A 6-month update has been added to the bottom of this page.
The Tallboy 3 is a fresh new take on the venerable favorite from Santa Cruz. The model year 2017 bike is updated with current geometry, new axle standards, and the ability to run two different wheel sizes. I went in depth on how I went about choosing the Tallboy, my first impressions, and initial setup in this Purchasing Process post, but being that I couldn't find a single review of the bike in 27.5+ guise, I wanted to provide a full review that will hopefully be helpful to anyone considering this bike. So, does the Tallboy 3 C S+ check my boxes by delivering more fun in an all around package?
Fun & Handling
I've been lucky enough to put in some really solid rides on a variety of trails in the past few weeks. From rocky desert trail riding, to XC and trail riding through Aspens and Pines in the mountains, I've thrown just about everything I would normally ride at this bike so far, and I can confidently say that I made the right choice in purchasing this rig. On one particular ride I noticed that I had a huge smile across my face while ripping in and out of the woods on a great section of the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff. I was seeking a bike that would be more fun than the Epic; less racy and more playful for heading out and having a good time - the Tallboy delivers. The bike begs you to go fast, jump stuff, and wheelie anything at anytime. I've heard mountain bikes being described as "tossable" before and just thought it was too much Mountain Dew, but now I think I understand. The bike is forgiving and stable, and just wants to rip. So, in this sense this is a very successful bike.
I love riding fast and flowy trails, and most of the fast and flowy stuff closer to home in the desert is loose over hard and can be like cornering over marbles at time. For me, this has always been an area of weakness and hesitation, as I don't particularly love that "oh-shit" there goes my front wheel out from under me feeling. The plus size tires and low center of gravity make flowy sections much more manageable and I find myself keeping up with strong bike handlers much better. This makes ripping through dusty desert sections all the more fun, and I have never once felt like the additional rubber has held me back.
Climbing and Suspension
The VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension works. Coming from a firm riding, brain shock equipped Specialized Epic, which climbs and pedals like a hardtail, I have been nothing but impressed with how well the bike pedals and goes up hill, while having more active suspension. With gobs of traction from the plus size tires, efficient suspension linkage, and the ability to pop the front wheel off the ground at will, the go up and over demeanor of the Tallboy provides a happy medium of not having to slog a beast uphill just to gain more trail friendly demeanor otherwise. The simple, "Open, Medium, Firm" suspension settings on the Fox Float Performance Shock also provide a very detectable difference in ride, which I very much like. The bike is perfectly happy riding all day in open position, where I leave it majority of the time, but if you're really looking to mash pedals and firm things up, it's also fully capable, still comfortable, and even more pedal friendly in the middle setting. "Firm" is basically locked out, which comes in handy for asphalt sections to or from the trail, and I like that there is a discernible difference between the settings without it being overly complicated.
The 3-position Grip damper Fox 34 performance shock compliments the shock well with the same behavior between the three settings. I find myself leaving the shock in open pretty much full time, even when firming up the rear. Maybe it was the tired RockShox Reba with standard QR axle I was coming from, but I'm finding the 34 to be pleasantly stiff, reactive, and supple with good small and large bump compliance. The Boost Spacing thru-axle and beefier fork stantions have made a huge difference for me in the handling department adding a lot more forgiveness in the loose over hard wide open desert that can break the front wheel lose on you.
This particular build, the Carbon C S+ could stand to loose weight, at nearly 31 pounds ready to go, which psychologically or not, would make going uphill a bit easier. When you have the legs, the increased traction of the plus size wheels rewards you with forward momentum. On trails where traction isn't paramount, I might be giving up some to the Epic, though I'm okay with what I'm gaining elsewhere. This is why I think a lighter build weight would really make a difference in not giving up anything.
Pointing the bike downhill, whether steep or subtle, has resulted in the most significant gains in the grins department. I've ridden a number of steep and/or rocky descents that I used to not enjoy getting pin-balled around or hanging on for dear life on, that are now fun or just more trail riding. The bike soaks up hits admirably well, especially considering it only has 110 mm of travel in the rear. Is it going to go down as well as its Hightower or 5010 brethren? Maybe not, but it is stable, rides smoothly through sections I used to get POGO-sticked around on, and flies through smoother downhill sections that I didn't have a problem with before. Perhaps due to increased stability and handling from the more relaxed geometry, increased stiffness, or the wider wheels and tires, but fast sections I didn't have a problem with before have become even more fun. There's more bunny hopping, manuals off rocks, and banking flowy sections which just makes you all the more happy to be out riding a bike.
One thing I was really worried about coming from the 100 mm Epic, was if 10 additional millimeters of travel would be enough to make a difference. And I'm happy to report that on this bike, they do and it does. The bike certainly rides like it has much more travel and I haven't felt like I needed more. BUT, I do still think it should be 120 mm in the rear. I think the bike would feel a little more balanced with the 130 mm fork, and it could use the increase in bottom bracket height. I know long and low bikes are what it's all about, and a lot of the handling and stability can be attributed to the low BB height, but I'm also having to relearn how to pedal. The 175 mm cranks are meeting a lot of rocks along the trails, down or up, especially when the suspension is compressed. I've found myself almost stepping up rocks when climbing some steep sections where I might push one crank down to pop up or over something. And even in the fast, wide open flat stuff, you have to watch for snipers along the way that might take you right out of the pedal. The cranks are one the most overweight components spec'd on this build, so I'm halfway debating replacing them with 170's.
Coming from infamously terrible Avid Elixr brakes, I had heard the new generation of SRAM offerings were much improved. The SRAM Guide model brakes equipped on the 5010 and Hightowers I rode made me believe this was true. They had good modulation and stopping power and no turkey gobbling noises. I am however, having some growing pains with the stock SRAM Level TL stoppers. Braking power and modulation is certainly much improved from the Elixr days and the turkey "warbble-ing" has now been replaced by your standard brake squealing, albeit not nearly as loud or as often. I'm having a hell of time getting the brakes setup so the rotors don't rub, but I remain hopeful that things will eventually settle down. I would hate to busy up the cockpit by ditching the matchmaker clamps down the road, but if the brakes don't improve, I'm afraid Shimano's might be the only reasonable option. This is not a knock against the bike as much as SRAM's reputation for making so-so brakes, but I thought it worth mentioning.
All three of these critiques are really quite minor, and others may not even have the same experiences, but my last nitpick is the lower suspension link. I'm not sure if there's a way around this shelf or plate of sorts, but it does seem to provide a nice platform for rocks and mud. I suppose I would prefer something easily accessible and cleanable like this opposed to the Yeti Switch-Infinity system or the like, and I am glad SC was wise enough to leave this piece black, but I imagine I would tire of scraping dirt off it if I rode in more muddy terrain.
I do still think the 5010 would have also been a "right" choice, but I'm really loving this bike with plus size wheels and tires. I'm finding the Maxxis Rekons to be a nice tire and size front and rear, perhaps a bit aggressive tread in the rear for the mostly hard and loose over hard terrain the bike sees, but I would look for a similar tread in the front when the time comes. The Novatec hub / RaceFace AR40 wheels have been pleasantly good for an OEM spec. I've heard that most/all Stan's hubs are Novatec and they seem to spin well and have good engagement in the rear. The RaceFace AR40 hoops have been great, with no complaints there either. The entire wheel package with Boost spacing and thru-axles have provided a nice upgrade in stiffness and stability.
I'm becoming convinced the dropper posts are only for the tall and really short, as I just haven't found it to be useful yet. I'm going to try and give the bike a good workout in Sedona in a few weeks where the steep red rock drop offs should warrant it but so far I just don't really feel like the seat post is ever in my way. Everyone I know that's taller than I am says it's be best thing to happen to mountain bikes since suspension. And I can also see the merits from someone that's really short being able to get around the saddle, but even at 5'7" on a size medium frame, I just don't find myself using it.
The rest of the kit has been really quite good out of the box. The 760 mm wide bars are a bit on the wide side, but the sweep and angle feels good otherwise. The WTB Volt Race saddle is sure to be heavy, but it is comfortable on rides under 2.5 hours. After that, it's not quite as good, but not many saddles are.
The SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain is working fine and well. I experienced some cable stretch around the fourth and fifth rides, but that calmed down after playing with the barrel adjuster. Shifting is crisp and quick as would be expected from a SRAM kit.
Overall, I'm really happy I bought this bike, and there's no doubt in my mind that I made the right choice. I was seeking something that wouldn't feel slow or limiting on fast cross-country or uphill sections but was far more fun and playful for everyday riding and I got it. Plus size wheels are the real deal and I think they are owed a lot of the credit to making this bike great. And I only anticipate them to get better as more tire options come to market. I really do feel that Santa Cruz nailed the line between XC and Trail bike, and this makes for a very fun XC race or all day trail capable rig. The OEM spec has a few weaknesses, but is fairly solid overall, and save for the low BB and long crank arm conflicts, it's a no brainer right out of the box.
I anticipate the Tallboy will be edgier and snappier bike with 29" wheels, but right now I don't have any motivation to find out. In my mind, the author of the Bike Radar review is clearly more of a trail / enduro rider with his fondness of the Hightower, but I really do think he needs to give this a fair shot when proper spec plus size wheels, as it seems like that's where this bike really shines.
TL : DR
- The bike is fast, stable, and fun. Pedaling is very good, suspension is responsive, and adaptable.
- Plus size tires are legit. Much traction makes much fun.
- The long and low geometry provides good handling, toss-ability, agility, and maneuverability, but the low BB height means you have to be aware and careful of pedal strikes.
- OEM spec and build kit is fairly solid. Wheels, tires, groupset, and cockpit are all ready to go out of the box.
- The SRAM brakes might be troublesome, more to come on this.
I am certainly not a journalist or professional bike reviewer, but I hope this proves useful for some seeking some perspective and real world feedback. If you have any feedback or questions on anything I covered or missed, feel free to reach out via the social media icons below or the contact me page. Thanks for reading!
Six Month Update - Feb. 1, 2017
I continue to be really satisfied with the bike and nearly everything stated above is holding true and only getting better in most circumstances. I do want to add or clarify a few things from previous though.
The bike is still crazy fun and I am really quite happy with it. Although I still think it might be "perfecter" with another 5-10 mm more travel in the rear, it has proven to be very capable on a wide range of trails, which is exactly what I want. Speaking of that wide range of trails, I've spent some time on some of the more technical trails in the area, and I'm now starting to understand the merits of the dropper post, so it stays for now. I'm not convinced it's quite the godsend that many say, but on some more gnarly and steep drops and descents it has proven to be pretty useful.
Bumps and Bruises
Speaking of the more gnarly stuff, you might want to invest in a bash guard or some frame protection around the bottom bracket and the bottom edges of the rear chain stays. I have a few scrapes on these sections where I don't remember landing or scraping anything, but the paint is definitely gone.
SRAM Level TL brakes keep getting worse (and sometimes don't work at all)
The previously suspect at best SRAM Level TL brakes really ruin an otherwise great purchase and continue to get even worse. As previously reported, I had a lot of rotor rub, particularly at the end of a ride when I didn't start with it and it would be gone again at the start of the next ride. It is almost like this was due to the rotors heating up and warping, which is really disappointing considering I'm 137 pounds (without gear), am not an excessive brake dragger, and it has 180 mm rotors. Brake modulation has also declined and the noise has gotten embarrassingly loud. I mean, like crazy loud squealing moans, it's obnoxious to me and anyone else on the trails.
And just when I thought they couldn't get any worse, I went to descend a particularly steep section and the brakes just fully locked. I squeezed the levers once and they stayed there. The calipers remained engaged (I know this because they wouldn't stop squealing) and my only choice was to keep the squeezed or squeeze even harder. I basically did not have any braking control. I am going to take the bike back to the shop this week to see if they will contact SRAM for me because this is really quite pathetic for a less than 6-month old bike that hasn't been ridden that much. I'm remaining hopeful that maybe they'll help me and the brakes are another set of lemons (like previous Avid brakes), but I think I'm in the market for a set of Shimano XT's now.
(Knock on wood) the Maxxis Rekon tires have been really great. I've spent some really long days (7.5 hours) on this bike and they roll well and have provided great traction in all conditions. As previously stated, I might be able to get away with a slightly faster rolling rear tire, but I would not want to sacrifice durability and stability. I've pretty much settled in a 11 to 11.5 psi in the front and 12.5 to 13 psi in the rear with this gauge. <If you are thinking about purchasing that gauge through Amazon, it would be really helpful to me if you do so through the link, thanks!>
I would still buy it again (maybe with better brakes)
Overall, I am still really happy with this bike. Thank you to those that have reached out with questions and kind words regarding the bike. If you're someone that wants to think out your purchasing process, please feel free to reach out... I know it's helpful to bounce thoughts off others!
Brake Update - Late February 2017
It turns out SRAM had a bad batch of Level and Guide brakes with exactly my issue. It sounds like it's something related to the piston bore in the levers themselves, and SRAM replaced the brakes with an entire new set, sans rotors. I was apprehensive of this at first, and asked the shop I trust if I should just put the new brake set on eBay and buy Shimano XT's but they did say besides the bad batch, the Guides and Levels have been pretty good. The shop also went on to add that there have been some issues with the newer Shimano XT and XTR brakes, so given that I was getting new brakes for free, it seemed like the way to go.
I had my first ride back on them today, and I'm happy to report that they are performing as they should. Noise is way down, there is still some light squealing, likely due to my rotors being slightly glazed over from the previous dragging, but it's minimal. Stopping power, modulation, and overall feel are back to where they should be, so I'm feeling okay about the brakes.
I weighed the stock bar over the weekend and it came in over 400 grams. I'm sorry to say that I don't remember the exact number, but I know it was 200+ grams more than it should be. I've been happy with bar shape overall, so I am going to try and find something with similar sweep and bend, but wow, that thing is a crow bar. The handle bar, stem, and saddle are likely to be the lowest hanging fruit for weight savings on this bike. I have not replaced the saddle because I'm finding it to be pretty comfortable, but I'm now a little more motivated to shave half a pound or more just by swapping the bar and maybe stem.