Friday, July 26, 2013

Santa Cruz Tallboy Carbon: Mind = blown

Today I got to ride the best bike I've ever ridden: Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 Carbon. Amazingly, it's mine. Just picked it up from the awesome and patient guys at Rebec & Kroes this afternoon, and after a few minor adjustments, went for a ride on the Almonte Riverside Trail.

Not surprisingly, there are many glowing reviews of this bike: it's one helluva dialed machine. So I'm not going to repeat all that. This is just my initial impression.

First, I hadn't even tried this bike when I plopped down the deposit. Yes, I made a large purchase purely on the reputation of the goods and a hunch. Last fall I tried a friend's Specialized Epic 29er for about 3 minutes. That was an epiphany for me (like the fatbike) and I just knew that my next bike would be a 29er. But which one? The Spec was indeed nice, and it was on my shortlist of three. All the reviews were glowing. I also considered a new Giant Trance. However, it was time to try something just a little more out there, and Santa Cruz had the goods for me. In particular, I like the rugged simplicity of the bearing pivot design. Grease nipples! Yes! But aluminum or carbon? What finally sold me was the video comparison of the aluminum vs. carbon frame being destructively tested at the factory. Until I saw that I though carbon was a dumb idea for a trail bike. I was wrong. Yes, it's slick marketing (I know all about that), but it worked. This is one solid carbon frame. If there's one fly in the ointment though, one of the guys at the shop said to watch for cable rub on the frame in muddy conditions - it can sand through the carbon surprisingly fast. Gotta stay on top of those anti-rub pads.

Sticker shock is unavoidable with any Santa Cruz. Rebec and Kroes thought they could save me a few bucks by getting  a clearout Tallboy 2013 frame. Unfortunately, those were no longer available--so I ended up with a 2014 (which is the "Tallboy 2") for the same price. Strictly speaking, I should be all geeky and remember the design refinements of the 2014 vs. the 2013, but who really cares? It's all about the ride. Nevertheless, I had to sell my time trial bike, Zipp race wheels, CompuTrainer, and Trance--and still throw in some cash!--to come up with enough scratch to fund the Tallboy. No regrets whatsover. (Most guys my age have relegated themselves to watching golf on TV, or polishing their Buick for fun. Aw yeah.)

And what a ride. If you've never tried a 29er, you owe it to yourself to do so. The first sensation is you notice wheels in your peripheral vision and it looks like you're going slow. But your actual speed is FASTER because of how easily you roll over the trail. All those little stutter bumps, sticks, grass clumps, etc. that would normally slow you down just sweep under your wheel. You speed through lines like you're in some kind of Zen state--it just rolls.

A common fear of 29ers is that they are less manoverable. Not so with the Tallboy. It's just different. I found it to be almost as quick to turn as my Trance, and way quicker than a friend's Specialized Enduro 26 which I rode on the same trail last night. (To be fair, the Enduro is more of an all-mountain, DH-oriented ride with slack geometry and a beefy build.) The Tallboy geometry is perfect for my kind of fast XC riding with the occasional technical bits. I'd say the feel is more attributable to the whole system, and not just an artifact of the 29" hoops alone.

The travel is also perfect. The stiffness of the carbon combined with the Fox suspension adds up to one buttery ride, with the 29" wheels feeling like they add another 20-40mm of travel to the suspension. Hardly any chain noise at all, even hammering on rocky descents and rock gardens at speed. That's pretty amazing.

The real test will come in August, when I hit Kingdom Trails in Vermont. I'll report back after that.

Bike spec

  • Tallboy 2 Carbon, regular travel (the LT was felt to be unnecessary by the guys at Rebec & Kroes) - basically as shown in the pic (and in white--looks awesome!)
  • Full XT build, 2x10 with Thomson seat post and a few other goodies.
  • UST tubeless hoops. Stock tires were bogus; recommendation is to stick with proper UST-designated rubber because it seats better on the rims. Have to say, the ride feel is amazing and the lost weight from no tubes makes the wheels feel almost the same as 26ers.
  • All else stock as indicated on the Santa Cruz build package. 

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