First ride: The 2023 Santa Cruz Tallboy is updated, not revised

First ride: The 2023 Santa Cruz Tallboy is updated, not revised

For Santa Cruz, the previous generation Tallboy was a bike that became 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 getting as much downhill performance as possible, others on turning it into an XC machine with more comfort than a bike of thoroughbred races.

Launched in 2019, the Tallboy 4 hit the sweet spot when it came to versatility, boasting geometry numbers that allowed it to tackle more difficult and technical terrain without feeling dull and lethargic on gentler trails . It’s a trail bike with 29-inch wheels, 120mm rear travel and 130mm fork.

Tallboy 5 Details

• Wheel size: 29″
• Travel: 120 mm, fork 130 mm
• Carbon C and CC frame options
• Head angle of 65.5º or 65.7º
• 76.6º seat tube angle (size L, low)
• 438mm chainstays (size L, low)
• Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
• Weight: 28.75 lbs / 13.04 kg (size L, build X01 AXS RSV)
• Price: $5,299 – $10,399
• santacruzbicycles.com

Santa Cruz didn’t want to mess with a good thing, so the 2023 Tallboy doesn’t deviate that far from the previous model. The geometry has been tweaked slightly and the same goes for the kinematics, but it’s more of a fine-tuning 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 now found on nearly every trail and enduro bike in Santa Cruz’s lineup except 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 to hold a tube, tools and any other snacks and accessories that fit.

Aside from the new snack storage, the details of the Tallboy’s frame haven’t changed all that much. There’s internal cable routing, a threaded bottom bracket, room for a 2.5-inch rear tire, and chainstay 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 layout

The Tallboy flip shock chip remains, but the ability to change chain length by 10mm has been removed, replaced with size-specific lengths for each size. Chainstay lengths range from 431mm on a small to 444mm on an XXL.

The Tallboy’s seat tube angles are also size specific, getting steeper with each larger size. This helps ensure that taller riders don’t reach too far over the back of the bike when mounting.

The new Tallboy isn’t any looser than before, but it’s gotten a bit longer, with cover numbers that match the rest of the Santa Cruz lineup. The reach for a large size is now 473mm in the low setting, an increase of 5mm. Slightly steeper seat tube angles balance this rise, creating a top tube length that’s relatively unchanged, meaning the seated riding position will feel much 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 early-travel anti-squat and less aggressive lowering later in the race. These changes were made to increase the bike’s compliance with small bumps and give it a more predictable suspension feel at all points of travel.

Construction sets

There are 6 models in the lineup, with prices starting at $5,299 for the Tallboy CR, which features a SRAM NX drivetrain, Guide T brakes, RockShox Pike Base fork, and 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 denote that it has Santa Cruz’s highest carbon frame construction, SRAM’s AXS wireless electronic drivetrain and Reserve 30 SL carbon wheels. Suspension duties on that expensive model are handled by a Fox Float Factory DPS shock and a RockShox Pike Ultimate fork.


Ride Impressions

The Tallboy is not a dirt bike, nor does it try to be. Instead, it’s a do-it-all car that has a “proper” air to its handling. There’s no sketchiness or unpredictability to be found – it’s the rider who will bring these traits to the table, not the bike.

Honestly, I could probably throw in the link to Mike Levy’s review of Tallboy 4 here and call it good. There are more similarities than differences between the two versions, and the general running characteristics are almost identical. It’s been a while since I last rode a Tallboy, but brushing aside my somewhat hazy memories, I’d say the suspension feels better than before – it’s a bit softer overall, which makes the bike more comfortable on bumpy sections of trail. There’s still plenty of support though, and even when I used all the travel, there was no harshness at the end of the ride.

The Tallboy’s strength is its versatility – it feels solid, free of any unwanted judder, even on bumpier, high-speed trails. The Maxxis Dissector / Rekon tire combo has worked well for the dry and dusty conditions that have prevailed lately, although I’d probably put something beefier for wet conditions or to really try to squeeze the most performance possible on the descent. I’d also probably swap out the G2 brakes with some code if I went that route, as there’s only a small weight penalty and a noticeable difference in performance. For general duty though, the G2 brakes work well, and a rotor upgrade to the new HS2 versions would be an easier way to increase the stopping power a bit more.

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

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

Those lighter, livelier options are great for riders trying to scratch that off-road itch, but when gravity takes over, it’s the Tallboy that pulls ahead, with a more planted feel that provides the confidence to hit higher speeds. large and more challenging trail features.

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s exactly what Santa Cruz did with the Tallboy. It’s a refined trail bike with livable handling and all the frame features (and corresponding price tag) that the Santa Cruz has become known for.


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