Stokesville, Virginia, is located a little over 2.5 hours southwest of Washington D.C., but it's about as far removed from the chaos of the US capital as you can get. There are more cows than cars, and seemingly endless miles of singletrack that trace the contours of the surrounding ridgelines. It's also the location that Salsa chose to launch their new Deadwood SUS, one of the few full suspension 29+ bikes on the market.
The Deadwood SUS has 90mm of rear travel that's delivered via a Split Pivot suspension design, and up front there's either a 100mm RockShox Pike or Yari depending on the model. Although 90mm of travel may bring to mind images of full-blown XC rigs typically piloted by rail thin racer-types, that's not the Deadwood's target demographic, which the 29x3.0” tires make abundantly clear. It's designed to be more of a backcountry adventure mobile, a human powered ATV if you will.
Deadwood SUS Details
• Intended use: mountain biking / adventure
• 29" wheels w/ 3.0" tires
• Carbon front triangle, alloy swingarm
• 90mm rear travel / 100mm fork
• 68° head angle
• Boost spacing
• Sizes: S, M, L, XL
• Claimed weight: 30-33 pounds depending on model
• Complete bikes start at $3,799 USD. Frame only: $2,499
All three models use the same frame and rear shock, but the different paint job and parts kits set them apart. I spent time on the bright orange Deadwood Carbon XT pictured above, which retails for $4,499 USD and comes equipped with a Shimano XT drivetrain and brakes, 100mm RockShox Pike RC, and DT Swiss hubs laced to WTB i35 rims.
According to Salsa, the Deadwood's DNA comes from the Spearfish, their 80mm XC/endurance bike. The goal was to create a shorter travel bike with more relaxed geometry, and to that end the Deadwood has a 68° head angle and a 45mm bottom bracket drop. If you're used to reading the geometry figures for long travel enduro race sleds 68-degrees may not sound slack, but don't forget that that number is with a 100mm fork.
The Deadwood's front triangle is constructed from carbon fiber (it's actually the same front end used on their Pony Rustler model), and the back end is aluminum. Boost spacing is in place front and rear, which helps provide enough room for those meaty 3.0” tires. Although the bike was designed first and foremost to be a Plus bike, it is possible to run more 'normal' sized tires, and with a 29 x 2.3” - 2.5” tires the bottom bracket height is roughly the same as the aforementioned Spearfish.
Excluding the stealth-routed dropper, and where the derailleur housing runs through the chainstay, the vast majority of the cable routing is external, running along the top of the downtube. None of the complete bikes come with a front derailleur, although it is possible to run one without any issues. There are even ISCG 05 tabs that make it possible to run a chain guide, a feature that all-too-often gets overlooked on shorter travel bikes. Geometry
Over the course of three days I was able to put in roughly 60 miles on the Deadwood, plenty of time to get acquainted with its handling and overall feel. The terrain around Stokesville is cross-country heaven, full of smooth, winding singletrack, with just enough tricky rock gardens, berms, and jumps to keep things interesting.
I kept the Deadwood's Monarch RT3 shock in the fully open position for most of those miles, only flipping it to the locked out setting when one of the rides finished with a couple miles of paved road. There's a nice platform at the beginning of the shock's stroke that minimizes any unwanted motion, even when mashing on the pedals to get up a punchy climb or unexpected obstacle.
It was on long, steady climbs that the large tires made themselves known, and there were a few times where it felt like I was trapped in a dream, the one where everything seems like it's in slow motion. It's worth mentioning that the Deadwood's stock WTB Ranger tires had been swapped out for Surly Dirt Wizards, which have a much more aggressive tread pattern – the lower profile Rangers would have undoubtedly rolled faster, although there wouldn't have been as much grip for the descents. Either way, the Deadwood is more of a turtle than a hare when it comes to climbing – you'll get there eventually, but probably without breaking any land speed records on the way.
It was on more technical sections of trail that the benefits of the Plus sized rubber came to light, both on the climbs and
descents. They deliver an inordinate amount of traction, and on steep climbs as long as you have the power to keep turning the cranks those big wheels will roll over pretty much anything that gets in their way. Rocks that smaller tires would have gotten hung up on simply disappear, squashed into submission.
That roll-over-anything sensation persisted on the descents, and even though the Deadwood only has 90mm of rear travel, it certainly feels like there's more due to the extra volume in the tires. I ran 17psi in the front and 18psi in the rear, which provided enough give to smooth out any wanted trail chatter while remaining supportive enough to push hard into corners. The wide tires take the edge off what would otherwise be jarring impacts, providing a little extra cushion between the rider and the ground.
Several of the trail near Stokesville are flowy, machine built creations punctuated with berms and tabletops. The Deadwood did surprisingly well touching back to earth after some air time; I was half-expecting it to feel bouncy and uncontrolled, but I never experienced that sensation, and I never experienced any harsh bottoming out, either. It is a littler harder to get the Deadwood in the air without the help of a manmade lip, and the same goes for settling into a manual – that 449mm chainstay length makes the front end reluctant to lift off the ground.
Who exactly is the Deadwood SUS for? That's a good question. It's not an XC race bike, even though it has a similar amount of travel, and it doesn't feel as quick as a trail bike with skinnier tires would (although that can be changed), but that doesn't mean a niche doesn't exist for a bike like this. I could see riders who already spend a solid chunk of the year on fat bikes being intrigued by it, and the same goes for riders who are planning on heading out for multi-day adventures where outright speed isn't the goal, but the ability to keep chugging along in everything from loose sand to endless scree fields is.
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