My first product review has to be my trustworthy Tallboy; without it, none of this would be possible.
The Tallboy http://www.santacruzbikes.co.uk/TallboyCarbon/ was purchased in March 2010, specc’d with full XTR kit that was promptly removed, hidden in a box and replaced with SLX so that I would have brand new good quality components for the Tour Divide in June 2011.
When I started riding the Tallboy back in the winter of 2010, there was great derision from the UK mountain bike press and a few sceptical club members too, regarding the size of the wheels, the lack of acceleration and just the look of the bike, and to step out from the crowd does take a certain mentality, but the Tour Divide is such a mad race and athletes spend so much time honing their kit, that they can’t all have been wrong about picking 29er’s for the dash to Mexico. So I read reviews, took one for a test weekend (it was the wrong size frame and had the brakes around the wrong way) and paid the deposit there and then, it was a stunning ride.
The novelty has since melted away and the number of 9ers outweigh ‘hobbit wheels’ on some of our evening rides!
The best attributes of this bike were emphasised when I took it around my regular 4 hour loop on the Downs for the first time and got back to the car in 3 and a half hours and had to check my watch, GPS and the clock on the car radio to confirm that I had just shaved 30 minutes from the loop. It absorbs the terrain superbly and makes me feel like I can actually ride a bike.
The bike is simply billed as a ‘long haul trucker’ and has had many glowing reviews by better qualified writers than me so I would just like to add that I don’t think there is a company out there in ‘customer care land’ that is better than Santa Cruz and its system of distributors. Their support is outstanding.
I logged thousands of miles with the bike and several sets of Small Block 8 tyre
– the biggest pain is spending the time getting them to run tubeless, but by following the Stans video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA4nea1UT0w – it’s a slow process but well worth doing. I got from Canada to Mexico without a puncture. The tyres were down to the canvas by Silver City and must have had 20 thorns in them when I finally took the tyres off the rims in a motel room in Phoenix, but who cares what state they were in by then?
I’ve ridden through winters with the Small Block 8 tyres, getting slower and slower on the descents as the chalk of the South Downs gets wetter and greener and slippier, and I fell off more and more, so I put on some Bronson tyres http://www.wtb.com/products/bronson although in reality, not many bikes can stay upright on wet chalk, so whilst they are good at gripping in mud, the Bronson does also collect more gunge than the SB8, so now I ride the 8’s all year round and concentrate on peddling circles when I get to muddy climbs and can leave some brands of winter specific tyre spinning in the mire.
The saddle (a WTB Silverado) issued with the bike lasted a couple of months on the bike – nothing wrong with it, I just could not stay comfy after about 10 hours on it, it’s a little too stiff for my undercarriage. I’m now using a Prologo Bonedge iron saddle that is meant for triathlon and has a nice wide nose to perch on when on the tribars. Sadly Prologo don’t make it anymore, but it can be found on Ebay.
I did get a small issue with the saddle (soon I’ll do a write up on Uncle Fester and give you all the details) but a http://www.leatherman.co.uk/product/Wave can overcome pretty much any trailside software problems! I’ll post a picture of the mods made to the saddle shortly.
The Reba fork the bike came with is still going strong today with only one oil and seal change about a year ago; there is some heavy scoring on the stanchions, but I’m not close to complaining about the quality of these forks.
I have now had to purchase a new fork for this seasons riding as the original fork came with a 20mm spindle and now that I’m using the Son dynamo hub I need to have a 15mm spindle
Merlin Cycles http://www.merlincycles.com/ kindly helped me with the purchase of a new Reba solo air 29er fork. http://www.sram.com/rockshox/products/reba-rl#product-top. This is yet to be fitted as I am having some supply issues with the wheel builder who is fitting the dynamo hub to some carbon hoops.
The Avid Elixir brakes were effective but did require regular bleeding during training and I became good at blowing out the pistons and replacing the seals. During the race they suffered from fading on day two, but happily the most helpful bike shop on the route was able to throw three guys at the bike, and as they said “one more pair of hands and we would be an octopus”. The brakes were perfect for the rest of the race and so I would recommend to anybody wanting enthusiastic knowledgeable help whilst in Canada to pop into http://shop.straightlinefernie.com
I left the pedals that I got when the bike rolled out of the LBS on, right through training, right through the race, and every muddy mile I’ve logged since – they are still as good as new and one day I’ll strip them and grease them. I know some newer batches of XTR pedals have failed and cost some race victories, but the pair I have are worth their weight in gold. There are lighter pedal systems that also clear mud better, but I’ve seen firsthand how those pedals cost hours and can be race ending. I’m sticking with the 2010 XTRs until Shimano fix the current issues of all the guts falling off the shaft and making it hard to pedal.
Just a quick mention about the SLX kit that adorned the bike during training – it worked extremely well, wore out as predicted, but never failed on the trail. I never broke a chain, tore teeth off or wrecked a derailleur. Its great kit, it just weighs more.
Handlebar grips that came with the bike were Lizard Skin Chargers
They lasted a good six months before feeling sticky and were also going bald, so having learnt that many riders on the Tour Divide suffer from numb fingers from a combination of grip and vibration, I started riding with the Ergon Biokork grips http://www.ergon-bike.com/us/en/product/gp1-biokork.
They needed careful setting up to be certain the angle they sit at in relation to my forearm was correct, but I suffered no numbness ever in the hand department and they are comfortable on long cruising rides. I do fit a traditional set of round grips when I’m playing on the Welsh bike parks as I like something to grab when I’m on the edge of control.
The Chris King headset does not need discussing – it will never go wrong so there is nothing to say, bar that it now boasts a custom faceplate inscribed with my motto ‘Suck it up Princess’, the plate was supplied just as I boxed the bike to take to Canada for the race by my good friend Will (TB) Le Maitre.
More to follow regarding personal set-up and bags for the bike. Please check back soon.