Review: Unparallel Dust Up

Five Ten have owned the mountain bike shoe market for years, especially when it comes to flat pedal shoes. Unparallel is a new player to the market, with the aim to take a slice of the pie from Five Ten - and if anyone’s going to do it, they stand the best shot, with their founder being in charge of Five Ten’s production before Adidas took over the company.


When Teva exited the mountain bike game, Unparallel bought the design and tooling for Teva’s sole, so if you feel like you’ve seen these shoes before, that’s probably why. The key difference here is the rubber. Unparallel have used their own rubber compounds. In the middle of the shoe, a 3.5mm 40-50 durometer rubber has been used, and is actually softer than Stealth rubber. The remainder of the sole is a 4mm 75-80 durometer rubber for more durability. The upper is synthetic, with laces and a Velcro pull-tab. Realistically, the Velcro just keeps the laces tidy, rather than helping cinch the shoe down.


We’ll start with what you care about most: grip. These shoes at least match Five Ten in terms of grip. Controversial statement, but it’s true. There’s not been a single time - wet or dry - that I’ve felt short-sold on grip. I say at least match because they grip differently, too. The UPs aren’t as stiff as Five Tens, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some other shoes I’ve tried feel almost too stiff, in the sense it feels like you’re standing on a board on top of the pedals. With the UPs, you feel more ‘in the bike’ - but that’s not to say it’s for everyone. The sole of the UPs conform to the pedals and offers quite a bit more pedal feedback. The extra suppleness could be interpreted as ‘squirmy’ by some, but the reason I’m loving flats at the moment is for the pedal feedback, versus having the safety buffer of being able to drop a foot; and the UPs satisfy that.


The upper and overall fit, of the shoe is comfy, straight out of the box. I have freakishly high arches and semi-wide feet, so I typically run a size up for most of my riding shoes, however, in the case of the UPs I forgot to clarify whether the sizing was US or UK and ended up ordering a size up in US, which converts to being my true-shoe size in UK (i.e. a size smaller than what I’d usually get). I was pretty surprised at how well they fit and how comfy they were when I tried them on, and even more surprised when I didn’t get any new-shoe-pain on my first ride in them. What I will say, though, is that they’re roomy. Not in length, but in width and height. In my case they fit perfectly, but if you have narrow feet (which most Kiwis don’t - being Hobbits and that) you might find them a touch roomy. They do offer protection, but not quite as much as Five Tens, however, that’s not a bad thing, helping keep weight and overall bulk down.


The UPs have been incredibly impressive, and they’ve replaced my Five Tens as my go-to riding shoes. Their slightly smaller profile and pedal feel have won me over, as well as their straight-up comfort. However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’ve replaced them outright; if I was riding shuttles all day, or somewhere loose and rocky, I’d probably reach for the Five Tens simply for the little bit of added protection. What I will say though, is that these shoes are comparable with Five Tens and equally as grippy.


Words: Cam Baker

Image: Cameron Mackenzie

Review: Bell Super Air R MIPS Helmet

Bell helmets have been my go-to since the first Super was released back in 2013. After the OG Super, I bought a Super 2R, then went back to using the original Super because it fit a little better. I then bought the 3 because it didn’t crush my temples like the 2 did - and now, I’ve added the new Super Air R to my line up.


“I haven’t crashed in the helmet, so I haven’t been able to really test it!” - is a line thrown around in almost every helmet review. Classic! The same is true here; I haven’t crashed in the Super Air but let’s be honest - most people are way more interested in how well the helmet vents and how compatible it is with goggles, because #enduro.

The helmet does a pretty good job of staying cool, with 26 vents (18 in the helmet, 8 in the chin-bar). I was a little sceptical at first, given the solid patch of helmet without vents on the back of your head, but Bell’s done a good job of directing the air around your head. I had the new Specialized Levo SL under review for part of the time I was reviewing this helmet so I thought, what better time to cut some full-face laps? And even with the chin-bar, the helmet doesn’t get too hot climbing (granted, it was assisted climbing). You do definitely heat up more though with the chin pads, so if I was embarking on a longer climb I’d probably opt to remove the chin-bar.


Goggles and glasses fit well in both open and full-face modes, and while it was a little bit of a squeeze to get my 100% Armegas to fit under the visor, they’d stay put for the most part. and besides, I’m more of a goggle-round-the-neck kinda guy anyway. The fit was great and easy to adjust with Bell’s Float Fit system. But helmet fit is subjective and everyone’s head is different, so if you wanna be safe - try before you buy!


So, what are my overall thoughts on the Super Air R? For most of my riding up here in Auckland, where there’s not a ton that’s super rough or steep, it’s perfect. In open-face it’s comfy, breathable and for the most part I completely forgot about it. If I wanted to go ride laps at 440 or a local shuttle day, the chin-bar is perfect and adds extra protection, while giving me the option to take it off and ride open-face if it gets super-hot or if I want to do some pedalling later on. If I spent more time racing Enduro, or lived somewhere with a lift, I’d lean towards the Super DH or a dedicated full-face.

Words & Images: Cam Baker

Review: 100% Cognito Gloves

Before I begin this review, I need to make it known that I hate riding in gloves. I don’t know what it is about them, I’ve just never meshed with them. Call me crazy, but I’d rather ride without them - and risk cheese-grating my hands should I crash - than ride with them and spend the entire ride questioning why I put myself through wearing gloves. I really only ride in gloves if it’s next-level rainy, icy cold or super-hot and dusty and, because I pretend they don’t offer any protection benefits, I usually find myself reaching for the most minimal pair of gloves I can find. Enter the 100% Cognito glove.


The Cognito glove is, for all intents and purposes, a minimalist glove. Featuring a thin, perforated palm, the glove rides pretty cool. The gloves are made up of a durable material that’s stretchy enough to keep movement free, with additional material between your thumb and index finger, right where your handlebars sit, to offer a little more comfort on long rides. The thing that makes these gloves different to every other pair I own, is that they offer protection against more than just abrasion. The Cognito’s feature D30 knuckles. You might have heard of D30 kneepads? If you’re not sure what D30 is, it’s a soft foam that firms up under impact, meaning you can absorb higher impacts with less material, versus traditional foams. I’m not a fan of the rubber some gloves place over the fingers to offer protection, so this was a welcome addition.

When 100% reached out and asked if I wanted to test a pair of Cognitos, I jumped at it and asked for a pair in L. It wasn’t until I got the dispatch notice that I realised they suggested going a size up a size from what you usually ride in. The gloves arrived and sure enough, the cuff was super tight when going over my palm. What surprised me, though, was that once I got the gloves on, the cuff sat as it should around my wrist and the rest of the glove fit well too. A few months in, the cuff is still super tight around my palm but once the glove is on, it’s super comfy. And the D30 is great: you don’t notice it at all when riding, but it’s nice to know there’s something there for you if you do come off. I haven’t, yet, so can’t attest to its ability to protect.

Durability wise, the gloves have been great. They’ve stood up to wet rides where I’ve spent the whole time death-gripping the bars, a little bit of patchwork at the local trails and a spin through the washing machine. I was expecting the silicone grip on the palms and fingers to come off pretty fast, but they’ve also lasted! Speaking of fingers - the gloves feature special material on the fingertips and thumbs so you can use your devices whilst wearing them…. but that’s one of the last things I care about.

No matter how nice a pair of gloves, I’ll never wear gloves on every ride. However, if I went riding somewhere and had to ride with them (say Wairoa Gorge for example) the Cognitos would be the gloves I reach for. They’re just as comfy as all of the minimalist gloves I currently own, while offering more protection than every other pair I own and that’s about as good as it gets…. from someone doing his best to channel his inner Blenki.

Words & Image: Cam Baker

Review: Specialized Turbo Levo SL

I bounce between bikes a fair bit. My stable is a bit of a revolving door, with a constant flow of review bikes passing through. Getting to try new bikes? It’s great, don’t get me wrong - but it doesn’t take long to realise that marketing shit-talk like ‘game-changing’ and ‘ground-breaking’ get thrown around a lot, and that more often than not, these terms are exactly that: marketing shit-talk.

Every so often, though, we get a bike that genuinely piques my interest with marketing shit-talk. One that I could see myself buying into. Specialized’s new Turbo Levo SL was one such bike. The Press Kit showed up in my inbox making statements like “this changes everything” and “so light you’ll forget it’s electric” and, after a quick read to learn a bit more about it, I was electrified (I’ll see myself out) - especially when Specialized said I could take one for a week. I’ll say it now: a week is definitely not enough time to put together a comprehensive review on this bike, but that’s okay, because the experience this Levo SL offers is completely different to anything else on the market, that I’ve ridden. And a week is plenty of time to fall in love with that experience.


I’ve always been pro eMTB, and whilst I don’t think they’ll ever replace pedal bikes, they’ve definitely established a place in the market. Climbs become fun, they’re capable descending and you can fit in double the laps. They’ve always been substantially heavier than acoustic bikes, though, and that becomes abundantly clear once the trails start to open up. The added weight definitely helps keep things stable and gets your centre of gravity a little lower, but for the most part you can assume the word ‘playful’ won’t be used to describe an eBike - if you’re comparing it directly against a pedal bike. This is where the Levo SL is a little different.

Specialized already have two eMTBs in their line-up: the 150mm travelled Turbo Levo and the 180mm travelled Turbo Kenevo. Both multiply your power by about four times, giving you the ability to blast up hills faster than you ever dreamed of without a motor, but to get all that power there’s also a lot more weight. The S-Works Turbo Levo comes in at around 21kgs and the Turbo Kenevo comes in at around 24kgs. The Turbo Levo SL falls into a whole new category of eBike; prioritising weight over power output. The Turbo Levo SL Comp I got to ride comes in at just under 20kgs with pedals, a bottle cage and the SWAT Steerer tool, but instead of quadrupling your power like its big brothers, the Levo SL only doubles your power.

One of the biggest advantages that Specialized have when it comes to eBikes, is that they don’t rely on third-party manufacturers for the drive systems. Instead, Specialized manufacture their motors in Switzerland, giving them the ability to design their drive systems specifically around their bikes, versus manufacturing their bikes around a drive system by someone else. At the heart of the Levo SL, you’ll find Specialized’s new SL1.1 motor. Launched on Specialized’s Turbo Creo SL eRoad bike, the SL1.1 motor weighs 1.1kg less than the 2.1 motor that features on the Turbo Levo and the Kenevo and, unlike the 2.1 motor - which was designed to maximise power output - the 1.1 was designed to maximise weight savings. The Levo SL also features a 320Wh battery, versus the 500Wh or 700Wh batteries you’ll find in the Levo and Kenevo, to save a little more weight.


I picked up the Levo SL from Specialized’s Auckland office. After a quick walk-around the bike, they sent me on my way with the bike, as well as a 160Wh Range Extender. The first thing I was stoked on was being able to put the bike straight onto my roof rack. Usually, with eBikes, I have to lay the seats down in the back of my wagon and carry the bike that way. When you take the usual 22kg-plus weights into account, the swing towards 29” wheels and the whole longer and lower geometry thing into account, getting an eBike into the back of the car is never easy! This time around, it was onto the roof and straight out to my usual spot to cut a few laps and dial in the bike. I set the bike up with 25% sag front and rear, and headed for the up-track.

Right off the bat, you notice the Levo SL’s power isn’t overwhelming and in your face like its bigger siblings, but it’s for sure noticeable. It’s not point-and-shoot climbing like a more powerful eBike - where you can crank the power all the way up and ride over almost anything at 25km/h - but it’s enough power that you can still tackle the tougher lines you’d potentially shy away from without the assistance, and more than enough to get you motoring along on shallower gradients. Something I learnt pretty quickly (and that was pointed out by the staff at Specialized) is that because the SL1.1 motor only puts out 35Nm of torque, versus the SL2.1’s 90Nm, you really need to make sure to keep your cadence up to stay in the power range. The range is super wide, with optimal power delivery between 50 – 90rpm, but that does mean you can’t just pick a mid-range gear, turn the power up and point the bike up the side of a mountain knowing it will carry you up. I tackled the climb as I would on a pedal bike, taking the same lines and shifting gears at the same points - albeit a couple of gears further down the cassette than usual - and didn’t have any trouble keeping the power on. Compared to a more traditional drive system, I’d say the Levo SL’s maximum power rating is comparable to most brands’ Eco modes. With that said, the lighter Levo SL is much easier to climb on max power, than climbing on Eco on a heavier eBike.


As far as power delivery goes, I think Specialized’s SL motor series offers the best power delivery of any eBike Drive System I’ve ridden, currently on the market. The power comes on and off super smoothly, with none of the sudden ‘joltiness’ (technical term) I’ve experienced with some of the other systems. Something I loved about the SL1.1 was that when the motor is off, or you’re travelling faster than the maximum assisted speed, it adds hardly any noticeable drag to your pedal stroke. This makes that one-last-lap climb, where your battery dies midway, just a little bit nicer - although you do notice the extra 5-odd kilos the Levo SL Comp has on your average 150mm trail bike. While we’re talking batteries, the 320Wh battery offered up plenty of life for rides up to two hours long. In two hours, I managed just under 1,100m of vertical gain over 30kms and used up 88% of the battery without riding super battery-conscious. Something to bear in mind, though, is that you can’t expect to ride the Levo SL like an eBike. To make the most of it, you’ll still need to get your heartrate up and put in some work. Rather than thinking of the Levo as an eMTB, you’re probably better off thinking of it as an assisted mountain bike, with the motor giving you a firm push up the hill versus giving you the ability to rail uphill berms. On the highest power setting, the bike will winch you up the hill to an extent, but you’ll chew through battery a ton faster. If you want more battery life out of the bike, Specialized make a 160Wh Range Extender that fits inside your bottle cage and tidily connects up to the charge port – a really nice tidy option to milk some extra kilometres out of your ride.

Before we get into my feedback on how the bike rides, we may as well touch on the Mission Control app Specialized have created. The Mission Control app grants you full control of your Levo SL, allowing you to customise motor modes and bike settings, record rides, diagnose problems, check the health status of the drive system and, amongst other things, utilise Smart Control. Smart Control automatically adjusts motor power based off your remaining ride distance, to make sure you don’t run out of battery. All you need to do is enter a few parameters (ride distance, how much battery you have left etc) and the Mission Control app will figure out the rest using an algorithm that’s based on data gathered over thousands of rides. It’s worth noting that the bike rides completely fine without hooking it up to the Mission Control app, something I can confirm as I forgot to pair it up more times than I remembered.

Now onto the build. As mentioned earlier, I tested the Levo SL Comp, which comes spec’d with SRAM Guide R brakes, a SRAM NX drivetrain, a 150mm Fox 34 with the GRIP damper, a Fox Float DPS Performance rear shock, a Xfusion 150mm dropper and Roval Traverse 29 wheels - all bolted to an aluminium frame. Considering the bike has an RRP of $10,500, this spec isn’t even close to what you’d hope to get from a pedal bike, for that money. For reference, $20 more will get you an S-Works Stumpy with AXS, and $1,500 or so more will get you an S-Works Turbo Levo. The price for the Levo SL sounds high, and I’d agree that it is but if someone was to give me $12,000 to buy either the Levo SL or the standard Levo, I’d still have a hard time deciding - and here’s why…


The Levo SL rides really well and leans much closer to the handling characteristics of a standard mountain bike, than an eBike. I had high hopes for this bike and it’s safe to say Specialized delivered. As mentioned, I started with 25% sag front and rear. On climbs the bike feels great, but I did find the front wheel a little light, which was amplified when I dropped a little pressure out of the rear shock. That’s not to say it was an issue, though, because once you’re aware of the light front wheel, it’s easy to manage without having to take any extreme measures. I never struggled to keep it down when it got steep, and it wasn’t ever difficult to get the front wheel to hook in on turns. I’d call it a handling characteristic rather than a problem. For the other 95% of climbs though, the bike did exactly what it should do: climb. The extra power helps tow you up the hills and because the bike is light and you’re not always charging up hills at the same speeds some descend at (as per other eBikes) the experience is way closer to that of a standard mountain bike, leaving you with a feeling of satisfaction at the top because you still feel like you’ve done something. The bike is light enough to be pretty manoeuvrable in tight ‘n techies, but you won’t be hopping your back wheel around with ease. Technical climbs are where the SL1.1 motor really shines. The smooth power delivery makes it a ton easier to work the bike around tight corners and over rocks and roots, somewhere I’ve struggled on other eBikes due to the initial surge of power.

It really becomes clear how good this bike is on the descents. Even with the Fox 34, something I personally would spec on a 150mm bike, the bike eats up trails. The bike hits a nice sweet spot between benefiting from the stability a few extra kilos gives you, and shaving off enough kilos to make the bike feel light and playful downhill. Thanks to our long, hot summer all of my local riding spots are bone-dry and dusty. The playful nature of the Levo SL meant my back wheel was skipping around a fair bit at 25% sag, but by dropping to 30% the back end was a little more planted and composed, especially on the way into corners.


It’s easy to feel like a bit of a passenger on eBikes once the trail points downhill, but that’s not the case with the Levo SL. Once again, the Levo SL feels much closer to an acoustic bike than it does an eBike, and it’s super easy to hold it wide-open and pin it. Regardless of how much speed you build up, the bike is eager to skip around the trail and go wherever you point the front wheel. On steeper riding, it’s much the same – the bike just wants to go fast and bounce around the trail. When I say bounce around the trail, I mean it in the best possible way: the bike encourages playful riding and I’d imagine that as you go up in spec, and therefore down in weight, this encouragement only grows.

I think the 29” wheels really help out here. I’ve found eBikes with 27.5” wheels tend to struggle a bit with sitting on top of roots and rougher sections of trail, due to the extra weight of eBikes. The 29” wheels deal with the added weight a bit better and skip across trail features a little nicer. You do find the limitations of the 34, especially if you’re out slapping berms and riding steep trails. The best way to think about the forks is probably the following: if I were to own a Levo SL I’d eventually upgrade to 36s or similar, but I wouldn’t be in a huge rush to do so. The same could be said for the rear shock - it does heat up and start to feel a little more ‘basic’ on longer descents and for some will definitely be under-shocked, but suspension is pretty difficult to spec when you consider riders’ ability, their local trails and other factors.

Overall, my thoughts? I love the Levo SL.


It’s the first eBike I’ve ridden that I’d happily own as my only bike. I’ve been describing it as the ‘mountain biker’s eBike’. That’s not to discredit other eBikes on the market, they’re great for plenty out there, whether it be due to lack of fitness, injury or just the desire to pin it up and down hills. I think where the Levo SL really shines, is by taking all of the feelings we associate with mountain biking – from slogging up climbs, to skipping and bouncing down hills to bunny hopping logs - and putting together a package that emulates those feelings whilst still offering enough of an e-vantage (I’m coining that term) to get in more riding and go further.

Words: Cam Baker

Images: Cam Baker & Cameron Mackenzie

Review: Shimano XT M8100 Groupset

Getting this groupset reviewed started out as a bit of nightmare. Originally the XT Groupset was going to go onto a Santa Cruz Bronson and out with one of our experienced reviewers, being put through it's paces on a content trip to Wairoa Gorge before staying on his bike for a long-term test. When our reviewer pulled out at the last minute, Helen (who has never written for us) was the ideal candidate for the trip, for two reasons: One, I knew for a fact that her Juliana would take all the parts with no worries; and two, since she works for the magazine full-time, she couldn’t tell me that she wouldn’t be able to get time off (that said, who’d turn down a riding trip to Nelson?!). The problem here, though, (and looping back to what I said earlier) was that she’d never written for us - or anyone, for that matter. Our solution: Helen would ride the groupset in the Gorge and afterwards, we’d find a bike I could run it on. What follows is an amalgamation of Helen’s thoughts from Wairoa and my thoughts from testing the groupset since.


Shimano XT is best known as a sleek, no-nonsense, no-compromise groupset. It would have been great to come out and confirm what we’d all already assumed but, unfortunately, the groupset was almost impossible to get a hold of, after production setbacks and a fire at one of Shimano’s production facilities. Right at the end of May this year, Shimano released the XT 12-speed and, as you’ll know by now, we managed to get our hands on a groupset. What was even better was that this time around, Shimano also had the groupset available for you to spend your hard-earned dollars on, upon release.


The biggest change to the Shimano XT M8100 groupset is the jump to 12-speed. Two cassettes are available, a 10-45T and a 10-51T, which was something I was pretty stoked to see. I don’t usually use the dinnerplate-sized gear on my cassette at my local trails, but there are times when I can’t quite find the gear I want - one’s too hard and the next one down is too easy - so it’s rad to see Shimano has taken riders’ needs into account and offered a couple of cassette options. There are also two derailleur options – a long cage option to accommodate both cassettes, and a not-so-long cage option that offers more ground clearance, but will only take the 45T cassette. Worth noting is that the not-so-long cage is also 2x friendly if you feel the need to re-live a time pre-dropper post and run a front derailleur. Said front derailleur is available to suit D, E and M-type mounts but I’m not even going to pretend I know what either of those are. Brakes are available in 2 or 4-piston and are more rigid than previous XT models, offering a shorter free stroke.


Right, that’s the tech stuff out of the way. So, how does it ride?


Full disclosure: I run red, not blue, on my personal bike but, in the best way possible, the new XT is just so typically Shimano. Something I’ve come to appreciate with Shimano is that they always deliver a no nonsense, reliable product - and M8100 is no different. The shifting is fast, crisp and accurate and that doesn’t change whether you’re in the saddle spinning up the road for a loaf of bread, or out of the saddle dropping crank-warping watt bombs on the way to your favourite descent. The brakes are also exactly what you’d expect, a firm bite-point with plenty of power on tap to slow you down. Our 4-piston models also felt great at the lever, with a little more modulation than previous XT brakes and that feeling of security, knowing there’s always a little bit of power left in the tank, should you need it.


Anyone familiar with Nelson and/or Wairoa Gorge will know how rocky and steep the terrain down there is, and I’m stoked to report that the groupset was trouble-free the entire time. We rode everything from steep and gnarly Grade 5s that you have to creep down, to wide-open Grade 3s where you’re either not braking at all, or you’re braking with full power. Consistency is important when it comes to riding gravity and even after two days of shuttles, the brakes still performed exactly as they should, with Helen not noticing any brake fade. Obviously, a shuttle-access gravity park isn’t the best place to test shifting performance, but it’s a great test for chain retention and even without a chain guide, we couldn’t once get the chain to drop. All in all, typically Shimano.

Words: Cam Baker

Images: Cameron Mackenzie

Review: Santa Cruz Tallboy

There’s a bit of a trend in trail bikes. They start life as something short travel, aimed at cross country whippets, then grow up alongside the market. There are numerous bikes that have undergone this evolution, but the latest to join the fray is the Santa Cruz Tallboy. The original Tallboy went into production back in 2009, at which point it had 100mm of travel and geometry steeper than a cliff face. The 2020 Tallboy, the fourth of its name, is a very different beast.


A bump up to 120mm of travel, paired with a 130mm fork, pushes the bike solidly away from the XC crowd and into the all-round trail bike category - a group that has seen a massive resurgence of late. That’s not the only trick up the Tallboy’s sleeve, however. The geometry is rather radical; the most obvious part of this being the 65.5 degree head angle which is exactly the same as it’s enduro-ready big brother, the Hightower, a bike with 20mm more travel at the front and rear. The reach, stack and default chainstay length are almost identical too, although the Hightower gets a slightly longer wheelbase and taller ground clearance by virtue of having a longer fork. They’re remarkably similar on paper, albeit one being aimed at the trail crowd and the other at the Enduro crew. Santa Cruz have set out to make the new Tallboy as capable as a mid-sized bike can be. In their own words, it’s built “for going hecka fast, everywhere”.


Gone is the familiar layout that Santa Cruz aficionados have come to know so well, with the new lower link VPP system keeping the weight close to the bottom bracket for better balance and handling. This system is being rolled out on all new-season bikes, including the Megatower, Hightower, Bronson and Nomad. Only the 5010 and Blur retain the old system. As effective as this system is, I must mention that it’s a pain in the a-hole to set sag on, with the shock shaft disappearing off inside the seat tube. This is one of the few times where I would love an on-the-frame sag meter to be incorporated in the bike’s graphics package. Speaking of which, I’m not sure if the colour choice really cuts the mustard for me, but there’s a more conservative black and dark purple option available in any case. 


There’s variable geometry built into the Tallboy in the form of adjustable chainstays. A pretty nifty trick: they allow you to alternate between 430mm and 440mm of stay length, to make the bike a little more stable or wheelie-friendly, depending on your preference and choice of terrain. For my test I left it largely in the 440mm setting. 


My test build was on the money, with a SRAM XO1 Eagle group-set, the new G2 brakes and a swanky feeling under-bar lever for the Reverb dropper. Santa Cruz’s Reserve Carbon wheels were also a highlight, with plenty of width and stiffness to play with. I have no doubt they will live up to their strength claims. It’s not an especially lightweight bike for the money, I’d pick something different if I were looking for something to serve double-duty as an amateur marathon racer’s bike.


The influence of the Tallboy’s longer-travelled sibling is evident from the get-go. It’s a well-balanced bike that’s a breeze to wheelie, even in the longer setting. I found it easy to lift the bars and get the rear wheel pumping through terrain, on demand. The low weight and bottom bracket certainly do it favours in the corners, as long as you remember to get your lean on. It’s so capable, in fact, that I often found myself double checking that I hadn’t been given a Hightower to test instead. I was expecting a trail bike, but what I got instead was a mini enduro bike with 130mm of travel. Santa Cruz have hyped this thing up to be a warp speed wagon wheeler and in that respect, it delivers.


As we know all too well, what goes down must go up, and the Santa Cruz is a traction-rich pedaller. I doubt you’ll have issues with spinning out on all but the wettest roots. It’s efficient, but I never felt compelled to leap out of the saddle and charge the hills on this bike. Some 130mm 29’rs encourage that (my own bike is one such example) whereas others are a little more planted. The Tallboy fits firmly in the latter category. To its credit, I never had issues with the front end wandering despite a slack head angle, short stem and wide bars as standard.  


I found that to get the most out of this bike I had to send it on some really steep stuff, but in doing so I couldn’t help wondering that with the main difference being 20mm of travel, would I be better off just riding a Hightower? 


Santa Cruz have a place in their range for a 29’r all-rounder’s trail bike and the Tallboy was built to fill it. But does the Tallboy skirt too closely to the Hightower to justify itself? To me, the thing that makes a great trail bike is its ability to make the rider feel equally happy entering a stage race as he/she does lining up for a bit of light enduro racing. Most importantly, in my mind, the defining characteristic is being incredibly fun to ride on a range of trails. In this respect, I feel the Tallboy is very single-minded: it’s fixated on speed (and certainly offers that) but has lost some of the liveliness of its old self in the process. Given the Hightower is very similar to ride on the tamer trails but can huck bigger stuff when the going gets tough, I feel the Tallboy becomes a very specific tool for a very specific job, rather than a true all-rounder. Maybe I’ll look back in a few years and declare it was a bike ahead of its time, but for now it’s progressive for the sake of progression. 


If you’re wanting to set the KOM on your local flow trails but still have something to spare for the steeper stuff, look no further. This is a very fast, capable, confident bike worthy of the Tallboy name. Just be sure a mini enduro bike is what you’re after and it will treat you well.

Words: Robin
Page Images: Cameron Mackenzie