Dirt Rag Magazine

New: Jamis expands line of plus hardtails

Dragonslayer 27plus

Dragonslayer 27plus

Jamis has expanded its lineup of hardtail plus bikes in both unisex and women’s-specific models. The new Dragon, Komodo and Eden Series bikes are designed for trail riding with 120 mm forks, slackened geometry, short rear ends and 3-inch tires.

The Dragon Series is made of Reynolds 520 steel and has been expanded to six models (four unisex and two women’s-specific). Dragonslayer will be available either in a 27plus or 26plus, while the women’s Dragonfly models move to 26plus.

Dragonfly 26plus

Dragonfly 26plus

The Dragonslayer sports a 68-degree headtube angle, 73-degree seat tube angle and 16.7 inch/425 mm chainstay length. The top-of-the-line bikes in the series will feature a FOX Rhythm 34 Float fork, WTB Scraper rims, a 1×11 Shimano SLX build and a KS eTen Integra dropper post.

All Dragon Series bikes feature adjustable sliding dropouts with 15 mm of range, thru axles front and rear, rear rack capabilities and multiple cargo/water bottle eyelets for bikepacking, plus oversize 44 mm head tubes, Boost hub spacing, tubeless wheelsets and internal dropper post routing.

Komodo 27plus

Komodo 27plus

The Jamis Komodo and Eden Series bikes are made from triple butted 6061 aluminum and feature Boost hub spacing, tapered head tubes, tubeless wheelsets and internal dropper post routing.

Eden 26plus

Eden 26plus

The women’s bikes have better standover clearance, come in smaller sizes—down to 14 inches—and are stocked with narrower handlebars and different saddles.

The steel models will range from $1,400 to $2,500. The aluminum bikes will range from $1,000 to $1,700. 2017 Jamis Plus bikes are expected in stock beginning at the end of September. All 2017 Jamis products including the new Plus bikes will be live and online with the 2017 Jamis website in mid-September.



New: Rocky Mountain Growler 27plus hardtail


The market expansion of plus-size trail hardtails with don’t-need-to-mortgage-the-house prices continues with the new Rocky Mountain Growler, a 120 mm, 27 plus hardtail. All models feature an aluminum frame, 1×11 gearing and 3-inch WTB Ranger tires. None of the models get a dropper post, womp womp, even though the top-end price point of this bike is comparable to plus-tire hardtails with droppers.


Notably, the Growler is available in six sizes, including XXS(!!). That and the XS will run 26plus wheels/tires, which makes a whole hell of a lotta sense.

Geometry highlights include a 67-degree headtube angle. On the XXS and XS, the bottom bracket drop goes from 58 mm to 40 mm, and the rear chainstay shrinks a bit from 440 mm to 430 mm. Rocky Mountain resisted the short-as-possible trend on many mini-fat hardtails, helping it stand out a bit against brethren such as the similarly spec’d Salsa Timberjack.


  • Growler 750 — $1,700
  • Growler 740 — $1,250 (pictured above in red)
  • Growler 730 — $900

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Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 11.46.06 AM



Review: Salsa Pony Rustler


Tester: Jon Pratt
Age: 45; Height: 5’10”; Weight: 190 pounds; Inseam: 31”

Salsa Cycles is not one to shy away from big tires, so it is only natural to see another one of its bikes with a bit of extra rubber show up at our door for review. This time around it’s the Pony Rustler, Salsa’s 27plus rig sired from the esteemed line of the Horsethief. In fact the two bikes are so similar, they might be better classified as twins. I think the Pony Rustler just decided to wear different shoes and jacket to make sure we didn’t mistake one for the other.

And where did that name come from? Jokingly, Pete Koski, the product design engineer for the Pony Rustler, told me “It rhymes with Horsethief.” I’m kind of glad Pete designs bikes and doesn’t write poetry (that I know of).

As for that design, Joe Meiser, product manager at Salsa, explains that the Pony Rustler was crafted to add to the growing trend of short travel bikes that can climb and descend, while providing increased traction through the use of plus-sized tires. Joe sees it as not just a good bike for trail riding, but one well-suited to bikepacking as well.


The Pony Rustler uses the wide 45 mm WTB Scraper tubeless rim and 3 inch WTB Bridger tire to create a large contact patch between the tire and trail surface, increasing the amount of grip you will experience. This was quite apparent to me in several different scenarios: craggily climbs, rocks and roots, and fast downhill berms.

I commonly ride up hills strewn with rough rocks and slippery roots where getting up and over something not only depends on strength and timing but on the amount of rubber you can keep on the ground. With the Pony Rustler, I always felt the gains in traction overcame the weight penalty. Unlike narrow, higher-pressure tires that rely more on suspension to smooth out the ride, the Pony Rustler’s lower pressure tires more easily deform around objects and limit the amount of shock transmitted to the rider.

When you are motoring through a rock garden the bike’s suspension doesn’t get distracted by the smaller noise, leaving more in reserve to handle bigger hits. This makes the Pony Rustler feel more in control than a narrow-tired bike with similar travel. It feels more in control and leads to more confidence and faster sprints through the trail chatter. Finally, the Pony Rustler is really fun on those fast, flowy trails we all know and love. The increased grip of the larger tire allowed me to take my favorite berms just that much faster. It’s a noticeable difference.


All that grip comes at a price though. Not only does the wheel weigh more, the larger contact patch creates more resistance with the ground. You have to work harder to get going, and keep going. That’s where the trade-off between the 29 inch Horsethief and the 27.5+ Pony Rustler really lies.

But don’t fret too much about the wheel size choice, because the Horsethief and Pony Rustler share a frame and fork. You can purchase either bike and build up the alternate-sized wheelset and swap to your heart’s content. To make this swap as seamless as possible, Salsa used 3 inch WTB tires to maintain very similar geometry between the two bikes. This tire size choice is important to maintain the overall wheel diameter and keep bottom bracket height within 5 mm of each other without making changes to the frames.

According to Salsa engineer Pete Koski, standard 29 inch tires average 735-745 mm in diameter while 27.5×3 inch tires average a very close 730-740 mm. The smaller 2.8 inch tires average 715-725 mm. Those smaller tires would result in the bottom bracket up to 20 mm lower on the Ponty Rustler. So in this case, 3 inch tires are a no-brainer.

Since the 2014 model year, Salsa Cycles has used Dave Weagle’s Split Pivot suspension on their bikes, and that’s a really good thing. At its heart Split Pivot rear suspension is designed to separate braking, pedalling and bump absorption from each other. The Pony Rustler’s mechanical linkage is used to provide pedaling efficiency instead of relying on the low-speed compression damping of the suspension.


Where on some bikes I’m forced to switch between the various modes of the shock, the Pony Rustler allowed me to leave the shock wide open for most of my testing. It’s great knowing that if an unexpected hill appears I just have to mash up it, or slam the RockShox Reverb Stealth dropper and take off for a fun ride down. There’s virtually no need to worry about flipping the shock from trail to descend and back again.

Split Pivot design isolates the shock from braking forces. Because the Pony Rustler’s seat stays rotate around the rear axle, when you engage the SRAM Guide RS brakes the braking forces are not transmitted to the RockShox Monarch RT3 and therefore don’t affect its ability to absorb bumps.

Weagle’s design is an incredibly simple, but effective, single pivot suspension. It allows the Pony Rustler to be predictable during braking and adds to the already good small bump compliance afforded by the large, low-pressure tires.


Besides just taking the Pony Rustler out for a few laps around the local park, Salsa designed it to be a great bikepacking tool. Since the bike does not have very much space for a frame pack in the front triangle and no easy way to attach gear to the fork, most of your load is going to either be near the top of the bike or on your back, which raises your center of gravity. The wider tires do a good job offsetting this issue and keep the bike stable under large loads. Increased grip from the tires will also limit the bumblings that can topple a top-heavy biker at the most inopportune times.

I took the Pony Rustler out for a few loaded excursions on both singletrack and slush covered gravel trails, and it performed as expected. I didn’t notice any errant movements from the bike as my bags naturally shifted due to pedaling or experience any puckering situations when traversing some more challenging trails. Overall the bike felt well-planted, stable and comfortable on long treks.

As with most full-suspension bikes, if you feel the need to take everything and the kitchen sink with you, the lack of on-bike storage options might be of concern. I’m OK with paring down and using a backpack when needed.

With the Pony Rustler, Salsa has done a great job building off the Horsethief’s successes and creating an incredibly good bike with arguably more going for it. It’s becoming apparent that plus bikes have a real purpose in the marketplace and that the Pony Rustler is a good example of a well-executed bike that can handle various trail-related tasks with poise.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you head over to your local bike shop and try one on if you are in the market for a bike that could breathe some excitement back into your local trails, or give you the confidence to venture out and explore a bit more.

Stats (with a 130 mm fork)

  • Reach: 17.4”
  • Stack: 24.4”
  • Top Tube: 24.9”
  • Head Tube: 67.5°
  • Seat Tube: 73°
  • BB Height: 12.6”
  • Chainstays: 17.2”
  • Weight: 30.1 lbs. w/o pedals
  • Specs based on size tested

Price: $2,500 frame. Complete starting at $3,500. Tested: $5,500.
Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL

More info: Salsa Pony Rustler



Trek Stache 29plus gets the carbon treatment

Trek Stache-5

Stache 9.8

If you follow this stuff at all, you knew this one was coming from Trek Bikes: a carbon Stache 29plus. And you won’t have to wait long, with aluminum models available now and carbon models hitting your local bike shop in September.

The newly expanded Stache lineup includes two OCLV mountain carbon models—Stache 9.8 and 9.6—plus two Alpha Platinum aluminum models—Stache 7 and 5. You may also get a carbon frameset.

Stache 9.6

Stache 9.6

The new carbon frame of the 9.8 and 9.6 weighs about 400 grams less than its alloy counterpart and benefits from a more aggressive geometry with a 15 mm-longer reach and a bottom bracket that’s 5 mm lower.

Trek Stache-3

Stache 7

Stache 9.8 is equipped with the all-new Rock Shox 29plus Pike, a SRAM X0/X01 build kit and a Bontrager Drop Line dropper post. Bontrager Line Pro 40 OCLV carbon wheels complete the lightweight build on the blinged-out, top-o-the-line model to tip the scales at 27.2 pounds.

The Stache 5 aluminum starter model gets a Manitou Machete 32 fork, Bontrager Chupacabra tubeless-ready tires, Race Face Aeffect crankset with a 30-tooth chainring, Shimano Deore shifting and basic Shimano hydraulic disc brakes.

Stache 5

Stache 5

All carbon and alloy models feature additional travel, with an increase in suspension from 110 mm to 120 mm. The carbon models will comes in sizes in 15.5, 17.5, 19.5, and 21.5 inches. The aluminum models also get an 18.5-inch frame size.

Pricing is as follows:
Stache 5 aluminum: $1,580
Stache 7 aluminum: $2,100
Stache 9.6 carbon: $3,000
Stache 9.8 carbon: $4,700
Carbon frameset: $1,580



First Ride: Surly Karate Monkey 27plus

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-1

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews, too.


Original Karate Monkey ad ripped from Surly’s Facebook page

In case you’ve been under a rock for the last decade or so, a primer: The Surly Karate Monkey was one of the first production 29ers on the market. Surly bikes are not the fastest, lightest, newest, fanciest or most technically whiz-bang on the market. That’s probably why I like ’em so much (have to admit my bias, here). When I start to feel like I’m just being aggressively and excessively marketed to as an editor in the cycling industry, I take a break and ride my Surly. To be fair, I also own a modern carbon full-suspension trail bike that I adore, but I wear the mantle of steel-loving retrogrouch much better.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-8

The new Monkey is slacker and longer. It sports a 69-degree headtube angle (formerly 72 degrees), a slightly shorter chainstay length, a wheelbase stretched by about an inch and a longer top tube. Seat tube angle is the same. The seat tube diameter bumps up to 30.9 for greater dropper-post compatibility while the frame comes stock with Surly Dirt Wizard 27.5×3.0 tires. I’m nuts for Dirt Wizards, especially since they were updated to be less tear-prone. They have grip, grip, grip for days.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-5

Whereas the old Monkey was either rigid or built with a 100 mm fork, the new one will take up to a 140 mm fork. A 140 will raise the bottom bracket 17 mm and kick the headtube angle out to 67.5 degrees. The frame is loaded with even more braze-ons than ever. Yessiree, this is intended to be a bikepacker, a rigid singlespeed, a cross-country bike or a trail shredder. Or, all of the above. Choose your own adventure. Choose all of the adventures.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-4

What’s your clearance, Clarence?

The new Monkey made me smile. It’s not better or worse than the two Salsa’s I also test rode at Saddle Drive: the carbon Woodsmoke and aluminum Timberjack. In fact, those other mid-travel 27plus bikes outshine the Monkey on several points. For $600 more (OK, yes, that’s a lot) you can get in on a carbon Woodsmoke with suspension or, for the same price as the Monkey, grab the Timberjack and get suspension.

Surly’s entry in this category is just different. If you want a plus hardtail, you have to find the one that suits your riding style and calms your inner demons. The Karate Monkey is my drug of choice. I would probably build it just like this Surly employee did. No, yes, this is exactly what I’d do.

Karate Monkey-6


Anyway, how does it ride? It rides like a Surly. The Monkey is still made of the company’s 4130 ‘Natch chromoly steel, but with slightly bigger tubing than previously used on this bike. It doesn’t have internal cable routing or weird tubing shapes. It’s not light but it’s mighty comfortable. Get off my lawn.

One of the Surly guys said the company strives for balance with its bikes. It didn’t try to do stuff like make the rear chainstays as short as possible just for the sake of making them as short as possible. The Monkey is intended to ride well in a multitude of situations, not just one or two. And that it does.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-11

The bike is extraordinarily stable, almost to a fault if you’re intending to play. It’s not as flickable as some other bikes but rather trucks along with confidence, those big meats digging in all the way. To that end, it climbed far better than I expected. In fact, on the ride up the dirt service road, I kept looking around to see if I had a tailwind. No such luck. (I’m not very strong but I had just downed two shots of espresso; maybe that had something to do with it?) I caught up to two dealers also riding the Monkey who made the same comment: “This thing climbs really well!”

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-7

On flat to rolling singletrack, the Monkey felt a little sluggish. It’s weight and big tires means it’s a bit slow to get up to speed. The bike also doesn’t hold its momentum as well as other options. I felt that I was working it harder than the aluminum Timberjack and carbon Woodsmoke that I also sampled that same day on the same route in the hills of Northstar at Tahoe. Yes, those bikes have lighter frames. Still, if I were looking for a single hardtail that’s versatile, reasonably priced, comfortable and fun, I’d pick this one.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-2

On the way down, the Monkey is a blast. I would have loved to have tried out a version with a suspension fork; I can image the addition of some squish would make this bike truly shine. I plowed it along the same intermediate DH trails I tested the other plus hardtails on and it held its own, rigid fork and all. It confidently led me down slow, techy sections that required taking it more carefully but was also just as happy being pushed hard through the chunk. With the help of the big tires, it hugged the dusty berms, despite being not as easy to throw around.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-12

Don’t mind that funky chainring setup. This is just a test bike. Production bikes won’t look like this.

Some on the interwebs have called this a 27plus Krampus. Not so. The geometry numbers aren’t even close. The Monkey is more like a slimmed-down Surly Wednesday (read our full test of that bike), from which this frame borrows some tricks. One of them is a proprietary dropout called Gnot-Boost that offers spacing of 145 mm, allowing the steel frame to expand to fit 148 mm Boost hubs or pulled inward to work with a 142 mm hub. Surly is also now offering an add-on that allows you to transform the rear track dropouts to standard, vertical dropouts.

True to being a Surly, this thing is so versatile that I’m just going to send you to the Monkey’s homepage rather than trying to detail all the details, here.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-10

The stock bikes are orange (geared/frame) for $1,400 complete, purple (singlespeed/frame) for $1,175 complete and black (frame only). Frame/fork can be had for $600. On the 1×11 geared version you get SRAM NX components, an 11-42 cassette, SRAM Level brakes, an Answer Pro Taper handlebar and a WTB Volt saddle (note that not all of that is pictured; the demo bikes at this event had different builds). The singlespeed will run 30×17 gearing. Go nuts.

TEST Surly Karate Monkey-9

This test bike is a size small, FYI



First Ride: Salsa Woodsmoke 27plus

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-5

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews as we publish them.

OK, we know most of you think it’s ugly. You told us all over social media. We also know that elevated chainstays are not a new design, which you also rightly pointed out. But here it is, Salsa’s new carbon hardtail, the Woodsmoke, and it is sporting elevated chainstays in order to get them as short as possible while being able to squeeze in a 29plus tire. On the 27plus bike I tested, you’re looking at a chainstay length of 400-417 mm. (More specifics below.)

That funky rear end also means no chain slap and the ability to run a belt drive. Even though you can’t see it, there is indeed a hidden front derailleur mount (those two holes between the chainstay bend and chain in the below image). The large frame triangle leaves plenty of space for a frame bag—way more than I’m used to on the size small bikes I always ride.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-4

Once, when you said “carbon hardtail,” the assumption was automatically that you were speaking about an XC race bike. That is not what this is, although the Woodsmoke can run a rigid or 100 mm fork. It’s also not just a trail bike, even though you can spec a 140 mm fork and big meats, should you so choose. It’s actually all of those things.

On the XC bike side, the Woodsmoke climbs remarkably well for having such a short rear. Part of that is its carbon frame; part of that is the grip of the tires. The 67.9-degree headtube angle is by no means traditional (and is different than the Trek Stache 29plus at 68.4 degrees) but was more manageable on climbs than I expected.

But the Woodsmoke leans more heavily on the trail bike side of its split personality. The 27plus Woodsmoke I pedaled comes with a SRAM GX1 build and a RockShox Yari RC Solo Air 130 mm fork. My Saddle Drive test route on the slopes of Northstar at Tahoe went like this: climb up a long, dirt service road; rip around on some rolling, rooty cross-country singletrack; descend on rocky, dusty, intermediate DH trails.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-2

The bike was simply fast—too fast, sometimes. I got airborne more than once when I didn’t intend to. You can run out of suspension and control in a hurry because this thing just rips for a hardtail. It’s much quicker to get up to speed, and holds on to that speed much tighter, than either the Karate Monkey or the Salsa Timberjack.

The slacker geometry means it’s extremely exuberant and, if you ride it right, that geometry allows you to stay in control through some nuts situations. Let’s call the Woodsmoke good ‘ol jazz hands. Get out there and dance with reckless abandon, my friends.

The bike can accept 29plus, 29 or 27plus setups, made possible by Salsa’s Alternator 2.0 Dropouts (which also makes singlespeed setup simple). Since I wasn’t able to ride anything other than the 27plus, I present you with Salsa’s stated intent for each tire size:

  • 29plus creates monumental rollover, traction and momentum
  • 27.5plus delivers quick, punchy grip and increased line choice
  • 29er boosts traditional cross-country and climbing speed

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-6

So who is this bike for? Almost anyone, it seems. Well, anyone with a good bit of spare cash. All this fun doesn’t come cheap, which is the bane of carbon. I am sort-of lukewarm on how carbon mountain bikes ride, to be honest. They make plasticky noises and can creak and rattle unnervingly. That said, the Woodsmoke benefits greatly from its carbon frame because it keeps the weight down when you’re building it up with a bigger fork, bigger wheels and bigger tires.

Depending on the build you choose, this bike will cost you either $,2000, $3,000 or $4,000. Add to that any extras you might want to occasionally alter the personality of the Woodsmoke and you’re well into the pricing territory of very good full-suspension bikes. My test bike desperately needed a dropper seatpost and grippier tires, for example. With those two things, it would have become a truly badass trail bike.

And that’s the thing. It used to be that if you wanted a really fun, playful, whippy bike, you almost certainly needed a full-suspension rig (or, a dirt jumper, I suppose) because that’s what was being built with this kind of slacker, more downhill-oriented geometry. If your trails aren’t super tech-gnar-chunk all day, every day, but you still want to flick and pop and juke and jive while you ride, this kind of bike should shoot to the top of your wish list.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-7

You now have endless options and, with this bike, options within your option. This “trend” of longer-travel, short-rear hardtails is gaining steam on the heels of early attempts by companies like Kona and Surly, and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

As I said before, it’s worth noting that plus bikes do ride differently than your standard 2.2-2.4 tire—you can’t straight compare all hardtails. You will feel a bit of sag if you run low pressures on long climbs (kind of like a rear shock in trail mode rather than climb or lockout). The tires can bounce if you don’t get the pressure right. The noise those big meats make can sound like you actually have a flat because so much more rubber is contacting the dirt and gravel than you’re used to. You have to learn to block that out of you mind.

But all that contact equals grip equals fun times. That’s the deal with these 3-inch tires: confidence. They float over more chunk than you imagine is possible and they will claw you up and over all kinds of trail crud.

TEST Salsa Woodsmoke-1

Woodsmoke 27plus geometry

For full geometry and build details across the line, visit Salsa’s website.

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First Ride: Salsa Timberjack 27plus

TEST Salsa Timberjack-11

Ed note: This is part of our initial bike test of three new hardtails introduced at QBP Saddle Drive 2016, each shod with 27plus tires: the aluminum Salsa Timberjack, carbon Salsa Woodsmoke and steel Surly Karate Monkey. Despite their obvious differences, we will draw some comparisons and distinctions among the three, so make sure to check out the other first ride reviews as we publish them.

The Timberjack arrives on the heels of the demise of the steel El Mariachi, a longtime singletrack-and-bikepack staple of the Salsa lineup. This new bike follows most current hardtail trends of more than 100 mm of travel, short chainstays and plus-size tires. By building the bike out of aluminum, Salsa created a machine friendlier on the wallet, lighter weight and perhaps less intimidating for a newer mountain biker/bikepacker to approach in their local bike shop (Salsa will also be sold by REI very soon).

TEST Salsa Timberjack-3

Personally, I don’t fancy the way most aluminum bikes ride or look, especially hardtail mountain bikes. Despite being the youngest person on Dirt Rag’s staff, I am the resident steel-loving retrogrouch.

That said, it is hard to argue with what you can get for $1,400 (the test bike I rode): 120 mm of RockShox Recon SL suspension, 27.5×3.0 Schwalbe Nobby Nic tires, tubeless-ready Whisky (in-house QBP brand) rims, trail bike mannerisms, internal cable routing and a 30.9 seatpost size for greater compatibility with droppers (which also can be internally routed).

At that price point, and after a couple of hours romping in the woods together, I can’t think of a single bad thing to realistically say about the Timberjack.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-5

My Saddle Drive test route on the slopes of Northstar at Tahoe went like this: climb up a long, dirt service road; rip around on some rolling, rooty cross-country singletrack; descend on rocky, dusty, intermediate DH trails.

My bike was set up with a wildly short stem (40 mm, I think) and tubeless tires (necessary). Despite the short, 420 mm-long chainstays on my size small, the Timberjack motored up that service road without complaint. It’s a little sluggish when you stand to hammer out of the saddle but if you are, like me, a sit-and-grind climber, the tire grip should please you.

The top tube is on the long side, helping to facilitate that short cockpit, so riders with short torsos might have a little trouble getting situated. It also meant I had a bit of a harder time getting my butt back behind the saddle on some of the gnarlier descents. I would absolutely add a dropper to this bike if it were to be ridden on steeps.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-2

On the singletrack, the Timberjack was playful, confident, held its momentum decently well and generally rode a lot like its carbon sibling, the Salsa Woodsmoke (yes, really). Its stability and speed fell right in between the Woodsmoke and the new Surly Karate Monkey, the latter of which is more stable and assuring, the former snappier and easier to get silly on.

I did almost face plant off a wooden feature when I took it too fast to simply roll but wasn’t positioned correctly to get air. The big tires, brapping cockpit and whippy rear end means you can easily get out of hand on the Timberjack because you’re having too much fun and forget you lack a rear shock…

TEST Salsa Timberjack-12

The bike held its own at speed, railed berms and stayed patient with me when I needed to slow way down to pick my way through bigger rock gardens that I didn’t feel I had the bike to just blast through.

These plus bikes are your bad-idea cousins. Take one down chunky trails without rear suspension? Sure, why not? Just stay light, stay back and bounce your way over those rocks with your fingers mentally crossed. The chain slap and general rattle of an aluminum bike does get a bit noisy through rock gardens and you can bottom out those low-pressure tires if you take it off too big of a drop, but, whatever. It’s also a sweet trail bike for your hometown singletrack.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-7

It’s worth noting that plus bikes do ride differently than your standard 2.2-2.4 tire—you can’t straight compare all hardtails. You will feel a bit of sag if you run low pressures on long climbs (kind of like a rear shock in trail mode rather than climb or lockout). The noise those big meats make can sound like you actually have a flat because so much more rubber is contacting the dirt and gravel than you’re used to. You have to learn to block that out of you mind.

But all that contact equals grip equals fun times. That’s the deal with these 3-inch tires: confidence. They float over more chunk than you imagine is possible and they will claw you up and over all kinds of trail crud.

The Timberjack is a bargain at $1,400 and it’s one of the only bikes in this category available in extra small. Get yourself a used dropper post off Craigslist for $100 and you have yourself a really nice trail bike at a really nice price.

See full geometry and build-kit specs on Salsa’s website.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-8

The aluminum 27plus bike category

The Specialized Fuse was a big player in kicking off this category a year ago and the entry-level aluminum model comes close to the Salsa at $1,600—that $200 difference gets you a dropper post. As much as I love droppers, I think the new SRAM GX/NX spec on the Timberjack works better than the SRAM X7/X5 build the Fuse gets.

TEST Salsa Timberjack-6

Also in the aluminum 27plus bike family (around the Timberjack’s price point) are the following:

  • Kona Big Kahuna at $1,400 (100 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 440 mm chainstays, 69-degree headtube angle)
  • Cannondale Beast of the East 3 at $1,600 (120 mm fork, Shimano SLX, 435 mm chainstays, 68.4-degree headtube angle)
  • Scott Scale 720 Plus at $1,700 (120 mm fork, Shimano Deore, 439 mm chainstays, 67.7-degree headtube angle)
  • Norco Torrent 7.2 at $1,450 (12o mm fork, Shimano Deore/SLX, 422.5 mm chainstays, 67-degree headtube angle).

All stats are from each bike’s size medium.

The Fuse is the only one with a dropper; all of the bikes wear decent tires and hydraulic disc brakes. We really liked the slack Torrent 7.2’s nicer and more expensive brother, the Torrent 7.1 (read our review of that bike).

I’m personally stoked to see this category growing. For someone who wants just one bike to do many things but doesn’t have a wallet fat with Benjamins, this is one type of mountain bike they should closely consider, and the Salsa is a strong contender.



Cannondale shows off updated mountain line for 2017

At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, Cannondale released several new models, as well as existing model updates and an expanded women’s line for 2017. Keep reading for details on the new plus bike and refreshed carbon rigs.

Cujo 1 27plus

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The Cujo is a new 27plus bike based on Cannondale’s other trail bikes (namely, the Beast of the East) that is designed to come in at a lower price point. This top-of-the line model will retail around $1400, with the rest of the range going down to $800.

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The Cujo 1 will come with WTB Ranger 3-inch tires, Shimano Deore brakes, SRAM NX 1×11 cassette, SRAM GX derailleur and a tapered headtube. All models will get a 120 mm fork. Cujos 2 and 3 will come with 2x drivetrains. This bike will be available in July in sizes extra small through extra extra large.

Bad Habit 1 Carbon

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The Bad Habit will now come in carbon with a new build spec all around that includes house-made 40 mm internal-width carbon Hollowgram rims wearing 3-inch tires, plus flat-mount brakes, Shimano XTR build, a LEV dropper post and 120 mm of travel front and rear.

cannondale bad boy

This model will retail for around $5000. Sizes small through extra large.

Women’s Carbon Habit 1

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The women’s Habit has been updated with new colors, an updated drivetrain, dropper post and a new high-end build kit at the top of the line (pictured) that features carbon cranks, a FOX dropper post, the Lefty fork, a Shimano XTR build and XT brakes. The bike will become available in the next couple of months.

Scalpel Si Carbon Women’s 2

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Also showcased was the new Scalpel-Si for women, a carbon cross-country race bike that was designed around newer, more technical courses. We did a big story about the launch of this bike where you can check out all of the details and read our interview with Cannondale’s MTB product manager.

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Featuring 100 mm of travel front and rear, the bike is slightly slacker than traditional XC race rigs. This one is outfitted with a Shimano XT 1×11 build, 160 mm brake rotors, simplified Di2 routing for upgrade-itis, Stan’s ZTR Rapid rims, remote shock lockouts, carbon crank and a Fi’zi:k Arione Donna saddle. The bike will retail for $4,260 as shown.



GT previews updated mountain lineup for 2017

At this year’s bike Press Camp in Park City, Utah, GT released several new models and significant updates for 2017, including a plus bike, more women’s models, a sub-$2,000 full-suspension bike and a throwback bike you’re probably going to want. Read on for details.

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Pantera 27plus

The Pantera is a GT model not seen since the 1990s, but now it’s back as a 27plus bike to be offered in three builds. The Expert model seen here is the top build with tubeless 2.8 Schwalbe Rocket Rons on rims with a 40 mm inner width, a Shimano 1×11 setup with hydraulic disc brakes,  120 mm RockShox Revelation fork with Boost spacing, thru axles and a 69-degree head tube.

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The Pantera Expert will retail for $1,620, meaning the two other models will ring up for less than that. Note that it has rear rack mounts for your pending off-road bikepacking adventures.

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One trend for 2017 seems to be a move toward offering sub-$2,000 full-suspension bikes. (We might have to lower the price point on our annual test!) The Expert model pictured here sits at the top of the range and will retail for $1,620, with sibling prices dipping all the way to below $1,000.

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The Verb features the same rear suspension design as GTs higher-end bikes (just with an entry-level rear shock) and is designed to sit between those bikes and GT’s hardtails. The Expert will come with a 2x Shimano Deore drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, an integrated headset, 120 mm air-sprung fork with full lockout, and an all-aluminum cockpit. GT calls this bike “upgrade-worthy” for the weekend warrior.

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GT is working to expand its line of women’s-specific mountain bikes and has hired a former female pro racer to its design team. One step toward that goal is the new Helion for women. It’s the same frame and rear suspension design as the men’s/unisex Helion but features a lighter shock tune and different saddle, bars and stem.

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The Helion Expert pictured here has 27.5 wheels, 110 mm of rear travel paired to 120 mm in the front (Fox Rhythm 34), hydraulic disc brakes and a 2×11 Shimano drivetrain. It also has a pretty sweet paint job. This Helion women’s Elite will retail for $2,130.

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The GT Performer is a complete replica of a 1986 BMX bike, but with a long-enough seatpost and 26-inch wheels to facilitate cruising about town. It’s the bike you rode as a kid (or lusted after) now in an adult-friendly size. For $560, GT might just have your new bar bike.

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Tested: Plus-size mountain bike tires

To compliment our recent wheel size explainer (which you should check out, here), we tested four plus-size tires from MAXXIS and WTB that cover various riding conditions.

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Price: $130 (each)
Tester: Eric McKeegan

The more aggressive of the two MAXXIS tires in this review, the Rekon+ looks much like the offspring of an Ardent/High Roller tryst. Alternating wide/long center tread, small intermediate knobs and real cornering knobs are a welcome change from many of the tiny-knobbed plus tires out there.

Mounted up to Easton ARC 40 rims (40 mm internal width), this 2.8 tire measures out at 70 mm at the widest point of the tire, which is the casing; the side knobs are tucked in slightly at 67 mm. I didn’t run into any issues, but I’ve found tires with casings wider than the knobs have a tendency to be more susceptible to sidewall cuts.

The Rekon+ is a predictable tire, with good braking traction and a non-squirmy feel on all but the most traction-y of surfaces. It is not my favorite tread pattern with wet weather, as it can go sideways on off-camber slime with little warning.

At 840 grams, it is heavier than advertised, but still very reasonable, all things considered. There are two versions of this tire, both with a folding tubeless ready bead and EXO reinforced casing. A basic dual compound is $120, I rode the fancier 3C Maxx Terra compound ($130/tire), said to be faster and more durable than the Maxx Grip compound, and more grippy than the faster Maxx Speed compound.

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Price: $120 (each)
Tester: Eric McKeegan

Unlike the Rekon+, the Ikon+ is an adaptation of a standard size tire’s tire pattern. The Ikon, in any size, is unabashedly a cross-country oriented tire, with an emphasis on speed and light weight over traction and durability.

The Ikon+ has the same 67/70 mm tread/casing measurement as the Rekon+ and weighs 820 grams. As expected, this is a fast-feeling tire which handled most dry conditions quite well. It let go a lot sooner than the Rekon+ when things got wet.

The Ikon+ has three options, a basic dual compound without the TR/EXO casing for $100, a dual compound TR/EXO for $120 (tested) and a fast rolling 3C Maxx Speed compound, TR/EXO at $130.

If you wanted to race cross-country on a dry course, the Ikon+ is by far your best bet on the market for plus bikes, even if such bikes are an odd tool for that job. For more aggressive terrain and riders, a Rekon+ front and rear would be a good choice, swapping out for an Ikon rear only if things were dry.

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WTB Trail Boss 3.0

Price: $68 (each)
Tester: Jon Pratt

Built on the tread pattern of the non-plus-sized Trail Boss line, the 3.0 adds a second row of knobs beside the centerline of the tire while keeping the great, fast-rolling characteristics of its predecessors.

WTB uses a Dual DNA rubber compound, consisting of a stiffer 60a durometer rubber along the center and a softer 50a durometer rubber for side knobs. Those more pliable side knobs do a great job hanging on while shoving the tire into corners. The tire’s rounded profile allows more of those knobs to bite when pushing through turns or loamy trails. The overall tread pattern sheds well, and feels great on everything from hard packed dirt to looser, wet soil. Steering is crisp and responsive, and acceleration and braking are great.

As we transitioned into winter, the Trail Boss did incredibly well on the frozen, snow-dusted trails. However, its traction did decrease noticeably as the snow kept falling, but was still reasonable for a tire designed for less fluffy surfaces.

I ran the tires on several bikes. Setting them up as tubeless was easy and even at extremely low pressures I have not noticed any burping issues. I like my tires a bit on the hard side, so I’ve been running just under 20 psi, and they seem to confidently handle just about anything I throw at them.

Even though the tire is heavy, with a pre-production weight of 1,125 grams, the trade off for traction is worth it. The Trail Boss 3.0 is currently one of my favorite 27plus offerings.

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WTB Bridger

Price: $68 (each)
Tester: Adam Newman

The Bridger’s dual-DNA rubber compound is mated to WTB’s excellent TCS bead for idiot-proof tubeless setup. The tread’s squared blocks are directional and feature small siping to help them grip. The profile is a fairly consistent curve, without a sharp shoulder of cornering knobs. While the shape struck me as suspect at first, I’ve learned to trust their traction. I’ve found some other “plus” tires lack the cornering grip of traditional, square-shouldered tires, but the Bridgers have plenty of bite.

WTB touts the Bridger as an all-purpose tread, and I’ve found it works well on everything from dry hardpack to soft, Pacific Northwest loam. I would expect a tire this wide to have more rolling resistance than traditional tires, but the Bridger doesn’t feel even remotely as heavy as a full-sized fat bike tire. Compared to the Trail Boss 3.0, WTB pointed out that the wider-spaced center knobs of the Bridger will perform slightly better on soft surfaces, while the Trail Boss will roll faster on dry trails.

There seems to be more 27plus bikes on the market than there are tires available, so while most of the models released so far are glorified XC treads, it’s great to have a full-fledged trail and all-mountain tire as an option.



Review: Charge Cooker 4


This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.

Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.

Charge Cooker-2

Tester: Jon Pratt
Age: 45, Height: 5’10.5”, Weight: 190 lbs. Inseam: 31” 
Price: $2,400
Sizes: Small, Medium, Large (tested)

One could argue that the Cooker 4 from Charge Bikes is possibly the most mundane, simple bike in our bike roundup, and I don’t say that in a negative tone. I dig simplicity. Designed around the increasingly popular 27plus wheel size, the Cooker is your basic aluminum hardtail. Not meant to be a hot rod hardtail, but more of the cross-country/adventure bike that can handle most scenarios.

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Look past the larger tires and you find most of the regular bits you would expect. There is a solid 100 mm travel Rock Shox Reba fork to keep the trail chatter to a minimum, a smooth 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain to keep you moving and powerful Shimano SLX brakes to stop you from running over your buddy at the bottom of the hill. Everything here seems right as rain, but there’s a cloud with that silver lining.

Before I delve into some of my ride impressions, there are a few things I need to get off my chest about the Cooker. In the ever-expanding landscape of plus sized bikes, I find it puzzling that Charge hung their hat on the old 135 mm QR rear spacing. Without the extra clearance afforded by Boost 148, you won’t be able to just grab any old 27plus tire off the shelf and expect it to fit. While the Cooker ships with an adequate 2.8 inch WTB Trailblazer, several newer 3 inch tires I tried would not work without some amount of rub on the chainstays, especially when the stays flexed during pedaling and cornering. This is an oversight that could possibly limit the future upgradeability of the Cooker.

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Even more puzzling to me is that the bike comes with a 110 Boost RockShox Reba. I guess it’s OK to go big in the front, but there’s no junk happening in this trunk. And let’s not get me started on that 27.2 mm seatpost. Whew, that was painful, but now it’s over—on to the riding bits.

Because there was adequate space in the fork, I was able to swap the less-than-ideal-in-wet-and-loose-conditions Trailblazer for a 3 inch WTB Trail Boss. With the new rubber crisply leading the way, the bike felt lively but direct. This was especially noticeable during some long, bermy sections where the low-pressure Trail Boss really allowed me to pick my line and stick to it, while the back of the bike followed a bit of its own path but maintained an essence of control. Always fun roosting those turns!

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Even with the moderately steep 70 degree head tube angle, the Cooker was surprisingly capable on the more technical sections of trails. The larger tire diameter and low pressure had a lot to do with the bike’s ability to absorb repeated impacts and maintain control. Areas where I’ve taken similarly designed cross-country bikes and wished for a better rig, didn’t feel so out of bounds on the Cooker.

After a few outings the more-upright-than-I’m-used-to cockpit felt a little less foreign to me, and the bike started to grow on me. That upright posture, headtube angle and stiff rear end made climbing a breeze. The front of the bike didn’t wander around in the least, and the transfer of power to the rear wheel was as perfect as one would expect on a hardtail. The gravity-assisted treks back down the hills weren’t too shabby either. The Reba married to the big rubber gave me the confidence to plow through some ugly lines at pretty decent speeds.

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The Cooker is definitely set up to tackle most things you’ll run into on your next adventure. To wrap it all up—I have a hard time coming to terms with this bike. It was fun to ride and was a good match for most of what Charge designed it for, but its long-term usefulness is limited due to tire clearance issues.

If you are looking for a cross-country oriented hardtail and wanted to try the plus sized thing, this could be a decent choice. Anyone who is well-versed in modern trail bike geometry is going to have bit of a tough go loving this one. I’ve been told there are some additions to the Cooker lineup coming in 2017, perhaps we’ll see a more trail-oriented hardtail in the future.


  • Hardtail simplicity
  • No crazy paint or stickers
  • Big tires and wide rims


  • 135 mm rear spacing
  • No dropper post
  • More slack would be more better


  • Wheelbase: 44.9”
  • Top Tube: 24.5”
  • Head Angle: 70°
  • Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5°
  • Bottom Bracket: 12.4”
  • Rear Center: 17.1”
  • Weight: 29 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)



First Impression: Salsa Pony Rustler



Salsa Cycles’ Pony Rustler is the rotund sibling of the brand’s well-admired Horsethief. Both bikes feature the same basic platform and very similar components, with the obvious difference being the wider wheelset of the Pony Rustler. I’ve been riding the Carbon X01 build for a few weeks and have been impressed on how well it tackles the ever-changing winter weather we’ve been experiencing on the East Coast this year. There has been everything from summer-like 70 degree days to Arctic cold temperatures mixed with slush, ice and deep powder. Throw in a couple of blistering windstorms and you get the idea.


I really have come to appreciate Salsa’s decision to use 45 mm WTB Scraper rims matched up 3-inch WTB Bridger tires. While not the best in the deep snow, the Bridgers have been a great all-around choice. The wide rims also do a great job of creating a nice full tire profile, allowing for more of the knobs to maintain contact with the trail surface.


Two of the three Pony Rustler build kits come with a 1x drivetrain; the lower-priced model ships with a 2x option. So far I’ve had no issues with the SRAM X01 that shipped with ours. Yea, it’s sometimes a pain to try and dump a bunch of gears when faced with an uphill you weren’t expecting, but I’m willing to deal with the inconvenience for a cleaner handlebar setup.


The Carbon X01 build features a nice upgrade to the 130 mm Pike RCT3 which uses the awesome Charger Damper that RockShox fans have grown to love. You’ll find a Fox Float 34 with the two other kits.

And, of course, what would a high-end trail bike be without a dropper post? Here Salsa opted for the internal cable routed Reverb Stealth.


I’ve had the Pony Rustler out on a few regular singletrack outings and a snowy/rainy/slushy overnight bikepacking excursion. It’s been a ton of fun on all of it. I’m really looking forward to putting some more miles on it and seeing if it could be the one bike my stable has been itching for. I’m cautiously optimistic.

Price: $5,499
Check out salsacycles.com for more information on the Pony Rustler and all their other bikes.

We’ll be running a long term review of the Pony Rustler in a future issue of Dirt Rag so stay tuned and make sure you have an active subscription so you don’t miss it, and all the great stuff we’ve got planned for the year.


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