Salsa. It’s not known as a performance brand, it took me a while to come around to the idea of buying a Salsa as a race bike. Could Salsa make a bike that is competitive for XC races, Enduro Races, and Marathon races? Could anyone make a bike to fit that description? The crew at Biker’s Edge in Kaysville, UT had been telling me I would love the Horsethief for at least a year, so I finally caved in and bought one. “Adventure by Bike” is Salsa’s slogan; at the very least I was hoping their idea of “Adventure” would apply well to big rides with big descents.
Unboxing the Horsethief: Not much is more exciting than pulling a new bike out of the box, this one was no exception. Gloss white, with orange logos, and anodized orange suspension hardware looks great. This frame came equipped with a Fox Factory CTD rear shock with Boost Valve. There is integrated rubber frame armor on the underside of the down tube and on the chain stay, this will come in handy as every bike I’ve owned, aluminum or carbon, has received a flying rock to the downtube that resulted in visible damage.
Although the external cable routing on the top of the down tube is functional and easy to maintain, it isn’t particularly clean looking. There is a port for an internally routed dropper post at the base of the seat tube.
I was slightly disappointed that the bike comes with a quick release seat collar, although it proved to be reliable and didn’t allow the post to slip, it is a bit cumbersome and unnecessary on a bike with a dropper seatpost, sometimes it snagged my baggies.
The build includes all my favorite bits of kit:
RockShox Pike, set to 130mm travel, 51mm offset
ENVE M60 Forty Wheelset
RockShox Reverb Stealth Seatpost, 150mm drop
RaceFace Ride Stem, 60mm
ENVE Riser Bar
SRAM XX1 Drivetrain
Shimano XTR Race Brakes (BR M-987)
WTB Silverado Carbon Saddle
Stages power meter.
Frame weight, with shock and seat collar came in at 5.8 lb for a size large. The bike hovers around 25 lb complete, as low as 24.3 lb with 600 gram XC race tires, and up to 25.4 with more downhill oriented rubber.
With 800 miles of riding, all parts are performing as well as one would expect given the quality of the build, flawless. The only maintenance required has been a tightening of all pivot hardware after coming up short on a large gap jump at the local bike park induced some new creaks. Tightening of the pivots remedied the problem.
I’m going to refer to the Kona Process 111 as a baseline (read my review here: Kona Process 111 Review), my favorite handling bike to date. That bike left me impressed, and wishing for similar geometry in a lighter, racier package. The Horsethief satisfies that wish. The Horsethief feels like a well sorted trail bike; confident, flickable, and stable on the descents. This should be expected given its 67.5 degree head tube angle, 437 mm chain stays, and its long reach combined with a shortish 60mm stem. It is slightly more difficult to loft the front wheel on the Salsa vs. the Kona, and it is marginally less playful. But the flip side is that it is more confident at high speeds in rough terrain and I’ve never ridden a bike that can be cornered as hard as this. The handling of the Horsethief is shockingly good.
The surprise is that the Horsethief gives up very little on climbs to an XC bike. Although it feels a tad more sluggish, the stopwatch is proving it to equally as efficient climbing as any other bike I’ve owned, but faster on the descents. It’s been raced in XC races an a stage race in Moab with some success, and seemed to be the perfect bike for the job in both cases.
Suspension performance is very good. It is very sensitive above the sag point of its 120mm of travel, almost coil-like. As a result it finds great traction cornering and braking (Split Pivot design helps with braking too, I’m sure). Traction from the rear while descending is noticeably better than other bikes I’ve ridden. It is very efficient under pedaling loads without stiffening excessively or inducing any noticeable pedal kickback. The only flaw I found was that it bottoms fairly harshly big impacts, come up short in on a gap jump and it is shockingly harsh when it bottoms out. This trait doesn’t present itself in typical trail riding, but it would be nice if it ramped up more as it approaches the end of its travel. I found the best suspension setup was with a shock pressure about 3 psi under my weight fully dressed and ready to ride, with rebound damping set to about the same speed as the fork.
The Horsethief runs big for it’s labeled size. Be sure to arrange a test ride. If a test ride cannot be arranged, it is probably best to go by Salsa’s sizing guide and replace the stock stem with something 30mm shorter, even if you plan to ride/race XC. We’ve known multiple Horsethief owners and they all concur. Salsa specs the Horsethief with fairly long stems, which doesn’t match well with this bikes modern trail bike geometry.
Overall Rating & Summary: 9 out of 10
If you’re looking for a 29er that combines modern trail bike geometry with light weight and efficiency, the Salsa Horsethief deserves serious consideration. It’s a bike that runs large, so buy Salsa’s recommended size and replace the stock stem with a stem 30mm shorter.