Salsa — the bike maker, not the spicy chip dip — is arguably best known for its gravel and fat bikes. But the Minneapolis-based brand that’s owned by mega-distributor QBP is pushing hard to make a name in the traditional mountain bike space, this week launching a trifecta of revamped trail chargers, the 29er Spearfish and Horsethief (available now), and 27.5 Rustler (available starting at the end of March). None of the bikes are totally brand new, but all have been rejiggered with a host of contemporary technology updates aimed at earning Salsa a more prominent place at the mainstream mountain bike table.
Sadly this Mtbr editor is on the sidelines recovering from an injury at the moment, so we weren’t able to ride the new bikes during the brand’s press launch in Sedona, Arizona. But we can tell you that all three offerings utilize Salsa’s Split Pivot suspension design and are spec’d with a flip chip that’s primary job is to raise and lower BB height. Salsa also tuned the Split Pivot suspension system’s leverage rate to offer a more progressive ramp feel in the final third of the stroke (more on that below.) But otherwise each new bike fits into a unique space within the market.
The Salsa Spearfish is billed as a progressive 29er cross-country bike that’s equally at home racing XC or heading out for an all-day trail ride. It has 100mm rear wheel travel paired with an 120mm fork up front. Head angle is 67.8 degrees across all four available frame sizes, seat tube angle ranges from 74.6 to 74.1 degrees, and chainstay length is a stubby 432.4mm thanks in part to the use of Super Boost 157mm hub spacing. The wider hub standard also opens up additional tire clearance. Spec is 29×2.3, but the Spearfish can handle up to 29×2.6 or 27.5×3.0. Reach is a middle of the road 460.6mm size large. Stock rim width is 25mm and you can fit two water bottles inside the main triangle.
There are four Spearfish build options, two with carbon frames (save for alloy chainstays), and two full aluminum frames. The bikes are all 1x specific and optimized for a 32t chainring (you can run smaller, but not larger). Prices for complete bikes range from $2399 to $5199, with SRAM GX on the upper end build. Framesets, which are the carbon variety, sell for $2999 and include headset, seat collar, axle, and crankset, which is done to lessen the headache of dealing with the lesser used (for now) Super Boost standard. Right now Race Face and SRAM are the only two major manufacturers offering compatible cranks. Below is the geo chart and full specs for each build. Click on the image to enlarge.
The Salsa Horsethief is billed as an all-around trail bike, bumping travel to 120mm rear and 140mm front. Head angle is 67 degrees, seat tube angle is 73.6 across the board, and chainstays are even shorter at 432mm, again thanks in part to the use of the Super Boost 157 standard that’s common on downhill bikes and is slowly gaining traction on standard mountain bikes, with Pivot also pushing the wider option. Tire spec on the Horsethief is 29×2.5, but it can also handle up to 29×2.6 or 27.5×3.0. Reach is a modest 452.1mm size large. Stock rim width is 29mm, and the Horsethief can also accommodate two water bottles inside the main triangle.
Just as with Spearfish, there are four complete Horsethief builds, two carbon, two aluminum. They are all also 1x only and optimized for 32t chainrings. Prices are in the same range of $2399 to $5199, with framesets going for $2999. And just like with Spearfish, SRAM GX is on the upper tier build. Below is the geo chart and full specs for each build.
Finally, the Rustler is Salsa’s new playful 27.5 trail bike. It replaces the Pony Rustler, which was actually just the former Horsethief spec’d with plus wheels and tires. The new Rustler has 130mm of rear travel and 150mm up front, and it uses standard 148/110 boost spacing rather than Super Boost 157. Headtube angle is 65.8 degree across five frames sizes, as it’s the only one of the new bikes available in an XS frame size. Tire spec is 27.5×2.6, but it can handle up to 2.8s and comes with 35mm wide rims. Unlike the other two bikes, just one bottle will fit inside the main triangle.
The Rustler is available in just two carbon frame builds, $5199 for SRAM GX Eagle and $4199 for SRAM NX. Rustler frame only is $2799 and does not includes a crankset like the Spearfish and Horsethief. Below is the geo chart and full specs for each build.
The Split Pivot Pitch
The Split Pivot design aims to separate braking and acceleration forces from bump compliance, so that Salsa can design the linkage to handle the forces of braking and accelerating. This, Salsa says, also means they can tune the shock exclusively for small-bump compliance, ensuring that suspension remains active and supportive.
“This makes for responsive pedaling with tremendous traction at all points of travel and keeps braking consistent and predictable by eliminating brake chatter,” claims Salsa. “Placing the pivot at the axle also allows for anti-squat properties that allow the bike to ride higher in its travel under braking and acceleration, meaning better ground clearance and fewer pedal strikes.”
More on Leverage Rates
Salsa’s pitch on the revised leverage rate is that it offers more progression and improved bottom out performance at the end of the stroke, increasing confidence and control on big hits and giving the travel a deeper feel. Yet they say the beginning and mid-stroke remain relatively unchanged, with supple small bump compliance off the top and consistent mid-travel support to combat rider fatigue and maintain geometry. The slightly lower overall rate also yields lower shock pressures.
Also tweaked on the bikes was anti-squat, which Salsa claims yields better performance due in part to the new 1x-specific design. The result, claims Salsa, is an efficient pedaling platform without the need to over damp the rear shock, which would otherwise hinder small bump compliance.
Yet another claimed gain was made in braking performance, which thanks to the Split Pivot design, is isolated from the rest of the system. Thus braking effect on suspension is minimal and is now more consistent throughout the suspension travel.
Salsa also made the jump to the metric shock standard, which lowers required air pressure in the shock, increases rear triangle stiffness, and allows for more performance fine tuning. As for the flip chip, it utilizes a shock link mount and adjusts bottom bracket height up or down by 4mm to account for swaps between 27.5 plus and 29er wheels. The effect on head and seat tube angle is just 0.3 degrees. The new bikes also have internal sleeved cable routing on the carbon models, full-length internal housing cable routing on the aluminum models, stealth dropper post routing, and RockShox Deluxe RT3 shocks on carbon models and RockShox Deluxe RT shocks on aluminum models. Finally, sharp eyed readers will notice a tweak to the Salsa logo on the downtube of these bikes. The script font remains the main branding mark, but Salsa wanted to convey a more modern look on its new mountain rigs.
Q & A with the Team
During the Sedona launch Mtbr sat down for a question-and-answer session with Senior Product Manager Joe Meiser and Brand Manager Justin Steiner. Here are the salient highlights from that wide ranging conversation.
Mtbr: The use of Super Boost hub spacing is likely to be polarizing in some circles. Why go that route?
Joe Meiser: Obviously we understand that the industry has gone through a lot of changes and people are leery of change. So anything we do needs to have good purpose. But honestly I wish Boost never came to market and that we’d just gone straight to Super Boost. We prefer Super Boost because you get chainring clearance, more tire clearance, and better chainstay clearance all with shorter chainstays. On the Horsethief we have 32t chainring clearance, 2.6 tire clearance, and 432mm chainstays, which are some of shortest on the market.
Justin Steiner: It’s also worth pointing out that we utilize Super Boost across all the models, so even on a $2399 complete bike you’re getting the same technology without concessions. And we’re selling the framesets with cranks to lessen the burden on the consumer for sourcing compatible components, though we do believe you’ll see more and more bikes using the standard soon. We’ve been lobbying different brands, and also talking with [Pivot’s] Chris Cocalis about convincing various component makers to get the Super Boost cranks made. And with it coming from multiple core brands instead of just one big juggernaut, it’s a more grassroots approach that we think will gain traction.
Mtbr: Safe to say the inclusion of space for two water bottles on the 29er suspension bikes was done with purpose?
Justin Steiner: For sure it’s something we strived for. We wanted to give riders the ability to carry two bottles and not need a pack. You also have the frame bag mount on the top tube of all three bikes, and there’s space under the seat tube mounted bottle for tube storage using our Anything Bracket. So you get two bottles, plus that extra on-bike storage, plus stuff in your bibs that have pockets, and you really increase the ride range you can tackle without having to use a pack. It offers a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility.
Mtbr: Explain the rationale of the flip chip. It’s really just to raise and lower the BB?
Joe Meiser: Yeah, it came from the criteria of designing bikes that could run everything from 27.5×3.0 to 29×2.6. To do that you need to be able to adjust BB height because we didn’t want to just aim for the middle where neither option is optimized. So the chip came about because of tire and wheel choice. At the same time it’s about rider preferences and terrain. Some riders want the BB lower for that low/slack experience. But some ride in rocky terrain where pedal strikes are more of an issue and they want the BB higher. That said all the bikes are spec’d with the fork in longest travel position and the BB in the lowest position, which gives us the slackest head angle and seat angle.
Mtbr: Why no SRAM XO1 or XX1 builds and just the less expensive GX and NX options?
Joe Meiser: We’ve done halo builds in the past, but we heard from our retailers that Salsa as a brand fits really well when it’s positioned below the more boutique mountain bike brands. But of course now retailers are already changing minds and asking for those higher end builds, so we’ll explore that down the road. But for now it’s part of our positioning. These are incredibly capable bikes, but we’re also a humble brand that wants to serve riders from beginner to elite.
Justin Steiner: Salsa as a brand is really strong in fat biking and all-road. But we’d be the first to acknowledge we’re not likely the first brand people think of in the mountain bike space. At the same time we are offering framesets for the person who wants to build up that dream bike. And you have to remember that this launch includes 10 models. That’s a big investment for us and we feel like we are really meeting rider needs in a lot of ways, and also retailer needs. We see this as a big leap forward, and we’ve delivered significant improvement that takes us to a new level with our full suspension bikes. This new product allows us to stand side by side with competitors in way we haven’t before.
Mtbr: Why not full carbon frames and instead using alloy chainstays?
Justin Steiner: Honestly it’s return on investment. We explored full carbon, but feel like the durability of alloy is worth what’s really a very small weight penalty. It would also increase cost for the consumer, which is something we were conscious of.
Mtbr: Was there any consideration for doing a more aggressive 29er, which is arguably the hottest segment right now?
Joe Meiser: Not at this point. We have existing platforms that were ready for refresh. And we have an established following of people looking for products like this, so we didn’t want to just leapfrog and do something new. But obviously we understand that category is important right now so it’s something we’re looking at.
Mtbr: Any final thoughts?
Joe Meiser: The long time perception is of Salsa making bikes that were only for adventuring and bikepacking. We really want to share with world that we’re making some seriously shreddy bikes, and want people to see them for all they are worth. Salsa’s aim is to become a household name for mountain bikers.
To learn more about Salsa’s new mountain bikes head to salsacycles.com.