Bike Check: Ben Hildred’s Santa Cruz Tallboy

You might have recently read about Ben Hildred’s exploits as he climbed 21,635 meters of vertical over the course of three days. Why 21,635 meter exactly? Well, the height of Olympus Mons, the tallest planetry mountain in the solar system, is 21,288 meters and Ben clearly decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

The bike wasn’t just built for going up, but also to be capable and inspire confidence coming back down.

Ben stands at 194cm and chose the XL size. He rides the bike in the low setting, with its chainstays in the long position. Ben feels that for taller riders this achieves better rear-wheel traction while pedalling seated.

The bike was outfitted with a 140mm travel Rockshox Pike Ultimate that was coupled to 120mm rear wheel travel delivered via a SIDLuxe Ultimate shock. The fork was run at 85 psi with 2 tokens installed. The rear shock ran 200 psi and had the option of a climb switch. Ben says he rode the suspension a shade stiffer than he normally would to try and give the best pedalling platform possible, while still delivering enough grip and comfort to just about hold on.

Ben ran 170mm cranks with a 34T chainring. This was matched to a 10-52T cassette. Ben says he landed on this ratio by consulting data derived from his power meter to find something that perfectly suited his intentions. This enabled him, he says, to be smooth and efficient while getting the most usable gears out of his chosen ratios.

Just about every gizmo one could hope for.

A particularly clean-looking cockpit; burly Code RSCs with a 200 and 180mm pairing.

A rather sizeable 38mm rise Josh Bryceland bars from Burgtec in 780mm width paired to a 50mm Deity Copperhead stem and Deity Super Cush grips. As a taller rider, Ben says it helps the bike fit him better proportionally to run a high front end.

Ben says he opted for big brakes as this wasn’t an area he wanted to compromise on and wasn’t deterred by a few more grams on the climbs. This is one of the areas that make a bike like this, with this purpose, a fascinating proposition. It’s inherently compromised and every single detail will have been agonised over.

Maxxis Exo casings all round.

Reserve 27 rims built on to DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs. The wheels were shod with Exo casing tires. For the big day, Ben opted for a Maxxis Dissector on the front and a Rekon on the rear, both of which were 2.4WT. He also ran 29 psi in both. There might be slightly lighter combinations out there but Ben felt that the security of not puncturing offset any gain.

Ben set up the AXS system to shift through the full block with one hold of the paddle; a Garmin head unit telling Ben the good, or indeed potentially disheartening, news. Also, an EDC tool was always within grasp if needed.

Flat pedals, in this instance Crankbrothers Stamp 7s in large, and 21,635 meters of elevation. Turns out that it is about the rider after all.

Ben is currently working his way up the west coast of New Zealand and embarking in his version of ‘time off’. He did, however, manage to take some time to shed some light on his setup choices. Food for thought no doubt, as he devours miles on board the very bike we’ve been focussing on in this article.

A little bit of time has passed since you completed your Olympus Mons project. Looking back, did it challenge you in the ways that you expected and, dare I say, had hoped?

Certainly, although I was never sure how hard it was going to be, so it was impossible to anticipate the grim places it could take me. The hardest part was day two, coming off a big day, pushing through an equally tough day, whilst knowing it was all going to happen again tomorrow. Trying to stretch and rest enough and efficiently was just as much of a challenge as the riding. I thought the time scale element would be interesting, the whole thing felt like a race, with sleeps!

We all put our bikes together in different ways, but yours is one that had to do so much. Was there an over-reaching idealogy with the build? For instance, to make it as light as possible?

Weight didn’t bother me too much. Riding bigger bikes I could appreciate the compromises in component weight for performance that perhaps would make the ride more efficient and easier, big brakes for example. It also needed to be dependable. Too many hours over the months previous were spent working hard, to risk being in vain if something failed mechanically.

Even a few years ago people would have balked somewhat at the idea of electronic gears for so much as nipping to the shops for a pint of milk, how did you come about to the decision to run AXS? Are we out of the realms of reassuringly cabled gearing for our endurance efforts?

In the months prior I tried out the AXS, it literally hasn’t skipped a beat. Shifts feel substantial and instantaneous, so yeah, big fan!

On your bars you have a GPS, and we’ve already mentioned the electronic gearing. Did you have a plan-B should either go awry?

No plan B for the gearing, I was confident in that. As well as the GPS I was recording on my phone, which was a relief as the second day my GPS got too cold on the descents and stopped working, I was on tenterhooks for the remainder of that day!

How might this build compare to if you set it up for your every day riding? Would there be much difference?

I swap out tires for something with a bit more sidewall heft and drop the suspension pressure slightly. Otherwise, same same.