THE AVERAGE GUY’S AVERAGE BIKE
USED 2013 SANTA CRUZ TALLBOY LTc REVIEW
Words by Ryan Salyer
If you’ve been in this world a while you’ll know that keeping a budget can be tough. When you throw different circumstances into life; marriage, kids, broken bones, graduate school, death, loss of a job, and a global pandemic, budgets can wax and wane…and sometimes implode. When a person views something as a necessity in life, a way of personal expression, exercise, mental health or personal management, or a vital form entertainment, people can, and will, do weird things to scratch that itch and sometimes the budget gets even harder to wrangle.
So here we are, balancing the conundrum of trying to be on the most up-to-date rig you can get your paws on, while trying not to break the bank all while keeping the wife/husband/partner/dog/kids happy while you do. Sometimes we go so far as to even uproot ourselves. This is why we live in places like Oregon, California, Colorado, Washington, Utah, New Mexico, Vermont, and North Carolina: to find the best trails and to have the most fun we possibly can.
Let it be known, ‘budget’ is not synonymous for ‘cheap’. A budget bike is a bike you build up, slowly. It is a labor of love. Just like your dad’s 68’ Chevelle, you add and take away over time. You make it your own, you modernize it where needed, and you leave it stock and beautiful when appropriate. The hardest part is finding a work-horse that you love and can also be upgraded, within reason, over time. Unlike your father’s Chevelle though, you don’t mind when your buds touch your bike.
I was coming out of physical therapy graduate school and was trying to immerse myself in my new home of Bend, Oregon’s riding culture and miles of trails just ten minutes from my home. The trails are endless and I wanted to find a bike that could tackle most of it, knowing that my budget most likely wouldn’t allow for ultimate do-it-all Phil’s Trail to Mt. Bachelor trail bike. Cash was tight at the time having just started my career but I knew I wanted to add mountain biking to my life. I hate to even use the word compromise, but a compromise was made in finding a mostly stock 2013 Santa Cruz Tallboy LTc on Craigslist for $1,650.
The Tallboy LTc originally came with a carbon frame, Fox Float 120 front fork, Fox RP23 in the rear, dual-link VPP (Virtual Pivot Point) suspension, a 3×10 drivetrain, Shimano XT components, Shimano SLX disc brakes, 69.4 degree head tube angle, 29 inch wheels, 2.25” tubeless Maxxis Ardent tires, 142x12mm rear dropout, 100x10mm front hub, with some models coming with a dropper post and ENVE wheels. One can realize why these rigs could go for $5,900 in 2013-2014. The previous owner had added a 125mm KS dropper post as well as a 2014 RockShox Revelation 130mm front fork.
Since I was still in the early phase of my career I didn’t quite feel justified dropping a ton of cash on a new bike, but the explosion of modern bike geometry as well as 1x drivetrains made it clear that it was time to throw some upgrades at the Tallboy. Over the last 2-3 seasons I’ve slowly breathed fresh life into this classic, although I’m finally thinking that I may have reached the peak of this bike’s performance capabilities. Or that’s what I want to tell myself at least.
The Tallboy now has a 1×11 Shimano XT drivetrain with a front 32 tooth Wolf Tooth front chainring on an XT crank, 11-42 XT cassette, upgraded XT rotors, a Cane Creek headset, Easton Havoc stubby stem, Pro Taper carbon bars, 120 travel Fox Float fork, original Fox RP23 in the rear, KS 125mm dropper post, Prologo saddle, Lizard Skins grips, and finally, a recently upgraded Maxxis Ardent in the rear and a beefy 2.6 Maxxis Minion up front. The practicality of the classic cross-country trail bike has aged well with the addition of more modern upgrades. While the bike is limited, mostly in the rear, to not accept the wider, ‘boosted’ wheels and hubs, the front fork will be upgraded next season to accommodate a Boost front hub with 130-140mm of travel. I want to be sure I don’t suffer too much by overforking on the climbs.
Since upgrading the drivetrain, the bike climbs with ease, keeping up and even outperforming the Evil Followings, Specialized Stumpjumpers, and various other slack and modern bikes ridden by friends in my regular riding crew. The ability for the bike to eat climbs always brings a smile to my face while being drenched in sweat. With a 1,140 mm wheelbase (large frame), the Tallboy has a nice compact feel that can blitz cross country terrain effortlessly. Rolling speed can be easily controlled through the VPP linkage, with effortless push and pulls through the handlebars, the Tallboy responds quickly and easy to small drops and quick pivots uphill to resemble pump track laps on longer summer days.
In Central Oregon, chunky rock, moon dust, roots, tree fall, and sharp lava rock litter and rule the terrain. The addition of the more robust tires, increased knobs and wider body, the Tallboy navigates these obstacles with confidence and poise. With all of the positives about this bike, like any bike, there are drawbacks. The Tallboy is a bit unnerving when attempting steep downhills and larger jumps as its higher center of gravity gets in the way of top speed confidence while navigating loose soil and loose rock when descending steeps at greater than 15-20 mph.
On rough terrain and drops larger than two to three feet the Tallboy tends to resemble a bucking bronco more than a bicycle when testing fate with higher and steeper jumps, even after incessantly adjusting the front and rear suspension. The rider has to ride the rear wheel more often than not on steep, loose descents, trusting his/her abilities over the machine which, for some, can be unsettling.
Cornering on the Tallboy is mostly effortless. The narrow rims on the bike can lead to tire rolling during sharp and abrupt cornering, but the back end gives way quickly leading to a fun whip-like ride, especially in the more dry days of summer.
The bike has aged far beyond expectation. For what most people consider a steeper HTA and lacking wider hubs, the bike is more than capable of tackling Central Oregon terrain, loose to firm, rocky to flat, steep climbs to moderate descents. I by no means want to persuade one to not patronize their favorite local shop. They are our life-blood and keep us on the trails. With a time such as COVID, shops are more important than ever to help keep us riders sane. But COVID also uncovered the truth that no one is immune to change. No one will know if they have a job tomorrow or if they will have to sacrifice the thing(s) they love to provide for themselves and others.
A budget can be a very good life lesson to learn while being humbling all at the same time. Cost effective bikes are out there and can be given new life while not busting up the budget and always keeping a smile on the rider’s face. A restructured and loved bike can truly be the gift that keeps on giving.
Post COVID, given my budget and available bikes in the area, I will most likely seek a bike that I have matured into as I find myself increasing in confidence with speed, steeps, and a quest for more airtime. The faults of the Tallboy that can’t be changed much, and probably don’t need to be make it a great XC bike, as it was intended to be and certainly could still be for many riders around the globe. For the time being, I’ll still be the guy on the 2013 Santa Cruz listening to Led Zeppelin and trying to make my friends work hard to keep up on their fancy new bikes.
• Fox Float fork
• 1×11 drivetrain
• front wheel
• dropper post
Purchase Price: $1,650 (Used)
Campy nature of an older bike that allows me to outride people on fancy new bikes
Compact geo makes it snappy, fun and nimble
Poor jumping ability (could be my fault as much as the bike)
Gets choppy, unsettled on repeated big hits
Little twitchy at high speeds
Lack of Boost hubs
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