Dirt Rag Magazine

First look and first ride impressions: 2014 Salsa Horsethief and Spearfish

By Justin Steiner,

With the launch of the 2014 Spearfish and Horsethief, Salsa Cycles has become the first US-based brand to license Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension design. For Salsa, this partnership with Weagle is their first collaboration with an outside designer. They considered redesigning their current single-pivot platform, but ultimately decided licensing an existing design would achieve better results and mitigate potential patent infringement concerns.

The folks at Salsa wanted to maintain the simplicity of their single-pivot design and mimic the existing design aesthetic. Candidly, and somewhat jokingly, the Salsa folks said their dealer base was asking for an “acronym” suspension system, meaning a design with a proven track record and the catchy marketing that comes along with it. Those criteria ultimately led them to Weagle’s doorstep.

When Weagle takes on a design project, he starts defining how the client wants the end result to feel on the trail. In this case, Salsa wanted to maintain the vibe of the Spearfish and Horsethief models, while increasing the suspension’s performance under braking, acceleration and cornering loads. Once the intended use and desired suspension feel are established, Weagle selects a stock tune from Fox’s portfolio of rear shock offerings. Weagle and Salsa Engineer Pete Koski then developed the frames around those criteria.

Weagle’s Split Pivot design employs a high main pivot location to build anti-squat into the suspension for snappy performance while you’re on the gas. According to Weagle, this pivot location is optimal for pedaling performance, but as a purely single pivot design would jack noticeably under braking. To get around this, Weagle employs a pivot concentric to the rear axle, isolating braking forces from the swingarm for neutral performance under braking.

Each of the new design’s Fox CTD rear shock are driven by a linkage in order to tune the spring curve, which Weagle says is lower in the beginning stroke for small bump compliance but ramps up for end of stroke progression. Also, since the Split Pivot design combats pedal bob through the physical placement of the main pivot, the shock is not burdened with excessive low speed compression in order to minimize movement under load.

Spearfish

Internally, Salsa uses a set of four emotional keywords to define their products: explore, discover, endure and devour. Each of their models must fulfill one of these guiding principles. The Spearfish falls solidly into the “endure” category. It’s designed for ultra-endurance racing such as 100-milers and epic excursions on point-to-point rides like the Colorado Trail, Arizona Trail and the Great Divide.

To fulfill this mission, the existing bike’s 100mm front and 80mm rear travel was retained from the previous design. “Why only 80mm,” you ask? According to Salsa, the Spearfish is designed to facilitate long distance riding and racing, not to get rad on the trail. The goal is to simply take the edge off over the long haul. For perspective, the spiritual predecessor to the Spearfish was Salsa’s Dos Niner softtail with just one inch of suspension travel.

Aside from wheel travel and the aesthetic similarities, not much else remains the same about the Spearfish. Geometry has evolved substantially. Rear center length has dropped from 17.8 inches to 17.2 inches. The headtube angle is slackened from 71 degrees to 69.3 degrees. Paired with a 51mm-offset fork, this arrangement maintains similar rake and trail figures for snappy handling, but the increased front center ads stability at speed and in steep terrain. Despite the shorter chainstays the wheelbase grows slightly across the range. In my mind, all of these changes are solidly in the right direction; longer out front for stability, shorter in the rear for maneuverability. The reverse mullet, if you will.

Frame interface updates include a 142x12mm rear axle, BB92 bottom bracket, chainstay clearance for 1x and 2x drivetrains only (no triples here, folks), and cable routing for an externally actuated dropper post. The new rear suspension design is said to be 21 percent stiffer laterally and offers ample room for up to 2.35-inch tires.

Out on the trail, it was quickly clear to me the Spearfish will nicely fulfill it’s intended mission of helping rider’s endure long hours in the saddle. Though I wouldn’t describe this bike’s suspension as plush, it is responsive when pedaling and offers great traction over roots and rocks. This is a hard-edge tool for covering ground with speed and efficiency, not a cushy trail steed—exactly what Salsa set out to build.

Handling-wise, the Spearfish offers a lively package that handles quickly but never feels nervous or twitchy. By shifting both wheels forward under the rider—compared to the first generation design—Salsa increased the poise, composure and confidence of the Spearfish while greatly decreasing the effort required to loft the front wheel.

Though my brief experience aboard the Spearfish is far from a conclusive long-term test, I feel confident insisting you put this bike on your short list of XC race, marathon, and adventure dual suspension 29ers.

Complete Spearfish bikes will retail at $5,500, $4,100, $3,300 and $2,750 price points, with frames available for $1,700. Sizes range from XS to XL, targeting riders from five feet, two inches to over six feet, three inches. Frame weight is said to be right around six pounds with shock, rear axle and seat collar.

Horsethief

The Horsethief represent Salsa’s “devour” keyword. This trail 29er targets big adventures over rugged terrain. Moab’s Whole Enchilada and Colorado’s Monarch Crest Trail come to mind. While the Horsethief is designed for tougher trails, Salsa dealers and customers were asking Salsa for a less slightly less burly build than the existing bike. For 2014, Salsa has swapped the 120mm-travel Fox 34 for a 130mm-travel Fox 32 fork. Rear wheel travel remains the same at 120mm. NoTube’s Flow rims have been replaced by with Arch rims to save rotational weight.

Like the Spearfish, the Horsethief receives the short chainstay, longer front center treatment. Chainstay length is down from 17.8-inches to 17.2-inches, and headtube angle slackens from 68.6 degrees to 68.1 degrees. But, fork offset increases from 48mm to 51mm to maintain slow-speed handling. Again, smart move in my opinion.

Horsethief frames offer a 142x12mm rear axle, BB92 bottom bracket with ISCG 05 tabs, chainstay clearance for 1x and 2x drivetrains, and cable routing for external or internal dropper posts. The new rear suspension design of the Horsethief is 18 percent stiffer laterally and officially offers room for up to 2.35-inch tires, though Koski was running Maxxis Ardent 2.4 tires on his bike.

Saddled up on the Horsethief (sorry, couldn’t resist), I was immediately struck by the bike’s sense of poise. Again, with both wheels shifted forward under the rider, rider weight distribution is similar to that of a 26-inch trail bike; weight back over the rear wheel, with the front wheel well out in front for stability. Within minutes aboard the bike, I was extremely comfortable with capable handling. The increased fork offset kept things moving along nicely at slow speeds, too.

I’ve been a fan of every Weagle-designed suspension system I’ve ridden and the Horsethief is no different. Weagle’s ability to design a suspension system that’s efficient, has great traction under power, offers a supportive mid-stroke, and provides great big-hit capability is simply amazing. Never once did I feel a need to flip the CTD rear shock into Trail or Climb modes because there’s very little pedal-induced suspension movement. I’m a big fan of these set-it-and-forget-it suspension designs, as I don’t like to flip levers with every change in grade. My rear shock’s travel o-ring indicated full use of available travel at various points during our rides, but I never felt harsh bottom out—even when casing a few landings at Spirit Mountain’s Candyland flow trail.

For the launch, I was aboard the Horsethief 1 model, which will retail for $4,600. This model will be equipped with SRAM’s 11-speed X01 drivetrain, though my test sled was not so equipped due to lack of current availability. Equipped with X01, X0 Trail brakes, nice DT Swiss/NoTubes rims, and a smartly appointed cockpit, this bike will be a hell of a machine—with the addition of your favorite dropper post, of course.

As with the Spearfish, I was very impressed by the cohesiveness of the Horsethief’s ride. This will be a highly versatile bike. Its efficiency and reasonable weight make it adequate for amateur XC racing, while its capability and confidence are up to the task of recreational enduro racing. More importantly, this is a mighty fine all-around bike due to its versatility.

Complete Horsethief bikes will retail at $5,700, $4,600, and $3,300 with frames available for $1,700. Sizes range from S to XL and expect frame weights around 6.5 pounds with shock, rear axle and seat collar.

Sea Change

This is a big turning point for the Salsa brand, and is a stellar setup right out of the gate. Salsa’s choice to employ Weagle’s Split Pivot (that’s him pictured above) moves the brand up-market to compete with the big players such as Specialized, Trek, Yeti, Santa Cruz—to some extent event the boutique builders like Tuner, and Pivot—in terms of performance, while maintaining a price point that’s very attractive. Kudos to Salsa for stepping up their game with these redesigned models.

 

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