Review: Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er Mountain Bike

new Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er full suspension mountain bike review

While a few cracked ribs sidelined me from the reportedly great riding out in Sedona, AZ, for the launch of the new Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er, we were able to get one in for some local testing a week or so later. Santa Cruz’s mountain bikes tend to work well for us, the kind of bikes we can hop on and immediately feel right at home. The new Tallboy LT is no different.

We took it up to Carven’s Cove in VA for a little rocky, rough descending (and leg melting climbs!) and flogged it around our local tight, twisty and rooty singletrack here in Greensboro, NC. Between the two locations, we got in quite a few miles on some gnarly terrain to test the travel…of which the Tallboy LT has plenty, particularly for a 29er. And it used it with surprising grace and agility.

More surprising, though, is how well the bike handled itself on our flat, very XC trails. It absolutely hammers!

new Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er full suspension mountain bike review

Our size XL test bike was the carbon fiber frame with full Shimano XTR drivetrain, WTB rims and Fox fork and shock. A quick refresher: It’s built on their VPP suspension design, has 135mm travel in the rear mated to a 140mm fork. Both carbon and alloy frames are available with various build kits or as framesets (frame & shock).

The first thing everyone commented on was how big this bike is. Its presence was amplified by the fact that we were testing an XL – it’s a massive monster truck of a bike. A masher capable of crushing anything in front of it while remaining lightweight and nimble. Yep, it possesses oil and water traits, and that’s what makes it special.

Those roots in the pic above? Plow through them at full speed and never look back. Two or three foot drop? What drop? Fast, smooth singletrack? Eat my dust, sucka. Lung busting climb? Bring it on.

Seriously, the versatility of the Tallboy LT will not only have 29er naysayers reconsidering their beliefs, it’ll have 29er fans rethinking what’s possible. Like me. For the most part, I’m a 29er convert…until you get up to about 140mm of travel, then I like the flick ability of a 26″ bike. If I were at a park and catching a lot of air, I think I’d still prefer the Blur LT. But if Santa Cruz said pick one to ride for the entire year? The Tallboy LT would be it. In fact, if I were forced to ride only one bike of any brand in any wheel size, this one’s in my final three.

Why? Because it’s not just a good 29er. It’s not just a good long travel bike. It’s both, and it somehow manages to be a good climber and XC bike, too.

new Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er full suspension mountain bike review

Small roots and rocks? Don't even bother standing up on the Tallboy LT.

If this sounds like an overly positive fanboy review, sorry. Those that don’t like the VPP suspension probably still won’t like the VPP suspension. It’s very soft through initial travel, which has the unfortunate effect of making the bottom bracket seem lower than it is and causing pedal strikes more often. That said, the BB height on the Tallboy LT is 0.6″ higher (13.4″ versus 12.8″) than the regular Tallboy, and we didn’t experience many hits.

The head angle is 1.5º slacker (69.5 versus 71), too. This makes it incredibly stable during most riding. On a couple of occasions I felt it start to wash just a bit during flat high speed cornering. It was minimal and controllable, but it was there as a clear indicator the bike was being pushed. But it didn’t wander when climbing, which was a pleasant surprise.

Jay, one of our other testers, perhaps said it best: It’s a big bike, but it never felt cumbersome. All that travel is there when you want/need it, but it doesn’t get in the way of flat out pedaling performance. Because the suspension is soft in the beginning of the stroke, it eats roots, rocks and trail variations for breakfast. Because there’s so much travel, there’s plenty left for the big hits and drops, too. The pics here don’t do it justice, but Carven’s Cove has a few notoriously rocky descents with plenty of obstacles buried under leaves. You can’t help but hit them, and the bike took it in stride and handled it confidently at speed.

new Santa Cruz Tallboy LT 29er full suspension mountain bike review and actual weight

Our test bike came in at 27lbs 10oz with a Rockshox Reverb dropper post. On the trail it felt lighter. It’s weight never even registered when riding it. For a couple of rides, I put on a Thomson seatpost (dropped a good bit of weight) and rode it hard. It was glorious. It also showed that the bike was just fine set up for XC riding. Depending on tire selection and cockpit parts, you could very easily drop a bit more weight if your trails aren’t too gnarly, then just beef things up for the weekend trips to the mountains. (Weights for both models in a size run are here)

Others we’ve talked to have been equally impressed with the bike. At the very least you owe it to yourself to try it out if a demo truck rolls by (or bug your local dealer). We ride a lot of bikes and this one’s among our favorites. Jay wanted to buy it, but sadly SC needed it back for their demo fleet.

Comments

Matt P. - 05/08/12 - 10:24pm

Pretty neat seeing you test out a bike at one of my local trails! Did you feel like the LT was “too much” bike for Carvin’s Cove, or did you not even notice?

Nate - 05/08/12 - 11:24pm

Isint “VPP” Niners design while Santa Cruz licenses DW designs? Perhaps Im mis-recaling?

Nate - 05/08/12 - 11:32pm

Oops Niner is CVA, too damn many things to remember, haha

MissedThePoint - 05/09/12 - 12:18am

Seems a lot of new bikes are getting overwhelming praise, while people get longer wishlists and can’t narrow it down to anything. IMO, without riding the Tallboy LT, but having ridden the Tallboy and SB-95, I’d say the SB-95 will be the one to pick, at least for SoCal riding. You certainly pay for it though.

You can test the Tallboy LT this Sat and the SB-95 the day after, if you live in SoCal, at The Path Bike Shop in Tustin, on real trails (Santiago Oaks). No roots, but the chute has an optional line for the more technically inclined. Good to see which is the better XC-trail-AM bike for yourself.

That all said, I’d say keep on waiting, since things are just going to get better. Just ride and when the time is right, it’s hard to go wrong from what’s available, as long as it feels alright in a demo/test ride.

Topmounter - 05/09/12 - 10:45am

Reviews are a good starting point when making a list of bikes to demo, but you generally have to “read between the lines” to find anything but praise in almost any review done by the cycling media.

Tyler (Editor) - 05/09/12 - 11:02am

Matt P – The LT is perfect for Carven’s Cove. Never felt like too much bike, even on the tight switchbacks on the descents.

Topmounter – We agree, and we actually try to find faults with bikes. In this case, unless you just really don’t like the VPP design or you’re too short to fit their Medium size (they don’t do a small in the full suspension 29ers at SC), our bet is you’d like this bike a lot.

MTP – Also agree…things just keep getting better and it’s surprising how good bikes are these days for the money. It’s hard to find something that’s not at least decent, especially at $2,000 and up. Trickle down FTW!

yesplease - 05/09/12 - 5:49pm

I have ridden the SB-95 and liked it alot. I am eager to ride one of these to see how they compare, probably the AL version as the carbon is spendy… My next bike will either be this or the SB-95.

craigsj - 05/09/12 - 7:26pm

“they don’t do a small in the full suspension 29ers at SC…”

They do, they just call it a medium. ;)

Santa Cruz sizing runs small. A medium Santa Cruz is similar to a small Niner.

Shane - 05/10/12 - 12:23pm

Taylor – how tall were your testers on the XL? I’m 6’2″ / 33′ inseam and was curious how you guys found the XL and what size stem you ran on it?

Shane - 05/10/12 - 12:25pm

Meant to address my question to Tyler (have a good friend who is named Taylor)

DSquizzL - 05/10/12 - 12:54pm

Our shop got one of these in the alloy version. I still want a nomad since I want something to compliment my hardtail, but its surprising how similar this bike rides to a tallboy, and how similar the weight comes in at. If I were to get one bike for technical XC, I think this ousts the tallboy since its a little more versatile. Compared to a stumpjumper 29 of the same travel, this one feels a lot more flickable and playful. It wheelies well, which is pretty cool for full suspension design, and the wheelbase *feels* short (haven’t confirmed). Also, really dig the VPP design. Definitely not neutral, and there is a fair amount of brake jack, but their squishy rigs just feel fun compared to other designs, though I haven’t ridden a JET9 RDO, :(.

In all, I agree with the review, and though I second the call for better *journalism* in cycling, it seems like Bikerumor gives more of the straight dope than most others, where every product receives a rave review.

Tyler (Editor) - 05/10/12 - 2:59pm

Shane – I’m 6’2″ with a 33″ inseam also and it fit awesome. With many brands I’m right between L and XL and could probably ride both on the Santa Cruz bikes, too. XL feels more comfortable overall, though. The stem was really short, a 60mm, but it was perfect.

DSquizzL – The Jet9 RDO is one of my other top bikes – it’s sick. That’s my personal ride and what I test most equipment on these days. Haven’t tried bumping the fork’s travel up to 120mm yet, but that’ll happen sometime this year. I had the alloy Jet9 before and it was (is) awesome, but the RDO is just on a whole ‘nother level.

Igor - 05/10/12 - 5:20pm

I rode my first 29er today and it was new Stumpjumper 29 FSR Carbon Expert. Although the name is horrible the bike was amazing. I also rode Enduro Evo the same trail yesterday and I must say Stumpy was just as fast. Evo did ride like a devil and really railed the trail but I always felt the suspension working and struggling with roots and rocks. Stumpy’s 29 inch wheels just made me feel like I’m riding on asphalt. The difference on uphill was huge though. There is just one thing what passed my mind. With Evo I was really working the trail and enjoying it while the Stumpy made it easy. Even though Stumpy was super fast up and down it did not tickle my you know what while Enduro Evo was incredibly fun on the downhill. Am I the only one thinking that way? That makes my decision about next bike so much harder.

Shane - 05/10/12 - 11:35pm

Thanks Tyler. Thoughts between the TB LTc and the RDO (know their different weight classes ;) but would really like any insights ? Rode a RDO demo bike at 120mm for two days this week and absolutely loved it, now I’m trying to get my hands on a LTc.

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