By Matt Kasprzyk
Salsa’s tagline “adventure by bike” is actually more of a mantra according to Pete Koski, Salsa’s design engineer. Everything the company does is filtered through those three words. The Horsethief is the latest bike the phrase has inspired. Salsa’s goal was to design a bike that could devour technical trails like Horsethief Bench in Fruita, Colorado.
Salsa learned a lot from the XC-oriented Spearfish and some of the same design principles were applied to the longer travel Horsethief. The pivot minimizing suspension design is a simple, single-pivot arrangement that requires the seatstays to flex several millimeters. This small amount of deflection eliminates a pair of rear pivots.
The design worked well for the Spearfish, so the stays were shaped specifically for the abuses of trail riding and the longer rear travel. The concept remains the same though—reduce pivot points and hardware, with the goal of creating a lighter, stiffer, and lower maintenance rear-end.
The Horsethief’s hyrodformed aluminum frame has a long cockpit. The effective toptube is longer than Salsa’s other comparably sized mountain bike frames; the frame is designed around a 10-20mm shorter stem and a wider bar. This better positions the rider for more aggressive trails by keeping more weight over the rear wheel.
The frame has ISCG 05 chainguide tabs and is designed for a 120mm or 140mm travel fork. Since we’re moving up front, I have to mention the new Fox 34 RL. The new ‘tweener’ stanchion fork comes set at 120mm of travel and can be converted to 140mm by removing a spacer located in the left fork leg.
Adding that 20mm of travel to the fork will take the head tube angle from 69.5 degrees at 120mm to 68.6 degrees at 140mm of travel. The increased travel will also make a long bike longer, increasing the wheelbase of this XL up to 1,200mm—that’s longer than many downhill bikes.
Geometry, tubing, and spec help create a distinct personality for the Horsethief. This long and slack trail bike allowed me to (as promised) devour terrain. The long wheelbase gives the Horsethief a very stable and confident ride—especially when pointing the bike downhill. This length made tight switchbacks harder to navigate, but as a taller rider, that stability was welcomed on descents, a worthy trade-off, in my opinion.
I didn’t feel there was a need for more than the 120mm of travel in the back. It felt bottomless when fully active, tracked well and was laterally stiff, thanks in part to the 142×12 Maxle. The Horsethief’s simple suspension design relies on the custom-tuned Fox RP2’s platform damping for efficient climbing. This budget-friendly shock only offers ‘open’ or ‘on’ settings. Pedaling performance felt relatively efficient with the RP2’s platform on. When switched to open for descents, the rear suspension benefitted from fully active travel with improved traction.
The Fox Float 34 inspires an incredible amount of confidence. I will go so far to say that I wouldn’t purchase a 29er over 100mm of travel without at least a 34 up front. It was that good, and I imagine the top-of- the-line forks with all the bells and whistles to feel even better. As a bigger rider, I never felt limited by capabilities of the bike. I knew I could attack the terrain. The bike arrived with the fork set at 120mm and that’s where it stayed for most of the test. My local terrain didn’t beg for greater travel. However, I was happy to have the full 140mm of travel to rip long, rocky descents out west.
When set at 140mm, the slacker angles make the front-end pretty light when climbing. All things considered, it’s not unexpected. On short steep uphill bursts it was difficult at times keeping weight over the front wheel. Over correcting a flopping front-end with big wheels and wide bars was sometimes a challenge on technical uphill sections.
The mix of mid-level Avid/SRAM components behaved as expected and need little space for anything other than a nod to their reliability. NoTube’s Flow wheels were stalwart. Schwalbe 2.3” Nobby Nics proved to be a tight fit on the Flow rims, but sealed well with the latex sealant and have quickly become one of my favorite trail tires. There’s enough room for 29”x 2.5” tires should you choose to go wider. And keep your hydration pack close —there’s only one water bottle mount on the underside of the downtube.
I see the Horsethief as a gateway-bike for most. After a long stint of cross-country bikes and endurance events, this bike has helped me foster an excitement for more enduro-appropriate bikes and the adventures that combine downhill skills and speeds with XC fitness.
It appears to be great timing for Salsa. Events are popping up all over the country that cater to the strengths of this bike. With the Horsethief, Salsa adds another affordable bike to a line-up of enablers—a trail bike that will open up a whole new world of riding opportunities.
The Horsethief is good at what it’s designed to do. If your style is more about surviving climbs to crush descents, the Horsethief will get you into all kinds of adventures.
- Wheelbase: 47”, 1,193mm; 45.7", 1,161mm
- Head Angle: 69.5 degrees
- Seat Tube Angle: 73.5 degrees
- Bottom Bracket height: 13.75”
- Chainstay Length: 18.1", 460mm
- Weight: 31.7lbs.
- Sizes: S, M, L, XL (tested)
- Specs based on size tested
- Price: $2,949 (complete) $1,399 (frame and rear shock)
- Made in Taiwan
- Age: 32
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 190lbs.