Inside Line Exclusive: First ride on Salsa’s new carbon Horsethief

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Salsa got its foot in the door last year with the introduction of the carbon fiber Beargrease, and now it’s applying that experience to the Horsethief and Spearfish models. We got a sneak peek and a first ride on the 120mm-travel Horsethief at the Scott Enduro Cup in Park City, Utah.

Built to tackle big rides in big mountains, the aluminum Horsethief adopted the excellent Split Pivot suspension last year and the carbon model matches the geometry of the that model, with a 130mm fork, 17.2-inch chainstays and a 68.1 degree head tube angle.

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We’re ridden and reviewed both the first and second generation Horsethief bikes and thoroughly enjoyed them, so I had high expectations for the carbon model. The Scott Enduro Cup turned out to be an excellent proving ground, as it combines thousands of feet of climbing with timed runs down both blue and black-level downhill tracks. Once set up properly with 30 percent sag, the kinematics of the Split Pivot design do the rest, as it gives an incredibly stable pedaling platform while still soaking up the rough Utah trails. Never once did I make use of the CTD settings on the Fox Factory Adjust Boost Valve shock.

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Aside from the extra expense, it’s hard to argue with a switch to carbon for the main frame and seat stays in the new Horsethief, as the extra stiffness allows the suspension to work even better, and obviously sheds some weight. The key to the Split Pivot design is that the high main pivot location allows the suspension to remain stable while pedaling, but the concentric pivot around the rear axle eliminates the brake-jack of a equivalent single-pivot design. It’s a design that just works. There are no extra levers to flip or “modes” to engage, something I really appreciate with today’s crowded cockpits.

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Perhaps I was a little lucky with my borrowed ride, but it was one of the few bikes that feels immediately comfortable right out of the gate. A few tweaks to the rebound settings and I was set. It’s not an overly playful or rowdy bike, but feels immensely comfortable taking an aggressive line, with the 29-inch wheels keeping things moving fast.

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The bike pictured isn’t stock, and actually belongs to a Salsa employee, but the stock spec won’t lack for high-end parts. There are three models for 2015: The Horsethief XTR with, you guessed it, Shimano XTR 11-speed; the Horsethief Carbon 1 with SRAM XO1 11-speed; and the Horsethief 2 with an aluminum frame and Shimano and SRAM mixed groupset. The carbon frame will also be available on its own ($2,499).

Common details on all the bikes include tidy external cable routing, except for the stealth dropper post routing, ISCG-05 chain guide mounts, a PressFit bottom bracket shell, and a 142×12 rear axle.

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The stock bikes are equipped with 130mm Fox F29 32 or RockShox Revelation forks rather than the Fox 34 on the first generation model or the RockShox Pike pictured here. While it is compatible with 120mm-130mm forks, the added axle-to-crown height of the beefier forks mean they have to be reduced in travel if used by customers. Thus this bike has a 120mm Pike.

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Note the tidy downtube-mounted, external cable routing, which keeps it out of harms way and is easily compatible with Shimano’s new Side-Swing front derailleur. The carbon frame uses nearly all the same hardware as the aluminum version, and includes a tidy cover for the unused high-direct mount front derailleur mount when not in use.

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One neat trick feature offered on both the Horsethief and Spearfish models is this top cap tool. When removed from the steerer it can be used to remove the axle bolt that holds the derailleur hanger. If you smash one on a ride, a spare is useless without the right tool, and now you’ll never go without. It will also be available on its own.

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Stock models

Horsethief Carbon XTR – $6,899

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Horsethief Carbon – $4,899

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Horethief 2 – $3,399

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Lots more to come

There’s a lot more coming from Salsa this week, including a carbon fiber Spearfish and new fat bikes, so be sure to keep checking back in.