s frame details haven’t changed much. There’s fully-managed internal cable routing, a threaded bottom bracket, room for a 2.5-inch rear wheel, and chain guide mounts. There’s also a universal conductive hanger and a flip chip in the rear shock that allows for very subtle geometry changes.

Geometry and Suspension Layout

The Tallboy’s shock conversion chip remains, but the ability to change the length of the chainstay by 10mm has been removed, replaced with custom lengths for each size. The chain length varies from 431 mm in the small size to 444 mm in the XXL.

The Tallboy’s seat tube angles are also size specific, getting steeper with each larger size. This ensures that taller riders don’t get too far behind the bike when climbing.

The new Tallboy isn’t any weaker than before, but it’s a little taller with numbers matching the rest of Santa Cruz’s lineup. Reach for the large size is now 473mm in low mode, an increase of 5mm. Slightly steeper seat tube angles offset this increase, creating a relatively unchanged top tube length, meaning the seated riding position will be 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’s also accompanied by less anti-squat early in the travel and less aggressive drop-off at impact. These changes were made to improve the bike’s compliance with small bumps and give it a more predictable suspension feel at all points of the travel.

Installation kits

There are 6 models available for the Tallboy CR with SRAM NX drivetrain, Guide T brakes, RockShox Pike Base forks, and Fox Performance DPS shock, with prices starting at $5,299.

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

Driving Impressions

The Tallboy isn’t a low country bike, and it doesn’t try to be. Instead, it’s a do-it-all machine with the “right” air to drive. There are no sketches or surprises to be found – it will be the rider who brings these features to the table, not the bike.

Honestly, I could probably just throw in Mike Levy’s link Tallboy 4 Review 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 with my somewhat fuzzy memories, I’d say the suspension feels better than before – it’s a little softer overall, which makes the bike more comfortable on bumpy sections of trail. There’s still plenty of support though, and there was no stiffness at the end of the stroke even when I was using all the travel.

The Tallboy’s strength is its versatility – it feels solid, free of any unwanted kinks, even on rougher, high-speed trails. The Maxxis Dissector / Rekon tire combo worked well in the dry, dusty conditions that have prevailed lately, although I’d wear something a little beefier in wet conditions or really try to reduce the bottom line possible. If I were to go this route, I’d probably replace the G2 brakes with some Codes, as there’s only a small weight penalty and a noticeable performance difference. Still, for general work, the G2 brakes work well, and upgrading the rotor to the newer HS2 versions would be an easier way to increase stopping power a bit more.

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

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

These lighter and livelier options are great for riders trying to scratch the backcountry itch, but when gravity takes over, it’s the Tallboy that moves forward with a more planted feel that provides the confidence required to hit higher speeds and more challenging trail features.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that’s what Santa Cruz did with the Tallboy. It’s a sleek, easy-to-live-with trail bike with all the frame features (and a price tag to match) that the Santa Cruz has become famous for.

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