Salsa Horsethief - First Ride

Jul 16, 2013
by Mike Levy  
Salsa Horsethief Photo by Marty Wood
  Salsa's redesigned Horsethief 29er still features 120mm of travel, but the bike now uses Dave Weagle's Split Pivot suspension design.

A New Horsethief

Salsa's original Horsethief debuted as a 120mm travel bike that employed a relatively simple flex-pivot at the rear axle, and while the design certainly didn't have the panache of some of the more marketing friendly layouts available, it did have a solid following of riders who were fans of the trouble-free bike. Evolution moves along quickly when it comes to suspension design, though, and it wasn't long before Pete Koski, Product Design Engineer at the Minnesota brand, knew that he wanted more performance from the bike. Salsa reached out to esteemed suspension mastermind, Dave Weagle, about two years ago and the early plans were hatched for an evolved Horsethief that would make use of Weagle's Split Pivot suspension without losing the handling and dependability of its predecessor.
Salsa Horsethief Details
• New design for 2014
• Wheel size: 29''
• Rear wheel travel: 120mm
• Split Pivot rear suspension
• Aluminum frame
• ISCG-05 chain guide tabs
• BB92 bottom bracket
• 12 x 142mm axle
• External or internal dropper post routing
• Three models: $5,700, $4,600, $3,300 USD
• Frame only MSRP: $1,699USD
bigquotesI really enjoy being able to work with them to help them to see their vision for a new bike come to life, and with Salsa, using Split Pivot was a big part of that. I think that as long as the unique personalities behind each brand continue to drive them, then the bikes will continue to be really different from others in the marketplace. No one bike can be everything to everybody, just like everyone has their personal favourite flavour of ice cream, choice is a good thing! - Dave Weagle

Split Pivot Salsa

The obvious question is why Salsa chose Weagle's Split Pivot system over his highly regarded dw-link. While there are likely a few reasons for the decision, the main point boils down to the absolute exacting tolerances required by the dw-link design to have it function as intended - Weagle told us that having a pivot location only slightly out of place (we're talking millimeters) can have an adverse effect on its performance. This is less of an issue when producing carbon frames that are created using an expensive mold, thereby ensuring relative perfection for every one manufactured, but much more of a challenge when welding up a completely new frame design. Koski also told us that the bike's single pivot/Split Pivot layout ticked all the boxes in regards to what they were aiming to achieve with the new bike, while also allowing the new Horsethief's lines to follow the original bike's shape, with a rather traditional silhouette that can accept a large-sized water bottle.

Salsa Horsethief Photo by Marty Wood

The Split Pivot moniker refers to the bike's rear dropout pivot that rotates concentrically around the axle, with the brake caliper mounted close to the pivot in order to limit its effect on the suspension when the rider is on the binders. Weagle also says that the layout allows him to separate different performance elements during the design process, with the active nature letting him place the bike's main pivot in a location that makes the most sense for acceleration and efficiency purposes, an important note on a 120mm travel bike that has been designed to take riders out on all-day escapades that are true to Salsa's ''Adventure by bike'' motto.

One of the main design goals that Weagle and Koski kept in mind during the revised Horsethief's development was the desire to improve square edge suspension performance, a vital component to creating a bike that not only descends well but that can also maintain traction on tricky climbs, while also not sacrificing cornering performance with a rear end that wants to gobble its travel when compressed mid-corner. That last point is important in order to preserve a bike's handling, with unwanted suspension compression both slacking out a bike's steering angle and also bringing the pedals dangerously close to the ground. The Horsethief's
FOX shock features less low-speed compression damping that what you'd find on other designs, but this is coupled with a higher leverage ratio in the early stages of the bike's travel that helps to hold it up in its stroke. While the original Horsethief did make use of a small link that added rigidity, the new model uses a much more robust looking linkage arrangement that makes for a sturdier looking rear end. The split shock yoke that encircles the bike's seat tube accepts a standard FOX shock eyelet, with no special fitment required.

Salsa Horsethief Photo by Marty Wood
  Josh Patterson rails a berm aboard the Horsethief on Spirit Mountain's Candyland trail, a berm and jump filled route that had everyone in our group wearing shit eating grins.

Riding the Horsethief

We've been fans of Weagle's previous Split Pivot creations that we've spent time on in the past, with their peppy nature and active braking offering a fun level that makes them a joy to attack trails aboard. It is for this reason that we weren't surprised by the Horsethief's energetic personality. While bikes with less travel than the Horsethief are often satisfactorily efficient simply because of their firm suspension, the 120mm travel bracket can see some real variances in this aspect of performance, with some bikes requiring ample use of their shock's pedal assist feature if the rider is looking to really attack. The new Horsethief doesn't fall into that category, though, with us never feeling the need to flip the bike's FOX CTD shock out of its comparatively supple 'Descend' mode.

We spent time on the bike while covering some natural, rocky terrain, as well as on Spirit Mountain's berm-filled Candyland trail, with the bike offering a great sense of its capabilities at both locations. It obviously excelled and felt more at home while on Duluth's cross-country loops, but we were surprised at how easily it carved the tight bermed corners at Spirit Mountain, feeling very unlike some other big-wheelers that we've thrown around on the jump lines.

While we were impressed with how the 120mm travel Salsa pedalled, it was the bike's lack of required setup time that really had us smiling. Sampling different machines on a never ending basis means that we can be ultra-sensitive when it comes to suspension setup, and this can often leave us tinkering non-stop during a ride while we look for that ever elusive "ideal feel" from the bike. The Horsethief asked nothing in this regard, with our setup time beginning and ending with quick sag and rebound adjustments that we ended up being happy with, save a small on-trail air pressure tweak - the fact that we felt so comfortable so quickly on the Horsethief speaks volumes for its adeptness in our minds. And even though we admit to enjoying tuning an unfamiliar bike into a package that feels like home, a machine that the average consumer can jump aboard and benefit from without having to do just that is worth its weight in gold.

Salsa Horsethief Photo by Marty Wood
  High above Duluth, Minnesota, while riding the Horsethief on the area's rolling trails.


  • 70 6
 And on that note, thank you Pinkbike for continuing to post great content, regardless of the narrow-mindedness of most of your readers.
  • 5 2
 This article was a great one too, good job Mike!
  • 11 36
flag richierocket (Jul 16, 2013 at 6:06) (Below Threshold)
 It was a decent write up but I was a little weirded out by "wearing shit eating grins".
  • 20 0
 That's a really well-known phrase and even if it wasn't, then you are just being picky.
  • 6 0
 certainly looks a hell of a lot more attractive and aggressive than most 29ers. nice
  • 2 1
 who doesn't like a good ol' SEG?
  • 6 1
 Am I the only one that can see the joke in Richierocket's comment?
  • 7 0
 Thank you "turtle". It was meant to be just a lil poke. Whatever though..
  • 1 4
 Looks like Spec Stumpjumper.. According to rear shock mount and pivot design.
  • 1 0
 ...and what's wrong with basing a design on another proven successful design? My fuji Outland's triangle was made by Specialized, looks like this one, it's been shredding for more than 2 years, and still going...
  • 1 0
 liked it Smile but not a big fan of the shock mount.
  • 27 2
 I've just spoke to my wife and she says 120mm is not enough Frown
  • 3 1
 Dam, shes likes em' biggggggg.
  • 13 1
 All the people hating on 29ers sound like little kids. This is a super good looking bike and i'm sure it rides great, get over it.
  • 24 0
 All the people hating are little kids. And if you have never heard of Salsa you are likely a little kid.
  • 6 1
 No doubt, the fact that most people think about salsa as a frame company, instead of a skewer company, makes me feel old.
  • 11 46
flag ObyGobyWanoby (Jul 16, 2013 at 7:45) (Below Threshold)
 yeah dude, 29ers are super cool... just kidding, they're super gay
  • 3 0
 Actually Salsa was a frame company years ago too. My first mtb had Salsa bar ends. They also started out in my home town, Petaluma CA. Also the home of Soul Craft bikes
  • 4 9
flag ObyGobyWanoby (Jul 16, 2013 at 13:10) (Below Threshold)
 Whoa, more 29er riders than I thought on pinkbike... calm down guys, its a line from a hilarious song that you've probably all seen. ... minute 2:08
  • 9 0
 Salsa are a well established and pretty excellent brand. It's genuinely surprising so few have heard of them on pinkbike.
  • 6 0
 Pinkbike actually acknowledges the Midwest! I'm glad Salsa debuted in Duluth, the city needs attention from the Mtb community with their new 100+ mile urban single track masterplan.
  • 1 0
 do you have a link with any info on their plan? thanks!
  • 4 0

This is the local chapter trying to make it happen...

There are a few vids on here from the launch that slightly touch on the subject.
  • 3 0
 I personally find that Salsa does not get enough coverage for their great bikes. This bike looks like a great step forward in the right direction for the company. Regardless of the 29'er status, their bikes do well in most situations, and their frames can deal with the punishment. I personally think even the color is pretty legit, and of course, they keep releasing with very unique names.
  • 4 0
 That's what's rad about Salsa. They just make great stuff and don't care much about press. This looks like a nice one, I love the color too.
  • 6 0
 quite the name for a bike...
  • 1 1
 I think it's named after a trail in Colorado call Horse Theif Bench.
  • 3 1
 It's just awesome the name Smile
  • 1 1
 me sure thinks so.
  • 5 0
 Looks shit-hot and I want one...and a Fargo too...and a Titanium Warbird as well...thanks...
  • 4 0
 Salsa/QBP donated 15,000 to our new bike park at Spirit MT in Duluth MN. That puts them at the top of my list for when i'm looking to get a 29 er trail bike.

  • 3 0
 They still never say anything bad. How am i supposed to know whats really good and not. Maybe introduce a scoring system?
  • 1 2
 maybe there's nothing bad about it? if you spent months designing and spec'ing a bike would you put it on the market if there was a problem with it? it may be inferior relative to other bikes in certain situations but looks like for the trails that they tested it on, and design-wise, it was good to go.
  • 1 0
 This is just a "First Ride" not a test. I've seen Pinkbike give a few well know products a serving when they haven't been up to scratch.
  • 1 0
 Mmmmmm...... hello Horse thief, that bike looks great in the Bad Asss Orange. Been through a couple of Reviews now of this bike and all seem to be very positive. It has me thinking I need to try one out
  • 3 0
 I've got a Horsethief and I love it
  • 1 0
 For those that care, 437mm chainstays. That's 17.2". Should be stable at speed and nimble enough in the woods. Great job by Salsa and DW, should be an incredible ride!
  • 1 0
 That there is the info I was looking for. Looks like this will be on my list of bikes to look at for next year.
  • 1 0
 Looks really good. I'm in the market for a 29er trail bike. I was pretty much set on the Santa Cruz Tallboy, thanks for throwing a wrench into that. Hahahaha
  • 2 0
 ha - I'm in the same boat! Does look like a more than adequate substitute for the TB. Seat angle looks quite slack though...
  • 2 0
 Looks loverly but that rear mud clearence rules it out of the UK market haha
  • 2 0
 The bike looks like mexican food. I love it.
  • 1 1
 I live in Minnesota, I never knew salsa was made here. They have never advertised or put bikes in local shops.. nice looking 29er that's for sure!!
  • 3 0
 where in MN do you live? There are Salsa's in almost all bike shops in the Twin Cities as well as the shops in St Cloud and Duluth. Actually since it is owned by QBP any shop that deals with QBP can get them in.
  • 1 1
 Mankato area, I've only seen but maybe 10 on trails.
  • 6 5
 I've only seen some seatpost clamps of this brand...
  • 4 3
 specialized + devinci = Salsa? I like salsa....
  • 3 0
 Agreed. The front triangle has almost the exact same silhouette as the new 29r stumpjumpers; even the shock links on the rear triangle look almost identical (except that its not a proprietary shock mount). The only dif is that the pivot is not placed on the chain stay but at the point where chain stay and seat stay meet. Not saying Salsa has copied big S or anything, that one difference is huge, but the bikes look very similar. What is funny to me is that the FSR patent just expired but this bike doesn't use it but looks like a stumpjumper in almost every other way. Seat and HT angles look a little slacker.
  • 1 0
 Starting to see the suspension yoke used more often in bike design.
  • 1 0
 Yes but its a WAYYYY old idea for mountain bikes that goes back to the early days of suspension bike designs when there was no standards for shock sizes or mounting methods and every brand was trying something different.
  • 3 2
 Hey! Somebody stole my horse!
  • 1 0
 That's some serious HOT Salsa!
  • 1 4
 Duluth has a whole lot more to offer than the Duluth Traverse plan. Hoping something gets put out about the gravity trails that get no recognition. We don't all where lycra and pedal 29ers. But on that note. The Horsethief is a sweet ride and was stoked to see them riding around town.
  • 2 0
 It's fun to say Salsa.
  • 1 0
 I like it buts it's too much the same idea of a Specialized Camber
  • 2 2
 Salsa makes quality frames and components. But its still just a short travel cross country bike... I'll pass...
  • 1 0
 I like the stick
  • 2 3
 Do all my comments on Pinkbike just disappear? Or are they removed? They're never offensive or anything. Weird.
  • 3 4
 Looks like a Trek...

... wait for it...

... Rumblefish. ;-)
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