Alongside the all-new Blur TRc trail bike, Santa Cruz gave us the opportunity to flog their new carbon Highball 29er hardtail and the aluminum Tallboy 29er full suspension mountain bikes in Gooseberry Mesa, UT, too.
The Highball was teased before the camp, and it turns out to be a full on race machine. Santa Cruz’s Mike Ferrentino says it was designed to be as stiff and efficient as possible. On the trail, that translates to a super fast ride that lets you feel every bit of the trail. No rear end flex or compliance was intentionally built into the frame, and none is claimed like on the carbon 29ers from Cannondale and Scott.
The Tallboy AL is, as you may have guessed, simply an alloy version of the original, and it rides just as good. Keep in mind, these are just our first impressions based on three days of long rides in the desert, we have each of these lined up for a long-term review once they get their full 2012 dressings at the end of May. Click “more” for ride reports and frame details and photos. You can check weights for each size here, too…
Above is a Medium frame and is the smallest 29er size they make, but Santa Cruz says their Medium compares to a Niner’s Small.
The Highball uses the same proprietary carbon fiber construction method as the new Blur TRc (and new Blur XC). Basically, they use internal removable mandrels with a light bladder over them to wrap the carbon weave over. Then, it’s put into a mold, compressed and cured. The use of a firm internal mandrel allows them to precisely orient each piece of the carbon fabric rather then lay it around a floppy bladder and hope for the best, as could be interpreted as the alternative from their description of the process. For the full technical run down on the frame construction, check the Blur TRc post. Here’s some photos:
…and from the outside:
Up front, the tapered headtube junction brings the top- and downtubes together way behind the headtube, making for one giant cross section. The headtube itself is also pretty short, even on the XL frame. Result: stiffness.
Despite being a bit flatter than tall, the seatstays aren’t designed to offer any vertical flex. The seat tube is bent slightly just above the front derailler, letting them tuck the rear wheel in a bit closer. Chainstay length is 17.3″. It’s built to be a focused race bike, which explains the lack of an EBB or sliding dropout option. The frame weighs in at 1,120g, Santa Cruz says making the frame singlespeed-able would have added about 150g. This serves the largest market but perhaps not the most vocal one.
The wide design of the seatstays and yoke seem to keep it pretty laterally stiff. There’s pretty good clearance for running a fatter tire, particularly at the seatstays. The chainstay clearance is a bit tighter.
The cables and rear brake hose run neatly under the top tube. the guides to a good job of keeping them out of the way for those of us whose knees tend to brush the top tube a lot while riding.
A standard bottom bracket keeps it easy to service with no detectable loss of performance (for me, anyway). Sure, you could build it up lighter with BB30, but the complete XL bike only weighs in at 22lbs 2oz (w/o pedals) with Xo. Build kits will include both 2×10 and 3×10 drivetrains. It comes with a 100mm fork on the build kits, but it’s approved for up to a 120mm fork.
HIGHBALL – FIRST IMPRESSIONS:
Not being the target customer for a hardtail, take this for what it’s worth: This bike is stiff and fast, but you’ll feel every bit of trail. I chose the Highball for the most XC-ish day of riding at their press camp, and it was definitely the right bike for the Gould’s, Gem and Hurricane Rim trails. Stand up to crank it and it propels forward. Do that on the climbs and it skips right up with no discernable flex. Steering is spot on, but I did fiddle with the fork a bit. 100mm of travel doesn’t seem like the same 100mm of front travel you get on a full suspension bike like I’m used to, but I definitely got the full amount of squish from the Fox fork on a couple of 12″ to 24″ drops. There were a few technical and/or steep descents, and the Highball tracked well through them as well. For a race bike, I suspect hardtail 29er fans won’t be disappointed. We’ll be putting one of these under the butt of just such a person for the long-term review.
2012 Santa Cruz Tallboy AL
The Tallboy AL is the working man’s edition of the carbon full squisher. Frame weights are 5.2lbs for a carbon Tallboy, and 6.6lbs with shock for the aluminum frame (which, since they’re comparing their sizing to Niner’s, is only a few ounces heavier than a Jet9 with shock). It has the geometry is the same as the carbon version.
With their other bikes, the cycle was reversed and they developed carbon fiber versions of an alloy bike and really focused on optimizing stiffness over saving weight. With the alloy Tallboy, since they had the carbon one first, they built it a bit beefy to try to match the stiffness of the carbon version, which explains the larger weight difference.
Like it’s carbon brother, the Tallboy AL uses Santa Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point suspension design. The upright section of the rear triangle is a little beefier then their 26″ alloy VPP bikes to help stiffen it up with the bigger wheels. The front derailleur cable run through the shock mount on the top tube and uses full length housing. This one has guides for a dropper seatpost remote lever, too.
Standard rear dropouts with normal brake mounts. If you’re wondering why they didn’t go bigger, read the post about their new Blur XC.
The Tallboy AL gets the new grease port positioning like the Blurs and Tallboy Carbon for 2012 models. The ports are now angled such that they’re protected within the linkage from getting bashed if you bottom out on a rock. Since one of the VPP’s trademarks is softer initial stroke with a generally low BB height, this is a good move.
The alloy models will only be available in M, L and XL. The carbon version is also available in an XXL for people over 6’5″.
Tallboy AL – First Impressions:
I Rode the Tallboy AL over Gooseberry Mesa’s White Trail, God’s Skatepark, Hidden Canyon and South Rim trails. Previously, all of my experience with the carbon Tallboy has consisted of lift-served bomber runs last summer and a few minor climbs…but I do have a Blur XC in our permanent test bike stable, so I’m familiar with their VPP suspension. The trails offered everything from bumpy, rocky sections to swoopy singletrack to steep abrupt climbs and drops.
The Tallboy AL handled everything really well, even the short punchy climbs up sharp, steep rocks and off camber rollers. The bike put me in the right place to balance traction with control when standing up to grind up a few short pitches, and it handled pretty nimbly for a 29er. As mentioned with the Blur TRc ride review, the VPP design combined with Santa Cruz’s typically low BB heights does make for a few more pedal dabs than on other models, something I experience with a few times when clipping my Candy’s on small ledges and baby heads. The flip side is that the suspension is really supple at the beginning for a very smooth ride. Pedaling stiffness was pretty good…no major complaints…but truthfully I want to get some more time on this bike to form a better opinion. First impressions are good, though.