Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Santa Cruz shoot out – Tallboy 3 vs. Tallboy 5

Posted by Lloyd | September 6, 2023 | 5 comments so far

Santa Cruz Tallboy Mk5 at Holmbury Hill
High noon on the Peaslake hills (literally, it was a smoking 30°c) saw the new Santa Cruz Tallboy Mk5 go head-to-head with my beloved Tallboy Mk3 for the short travel trail bike space in my garage.

I had arranged with ACE cycles in Gomshall to take a new Santa Cruz Tallboy Mk5 out for a demo day. I took along my Tallboy Mk3 so I could ride them back to back on the same trails for a true test.

I am glad I did as impressions on the trail did not always accord with the data when I checked up on Strava later.

First some context

I had the original Santa Cruz Hightower and loved it, and then bought a Hightower 2 when it came out with the lower linkage shock. As suggested by reviews, I assumed it would be even better. Alas, longer, slacker, heavier with more travel did not equal more fun on the trails for me.

My concern was it would be the same with the Tallboy, hence wanting to do a head-to-head comparison before making any change.

So let’s compare numbers between the Tallboy Mk3 and the Tallboy Mk5.

Size XL Tallboy Mk3 Tallboy Mk5
Reach Tallboy Mk3 475mm Tallboy Mk5 495mm
Head angle Tallboy Mk3 68° Tallboy Mk5 66°
Seat angle Tallboy Mk3 73° Tallboy Mk5 77°
Wheelbase Tallboy Mk3 1195mm Tallboy Mk5 1257mm
Rear travel Tallboy Mk3 110mm Tallboy Mk5 120mm

As we’ve heard many times with modern bike geometry – longer, slacker, more travel and… heavier.

I was surprised to find that despite the Reach figure growing 20mm and a much longer wheelbase, the Tallboy Mk5 turns out to have a shorter cockpit than the Mk3 thanks to the steep seat angle and slacker head angle. I pushed the seat right back on the rails on my ultra blue test bike and it was still a smidge shorter than the Tallboy Mk3.

My route

The route chosen was the climb from Walking Bottom carpark to El Capitan, down El Capitan via the rootier of the descent options, then climb up to and down the Nova’s.

Switch bikes, and repeat.

Then up the Barry Knows Best rocky climb and down BKB, again repeated with both bikes. I also took the Tallboy Mk5 across for some Holmbury trails (Yogurt Pots, Crackpipe, Telegraph Road) but did not have the energy to repeat this on the Tallboy Mk3 (did I mention it was 30°c?!).

Santa Cruz Tallboy Mk5 at Peaslake

Ride impressions of the Santa Cruz Tallboy 3 vs. the Tallboy 5

First some climbing

On the trail the steeper seat angle of the Tallboy Mk5 kept the front end under control and it climbed efficiently. But it did feel heavier and therefore harder work than the Tallboy Mk3. I would have said it was slower.

However, looking at data, the Tallboy Mk5 was as quick or a bit quicker up the climbs. At first I was puzzled, but actually it’s not such a mystery. I was simply working harder to keep up my cadence and so matching the Tallboy Mk3 speedwise, but at the expense of more energy used.

Then coming back down

This is not an easy comparison as familiarity and confidence come into play here.

On the trails I mostly ride, the Tallboy Mk3 just feels so light and at ease, it is emminently chuckable. I don’t really have to think much as it seems to pop up and over trail features of its own accord, taking off and landing cleanly time after time. Errors in line are easily corrected – it is just a lot of easily accessible fun.

The Tallboy Mk5 rides to a different geometry. It felt sure-footed, planted and dealt with the trails with ease, far more capable than me (as with most bikes). So far so good.

However, I had to concentrate more to put the bike in the right place. This resulted in a few heart-in-mouth moments when I did not hit trail features quite as planned. Instead of getting set up for and executing little jumps, I found I was pumping and rolling through rather than popping up, off and over things.

The Tallboy Mk5 was quicker downhill – not by much but consistently quicker – than the Tallboy Mk3, but I needed to work harder for that pace. Pumping and rolling is faster but it’s less fun (although I have to allow some of this would be due to my familiarity with the Tallboy Mk3).


Overall, the Tallboy Mk5 does what it was designed to be – more of a trail bike than an XC-oriented short travel bike. So faster going down, but harder work going up than the (relatively) more XC Tallboy Mk3. No surprise there.

Like a lot of things, whether that is better or not depends on many factors. The Tallboy Mk5 would be great if it was my only trail bike or if my other bike was a big rig like a Nomad, leaving a lot of trail room for the Tallboy Mk5 to slot into.

However, I have the Hightower LT that is supremely capable across a wide range of trails, leaving little room in my garage for a Tallboy Mk5. The more XC-oriented but very trail capable Tallboy Mk3 is a better companion to the Hightower LT than the Tallboy Mk5. The fact that it is more fun downhill and easier to pedal up makes this an easy choice for me.

Filed under Bikes, Reviews in September 2023


About the author

There are 5 comments on ‘Santa Cruz shoot out – Tallboy 3 vs. Tallboy 5’

We love to get comments from our readers - if you've spent a few moments to comment, thank-you.

If you haven't had a chance yet, jump to our comments form if you have something to say.

  1. Lloyd says:

    Given direction of bike development, I think the Blur TR may be a better comparison / replacement for the Tallboy 3 then the newer Tallboy with lower linkage design

    Maybe that is the next test?

    • Matt says:

      I sense you really want to spend your money Lloyd! But Blur TR could definitely be that bike with a slightly longer wheelbase than the Tallboy 3.

      The only thing to note – and why try before you buy is so important – is it loses a set of pivots at the rear, so quite a different suspension system. A quality shock may need to be factored in.

      I reckon the Tallboy 5 is actually more like my Bird Aether which needs the rider to be reasonably active to get the most out of it’s geometry (not as active as I was the other day!). That would make sense if it was your only bike, but I can see why it’s far too close to the Hightower LT to be worthwhile.

  2. Elliot says:

    I’m fairly sure, obviously without having ridden a newer Santa Cruz, that the steeper seat tube would have swung it for me. Didn’t get on with being so far back on my Mk1 Hightower. But I can totally understand the old model feeling more fun.

    Definitely try the Blur instead. Might have to (shock horror) look at alternative brands otherwise 😲

    I do find it odd how many new products aren’t actually better than the old ones. Most recently got newly redesigned Ergon grips. Except they’re uglier and less comfortable because the rubber is harder. The old ones were perfect.

  3. Paul says:

    Thanks for this review Lloyd.
    Interesting what you explained about the sizing, despite a long reach you don’t feel stretched.
    Can I ask you how tall you are and what’s your inseam?

Leave a comment…

Have your say – we'd love to hear what you think.

If you have something to add, just complete this comment form (we will not publish your email address).

*Required information.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.