First Impressions: Salsa Cycles’ New Split Pivot 29ers

Horsethief and Spearfish get faster and more nimble with tighter, tricked-out rear ends

It seems that most carefully guarded, industry secrets are quick to be shared, and Salsa Cycles’ partnership with engineer Dave Weagle is no exception to this trend. But if you’re not one for trafficking in gossip and/or failed to read this story’s headline, Salsa’s new Horsethief and Spearfish models have been blessed with Split Pivot rear-ends and all of the supple suspension goodness that DW’s Split Pivot platform provides.

As with the unveiling of most anxiously awaited new products, Salsa Cycles assembled a handful of mountain-bike media to see and test the new designs firsthand. In this case, the testing ground was the often-underrated, Lake Superior city of Duluth, Minnesota. Duluth, for the uninitiated, is not really a town meant for the faint of heart. The winters are cold and long there. But the desire to enjoy the outdoors whenever and however possible is evident in the heartbeat of this northern Minnesota city, perhaps making it the perfect place for the “Adventure by Bike” brand to launch its two redesigned full-suspension 29ers.

Split Pivot Salsas

Salsa’s Spearfish and Horsethief bikes have been extremely successful models for the Minnesota-based company, but dealers and, by extension, sales staff were looking for something more—a more marketable and perhaps more sophisticated rear-suspension system.

“If I start now, I’m pretty sure I can come up with a 13-and-a-half-bar linkage in about five years that doesn’t infringe on any existing patents, that will be pretty good and will cost millions of dollars to develop,” joked Salsa designer Pete Koski.

That was almost three years ago. He chose to approach Dave Weagle instead.

The goal with these two Salsa models was to maintain the bikes’ aesthetic and ride attributes that had made them popular and to use Split Pivot to enhance overall ride and suspension performance. It seems obvious that licensing a suspension system like Split Pivot is a slightly more complex process than, say, upgrading your bike with a better drivetrain, but it actually seems more like a ground-up redesign versus anything remotely resembling plug-and-play.

The result, however, has Koski, Weagle, Salsa and yours truly smiling in approval.

Spearfish

When we tested Salsa’s Spearfish for the 2011 Bible of Bike Tests, we wrote: “…while we wouldn’t characterize the Spearfish as being entirely nimble, it can easily be tossed into turns without requiring an act of Congress.”

The 2014 model, however, is one of those next-gen 29ers that will have you almost thinking you’re aboard a BMX cruiser.

The Split Pivot treatment has allowed the Spearfish new trail manners, for sure, thanks to really short 437-millimeter chainstay and stouter rear end. Salsa claims the FEA-optimized, 6066 aluminum, 12×142 Maxle-bolted rear triangle provides a 21-percent increase in the Spearfish’s rear-end lateral stiffness. Split Pivot also means that both pedaling and braking forces are independent of the rear suspension, which improves both climbing and descending traits of this XC machine.

Our test trails for the Spearfish were typical of those found throughout the Midwest—loamy in spots, greasy in spots, cluttered with small rocks and roots, lacking in substantial elevation changes and quasi-trialsy at times—and the Spearfish handled everything superbly.

Spearfish by the numbers

Front suspension travel: 100 millimeters
Rear suspension travel: 80 millimeters
Head angle: 69.3 degrees
Seat-tube angle: 73.5 degrees
Chainstay length: 437 millimeters (17.2 inches)
Weight: lighter than your dad’s mid-90s titanium hardtail

Spearfish XX1: $5,499 (Tested)
Spearfish 1: $4,099
Spearfish 2: $3,299
Spearfish 3: $2,750

Horsethief

I had absolutely no preconceived notions about Salsa’s Horsethief when I arrived in Duluth. I have to admit to having spent no time on the previous model because I skipped out on the 2012 Bible of Bike Tests North Carolina ride sessions entirely.

In that issue of the Bible we wrote: “For any bike to inspire the all-day desire, it must be a capable climber. And the Horsethief climbs like a wild Mustang thundering across the Colorado high desert—despite the fact that our size medium test bike weighs more than 29 pounds. We tested this bike on our all-mountain loop—which started with a lengthy climb—and all of our riders were impressed with how quickly they made it to the top on the Horsethief.

“When descending through our chunky all-mountain trail, however, the opinions of our testers were mixed. While nobody doubted the 29er’s steamroll-over-all disposition, several felt it lacked the nimbleness of some other trail and all-mountain bikes. A few found it hard to maneuver in tight sections, saying it was difficult to hop and felt sluggish coming out of corners.”

After only a few minutes on the newly engineered, Split Pivot Horsethief, I was echoing the general sentiment of this review in terms of the Horsethief’s overall climbing prowess. Given my experience aboard the new Spearfish, though, my guess is the uphill manners of the new Horsethief would leave that 2012 Bible test-team speechless. I’d prefer to refrain from comparing a bicycle to military weaponry or farm implements, but this thing goes uphill like a John Deere tractor that’s been prepped for a state fair tractor pull. As long as you can keep your balance and continue pedaling, you can point this bike at anything and it’ll ride right on over it—a promising trait for a mountain bike aimed at all-day adventure.

This new Split Pivot Horsethief has grown amply nimble compared to the model we tested in North Carolina. It is at least as quick-witted as any 29er I’ve ridden—a bike that allows you to forget any notion of wheel size while you’re riding it. This is no doubt thanks in no small part to the short 437-millimeter chainstays that its XC sibling also enjoys and a rear end that is 18-percent more laterally stiff than its predecessor.

Despite only a few short hours of riding time, I was super impressed with Salsa’s trail/all-mountain 29er. But while the name Horsethief conjures up some pretty wicked and hard-charging imagery, I wonder if the name Farm Hand wouldn’t better describe the qualities of this bike. It’s kind of an understated, dutiful, rugged, loyal, jack-of-all-trades type. Obviously, I will leave the marketing to better-suited brains.

It’s hard for me to fully back the idea of a quiver-killing bike—the one machine that does it all—but were I looking to shell out my own precious shekels for a bike that could support me anywhere from the odd XC race to a high-mountain adventure to light bike-park duty, this new Horsethief would definitely be on my shortest of short lists.

Horsethief by the numbers

Front suspension travel: 130 millimeters
Rear suspension travel: 120 millimeters
Head angle: 68.1 degrees
Seat-tube angle: 73.5 degrees
Chainstay length: 437 millimeters (17.2 inches)
Weight: lighter than the one we tested in the 2012 Bible, for sure

Horsethief XX1: $5,699 (Tested)
Horsethief 1: $4,599
Horsethief 2: $3,299

Split Pivot for Dummies:

1. The rear shock is solely tasked with bump absorption; there is no need for the commonly used, excess low-speed compression damping.

2. Pedaling performance is independent of the suspension’s reaction to bumps. While pedaling over a root or rock, the shock is wide open for an incredibly supple initial stroke.

3. Braking performance is independent of the suspension’s ability to absorb bumps. This means increased traction, with no chatter, even during hard braking.

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