Hot on the heels of the Niner RIP 9 review, the full-carbon Santa Cruz Tallboy came into the stable. This bike was much-loved by me at last year’s Interbike Outdoor Demo and I was looking forward to putting it through its paces here on my home turf. Impressive? Yes, but lets dig into the details.

Santa Cruz Tallboy RXC Features:

  • Full-carbon frame with 2nd-generation VPP suspension
  • 100mm rear wheel travel (that’s 4″ for us blokes)
  • RockShox Monarch RT3 rear shock
  • RockShox Reba RL fork (tapered with 20mm Maxle Lite)
  • Shimano XT/SLX 3×10 drivetrain
  • Mavic TN 719 wheelset with XT rear hub and WTB Super Duty 20mm front hub
  • Truvativ Stylo Team riser bars
  • Easton EA50 stem and seatpost
  • WTB Rocket V Comp saddle
  • Colors: Matte Black, Gloss Orange
  • MSRP: $3600

Santa Cruz Tallboy 29er Review

The Tallboy is one impressive bike. I had a great spin on it last year and have continued to hear people singing its praise. Now, on my local trails, the Tallboy is mighty refined for a first-ever 29er for the brand. Santa Cruz classifies it as one of their XC bikes, but I wouldn’t quite pigeon-hole it as an XC racer. I’d call it full of XC efficiency but with a good dose of trailbike flair (especially when equipped with a 120mm fork).

The RXC build kit tips the scales right at 29 lbs, but this bike can easily come in at 26 lbs with lighter wheels and components. That said, the Tallboy doesn’t ever feel sluggish on the trails, so the weight is carried very well. This build allows you to get into a great, full-carbon frame with respectable components without breaking the bank. Carbon bits and lighter wheels can be had over time.

Hopping into the cockpit of the size large Tallboy, it does feel a little bit longer than what I’d typically ride, but not by much. I swapped out the 70mm Truvativ stem for a 50mm Easton EA50 to shorten things up just a tad and while it still felt more XC than trailbike in its fit, It rides comfortably and naturally without feeling too racy.

Talking about racy, the carbon frameset truly provides rocket-like performance as it immediately responds to rider input. Step on it and there’s little efficiency loss with all that power going straight to the wheels. The combination of carbon and the VPP design really makes for an efficient rear-end on the Tallboy. Standing climbs don’t compress the suspension like other designs and yet the rear remains relatively supple for its 100mm travel.

While Santa Cruz is spot-on at classifying the Tallboy as an XC racer, this bike is more capable than your standard thoroughbred. The big hoops smooth out rough terrain and make that 100mm of travel feel like more. Slap on some 2.2 tires (I rode the Specialized Purgatory 2.2’s) and you have yourself a more capable machine with gobs of traction. Lay the Tallboy out in a corner and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the predictable traction you’ll get as you swoop from turn-to-turn.

When it comes to ascending on the Tallboy, this bike likes to be pushed hard in the middle ring. Once you drop into the granny, the front end can wander a little more than I’d like and on the steepest terrain, the front wheel can also pop off the ground slightly. Careful body positioning and strong legs can avoid this, but every so often it has stopped me in my tracks.

The wheelset included with the RXC build kit is surprisingly-capable, though a little heavy. I’ve found them to be laterally responsive and have held true in my weeks of testing. I have noticed very slight rubber band wind-up when pressed hard. This has been pretty minor and definitely within reason for this level of wheelset.

When the trails point downhill, the Tallboy begins to show that while it can be XC efficient, it can also be trailbike fun. The VPP suspension doesn’t quite feel plush or supple, but it does the job and shields the rider from most common trail chatter. It can be maxed out when pushed hard on drops or rock gardens, but fast-rolling singletrack is dreamy. The included RockShox Reba RL fork performs similarly to the rear suspension in that it’s capable and can take some hits, but does get maxed out in rough terrain and high-speed chatter in 100mm mode.

To round out the review, I took the fork down to my local shop, Timpanogos Cyclery, and had them adjust the Reba RL’s travel to 120mm. The Tallboy I rode at Interbike last year was set up with a 120mm fork, so I just had to make the switch for comparison’s sake. Let me tell you that the extra 20mm makes a huge difference in the character of this bike. It definitely makes it feel more fun and capable in the rough stuff. For my style of riding, I’d definitely recommend either upping the Reba to 120 or going for the Fox F29 120 option out the gate.

As my first lengthy experience with Shimano’s Dyna-Sys 3×10 system, I’ve been quite impressed. The combination of SLX and XT drivetrain parts yields quick-shifting performance in all situations I’ve thrown at it. And, the cheater 36t cog turns this bike into a mountain goat.

Good Tallboy

  • Very business-like… gives back in spades to those who push it hard
  • Standing climbs are met with instant power transfer
  • It can climb like a banshee
  • Very stiff and responsive
  • Can be built up very light if you’ve got the coin
  • The 3×10 Shimano drivetrain with 36t cassette is like cheating
  • While the wheelset may be a little heavy, they are laterally stiff and track well
  • The 2011 RockShox RT3 shock is noticeably improved over last year’s model
  • Upping the travel to 120mm up front makes this bike way more fun and capable
  • Built-in chainstay protector is awesome (I doubled with a LizardSkins one on top for extra protection)

Bad Tallboy

  • The RXC build (tested) is a little heavy
  • Gets thrown around in rocky, technical terrain
  • Feels a little long (personal fit preference)
  • The Reba RL isn’t quite as smooth as the RLT Ti or Fox TALAS
  • Front end can wander on technical, slow climbs

Bottom Line: 2011 Santa Cruz Tallboy RXC

The Tallboy has lived up to the hype (mine included). I’ve had a great time on this bike and can appreciate what carbon fiber brings to the table. You get a stiff, responsive and capable bike that can be raced while still staying fun enough for all-out trail assaults.

Buy Now: Visit

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Hey Jason – the 29er market is getting more crowded these days. I am looking to make the transition to a 29er now. Would the Tallboy be your highest recommendation for the 29er segment?

  2. Jai… welcome to the Big Wheel Revolution. The Tallboy is one of the top players, but it all depends on the terrain you ride. Some of my favorites are:

    Santa Cruz Tallboy
    Niner Jet 9 (more XC) and RIP 9 (more trailbike)
    Ellsworth Evolve

    As far as hardtails, the new Scott Scale Carbon 29 looks phenomenal. Hope that helps.

  3. If you could only have one of the above mentioned 29er’s, which one would it be for you? I currently have a 29er hard tail and want to make the jump to a full suspension rig.

  4. Tim… it depends on what you’re shooting for. I’ve been very impressed with Niner’s across the board. Their hardtails are fun and their FS bikes are completely dialed. Some may say the RIP is a little too squishy (it’s not, believe me), but by going with the Niner Jet9, you still have that classic Niner feel, but it a little more efficient package.

    For me, I love my RIP9, but I would be just as happy on a Jet9. The Tallboy is way fun also… hard to say. But, for me, I’d have to put them in this order: RIP, Jet, Evolve, Tallboy.

  5. Hey Jason – what I have heard from some people in my area that “owned” Niner is that their bikes are junk. These folks told me to stay away from Niner. There was a Niner dealer in my area, however too many customer problems with the bikes prompted the dealer to drop the brand.

    I have not heard any complaints from riders that have Santa Cruz bikes, who I have met on my local trails. They tell how much they “love” SC bikes and highly recommend the brand.

    And to me, Ellsworth bikes are flat out ugly.

  6. Jai

    Warranty claims and saying that a brand is “junk” is typically skewed by a few bad frames and some overbearing customers. That said, I have heard of a handful of Air9 Scandium frames breaking and they did have a major failure of the old Jet9. So yeah, Niner has had their fair share of issues.

    I have seen similar issues across the board with many other manufacturers, but in every instance, the manufacturer has stepped up and made things right.

    Santa Cruz is stellar in my experience, so I can concur with your amigos. Ellsworth has improved their looks for 2011 (I agree with you on some of their older colors and designs), so you might want to look there again, if you want. Their new Evolve and Evolution 29er framesets are way cooler than previous designs.

  7. I have a 2011 specialized Stumpjumper expert 29er and I demo’d the Niners and liked this much better. a very comfortable ride and I went from a 26 stumpjumper carbon pro. this is much nicer than that 2009

  8. Dave C… I’m a little confused. Did you buy a SC Tallboy or the Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Expert 29er? I’m stoked you’re stoked, but I’m not quite following which bike you’re referring to.

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  10. I was just wondering if you have had a chance to check out the Salsa Spearfish yet. It reviewed well in the “Bible” but I was just wondering what your take on the bike was. It seems to be an awesome pricepoint but it still needs to be worth it.

    • The Spearfish looks like a nice ride:

      It is a single-pivot design, which (if done well) should have a great riding character and be very efficient. I rode and tested the Salsa Big Mama and really was ho-hum on it. Since the Spearfish has now replaced it, I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t really like it.

      I guess the Spearfish does look promising, but I can’t say much more other than it should be an improvement over the Big Mama.

  11. Jason,

    Great review, did you notice any rear end flex with the Tallboy? I’ve heard in rocky sections that the rear end can be flexy. Also did you have issues with the front end wandering when the fork was set at 100mm or 120mm or both?

    • Thanks Dave… I didn’t notice much flex in the rear-end. And, it did wander just a tad more in 120mm. This bike climbs pretty straight, so it’s only a slight difference.

  12. Jason,
    I just took a look at this bike and am looking at it versus the Stumpjumper FSR Expert 29er. Both in XXL (I’m 6’6, 280lbs). I’m looking at getting back into cycling after some time off (3 kids). Most of my previous riding has been road riding. I’m looking for a new bike to jump start me back into the saddle and have narrowed it down to these 2. I like the components and Brain of the specialized, I like the Tall Boy frame better. I’ve never been much of a climber so which ever bike climbs better might be the winner. Do you have any thoughts?

    • Craig… sorry it took me so long to respond. The Tallboy is quite the overall bike. Unfortunately, I haven’t ridden the FSR Expert 29er, so I can’t really compare the two. I can say that you are going to want something very sturdy for your size. The wheelset will be something you may want to look at in particular. The RXC buildkit’s wheelset may be lacking for someone like you. I’m not sure about the FSR’s.

      The bottom line… congrats for getting into the saddle. Either bike will be awesome for you.

      • Thx Jason. I’ll talk to LBS about wheelsets. I’m probably going to go with the Specialized. 1 week delivery instead of 5-6 for black SC (I’m not ready for the orange SC frame – not in my current cycling condition. The Specialized is a bit more ubiquitous.) Thanks again.

      • Update: Changed my mind…found an online dealer with the XXL matte carbon in stock. Went with the SPX build, way more bike than I need but it should be fun. Thanks again.

  13. ROBERT Otanez on

    Jason, I rode the TB and felt it to be a great trail bike. I also took the Pivot 5.7 for a ride. The 5.7 rips. My question is …..What would you ride and why? I think I might cancel my Pivot order…

      • ROBERT Otanez on

        Pivot just came out with a carbon 5.7. Im going to wait to see what happens with a through axle on the Tall Boy or a carbon 429 or……I DON’T KNOW! I ‘ll pull the trigger soon.
        THE TALL BOY WAS FUN. 5.7 RIPS .


  14. Regarding carbon frame 29ers I have heard Turner is releasing a first ever carbon frame and it will be a 29er. Have you heard anything to support this? I am a current 5 Spot owner and will probably never own another bike brand. I wouldn’t mind adding a carbon 29er. (I have ridden the Sultan and liked it better than the Tallboy, although I have yet to ride a Niner) Curious if you have heard anything about a new Turner carbon frame?

    • Hey Jeff… I have not heard about Turner making a carbon frame, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it soon. Their frames are legendary, but branching out into carbon would be quite a departure from their strong suit of “Made in the USA” aluminum frames.

      BUT… it could drop some serious weight from their heavier designs. There are a ton of great 29ers coming online in the coming months… stay tuned!

  15. Got a large TB 2×10 with I9 enduro wheelset about a month ago and it is a game changer.

    I’ve been on and off mountain bikes since the late 80’s. I raced when chainstay U-brakes were hot stuff. I’ve seen trends come and go, but a lightweight 29er like the TB is a true leap forward in bike technology.

    This thing descends like a bulldozer, bowling over whatever is in its tracks. Several times in the last week I went off a drop-off in a bad line and thought I’m going down only to still be on the bike tracking down the trail. Previous bikes would of had me eating dirt.

    Not only is it a descender, it climbs like an angel. If you don’t mind forking over the coin, don’t hesitate another minute. This bike will move you from mid-pack rider to the front, over night.

  16. ROBERT Otanez on

    JASON, it has come down to two bikes for me SC TALLBOY and PIVOT 429. How do these bike compare? Carbon 429 ? I hear so much about the SC as a trail bike but not so much about the Pivot.
    What do you think?

    • I haven’t ridden the 429 (regrettably!). But, I have ridden a few DW-Link bikes and I really, really like that design. Really hard to say between the two. They are both built around a 100mm fork, but can be ridden with a 120 to make them be more trail-bike-ish. Carbon does wonders for a bike and that alone could make the Tallboy a better choice. So hard to say, my friend. I wish I had answers, but you can’t go wrong with either.

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