Santa Cruz Tallboy (Carbon) 29er Mountain Bike Build

After testing six different full suspension 29ers at Interbike last year, I decided it was finally time to get one for myself. I’ve owned several hardtail mountain bikes since 1992, including a 29er, but this would be my first big move into full suspension mountain biking. Turns out it would also be my first carbon mountain bike.

The Santa Cruz Tallboy was the first bike I demoed at Interbike in September and it was love at first ride. I’m told this is Santa Cruz’s best selling mountain bike which says a lot since the company makes a bunch of great bikes (including the sexy V-10 Syd recently built up). And just in case you’re wondering, Santa Cruz didn’t give us these bikes – we both paid for ’em with our hard-earned money.

Anyway, back to my Tallboy build. I decided to go with the carbon frame and Fox RP23 shock with Kashima coat (you can get the RP2 instead to save a little $$). Santa Cruz included a Fox shock pump and grease gun for the pivots but other than that, what I got was basically a blank canvas.

Initially, the biggest challenge was finding a headset that would work with the frame. Santa Cruz says this on their website: “As all of us frame manufacturers seem to be using slightly different configurations with tapered headtubes, these headsets are custom items.” Of course I read this after the purchased frame was sitting in my office, wondering what I had gotten myself into. The note from Santa Cruz made cryptic references to Cane Creek and Chris King headsets but didn’t give any specifics so I spent the next several daysemailing Santa Cruz support and searching online for the right part.

Eventually Syd set me straight and before I knew it, I had the right Cane Creek upper and lower cups and a sweet Fox 32 Factory series fork with matching Kashima coat. I had the guys at Bicycle South install the headset and fork, then set out to build up the rest of the bike myself.

Ok so first, a bit about me: I am not Syd. I generally don’t enjoy working on bikes or researching parts and just when I *think* I know what I’m doing, I usually screw something up. Still, I figured building up a new bike would be a great opportunity to improve my wrench skills. And if I did make a mistake or get stuck, I could always bring the bike to the shop to have it put together the right way.

I started with the seat and seatpost, mainly so I’d have a way to hold the frame in my work stand. I found an old Easton EA70 30.9mm seatpost that came with mudhunny’s Blur and slapped a Titec Hellbent saddle on (the lightest one I could find in my collection). I was really anxious to get the thing looking like a bike so I grabbed my SunRingle Black Flag 29er wheels, strapped on a SRAM 2×10 cassette, and bolted on the rotors. The wheels were already shod with tubed tires even though the rims are tubeless but swapping those out is another project for another time.

After restoring my Redline to its original 1×9 configuration, I cleaned all my SRAM 2×10 X0 drivetrain stuff with a fine-tooth comb (and a ton of de-greaser). The bottom bracket and crank went on teflon-smooth and I finally figured out what that weird plastic piece on my bottom bracket tool is for (it tightens the retention nut on the crank arm). I attached the derailleurs, and was pretty happy with myself for actually buying the right front derailleur for my frame (it’s a high mount, dual pull, 34.9mm clamp, 2×10, in case you’re wondering).

Next I turned my attention to the cockpit. Not wanting to marginalize my Redline any further, I decided to use the alloy Syncros bars on my shelf instead of stealing the carbon Answer bars from that bike. I picked up a cheap 110mm FSA stem and Sette lock-on grips, then got busy attaching a new set of Avid Elixir 9 hydraulic disc brakes. I had planned on using a spare set of Hayes brakes but after looking at the brakes, they needed more work than I was willing to put into them at the time.

Finally, it was time to hook everything up and give the bike a spin! I wasn’t entirely sure how to route the derailleur and brake cables so I studied the Tallboy pics on the Santa Cruz website, making generous use of the zoom button to see the details. I used a fresh Jagwire cable kit, cut all the housing to size, and routed the cables. I ended up cutting one section of housing too short and fraying the rear derailleur cable but luckily I had spares.

Confession: derailleur and chain adjustments frighten me. This was the part of the build I was dreading and I assumed I would need professional help at this point. I read the SRAM instructions carefully and checked the existing chain length from my Redline. Turns out it was spot on! After routing the chain and linking it together, I attached the derailleur cables, made a few adjustments, then breathed a sigh of relief. It was alive! Final weight: about 27 lbs. which I could easily see dropping close to 25 lbs. with a few part swaps.

Of course I wasn’t completely done – there were still lots of little items like clipping zip ties, adjusting lever angles, and dialing in the shocks. All told I probably put 3-4 hours into the build and ended up doing it all myself (save the fork and headset installation).

I took a short test ride around the block to make sure everything was set, then drove out to the Pinhoti trail for my first real ride. It was a great ride and the only issue I ran into was with my rear derailleur cable slipping loose (easy trail-side fix).

In the end I’m really glad I built this bike up myself from scratch. I definitely learned a lot and gained confidence in my wrench skills, not to mention I got a bike that fits me better than one with stock components might. I can’t wait to put a ton of miles on this bike in 2012 – look for a full review sometime in late spring!