2019 Salsa Horsethief and Spearfish: First Look

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Salsa just announced its reengineered lineup of full-suspension mountain bikes. With revamped suspension dynamics, modernized geometry, added tire clearance, and a new look, all three are heavily positioned tp trail mountain bikers. The two 29ers also get Super BOOST rear end, larger frame bag space, threaded BBs, more mounts, and a few new tricks that should make them equally attractive to bikepackers…

Salsa has deep roots in the 29er platform. Having said that, many of you might immediately picture the El Mariachi, Salsa’s 29” hardtail that developed something of a cult-classic persona. However, Salsa also has a creative lineage of full-suspension 29ers. Back in 2007, they released the Dos Niner, a “soft tail” with a 1” Salsa Relish shock at the seatstays. Then, in 2009, while much of the bike industry was poopooing the idea of a full-squish 29er, Salsa continued to stir the pot with their Big Mama, a scandium bike with 100 millimeters of single-pivot rear travel. The Spearfish came along in 2010-11 with a 80mm single pivot design (still common in a few XC full sus bike designs today) and flattened flex stays to mimic the effect of a rear pivot.

Later, in 2012, Salsa Cycles partnered with suspension mastermind Dave Weagle behind the scenes to integrate the Split Pivot linkage system, only leased by one other bike company at the time. They launched the completely overhauled Spearfish and Horsethief in 2014 using Split Pivot. Since then, Salsa has continued to evolve its full-suspension 29ers, and has also released several atypical models, such as the 29+ Deadwood SUS. Today, their veteran team of designers, engineers, and marketers unveiled what’s perhaps their most ambitious full-suspension lineup to date, complete with a new full-sus, MTB-specific logo and three modern, yet relatively conventional new bikes aimed directly at trail riders.

  • salsa Logo mountian bikes
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief

The new lineup covers a broad range of riding styles and includes a little something for everyone. In this post, we’ll stick with the two 29ers: the fast and efficient 100mm travel Spearfish, and the trail-oriented, do-it-all 120mm Horsethief, both of which feature the same frame triangle layout and a Super BOOST 157mm rear end. Click here for the scoop on the the more playful and capable 130mm travel Rustler. All three of these bikes get several improvements over their predecessors. Advancements include shorter chainstays, added travel, refined geometry, and all-new Flip Chips for fine tuning the headtube angle and bottom bracket height. Plus, all models get specced with 1x drivetrains and dropper posts. However, the biggest changes come in the form of a suspension overhaul. Here are the details from Salsa, followed by the specs, photos, and our first impressions on each bike.

2019 Salsa Spearfish

There’s no question that Salsa’s focus behind this launch is a the suspension (re)engineering that went into these bikes. While the company maintains its commitment to the Dave Weagle designed Split Pivot system, they made quite a few tweaks and improvements over the last batch of bikes. In a nutshell, Split Pivot is based on a concentric dropout pivot. This theoretically separates acceleration forces from braking forces in the suspension and reduces excess suspension compression. According to engineer Pete Koski and product designer Sean Mailen, both of whom have worked on the Salsa team for well over a decade, Split Pivot is just as good, if not better than Weagle’s other legendary systems. The improvements the team made are owed to experience, and the suspension underneath these bikes is their best effort to date. Here are some details on the updates:

Redesigned Leverage

Salsa claims to have tweaked the Split Pivot suspension system’s leverage rate to offer a more progressive ramp feel in the final third of the stroke. This provides more confidence and control when the suspension is pushed hard on rough terrain.

Flip Chip

One of the most interesting new additions is the Flip Chip, a shock link mount that allows adjustments to bottom bracket height and the headtube angle to optimize for wheel size, tire diameter, terrain, or the rider preference. Flip Chip in “high” raises the BB of both the Horsethief and Spearfish about 4mm and steepens angles about 0.25 degrees

Pedaling Efficiency

Both 29ers get a revised anti-squat design for better pedaling performance. This is owed in part to the new 1x-specific design optimized for a 32-tooth chainring. The result is efficient pedaling without over-dampening the rear shock (which hinders small bump compliance) or using a lockout.

  • Highlights
  • Angles: 67° Headtube, 73.6° Seattube
  • Chainstay: 432mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm threaded
  • Hub specs: 15 x 110mm (front); 12 x 157mm (rear)
  • Max Tire Size: 27.5 x 3.0″ / 29 x 2.6″

2019 Salsa Horsethief

The Horsethief is Salsa’s 29″ all-around trail bike, and probably the most versatile bike in the range. It’s also the most “normal” bike in the new lineup, meaning that it’s a relatively standard-travel trail bike, similar in purpose and nature to many other popular contemporary bikes in this category. With that said, it’s not without a touch of Salsa’s unique flavor. The 2019 Horsethief features 120mm of Split Pivot rear suspension and a 140mm fork. And it has room for 29 x 2.6″ tires, which will appease a lot of readers here, I’d expect. Salsa also claims that it’s equally suited to a range of tire sizes, including 27.5 x 2.8–3.0″ and 29 x 2.1–2.6″ with the use of the Flip Chip.

2019 Salsa Horsethief

  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief

Super BOOST!

Both the 2019 Salsa Horsethief and Spearfish are built around a Super BOOST rear-end. For those unfamiliar, Super BOOST is simply a branded term (employed by Pivot in 2016) for the use of a 157mm hub—a decade old downhill standard—paired with standard non-downhill cranks and a standard width bottom bracket. Like BOOST 148 (but better) this offsets the chainline outward for more tire clearance without negatively affecting shifting. It also adds wheel strength and frame stiffness.

Salsa engineer Pete Koski felt that SB+157 allowed them to get an overall better ride experience out of a 29er chassis than a regular BOOST 148mm width dropout. It also allowed them to shorten the stays 5mm (from 437 to 432mm) while increasing tire clearance from 2.4” to a full 2.6”—a true 29 x 2.6” tire, not a tire labeled 2.6 that actually only measures 2.45”, something a couple other bikes have gotten away with. They could also still maintain a 32T chainring. According to Pete, “one of those three things needed to be sacrificed with BOOST 148 and we didn’t want to or have to with Super BOOST 157…”

2019 Salsa Horsethief

  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief

Frame Features (both Spearfish and Horsethief)

According to Salsa, both frames’ EPS construction allows for greater manufacturing control, smooth surfacing, a simplified bottom bracket junction, and an integrated shock mount. Both also use 6066-T6 aluminum heat-treated chainstays for durability—a construction I can get get behind in carbon bikes as the stays can get grinded with mud and muck. The aluminum models are made from double and triple butted, heat-treated 6066-T6 aluminum tubing. Other frame features include internally sleeved cable routing on carbon models, full-length internal housing cable routing on aluminum models, and stealth dropper post routing. Both bikes are available in sizes small, medium, large, and XL.

Bikepacking Features

One of the most visible characteristics on these new bikes is the expanded frame triangle. The Spearfish and Horsethief can both fit two 24oz water bottles using the appropriate bottle cages. This also makes for a nice, large cavity for a frame pack, which will delight many readers (myself included). Salsa already has its own EXP frame bags for these bikes available, although I didn’t get a chance to check them out.

  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief

First Impressions

At this point, I only have a single ride on the Horsethief, so take this with a grain of salt. If you are familiar with my reviews, you’ll know I usually put 1,000 miles or more on a bike before putting pen to paper. However, here are some initial thoughts. Admittedly, I was a little like a fish out of water during my short, hour and a half ride on the Horsethief. I’ve been riding a hardtail and rigid bike exclusively for the last couple months, so jumping on a full-squish rig with standard sized tires was a little odd at first. That said, I was immediately impressed at how well the bike held traction during our rubbly, mildly-technical climb up the Black Canyon Trail south of Table Mesa. While it stayed planted, the front-end seemed a little squirrelly at first. But after a while I settled into it and it felt comfortable – and it pedaled surprisingly well for a mid-travel bike. We headed up the trail a while until we summited at a viewpoint where we stopped for a breather before turning back toward basecamp. Going back down is where I felt the bike come to life. It felt confident in and out of corners and handled most of the rough terrain with ease. Stay tuned, as I’m looking to spend a little more time on this bike in the near future.

  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
  • 2019 Salsa Horsethief
Salsa Horsethief Carbon Gx (top-end model)

2019 Salsa Horsethief Models

The new Horsethief is available in two carbon models. The NX Model shown here in red features a RockShox Revelation RC 140mm, a SRAM NX 12-speed drivetrain, and WTB ST i25 rims for $4,199. The high-end GX Eagle comes in split teal/charcoal colorway with a RockShox Pike RC 140mm fork for $5,199 (which Salsa claims weighs 30.9 pounds in a size medium). There are also two 1×11 aluminum models starting at $2,399. Or, you can also get a carbon frame/shock for $2,999. Learn more over at SalsaCycles.com.

  • Highlights
  • Angles: 67.8° Headtube, 74.2° Seattube
  • Chainstay: 432.4mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm threaded
  • Hub specs: 15 x 110mm (front); 12 x 157mm (rear)
  • Max Tire Size: 27.5 x 3.0″ / 29 x 2.6″

2019 Salsa Spearfish

The 2019 Salsa Spearfish is positioned as a 29″ progressive XC bike. Featuring 100mm of Split Pivot suspension and a 120mm fork, it’s gained 20mm travel in the rear over its predecessor. Speaking of which, the former Spearfish holds a place in the record books with Neil Beltchenko’s current Arizona Trail Race 300 record (1 day, 23 hours, and 13 minutes). With that said, the 2019 model is a little more relaxed (and modernized) with a 1.5° slacker head tube angle and a 0.5° steeper seat tube. It also has the same added clearance as the Horsethief, which frees it up to be a more than adequate trail bike. Still, we’ve heard Neil will be aboard the new 2019 model for this year’s 2019 AZT, and we’re excited to see how he does.

2019 Salsa Spearfish

  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish

2019 Salsa Spearfish

  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish

Wrap Up

We didn’t have a chance to try the new Spearfish, but I look forward to getting my hands on one in the future for a review. Generally speaking, I am impressed with the look, added frame triangle space, and tire clearance offered on both of these bikes. Not to mention, I’m happy with Salsa’s move back to a threaded bottom bracket, as I am sure many folks reading this will be. And bravo to the team of engineers for stepping out and using Super BOOST spacing with these bikes. While some folks might gripe about the lack of wheel and hub options, there are more and more bikes dabbling in SB-157 and it’s truly a smart move for larger 29″ wheels. I only wish would have caught on sooner. More to come.

2019 Salsa Spearfish Models

The Spearfish is available in two carbon models. The NX Model as shown here in red features a RockShox Reba RL 120mm fork, SRAM NX 12-speed drivetrain, and WTB ST i25 rims for $4,199. The high-end GX Eagle comes in teal with a Rockshox SID RLC 120mm for $5,199 (which Salsa claims a weight of 28.5 pounds for a size medium). There are also two 1×11 aluminum models starting at $2,399. Or, you can also get a carbon frame/shock for $2,999. Learn more over at SalsaCycles.com.

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