Some brands in the MTB world just seem to carry themselves through the world of marketing, purely on the strength of their names, Santa Cruz is definitely in amongst this elite group of high-end products! Take the Bronson, just the mere mention of it’s name got the masses babbling with excitement prior to it’s release, with pre-orders in the dealers seeming more popular than a prison whore! I tend to stay away from these big name brands, favouring the smaller quirky stuff, just to be different, not to be (dare I say it) a sheep following the masses. But lets face it there’s no smoke without fire, so they ain’t going to be crap, but could the Tallboy LT really be as good as people say, I mean Donny’s has taken him to victory more than once in the UKGE, up against all manner of other bikes.
This test, to be honest, wasn’t planned, it just came about out of chance. There was a Howies Coed Y Brenin Enduro I had entered into, and I don’t mean Gravity Enduro, I mean the original sense of the word, a full-on 60k leg busting loop. I am currently running a big hitting, single ringed 26” Enduro bike, and the idea of over 5 hours in the saddle, up some of the biggest hills in North Wales didn’t appeal. I asked a good mate (Sandy Plenty) owner of local bike shop, The Trailhead, and amazingly he obliged, with the the loan of his gorgeous looking gulf blue large 2013 model. Now Sandy (who’s dad owned the 1st shop to sponsor Neil Donoghue) doesn’t do things by halves. So this bike is fully kitted with Chris King, XTR, Renthal and comes with Fox Kashima CTD front and rear, if it was any more bling it would have to be kept behind a cabinet. My best mate Myles was entered into the event too, and not to feel left out, he only went and blagged the loan of Neil Donoghue’s medium carbon version, it too was blinged out to the max, sporting the rare team issue green Hope hubs. Myles has ridden bikes with me for years, and was still buzzing from his 1st Enduro race, which he had ridden the week prior to this event.
When I picked up Don’s Bike it was so light that it seriously felt like it had no wheels on it, 28 1/4lbs with pedals and tyre gunk to be precise, as opposed to the 31lbs of Sandy’s alloy version, that also with pedals and massive Shwalbe tyres fully gunked up. Then there was the third rider, Rich Guppy (Sandy’s shop and team mechanic) now this chap is fit and strong with many a DH win under his belt from 15 years of racing bikes, pretty handy on the Enduro scene too. Rich was borrowing his mate Allan Pugh’s alloy version, kitted out only slightly more modestly, but running Chris King too, along with the new Rockshox Pikes. So we were all in some way connected, 3 Shropshire mons looking more like Factory Santa Cruz on arrival, than just some mates come to ride!
So this is a test, not of a 29er (as they all are) not a comparison to 26″ wheels or if it’s as good as a Bronson, just a review of these mountain bikes as we found them, in our own way!
From the off with my brand-est attitude I wanted to not like this bike, I wanted to tell people it was just brand and marketing hype about how good these bikes are, but I have to admit I was well and truly scuppered from going down those lines of thought. The 60k route really did take in every type of terrain you could think of and this bike just ate it up, making me feel like a true pro! The long fire-road climbs just seemed like nothing, effortless (once I’d warmed up) I just sat and spun. Single-track seemed as wide as a motorway, never feeling like I was being pushed off-line by that invisible beast that tries to veer you from your path, it just seemed to hold it’s line wherever you pointed it. On downhills that got fast and rough the 135 mm of rear travel on the plush Fox CTD never seemed overwhelmed or sketchy, it just tracked and felt steady at speed with it’s 69.5 degree head angle. The tight turns also just seemed a doddle, with the bike never feeling too long or tall, just aim and go. But where this bike just came alive and really in a league of it’s own was the trail-centre type sections! The speed and traction it offered was just ridiculous, making me feel unbeatable, like king of the trail!
I have only ever done a 60k ride once before, on my (now sold) GT Sanction and that was such a different ball-game, so much more of a mission, the Tallboy just lapped it up. I wasn’t trying to race this event, but as my confidence and fitness seemed to grow, I just disappeared off from my mates for the last 10k! Hitting it all flat out, up and down, using up what energy I had left in the tank, the energy that would have been well and truly gone on my previous bike.
OK so there has to be somethings I didn’t like, but believe me they weren’t much. Firstly (and this really is a minor miff) I thought it would be loads easier up the real steep stuff, but it just seemed the same as anything else when you were on the limit of grip, at that gradient between riding and needing to walk, maybe nothing is really as good as a true xc bike for such occasions. Secondly, and this is an issue that I think does need to be addressed; the bottom rocker of the VPP link, below the bottom bracket is ridiculously exposed to rocks and crap. This linkage comes with 2 grease nipples, which is a great idea, but why didn’t they make a guard for it, apparently aftermarket ones are available in the US, problem solved!
After being pestered for about 6 months to have a go at an MTB Enduro by my great mate Jim Buchanan, I finally gave in and did the escape to Gisburn Enduro, I hate to admit when Jim’s right, but after this one event I was completely hooked, Enduro is the way forward!
Now, I’m no pro, I’ve been riding on and off with Jim for a while on my Specialised Stumpy Expert Evo, which is a great bike, but I’m now looking for a more Enduro friendly weapon. So when I was given the opportunity by another great mate Neil Donoghue, to ride his Santa Cruz Tallboy LT at the Howies Coedy 60k, as part of this trio Tallboy test, along with Jim and Rich Guppy…I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE!
Where do I start?!
At exactly 10.30 there was a huge frightening bang which was the mass start of the Coedy 60k, “let’s see what this bike is like” I thought! From the off it felt pretty good, I was expecting to be able to be cruising up the first climb with ease, perhaps I was expecting a little too much. As I began to sweat and blow a fair bit and once I’d gone through the first hour of warming up, and the delusion that this bike would carry me round, I began to really enjoy the Tallboy and feel completely at home on it. Pedalling along a rough gravel fire-road, the bike seemed to be twice as fast as my stumpy was. I couldn’t wait for the first downhill, it was a long tractor-rutted grassy, twisty decent, which got rockier nearer the bottom, “this bike is ACE” I thought! I decided to take the opposite line to everybody else and bomb past a few riders, it seemed effortless, even changing from one rut to the other, which I normally crash trying, was confidence inspiring, a quick blast over the rocks at the bottom and I was now buzzing and grinning from ear to ear!
As an average Jo I can’t really give a complete technical review of the Tallboy, but I can give you a review in layman’s terms. I expected the Tallboy to feel long and a bit more difficult to get round the tight turns, how wrong was I, I’m normally pretty pants in any turns, for the first time since riding mountain bikes I felt more confident than ever, more relaxed and more importantly quicker through them. The Fox 34 Kashima forks felt plush as did the Fox CTD Kashima rear shock, it was so nice to be on a bike that felt it could handle anything you could throw at it. As the ride continued through the day, I was pretty much convinced that for my first season of MTB Enduro I will be riding one of these bikes.
RICH GUPPY’S RIDE
I jumped at the chance to test this bike, having only heard great things about its performance. I have to admit, I wasn’t disappointed. The large sized frame with its’ Renthal stem instantly felt comfortable and the Rock Shox Pike fork complemented the Fox shock.
On the climbs I was able to drop it into a lower gear and spin my legs with the bike tracking the terrain well and smoothing out the more technical sections. The fast flowing downhill was where this bike really excelled. It gripped well on all the corners, feeling stable and planted, yet nimble enough to put a big grin on my face. To sum it up, I think this bike is a capable all rounder, that definitely has a big part to play in our ever increasing mountain bike scene.
Well Myles and I made it round, but unfortunately for Rich an old knee injury flared up, forcing him to finish at the 45k mark. But what an awesome day we all had, made (I’m sure) a lot easier by the capabilities of these great bikes.
Frame prices start at £1,799.00 for the alloy and £2,599 for the carbon version
For all details check santacruzbikes.co.uk
Massive thanks to Sandy at The Trailhead, Neil Donoghue, Al Pugh, Myles and Rich Guppy for making all this happen.
Words Jim Buchanan, Myles Harris, Rich Guppy Pics Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan and Jon Brooke