After having a few friends ask me about these two bikes and the constant stream of questions on forums regarding which is better, I thought it would be fun and useful to compare them.
Gotta give you some qualifications first. I started riding when I was 13, got into downhill soon thereafter, and eventually got 2nd in Jr downhill nationals at Mt. Snow, VT. Took a nice long break for a few years then got sucked back in to the bike world full-time after moving to Grand Junction, CO. I found I still enjoyed riding techy stuff and going fast and then randomly did a local enduro race. Finished 3rd, had a great time, and entered a few more races in the Big Mountain Enduro series. Won a few of those races in the amateur class and the won series overall. This coming season I'm expanding my race calendar and will be racing enduros in the pro ranks. Yippie.
Bike setups were very similar. Both bikes are setup with Shimano XT 1x10 drivetrains and brakes. Rims and hubs are the same except for 29 vs 27.5. Tires similar sizes and weights in Minion DHR2 or DHF and High Roller 2s.
Tallboy LT med frame with 710mm bars and 70mm stem. 1.5 degree Works headset and 150mm Pike gave a headangle around 67 by iphone. Fox CDT rear shock and Rock Shock Monarch Plus. 30.5lbs
Bronson large frame 750 bars and 40mm stem. 160mm Pike, Fox CDT rear. 28lbs
I raced the 29er Tallboy LT last season and did well on it. It's a seriously fun bike. I didn't shy away from any of the jumps, drops, or big lines over the season. As a bike in the "all-mountain" category should, it gave me a ton of confidence and saved my butt a couple of times. I got better and faster. I built my skills considerably. 30+ mile alpine rides to bike parks. I loved it. Most fun and most capable bike I've been on.
So why the change to the smaller wheeled Bronson?
A couple of reasons:
1. More suspension
2. Quicker exit from turns/better recovery from loss of speed
3. Race bike shouldn't lovingly be refereed to as a tank
5. Neon yellow
1. Sometimes I felt the back end of the Tallboy LT kicking around when the terrain got more rowdy. Switching to the Monarch Plus rear shock helped, but there's a limit to what 135mm of wheel travel can do. Personally, I don't feel the bigger wheels make up for real suspension.
With 150mm of rear travel, that takes care of point 1. So far, it does feel more solid and composed when the going gets rough.
2. Simple physics says a big circle gains speed more slowly than a little circle. Though I loved the Tallboy, it did feel sluggish out of turns. I'd slow down, turn, and try to hit the gas but didn't feel like there was a ton of pop. I thought it I was the problem and needed to get stronger, but as I did, the instant acceleration didn't come. In quick, successive turns the Tallboy was far from lazy but wasn't snappy. Once they were spinning, the big wheels fly. When you screw up or are forced to shut it down, it take quite a bit of effort to get back to pace. For racing, efficiently and quickly exiting turns and getting back to speed in general are huge. If that can be done while using less energy, even better.
The Bronson is also noticeably faster out of the turns and when trying
to recover/generate speed. You push on the pedals and it goes forwards. Could the Tallboy LT accelerate more quickly
by building up a set of carbon wheels and light tires? I'm sure it
could. But if you did the same to the Bronson it'd also be that much
faster. Everything even, the Bronson gets going faster with less energy.
3. My Tallboy wasn't overly heavy at 30.5lbs. I did lots of huge days on it and never weight was an issue. Calling it a tank wasn't referring to it be slow or cumbersome. Big wheels are simply big wheels. They would charge through any rock garden or obstacle. Big wheels can certainly save your ass in the ugly stuff. I feel where you can go with your line choice, how you choose to ride a line, and how you can change your line are limited. Once you're there, you'd better be ready to hold on and ride it out. Monster trucking/being a tank isn't the fastest way through a lot of sections.
It doesn't have a nickname yet, but it isn't a tank by any means. I
can be thrown around, yet is still very stable on open, high speed
stuff. You can pop off that rock there and pump into that dip here. You
can unweight it and skim the tops of those jagged rocks. I'm not liking where I'm heading, well gee, I'll just zig through that gap to that line over there. It's flat out more maneuverable and more fun.
4. The Tallboy was a medium frame. I liked the size and could move the bike around well, but always felt like I had to think about shifting my weight forwards for traction. Clearly a sizing the bike incorrectly isn't the bikes problem. At 5'10, I'm right on the cusp of a med or large for Santa Cruz sizing. I'd probably try a large if I did it again, but the large also felt very large overall. I wanted to try something with a longer front and much shorter stem.
The large Bronson with a 40mm stem gives me a bit longer reach
that I had on the Tallboy with a 70mm stem, but a much more centered
position on the bike. So far it's feeling very natural and neutral in
turns and on steep roll-overs or drops. I can toss it around through
tight and consecutive turns, feel good about it, and go back to ride
them again. Doing the same turns on the Tallboy felt like something to
just get through and not look back (think work). I'm still not totally
comfortable on the longer front end, but I'm liking it a lot. If you are
on the edge and not sure what size to go with, go larger.
5. Neon yellow. Maybe it's not for everyone, but I think it looks bitchin'. Style matters, right?
It's neon yellow. It looks fast. If you look fast, you'll go fast. That's what I'm hoping for anyways.
Odd and ends
I was admittedly nervous about going to the smaller wheel size after being on a 29er the last couple of years. Big wheels give you lots of traction and stick way out in front of you when things get steep. I trusted the big wheels to help keep me safe and to keep rolling through whatever appeared. They did that for sure. I didn't want to lose that confidence I'd gained.
I didn't. My first ride on the Bronson took me up and down the Slim Shady and Hiline trails in Sedona. I wasn't totally comfortable on the bike, but I never wondered if the wheel would get stuck or if I couldn't do something. I actually never even thought about the wheels being smaller. They hooked up in the turns great. Steep drops, jumps, rocks, etc...no worries. I think the smaller wheel climbs better and most definitely not worse. If you get bumped off line or lose momentum, you can get the bike rolling again. On the Tallboy if you lost your way or got bogged down, I got stalled.
What about rollover stuff ability? I truly never noticed a bigger wheel being faster or smoother. They could fly on wide open and rough terrain, but so can the Bronson. If you are a monster truck, plow through everything rider, the Tallboy will probably be quicker. If you want to plow and jump and skip, the Bronson will be quicker.
No surprises here, but Fox suspension leaves a lot to be desired on both these bikes. Going from the stock fancy CDT to a Monarch Plus was a huge change for the better. The Fox on the Bronson does feel better than what is on the Tallboy, but still doesn't do the bike justice. I wish they'd pony up and put the Float X or Monarch Plus or something on the bikes from the factory. If I don't get a Cane Creek or Monarch Plus, I'll be sending my shock to Push or Avalanche.
To sum it up, both are really awesome bikes. My feeling is the Bronson is more versatile. It climbs great, goes down great, is tons of fun, does everything the Tallboy LT can do and more. The wheels have enough size to still have excellent traction and give you a little boost, but are noticeably faster and more maneuverable than the 29s. As much as I loved the Tallboy LT, I don't see myself going back to the larger wheel size. The Bronson is too much fun.