Twenty niner trail bikes are proving to be the hot item at Interbike this year. Salsa’s Horsethief sports 120mm of front and rear travel—and the Fox 34 fork is internally adjustable to 140mm. On the surface the Horsethief looks like a Spearfish on steroids, but it actually has a very different personality.
The aluminum frame uses stouter tubing but shares similar lines and the uses same linkage-driven, single-pivot suspension design. It relys on a small amount (5mm) of flex in the shaped seatstays to do the work of a seatstay-mounted pivot, which would rotate less than a degree, increase weight and, potentially, maintenance.
On the trail the Horsethief rides surprisingly quick for a 120mm-travel 29er. Certainly, it is less agile than the XC/endurance-bred Spearfish, but quicker than I expected. The rocky trails of Bootleg Canyon, Nevada, had me wishing for more stability, slower steering, and a slightly higher bottom bracket to minimize pedal strikes. (All of which could be easily solved by running the Fox 34 at its full 140mm of travel.) For smoother terrain the steeper angles and lower bottom bracket could be the ticket.
I rode the custom-valved Fox RP2 rear shock with the Pro Pedal engaged while climbing the gravel road to the first section of singletrack. Once I hit the trail I found the suspension rode better with the platform off, allowing the Horsetheif settle into its travel and reap the benefits of improved traction.
The Horsetheif could prove to be an affordable and very versatile platform. It can be built up as a long-travel cross country bike. (The frame is less than a pound heavier than the Spearfish.) Gravity-oriented riders can take advantage of the ISCG 05 tabs and dropper post cable mounts to create an all-mountain machine.
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