Santa Cruz Tallboy XX SL AXS RSV: Tested

By Justin Walker 2 May 2024
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A Santa Cruz Tallboy has just landed in the Aus Geo ADVENTURE gear shed for long-term testing. Here’s our first report from the trails.

Close to 50 years after those first steel klunkers bounced down steep lines in Marin, California, mountain biking (MTB) is split across numerous riding disciplines. From mile-munching cross-country to steep, gnarly enduro (and downhill), MTB is at the point that it can get mighty confusing for new-ish riders (and those who’ve returned to the sport after a decade or so) looking for that one ‘right’ bike on which to re-join the sport. 

Some sun and dry trails has seen the Tallboy out and being tested every day.

Of all the MTB segments these days, it’s the ‘trail’ one that is closest to that all-encompassing ‘mountain bike’ description, which used to just mean a bike that had adequate climbing ability, was comfortable on longer rides, and to be not too out of place bombing slightly steeper terrain. For iconic US mountain bike brand, Santa Cruz, its Tallboy is the epitome of that. Our testing team has always been big fans of this short-travel MTB wunderkind, so it was with huge excitement – and many thanks to Cisco and Vanessa from Bikes N Shocks for the bike-build – we took delivery of our latest long-term test bike: a Gloss White Santa Cruz Tallboy CC XX SL AXS RSV. 


This fifth incarnation of the Tallboy retains the then slightly radical geometry changes of the previous generation Tallboy, released in 2019. That was when Santa Cruz provided a new take on what a short-travel bike could be, shoehorning enduro-style, long and slack geometry (lower-mounted as well) into a bike with 120mm rear travel, and 130mm of squish up front. At the time, the Tallboy was lauded as an ideal bike for close to 90 per cent of the riding population. Indeed, Santa Cruz marketed it as “the downhiller’s cross-country bike”, alluding to its versatility. This fifth-gen version has received a few subtle tweaks to geometry and suspension kinematics, proving Santa Cruz’s designers got it pretty close to right with the previous-gen. 

We’ve scored the top-tier model for our long-termer, and it is, literally, covered in all the conceivable MTB bling you can think of in regard to specs, hence all those acronyms. A Rockshox Pike Ultimate fork provides 130mm of travel up front, while a lower-link driven Factory Fox Float DPS works in synergy Santa Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point (VPP) suspension system to offer 120mm of rear travel. 

The Tallboy uses Santa Cruz’s Virtual Pivot Point suspension system and a Factory Float DPS shock to provide 120mm of rear travel.

The beefy looking frame is available in two carbon lay-ups – C and CC – with the CC frame (as featured in our Large tester) being lighter in weight, but with both offering the same strength. It features proportional geometry, ensuring each frame size has the appropriate seat-tube angle (it steepens as the frame size goes up) and optimised rear centre for each size, as well. Sizes range from XS to XXL (a rarity in the MTB world, these days, but appreciated). The frame has Boost 148mm spacing, a maximum tyre width of 2.5-inch, and you can increase fork travel to 140mm if you really think it’ll make a difference (more on that later). For those Luddites among us (yes, me included) there’s a threaded bottom bracket, and the frame comes with a lifetime warranty. Finally, there’s a Universal Derailleur Hanger (UDH), as well as Santa Cruz’s take on in-frame storage, dubbed the Glovebox.

Adhering to the long, low, slack theory, the Tallboy has a 65.5-degree head angle and a low bottom bracket height of 335mm (when the shock’s adjustable flip-chip is set to HI; it is 332mm when set to LO). Our Large size tester has a 76.8-degree seat-tube angle and 1227mm wheelbase, with 475mm of reach and there is 698mm of standover (all these figures are when the flip-chip is in HI). 

The Glovebox is Santa Cruz’s take on in-frame storage and so far, so good, with no accidental opening of the door on bumpy terrain.

Befitting this top-tier model’s heady price tag – and explaining those acronyms – there is no expense spared on this bike’s fit-out, with SRAM’s 12-speed XX SL Eagle AXS Transmission pushing your leg power to a set of carbon-fibre Reserve (RSV) 30SL wheels, fitted with Industry Nine Hydra hubs and rolling on Maxxis tyres (on our tester: a Dissector 29×2.4WT Maxx Terra EXO/TR front; Rekon 29×2.4WT Maxx Terra EXO/TR rear). Stopping power is provided by SRAM’s Level Ultimate Stealth 4-Piston brakes (180mm discs front/rear) while, perhaps surprisingly, the dropper is the cable-operated OneUp V2, rather than SRAM’s wireless AXS option. The bike weighs in at around 12.9kg.

SRAM’s 12-speed XX SL Eagle AXS Transmission is standard fitment on this model and has proved excellent on the trails.

For Tallboy 5, Santa Cruz fiddled with the suspension kinematics a bit, endeavouring to provide a bit more traction via reducing the anti-squat, while a changed leverage curve allows a bit more ‘wiggle-room’ (read: less push through the travel) when the suspension is really challenged on bigger hits. Yep, that’s an impressive list of specs, but does all this bling work in the real world, on the trails? Well…

In the field

In the Tallboy’s first month in the Aus Geo ADVENTURE shed it has spent a frustrating amount of time stationary, due to the horrendous amount of rain we’ve had in Sydney, and the number of trails closed as a result. Nonetheless, a brief flurry (read: about two weeks) of sunny weather and drying tracks has seen this uber-bike out on our local trails each day. In short, some may have laughed at Santa Cruz’s claim of this being the downhiller’s XC bike but the Tallboy’s performance to date, across a variety of trails, does reinforce it. The frame itself is burly – to the point I’d say surprisingly so for its short-travel segment. I am no lightweight, and am also no finessed rider, but no matter how ham-fisted my approach to a climb, descent or technical section of trail has been, the Tallboy just rolls through.

Of the many high-end components fitted to this Tallboy, it is the Reserve wheel set that has been the standout for testers.

Having not ridden the previous-gen Tallboy, I cannot say I noted a difference in the suspension for this version, but whatever Santa Cruz did, it has resulted in a bike that offers excellent traction on the often rocky, ledge-riddled, sandy trails that proliferate on Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In a previous life, I owned the first-generation (2014) Santa Cruz 5010 and that bike’s earlier version of the VPP suspension setup was more prone to hang up on sharp-edged ledges when climbing. The Tallboy 5 – provided you’ve got enough gas in your legs – just clambers over any of that, with minimal interruption to forward progress. 

On faster descending trails, the Tallboy is a rocket, and it is here that you nod at the “downhiller” reference by the marketing team; that beefy frame and very well sorted suspension (the Pike up front is a dream match for this bike) produce a well planted feel that belies the fact this is, still, a short-travel bike. Regardless of the rugged terrain underneath you when at speed, the bike will maintain its line – and that applies in more technical terrain, as well. It is also worth noting the performance of those carbon Reserve hoops; offering a blend of directness and suppleness in the transferral of impact and power, these wheels give the rider additional confidence to go even faster, with their ability to soak up uneven terrain and deflections without pushing the bike off-line. On a bike loaded with top-spec components, these wheels are the standout. 

The Rockshox Pike up front, and the latest suspension tweaks, ensure the Tallboy is very efficient across all terrain types, whether ascending, descending or negotiating rougher sections.

The SRAM AXS Transmission drivetrain works seamlessly, with a tiny electronic squeak the only notification of a shift up or down, and it copes well with panicked gear shifts when under load. The only note I would add, for now, is that low bottom bracket means plenty of pedal strikes on rocky terrain, and the brakes seem to take a wee while to slow you down. This could well be, at this early stage, due to them still needing bedding-in, with only a short test period to date. Still, if I owned this bike, I’d probably fit a larger front rotor to the front if possible.

The early word on the Santa Cruz Tallboy

We have more riding ahead, with a few more challenging trails in the diary, but, to date, the Santa Cruz Tallboy CC XX SL AXS RSV has performed with aplomb. If pushed, we’d still lean toward classifying it as, in the main, a trail bike (and a formidable one at that), but its breadth of capability is far wider than just that; fitting beefier rubber for an enduro race, throwing on some frame bags for a bikepacking weekend, or entering a marathon XC event as-is, are well and truly possible with this bike. Yes, this particular model is expensive – although no more so than other boutique MTB brands’ top-tier offerings – but the fact you can score that same frame, geometry and suspension kinematics across the Tallboy range at lower prices means you can still live the dream of riding what we consider – even this early into testing – one of the most versatile – and bloody fun – MTBs on the market. Stay tuned for our final update in July.

RRP: $14,449 See Santa Cruz Australia for more info on the Tallboy and all other Santa Cruz bikes.