It’s been a long time coming, but today, we finally have the Santa Cruz Tallboy 5. I’m personally pretty excited about this one because the Tallboy is consistently one of my favorite short-travel trail bikes. In the past, it’s always leaned a bit toward the descending side of the spectrum; Santa Cruz goes as far as calling it the downhiller’s XC bike. But this newest version is a bit different. So stick around to see if the Tallboy 5 is everything it’s cracked up to be.
Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 Geometry and Details
The Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 is the newest iteration of the brand’s short-travel trail bike. It’s not messing with any of this downcountry nonsense. It’s a trail bike through and through. With 120mm of rear wheel travel, a 130mm fork, and two 29” wheels, it’s designed to cover a lot of ground and your butt in most situations. In fact, Santa Cruz athlete Mark Scott just did a heinous 18-hour ride in the Tweed Valley aboard the Tallboy. He totaled 146.3km and 8287m of climbing. I’ll do the math for you — that’s 90.9 miles and 27,188 feet of vert. That’s exactly what this bike was made to do. It’s not the lightest trail bike out there, coming in around 29-30lb., but again, it’s not trying to be. It’s meant to be well-rounded and equally adept at going up and back down the mountain. It’s robust enough to get after it on the descents.
The most notable updates to the Tallboy 5 from the previous version are a change in geometry, suspension kinematics, and the addition of the Glovebox. The Tallboy 5 isn’t a huge departure from the Tallboy 4, but the refinements are most certainly noticeable. As for the geometry, the head tube angle remains the same at 65.5° in low. It’s a nice sweet spot for a quick and nimble ride quality without feeling squirrely. The reach number grew ever so slightly to 493mm on my XL, again in the low setting. The seat tube angle got a few tenths of a degree steeper, coming in at 76.8°. Most notably, the chainstays are now size-specific, with mine measuring 440mm. They range from 431mm to 444mm across the six sizes, XS to XXL. That brings the overall wheelbase to 1258mm on my test bike.
The tallboy’s suspension curves have changed ever so slightly, with a small reduction in progression, as well as anti-squat and anti-rise values. Santa Cruz says this “…makes it really sensitive further into the travel and helps the bike ride higher in its stroke…” It also helps with small bump sensitivity and braking forces on the suspension. We can dive into some of that nerdy stuff later in the ride impressions section.
My build today is a bit of a custom one, but it started as a Tallboy C S. I’ve since added a Oneup handlebar and stem and swapped the wheels for the new Zipp 1Zero HiTop SWs. I have a Maxxis Dissector (F) and a Rekon (R), Although the newest build kit info on Santa Cruz’s website suggests it comes with Maxxis Forekasters front and back these days.
Santa Cruz Tallboy 5 Ride Review
I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the previous Tallboy and a good month or so on the new one. It’s easily one of my favorite little bikes, as it suits my riding style very well. It’s fairly well balanced between uphill and downhill performance but probably skews a little more toward the DH than most other 120mm bikes. As for climbing performance, it’s not the most sprightly or zippy trail bike. There are certainly faster climbers, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable and controlled bike in the category. It provides quite a bit more traction than others, as well. I see the 120mm bike category split into two different groups. You’ve got the long-legged XC bikes and then the trail bikes. The Tallboy clearly falls in the latter group. It’s not an XC bike, and I wouldn’t even call it an endurance bike. It’s a mountain bike that happens to have a little less travel.
As far as the suspension feel goes, the Tallboy 5 sits on the active side of the spectrum. This new version feels similar to the previous one, with a couple of small differences. It has a little less anti-squat than the previous bike. That means it will be better at providing traction through the small trail chatter. That becomes apparent out on the trail. Even with a slim Rekon on the back wheel, the bike provides a really good level of traction. I’ve been spending most of my time on the bike in either blown-out summer dust or dicey shoulder season slop. The traction provided by the bike has always been great. While reducing anti-squat can lead to a bit more pedal bob, the Tallboy feels plenty efficient for what it’s designed to do. It doesn’t waste all of your energy.
As for the Tallboy’s geometry, It remains relatively similar to the previous version as well. There are two updates that I ended up appreciating out on the trail. The first is the steeper seat tube angle. As a tall, lanky guy, I appreciate a steep seat tube angle. This is also compounded a bit by the suspension updates. Santa Cruz made this bike sit a little higher in the travel. That, as well as physically making the seat tube angle steeper, keeps your weight further over the center of the bike. The size-specific chainstays add to the balance of the bike. All of this makes the Tallboy not only comfortable but easy to control. With your weight over the middle and front of the bike, you’re able to navigate tight, twisty bits, steep bits, and technical bits. The Tallboy is an excellent technical climber.
Overall, on the climbs, I’m happy with the minor tweaks Santa Cruz made. Sure, this still isn’t the fastest bike in the category, but it offers more traction, comfort, and control than anything I can think of.
As the “downhiller’s XC bike,” you’d expect the Tallboy to be great on the descents. It makes good on that promise. It’s surprisingly confident, composed, and capable for a little bike. In fact, it rides much more like a 140mm bike. I have been able to ride all of my “big bike trails” on the Tallboy, albeit a little slower and more tentatively. It offers a quick and nimble ride quality that makes a huge variety of terrain fun. It makes black diamond terrain a bit more challenging, although it’s definitely up for the task. It makes the most of blue trails, whether they’re littered with jumps and drops or just flat-out and high-speed.
The suspension updates on the Tallboy 5 again make small but important gains. With the refined leverage curve, the bike doesn’t push through the travel quite as much, so there’s a bit more left in reserve for when needed. That, in my mind, adds a bit of capability to the new version. I was able to ride some steep and rugged trails without too much fuss. The rear kept up very well. If anything, the 34mm fork became the limiting factor. The small bump performance feels more like what you’d find on a 140mm bike. It’s smooth and controlled through the chatter. Again, the suspension works well to provide a lot of traction. I couldn’t believe how well it hooked up, even with little tires. As for the bigger hits, I still think there’s enough progression for a bike with 120mm of travel. Again, it’s not designed for massive hits, but it does well enough for most riders in most terrain. Be prepared to use the leg suspension if you’re going to push the Tallboy’s capabilities.
On the geometry side of things, the Tallboy feels pretty balanced. It’s not a shred sled, but it’s not a squirrely little XC whip. It’s suited for anything from greens to black diamonds, in my mind. Above that, and you’re getting into some sketchy territory. The right rider will be fine, but us regular Joes might struggle a bit. It really feels at home on blue trails. I found it okay on the steeps, but I preferred lower-angle terrain. I’ve recently been informed by a real Canadian that Utah trails facilitate high speeds. The Tallboy is a great candidate for our style of trails. It’s plenty stable at speed, given there are huge bumps in your way. On the other side of that coin, it’s not so long that it gets tough in the corners. The Tallboy corners and handles well. In my mind, it corners a bit more like a 140mm bike than it does a little downcountry whip. I appreciate that ride quality, though, as I generally prefer the stability.
Overall, on the descents, I really enjoyed the Tallboy. I’m not a downhiller by any means, but it would be my pick for an XC bike. It’s confident enough that it won’t be my excuse to pass on a trail I’d normally ride, yet it makes the cruisy stuff very fun.
Who is the Santa Cruz Tallboy for?
I like the Tallboy as a nice middle ground where the XC nerds and the gravity fiends can find something in common. While that sounds a bit crazy, hear me out. The Tallboy offers a lot of handling and suspension characteristics that long-travel riders are going to like. It’s comfortable and controlled, and to someone who normally rides an enduro bike, it will feel like a rocketship uphill. It’s not so XC that it becomes squirrely and best suited for mellow terrain. Now, for the XC riders, it still climbs well enough that they’re not going to be too upset, but it adds a degree of capability on the descents that might get them enjoying the downhills a bit more. So, the Tallboy brings these two groups together. The gravity riders might actually enjoy a climb or two, and the XC folks might take a stab at some sketchy features.
Santa Cruz tallboy – The Bottom Line
So, to wrap this whole thing up, let’s do a one-line bike review. The Tallboy 5 is the common ground for the XC and gravity crowds.