Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC – Review

Plus VS. 29er

Words by Cam McRae. Photos by Dave Smith.
February 3rd, 2017

There is a formula to determine whether you are the sort of rider who likes to be under or over-gunned. And that might swap for you depending on the day. Terrain, age, ego, competitiveness (highly correlated to ego and age), fitness and risk aversion are some of the variables in this equation. The birth of the quiver means this formula is applied to every ride for many riders. The biggest factor of course is… are you racing today? Mike Levy wrote a funny and insightful piece on this subject, arguing for propping up your weaknesses in a racing situation. Lungs like Richie Rude with Sumo Wrestler finesse? Get some real tires and decent suspension, and vice versa.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Much of the day we shot these photos was spent with weight on the front wheel. That’s the Cypress Bowl riding experience.

If we are honest, most of us who ride with buddies are racing on every ride, if only on the way down, enduro style. Otherwise why would we be so obsessed with the minutiae of our builds and the tune of our suspension? If we didn’t like to push the limit and challenge ourselves we likely wouldn’t be mountain bikers. Sometimes that requires bringing a pea shooter to the gun fight and other times you need the Bazooka.

Santa Cruz Tall Boy - Drive side

For most of the test I rode the Tallboy as a 29er (as pictured here) but for the last few weeks she’s been rolling plus.

In a year that was full of surprises, the Tallboy III was a shocker for me. 110mm of travel in the rear? Only 120 up front? Around here that’s petite for an XC bike. The Tallboy is the shortest travel bike in the Santa Cruz lineup. It has a 68 degree headtube in the low (29er) setting, a relatively low-slung 330mm BB height and a generous 624mm top tube. And it weighs a little over 26lbs sans pedals with this spec.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

If this was my bike I’d name her Honey Badger. Not surprisingly, speed and flow made the Honey Badger smile.

As I mentioned in my first impressions of this bike, I wasn’t immediately drawn to the idea of riding a pinner 29er in our neighbourhood. It’s almost impossible to go on a ride on the North Shore without hitting some World Cup DH-worthy downhill. I generally aim to ride a bike that is light enough to climb adequately but burly enough that I survive the most challenging trails we descend. I’m not racing so I ditch Levy’s wise counsel and play to my meagre strengths. That means low, slack and 150 or 160mm up front and 140 or more in the rear on a 27 or at least 130 on a 29er. The TB 3 is lighter and steeper than the bikes I usually ride and it gives away 20+mm of rear travel. Going in I figured there would be a few trails I’d be comfortable on and many I’d be humbled on, particularly with a 120mm fork.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Steep was welcome on the TB3.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 (29er mode)
The numbers don’t tell the story on the trail, however. The Tallboy rides high in its travel while dealing nicely with small amplitude hits. When the time comes to deal with bigger issues the Fox Float Factory (with EVOL air can) responds willingly but with good support. My experience on earlier VPP bikes, like the Blur TRc, was that travel felt shorter than it measured. The Tallboy gives the opposite impression because the rear wheel movement is so responsive and well controlled.

Another issue I perceived with earlier VPP bikes was an indistinct feeling in the middle of the travel, making it feel glued to the ground even when you wanted to leave the earth. The Tallboy 3 has excellent mid-travel support, firming up nicely when high amplitude hits are absent.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Snow up high has forced us to ride trails outside our heavy rotation and it’s been refreshing.

Bendy Bits

Early in my 29er conversion, I was negotiating tight corners like they were strewn with baby heads and broken bottles. It takes more effort to angulate a bike with bigger wheels and I eventually found that getting my weight further forward is essential (more on this when we talk Plus). It took some repetition on some particularly tight trails to get the feel, rolling through slowly and doing it again and again while gradually gaining pace, but it now feels natural to me. Correcting your line to get out of trouble or to cut things tighter is generally tougher on big wheelers but they hold a line beautifully. The TB3 has the tracking benefits of other wagon wheelers I’ve ridden but with added agility. Recomposing on an unfamiliar line to set up for the next action is easy and intuitive. This bike is a weapon through the turns allowing me to get exactly where I want to be. At least that is the case in 29er mode.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Cypress is the North Shore peak with the nastiest trails. It’s rocky and exposed and steep. Honey Badger don’t care. All the action photos were shot with the bike in Plus mode.


I’ve been hearing about the mythical ‘flickable’ 29er for as long as these bikes have been around. And I was skeptical for a long time. Seeing Greg Minnaar bend a 29er to his will did nothing to ease my skepticism. The bikes have changed and I have learned to ride them, but the Tallboy sets a new standard for me – particularly in Plus mode. It willingly changes lines and gets off the ground. The lightweight frame, roomy cockpit, short rear end and generous standover all contribute to the zesty character.  I’ve had this impression of a few other big wheelers lately (speaking of Groundhog Day) but the TB3 sets a new standard for me.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

I gave this line an approach on our slippery filming day but I put my foot down. The ground collapsed and I almost rolled backwards off the rock rider’s right of the tree concealing my rear wheel. Pete came to the rescue just before I slipped off. #myhero

Going Up

I don’t have a wealth of comparison when it comes to recent trail bikes. In terms of travel, the closest bike I have ridden lately is the Trek Shremedy we tested last year. It has 130mm in the rear but 150mm up front and it’s significantly heavier so really my baseline isn’t well established. That said this bike goes up like a demon. The long cockpit and steep seat angle put me in a comfortable attack position. I arrive at the top earlier and in better shape. It handles tight switchbacks easily and devours vertical like you’ve got a hidden motor. I didn’t use the climb switch at preferringering a little compliance but even out of the saddle efforts were rewarded with little sense the rear damper was working against me.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC Review

A short climb on Pull Tab got me out of the saddle.


Seventh Secret* was the first trail I rode on the TB3. One of the oldest mountain bike trails on the North Shore, it winds down from Fromme’s 7th switchback alternating between tight and janky and relatively flowy. There are some sections where putting power down is essential to lowering your Strava time** so it has a little of everything.  On the TB3 on my first run, I felt like I rode the trail faster than I had before. It was so much fun that I kept going back to it and gaining speed. This combo of moderately rough, twisty and with only reasonable incline (for the Shore), let the bike shine. It is stable and precise in a straight line and I have oftened enjoyed moments where the bike started to feel weightless beneath me.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Janky moves went down surprisingly well on the TB3 but it gets to the next level on faster terrain.

The TB3 is a competent descender on steeper more technical singletrack and it surpassed my expectations repeatedly in these situations, but the advantages of the platform become more apparent when speeds increase. This is a fast bike that chews up undulating and modestly rough terrain and carries momentum incredibly well. The 68 degree head angle in 29er mode is slack enough to roll over square edges without slowing you down yet steep enough to be a quick handler.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

By this point the challenging part of this line is done. I’ve looked at this before but I’d never had the nerve to hit it before this. To my right is the drop to flat line for any aspiring Danger Dans.

Competent may not be generous enough considering some of the lines I ended up on with the TB3. On a Cypress ride last week we tipped into S&M from the top, a punishingly steep and tight collection of high exposure switchbacks and everything went fine. I even rode a line lower down (photo above) that I’ve never had the nerve to tackle before. And I rode it twice for Dave Smith’s camera. Much of this confidence comes from the knowledge that the combo of the stiff frame and the high performing Fox 34 will point me exactly where I want to go.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

On my first few rides I had an issue with the Eagle rear derailleur being reluctant to shift to the 50t cog on the trail, despite working perfectly on the stand. Some tinkering with the limit and B-tension screws and securing the internal shifter housing corrected the issue and it’s been flawless ever since.


I crossed an unexpected threshold the other day. For well over a month we were riding on snow. Hard snow, soft snow, wet snow, good snow and shitty snow. During that time I swapped between 29er wheels and those fat mid-sized wheels known to me as 27plus (screw the .5). The unpredictable and foreign conditions, so strange and often wondrous, pushed wheel and tire size below the level of what could distinguished. Noticing tires would have been as unlikely as walking in space and discerning the wicking properties of your boxers.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

Roots and rocks get smaller with Plus wheels. And grip on many surfaces is enhanced, particularly loose conditions, but I find rock slabs and and wood planks more slippery with most of the Plus tires I have used thus far.

I also rode a Kona Wozo fat bike and the Chromag Primer Plus that Pete has been testing to further confuse the issue normalize these preposterously wide and bulbous tires. I rode straight through the transition from snow to slush  and finally to dirt, taking the days of the pineapple express off, on 2.8″ wide tires. Maxxis Rekon to be specific. But by then these were just the tires I was riding. I no longer noticed them as unusual. I just noticed how much fun I was having.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

These big knobbed Terrene Chunk Plus tires were 3.0s and they had generous side knobs – leaving little clearance.

So Plus snuck up on me rather than making a grand entrance as it has in the past. And the bike I was riding with Plus tires, with out-sized traction and control, just felt like a mountain bike. In order to really notice what Plus added to the experience, I needed to swap back. These photos were taken on my second last ride on the bike and two days later I swapped the bike back to 29er*** and rode the same trails again.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Review

The Easton ARC 40 Rims are true Plus width at 40mm internal.

The return of the cold weather changed the conditions some, firming up the ground and exaggerating the difference, so this wasn’t a perfect back to back but the difference wasn’t dramatic. What I noticed immediately was the firmer tires’ reluctance to roll smoothly over bony ground. The Plus tires (run at 16psi front and 20 rear compared to 24 and 28 for 29er) gave an added layer of compliance. This allowed me to ramp the small bump compression on the fork so the two elements weren’t competing. Shortly after I began riding in 29er mode I twisted several clicks out of the fork’s small bump compression and things began to feel better.

Rider: Cam McRae | Location: Cypress | Trail: Upper Tall Can

Tall Cans uses the terrain incredibly well. It meanders through an open mossy forest in a way that discourages DH bikes.

Plus Vs. 29er

In Plus mode I felt more confident getting off the ground and I was more apt to find little hits on the side of the trail and get rowdy in my own modest way. On steeper and more challenging sections of trail I felt a little more confident as well, but this difference was less pronounced. Climbing was clearly better in 29er mode on Minions compared to the beefy Terrene 3.0 rubber. The stock Maxxis Rekon 2.8s were excellent and, unlike the Terrenes, there were no clearance issues.

Santa Cruz Tall Boy 3 CC Review

After I sorted out one early issue the entire spec was flawless. The fork was brilliant, the SRAM Level Ultimate Brakes were flawless and there was nothing I wanted to change. And after this test I am officially addicted to SRAM’s Eagle drivetrain with its 500% range. And Santa Cruz’s choice to run the rear brake line externally is excellent.

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time wearing winter riding gloves but the day prior to our photo shoot was warm enough for regular riding gloves once we got lower on the mountain. In Plus mode the winter gloves felt fine but on the cooler day once I swapped back to 29, having more material between my hands and the grips was challenging because I was feeling more impacts from the ground. I actually had to grip harder with the conventional rubber and my control was compromised.

Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC Review

The Terrene Chunk 27.5 x 3.0 on the left (both photos) compared to the Maxxis Minion DHF 29 x 2.3 (right). Photos – Cam McRae

Cornering was different in the two modes as well. As I mentioned earlier, I need to get my weight up front to corner a 29er effectively, but in Plus mode I felt like I could ride the rear wheel more, in my mind looking exactly like Josh Bryceland goofing around with the 50:01 crew. I’m not sure if one is faster than the other but Plus mode feels more rad.

Rider: Cam McRae | Location: Cypress | Trail: Upper Tall Can

Rider: Cam McRae | Location: Cypress | Trail: Upper Tall Can

My preference would be to have two sets of wheels for this bike so I could swap back and forth. I think in most situations the bike is slightly faster downhill with 29″ wheels, but on more challenging terrain I felt more confident on Plus. If forced to choose I guess the edge goes to 29 because it climbs so well, but the fun factor of Plus tires is a huge draw. If I was buying a TB3 new I’d buy it as Plus to get the 130mm fork and pick up a set of 29″ wheels.****Santa Cruz Tallboy

Am I gushing? I absolutely loved this bike, which makes my job much harder. Complaining about issues is much more straightforward, but the Tallboy 3 had me smiling in both configurations. For the riding I do close to home, this bike wouldn’t be my choice as my only bike, but it would be a brilliant second bike and one that I would take with me travelling most places. This is a versatile, fast and capable trail bike with world class climbing attributes and a thinly veiled mean streak. It may look unassuming, and your riding buddies will think you’ve brought a knife to the gunfight, but you’ll know better. Throw anything you want at it because it don’t give a shit – just like the Honey Badger

The Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 CC XX1 Build costs $10,599 here in Canada (US$7799 £5399 ) Tallboy C models start at $4849CDN (US$4599 £3499) and aluminum models begin at $3549CDN (US$ 2599 £2699 ).
*Thanks to the work of Peter Morin the trail is running better than it has in years and probably faster than ever.
**I don’t do Strava.
***When I swapped from 29er to Plus I swapped in a 130mm fork as Santa Cruz recommends and turned the flip chip to the slack setting but when I swapped back I left the 130mm fork installed.
****The frugal Scotsman in me likes the idea of having a swappable hardtail (like the Chromag Primer) and a swappable duallie, moving the wheels from on to the other getting four modes with two sets of wheels without having to swap rotors or cogset.

Bazooka or pea shooter?

  • gg

    Cam any thoughts on how the aluminum version (R2X) might compare on trail?
    It’s obviously heavier, lower spec’d build etc and a performance Fox suspension too.
    But would you hazard a guess ?
    Also do you think this would be a decent trail bike for Moab/Sedona ?

    • Cam McRae

      I bet it will ride very much like the CC gg. The kinematics will be the same so the big difference will be the suspension components. The Fox Float Performance on the rear is something you can bank on but I have no experience with the Fox Rhythm fork. Considering it’s also spec’ed on the $4999 CDN R2x C I bet Santa Cruz has a lot of confidence in the product. Putting a poor fork on a 5K bike isn’t a long term strategy and in my experience Santa Cruz cares more about the brand than about a quarterly bottom line. And I wouldn’t say that about every bike company.

  • WNCmotard

    I read Levy’s piece, and unknowingly sort of did that when I bought a new trail bike last year. Everything in me said to get a longer travel bike, but I climb like a loaded tractor trailer, and the longer travel bikes felt like they handled that way going up from my perspective. I ended up with a ’16 Fuel EX 9 (very similar to the TB, 130/120 travel) and could not be happier. I’m still slow going up, but it doesn’t feel as bad, and handles tight east coast switchbacks and tech with ease. I added a large volume spacer to the rear shock for my weight, and never feel uncomfortable descending (I’m much better at that) either. It’s a great do it all bike for where I live.

  • DrewM

    Folks can think what they want about any perceived NSMBias on my part… but, I have to say that Dave Smith absolutely owned it with the riding shots for this piece. Beautiful work.

    • Bryce Borlick

      good riding and trailbuilding too

  • brumos

    My daily driver is a TB 2 with a 120mm Pike and it pretty much rips on all but the nastiest trails. I demo’d a 29er version of the TB 3 last fall and was blown away at it’s descending capabilities compared to the TB 2. I must admit however, it’s climbing prowess wasn’t quite on par compared to the TB2, especially on slow, tight switchbacks – the ‘longer, slacker’ geometry works against it in these situations.

    I often fantasize about having a bigger travel bike and after demo-ing the new Slayer and Patrol, I keep coming back to the TB 3 for my next bike purchase. It just does everything exceptionally well.

    Solid review Cam.

    • Bryce Borlick

      you could try an angleset in that tb2 and a longer travel kit for the pike.

  • james

    interesting and definitely thorough! curious that you enjoyed it on the downs so much, normally 68HA and 34 forks are the subject of derision on NSMB for shore riding, understandably. why would you have run such high pressures with the 29 tires? the 2.3 DHF is a light and small tire for that neck o the woods, i’m confident the 2.5 DHF could be safely run closer to 20 and a thick casing tire such as the Aggressor DD or Spesh grid Butcher or Hillbilly (my current front tire, very thick and damp casing) the low 20’s for a much better ride and grip. Clearly this bike did something very right for you and must have been a perfect fit. Love it when that happens.

    • I also loved the Rocky Mountain Thunderbolt with a 34 up front, James, though the HA was more like 66 or 66.5. It has a little more rear wheel travel but is also a 27″ wheel. Similar bikes, both loved here on the shore.

      As bikes have gotten better, the idea of a perfect shore bike has gained a broader definition, based on a lot of different factors.

      • james

        indeed, and subset of trails chosen to ride must play a role. one can think of the shore like it’s all the 5th Horseman, which of course, it isn’t. shameless plug for my Tranny Smuggler, which i experience in the way Cam experienced this steed.

    • Cam McRae

      I hate flats. I sometimes run larger volume tires a little softer than that but with the 2.3s I wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to flat. Those are the stock tires and they were fine. I didn’t expect to like a 68 degree HA bike so much, or a 120 fork, but I think 29″ wheels make a big difference.

      • Bryce Borlick

        Try a 140-150

      • Cam McRae

        Loved it at 120 Bryce. But I have ridden many 29ers with bigger forks as well.

  • Jaume Nòmadesbtt

    What about pedal kickback, was it annoying?

    • Cam McRae

      Nada. No issue at all.

      • Jaume Nòmadesbtt

        One more question Cam, you said you were riding it with the Sram Eagle, were you using the 30t or 32t chainring?

  • jon bond

    How’d you like the 29er with the 130 fork? I’ve been running mine at 120 but have the parts to swap. While I’m eventually getting a set of + wheels, I’m thinking 130 fork 29er with the flip chip high might be a good sweet spot and get me a bit more BB clearance for new england rock gardens.

    • Cam McRae

      I only rode it that way once and I don’t think I got the fork as dialled as I could have, but everything worked fine. I wasn’t blown away but the tires were a much bigger change and I had already been riding the 130 fork with the Plus tires. At the same time but I never minded the 120 fork. Now that I’m back riding a bigger bike I’m really missing that visceral trail feel.

  • DJ

    oh, and by the by, who and WTF is Terrene tires??

  • Lacy Kemp

    I rode the Juliana Joplin at the Bible Tests this year and I couldn’t agree with you more. I was totally blown away by the capabilities of this bike. Never did I think I’d want a 29er – let alone a bike with such little travel (I cut my teeth in the bike park and I’m a gravity hound), but this thing absolutely made me giddy. I’d love to ride it on that lap up there.

    • Raymond Epstein

      I have despised 29er’s for years. I have ridden every iteration and price point you can imagine and none of them rode the way I wanted to. Aboard all of them I felt like I was up on a bar stool after being over-served and not in a good way. This finally changed in ’12 after riding a Honzo. Kona and a few others at the time finally decided to let the big wheels do what the do well and make a bike that was more about fun than KOM’s. Since then, I’ve pedaled a few others that I liked (Banshee Prime, Ibis Ripley LS, Santa Cruz Hightower) and just this past weekend I took a Tallboy 3 out for a spin. It was an exceedingly fast bike. It and the Hightower were a couple of 29er’s I could imagine myself on. Both of them railed and my only small complaint (other than their paint jobs) was that they felt more unwieldy in flight than the smaller wheeled bike I ride. I imagine this is something I could get used to. This says a lot as I had basically written off SC bikes due to their pedal feedback issues. This was revelatory experience in addition, as neither bike exhibited this.

      • Cam McRae

        My 9er experience has been similar. In the last 18 months or so a brand new world has opened up for me and I’m loving it.

      • Jaume Nòmadesbtt

        That’s what scares me from SC too, pedal kickback. I read almost all the reviews that I’ve found of the TB3, and some of them complain about that, while others don’t even feel it. Not sure whether they didn’t ride it uphill on roughy terrain or it wasn’t as much to complain about. Besides that, geometry looks amazing, very dialed!

      • Raymond Epstein

        Neither the TB nor the Hightower had any noticeable pedal feedback issues when I demo’ed them. The Nomad 3 I demoed in 2015 however did. I compared that one back to back with my Rune and thought it did not ascend as well despite it’s lower weight.