If you’ve been following the last few issues of Enduro Magazine, you will have read our long term review of the Santa Cruz Tallboy that we’ve had on test for the past 12 months. Serving as a loyal companion for various races, rides and trips around the country and overseas, we’ve gotten to know the Tallboy very well. A combination of dialled geometry, supple suspension and the ability to be setup with a 100mm fork in pure race mode, or with fatter tyres, wider bars and a 120mm fork in trail mode, made us a big fan of the original 29er from Santa Cruz. The Tallboy has suffered it’s fair share of abuse, having been used as a test sled for all sorts of different components and parts over the year we’ve been riding it, being washed and thrown into travelling cases quite a bit more than your average mountain bike is likely to ever experience.

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One of our other favourite features on the Tallboy that is shared with all Santa Cruz duallies, is the simple pivot system used on the linkages. There are two small links that join the rigid rear triangle to the front end on the Tallboy, with the bearings and seals housed inside each link – no bearings pressed into the frame here. The locking collet system means it is super easy to adjust each pivot to remove any play, and the lower linkage utilises a grease port for each pivot shaft so that fresh grease can be applied without having to remove anything.

Sadly, we had the orange Tallboy ripped out of our hands this winter. When it came time to strip the whole bike down to a bare frame, we decided to get the camera out and run through a pivot service of the VPP linkage to ensure everything was clean and well-greased before it went back home. Here we take you through the basic process of pulling apart both linkages, cleaning and greasing the internals and putting it all back together. While there are some differences between each Santa Cruz VPP model, the fundamentals are the same, so you can use this as a guide for your Nomad, Blur or any other modern S/C bike.

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What you’ll need:

  • 4/5/6/8mm allen keys
  • Cleaning rags
  • A pick
  • Threadlocker such as Blue Loctite
  • A Santa Cruz grease gun

While the VPP pivot system is surprisingly simple, servicing it is still a process that can be stuffed up. If you’re the kind of person that occasionally walks into the local bike shop after stripping a bolt or with useless brakes after attempting to bleed them, this might not be for you. In any case where you’re not confident on your mechanical abilities, consult your local bike store mechanic who will either be able to talk you through it, or carry out the procedure themselves.

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Firstly, remove the upper link from the shock by loosening and unwinding the lower pivot pin.

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The pivot pins used to secure the Fox shock to the link and main frame on Santa Cruz bikes are made from steel. They’re not quite as light as the alloy hardware you’ll see on other brands bikes, but they’re a heck of a lot more durable. Regardless, inspect the pivot shaft to ensure there is no damage or gouging of the surface. If they are damaged, you will need to replace them ASAP.

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Once the lower shock bolt has been removed, remove the bolt from the upper link with a 5mm allen key.

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The tapered washer should come out along with the bolt, but sometimes this washer can get stuck inside the frame. Using the same allen key you used to undo the bolt, gently wiggle and pry the tapered washer out of the frame.

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Carry out the same process for the upper bolt, this time using a 4mm allen key (size may vary depending on which S/C model).

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Inspect the tapered washer for any excessive wear to determine whether you’ll need new hardware at this point. While the pivot bolts are steel, the tapered washers are alloy to ensure a snug and tight fit against the locking collet head of the hollow alloy axle. If the washer has excessive wear, it will likely contribute to ‘play’ in the back end of your bike and potentially cause more damage down the line.

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With the end cap and bolt removed, it’s time to take the collet axles out. Insert a 5mm allen key into the opening where you removed the tapered washers from, and once it engages, unwind the axle anti-clockwise.

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In the above photo you can see the hollow collet axle (black) being removed from the frame. It may need some wriggling to come out all the way.

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The lower pivot axle on the upper link of our Tallboy requires an 8mm allen key. Remove as per the above steps.

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If you regularly ride in poor conditions, you increase the likelihood of contaminants getting into the hardware. We have come across Santa Cruz bikes where the pivot axles have seized into the frame due to poor maintenance, so this process is recommended in order to ensure everything is clean and running smooth. Service frequency is a hard thing to determine, as it will vary from rider to rider. If you ride in lots of wet conditions and wash your bike all the time, it’s worth checking the pivots every 6 months, where as riders who only ride in the dry may only need to check them once a year.

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Here you can see the layout for each pivot axle. The hollow axle (black) runs through the linkage and ties it to the frame by threading in at one end. The other end of the axle is the locking collet head, which you see uses splits down each side. The tapered washer sits inside the collet head, and as the silver bolt is tightened up, it opens up the head of the collet, securing it tightly in the frame. Over time, as the interface wears, a simple tightening of the bolt expands the collet head to take up any slack.

Speaking of wear, now is a good time to clean and take a close look at those black hollow pivot axles. If you notice any rub marks or scratching on the surface, something is not rotating freely. If there’s wear on the pivot axles, you’ll want to replace them with new ones.

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The upper linkage is a pretty simple affair, being a stout piece of forged alloy. There are 4 radial bearings, with two for each axle and one on each end. They’re pressed into the linkage for a snug fit, and so require a specific bearing tool to remove or install. The bearings are housed in sealed cartridge units, which are replaceable but not user-serviceable. Santa Cruz offer bearing kits for all of their dual suspension bikes, and you can purchase the bearings by themselves, or an entire linkage assembly with the bearings already pressed in and ready to be installed onto the frame.

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Each bearing is covered by a cap system shown above, with a rubber seal pressed up against the bearing, and an alloy cap over the top of that. It all fits together very neatly and is an incredibly effective barrier against the outside world.

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Here you can see the rubber seal sitting against one of the bearings. In our case, the assembly was beautifully clean and without any visible wear and tear.

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If the bearings and seals on your upper linkage are looking a bit filthy, now is the time to give them a thorough clean by wiping away any excess dirt, water or grease. Rotate each bearing with your finger to ensure they’re moving freely, and if you detect any ‘notchiness’, you will need to fit a fresh bearing. Because each bearing uses a press-fit seal, there’s no point adding grease to any part of the upper linkage, though a very light coating of the external surface on each bearing can help to shield against water.

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Now onto the lower linkage! For the VPP bikes, Santa Cruz spec angular contact bearings for the lower links, which unlike the bearings in the upper link, are user-serviceable. There are grease ports on the underside of the link for you to inject fresh grease, which is recommended from time to time. Here however, we pull the whole thing apart to show you how the internals work so that you can inspect for wear and tear.

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Remove the two pivot bolts and tapered washers as per the same process for the upper linkage.

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You can see in the above photos that the lower linkage on our bike is visibly dirtier than the upper linkage. That means there’s more chance of the tapered washer becoming seized in the frame, so utilise the allen key to wiggle the washer from side to side if it’s being stubborn.

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Here’s a good shot of the locking collet heads inside the frame, so you can better picture how the heads expand into the bore on the frame as the tapered washer tightens.

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Remove the lower axles with an 8mm allen key, rotating the rear swingarm to help free them out each linkage if required.

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After removing the lower linkage from the frame and swingarm, it’s time to check out the bearings and give it all a thorough clean.

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Whilst the lower linkage utilises a different type of bearing, it still uses the same bearing cap system with a rubber seal and an alloy cap over the top of each bearing. Like the upper linkage, this is the point that you want to check each bearing that it rotates smoothly. Because of the serviceable design, some fresh grease, a clean and re-install is usually all that the bearings require to eliminate any previous play from the system.

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Once you have cleaned all of the hardware, take a close look at each of the pivot axles, the tapered washers and the bearing caps to ensure there are no signs of wear. In the unlikely event where a bearing has seized, you would likely find silver wear marks on the surface of the black alloy axles, where metal-on-metal rotation has rubbed away the anodized finish. If you notice any ‘silvering’ of the axles or worse, gouging, get them replaced STAT!

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Being careful not to damage either the shield or the bearing, pry out the rubber seal off the bearing.

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While the outside of the bearing shields were pretty mucky, inside there is nothing but clean grease – a sign of very good sealing. In the above photo, you can see the blue coloured grease emerging from the the bearing internals. Both sides of the bearings are open, so that when you utilise the grease gun, fresh grease can work its way from the middle of the linkage, along the pivot axle, into the bearing, and through to the other side.

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Each Santa Cruz VPP bike comes out of the box with its very own industrial-grade grease gun like the above photo.

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The end of the gun locks onto the rounded end of each grease nipple. If you look at the exposed grease nipple on the right hand side, you will be able to spot a tiny ball in the centre. This ball is spring loaded from the inside and keeps the nipple closed. When you attach the grease gun and start pumping grease, the force overcomes the spring and allows grease to pass around the ball, through the nipple and into the link.

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With the linkage out of the frame, using the grease gun is actually ineffective as the system requires the pivot axle to act as a guide that forces the grease into the bearings. You can see the grease going everywhere in the above photo, as we wanted to give you a visual for how it works.

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Alright, so now that we’ve checked all the moving parts, cleaned out the links, bearing caps and axles, t’s time to put it all back together. For any of the threads on the axles and the pivot bolts, it’s recommended to apply some fresh threadlocker to prevent them from backing out whilst riding. Each time you remove and reinstall the bolts, the existing threadlock loses its effectiveness. Blue Loctite is recommended to keep everything snug.

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Santa Cruz describes tightening up the pivot axles as “like adjusting a headset”. By that, they mean you need to make sure they’re snug, but there won’t be any hard bottom-out like with tightening a chainring bolt for example. If you over-tighten the axles, you will crush the bearings and cause damage to your frame. The idea is to tighten each axle enough to remove any lateral play from the linkage, without tightening too much so as to bind the bearings – this should be pretty easy to tell by attempting to wiggle the rear triangle from side to side to check for play. Conversely, cycle the linkage through it’s range of movement to ensure nothing is binding. There is no hard and fast torque setting, but Santa Cruz recommend around 30 in/lbs will be sufficient (about 3.4 Nm).
Of course, if you’re not confident with your mechanical abilities (hopefully you haven’t gone this far if that’s the case!), then you might want to get a mechanic to take care of this.

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Being careful not to get any on the tapered washer, apply fresh loctite to the threads of the pivot bolts. The tapered washer needs to be clean and smooth to ensure it won’t bind up as it pushes up against the locking collet head, and Santa Cruz recommend applying some light grease to the external surface of the washer to facilitate the movement it requires. Tighten each bolt into the relevant pivot to a torque rating of around 100 in/lbs (11.3 Nm).

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After bolting everything back together, now you can pump some fresh grease through the lower linkage. Slide the grease gun over each nipple, using constant pressure to force the grease through the internals.

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There will be some excess grease around each nipple, which you’ll need to wipe away to avoid dirt getting stuck around the link. In the above photo, if you look closely between the orange frame and the black linkage, you will be able to see a small amount of blue grease. This is evidence that the grease has passed all the way through the bearing and past the rubber shield and alloy cap. Once you see that grease emerge, you can remove the grease gun and clean up any excess.

The last thing to do before bolting the shock back on is to check that the rear triangle rotates through its travel smoothly and without any tight spots. Wiggle the rear dropouts by hand to try and pick up any lateral play in the pivots. If the movement is anything but smooth, you’ll have to go back and check your torque on the pivot axles, as they may be too tight, or not tight enough.
If everything is all clear, apply some fresh loctite to the threads of the steel pivot pin to bolt the rear shock back into the frame. Tighten this bolt to 140 in/lbs (15.8 Nm).

And that’s it! Not too intimidating now is it?
If you feel like you need some additional guidance on the whole procedure, Santa Cruz have a host of instructions on overhauling the pivots on their dual suspension bikes that also includes instructions on removing and installing new bearings. Check out their Tech Support page here.

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