2019 Salsa Rustler: First Look

Is the new 2019 Salsa Rustler a bikepacking bike? Not really. Could it be? Absolutely. With 27.5 x 2.6″ tires, added clearance, and a Flip Chip to tune the suspension, it’s certainly interesting. Here are loads of photos, a comparison to its predecessor, specs, and some thoughts from our first ride…

The Pony Rustler is dead. Long live the Rustler! It’s easy for me to say considering I’ve been riding the oddball 27.5+ Pony Rustler on and off for the last couple of years. But, for the record, this is a completely different bike from its namesake, a bike that I’ve come to know and love, through the good and bad, with all its quirks. Other than the wheel size and a few typical specs, the 2019 Rustler doesn’t have much in common with the plus-specific Pony Rustler. Even so, it’s necessary to draw a comparison for the sake of etymology. I had a chance to take the new Rustler for a relatively short ride on a slice of the Black Canyon Trail (which I finished with a grin). Here are some thoughts and details.

2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Spearfish
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • Highlights
  • Angles: 65.8° Headtube, 73.6° Seattube
  • Chainstay: 426mm
  • Bottom Bracket: 73mm Threaded
  • Hub specs: 15 x 110mm (front); 12 x 148mm (rear)
  • Max Tire Size: 27.5 x 2.8″

When considering the origin of the former Pony Rustler, there was something that was a bit off. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that bike. But it was made in the image of the former Horsethief; it was kind of an add-on and shared the exact same frame, changing only the chainstay and linkage to go from 29er to 27.5+. This made some sense at the time, as several bike companies released 29er/27.5+ hybrids. But, in reality, there’s a significant difference between the diameter of 29 x 2.35″ tires (the current MTB standard) and 27.5 x 2.8″ (the plus tire standard these days)—about 15mm to be exact. When a bike is designed for 29″ tires, the bottom bracket height can be too low with 27.5+ tires, and chainstay length suffers as well. Salsa engineers went back to the drawing board with the 2019 Rustler and completely switched this mode of thinking. Instead of switching wheel sizes on one bike frame, they doubled their efforts for 29ers. Now, the new Spearfish and Horsthief share the same frame, and the 2019 Rustler is its own thing—one wheel size; one bike.

2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5

The all-new Salsa Rustler is built around 27.5 x 2.6″ tires with 130mm of Split Pivot suspension out back and a 150mm fork. As mentioned, this bike has completely different destiny than that of the Pony Rustler. The former was a relatively short travel bike with 120mm rear travel and 130mm up front. And due to a short bottom bracket, it was pretty much relegated to 3.0″ tires. Although the new Rustler can probably clear 27.5 x 3.0″ tires, Salsa states that the Rustler fits 27.5″ tires ranging from 2.3–2.8″. Fortunately, Salsa designers had the foresight to spec the Rustler with 35mm internal width rims, a relatively versatile wheel size that is perfect for 2.6″ rubber but can also comfortably fit 2.8s or smaller 2.35s.

Another perk to the Rustler being designed around the the 27.5 wheel size as that they were able to shorten the chainstays considerably. The stays lost 11mm from the Pony Rustler and 6mm from the 2019 Horsethief due to the fact that it was designed for 27.5 tires, vs. 29er rubber. They also raised the BB and made the bike available in extra small, which is generally not plausible with a 29er due to the larger wheel diameter.

  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5

Like the Horsethief and Spearfish, the Salsa Rustler also gets an EPS carbon frame, a 6066-T6 aluminum heat-treated chainstay for durability, internally sleeved cable routing, and stealth dropper post routing. It also gets a Flip Chip, although it only adjusts the BB drop about 3mm. However, unlike the two 29ers, the Rustler is only available in carbon and doesn’t have a Super BOOST 157 rear end. Instead, Salsa chose to stick with 148mm BOOST spacing out back. As design engineer Sean Mailen noted, “[Super BOOST/157mm] didn’t really give us a true advantage. We could achieve the short rear center length (426mm) we wanted and fit the drivetrain desired by using the 148 Boost platform since we wanted to fit up to a 2.8” but not bigger. We felt like in this situation we had more options.” In a nutshell, because of the smaller overall wheel diameter of 27.5 tires, they could already get the tire clearance (up to a 2.8), the desired chainring (32T), and very nimble chainstay length (426mm) in the 27.5/27.5+ frame with 148mm, so there really isn’t as strong a case for SB/157 in that wheelsize.

  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
  • 2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5
2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5

2019 Salsa Rustler Carbon GX Eagle

The Salsa Rustler is available in two builds, the Carbon GX Eagle shown here in the sunrise fade paint scheme for $5,199, or an NX build in a black/teal fade with a Revelation fork, RT3 shock and slightly lower drivetrain spec for $4,199. You can also get a frame/fork in dark gray for $2,799.

  • Fork Rockshox Pike RC 150mm
  • Rear Derailleur SRAM GX Eagle
  • Cassette SRAM XG 1275 (10-50t)
  • Crankset SRAM GX Eagle DUB 32t
  • Shifter SRAM GX Eagle
  • Chain SRAM NX Eagle
  • Brakes SRAM Guide R (180mm rotors)
  • Headset Cane Creek 40
  • Handlebar Salsa Salt Flat Deluxe (SM) Rustler Deluxe (MD–XL)
  • Seatpost Reverb Stealth with 1x remote, travel (SM/100mm, MD/125mm, LG/XL/150mm)
  • Saddle WTB Volt
  • Front Wheel WTB 110 x 15mm, WTB ST i35 TCS 2.0 27.5″, tubeless ready
  • Rear Wheel WTB 148 x 12mm, WTB ST i35 TCS 2.0 27.5″, tubeless ready
  • Tires Maxxis Minion DHF front & DHR II rear, 27.5 x 2.6″
2019 Salsa Rustler, 27.5

First Impressions

A bike with a 150mm fork isn’t usually one I’d consider for alternating between trail riding and bikepacking. However, as suspension designs improve, whose to say where the cap is. Either way, this was a bike I had to try based on my longstanding relationship with the Pony Rustler. Like the Horsethief, I had just one ride on the Rustler, so again, don’t take these thoughts too seriously. Gin rode the Rustler NX and I tried the Rustler GX. On both we did a significant climb with some mildly technical and rocky bits, then we descended back down to the media base camp. As Gin pointed out, and as to be expected, it’s not as punch while climbing as the much shorter travel Pivot 429 Trail (27.5+) or Pony Rustler. however, it’s a lot better than expected. And with the suspension dialed into a firmer setting, it’s actually pretty dang good.

The 27.5 x 2.6″ tires felt more than capable, and about perfect for this level of suspension. Gin noted that the Rustler felt more stable, planted, and seems to have significantly better traction than the Pivot. I would agree; the traction while climbing was quite surprising. any hesitation on the steep bits could be attributed directly to leg strength or a little sluggishness tied to the big fork.

Descending on this bike is when the grins really started. The 2.6″ tires, short chainstay, and seemingly well tuned suspension seemed to be purpose made for the rocky, tight and twisty terrain that this section of the Black Canyon Trail has to offer. There were several occasions where I went into a corner rather hot and the Rustler didn’t sleep. It went in fast, reacted fast, and shot out the other side without hesitation. I kept thinking to myself that I wish I could spend time on my home trails in Pisgah to really get a good picture of what this bike can do.

While the all-new 2019 Salsa Rustler may not be the bikepacking bike a lot of readers here are looking for, it’s quite interesting, and could be a good fit for singletrack trail riders who dabble in weekend missions. It has a nice sized frame triangle, considering, as well as good bones for capable trail riding, including room for 27.5 x 2.8″ tires and 35mm rims. At this juncture, if I had to choose one of the new Salsas it would be extremely difficult to eliminate the Rustler as a contender.

Learn more over at SalsaCycles.com.


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