Salsa Split Pivot Review

Last night was the Salsa Demo Day at North Central Cyclery.  (Thanks for an amazing evening!)  That meant a sneak peak at the 2014 lineup, including the Warbird, Colossal, El Mariachi, Spearfish, Horsethief, Mukluk, and…<drum roll>…Carbon Beargrease.  I swung a leg over each of those mounts, and learned a great deal.  As I sit down today and reflect on those bikes, I’m so excited about the 2014 lineup that I’m having a hard time deciding which bike to write about first.  I’ll give individual thoughts on many of the bikes in the days to come, as I’m excited to see many changes and upgrades across the board, but the first thing I want to write about is a feature, not an individual bike.  That feature?  The Split Pivot suspension.

E-Fred, Salsa’s Numero Uno field guy / full-suspension bike setup wizard / all-around-great-guy, did an amazing job of explaining how it works, to isolate pedaling and braking force from the shock, freeing up the shock to just deal with vertical travel.  The Design of the suspension means that you don’t deal with pedal bob or brake-jack.  The suspension remains active throughout pedaling and braking, cornering and railing, jumping and rolling.  It doesn’t care if you’re a spinner or a masher…the suspension is isolated from your efforts.

E-Fred explained it in both a technical and non-technical fashion, and made the design easy to understand.  The Split-Pivot design is elegant in form and operation.  Salsa has recently posted the following video on their newly updated website, which explains Split-Pivot:

The video is on their Split Pivot page, here.

I’ve spent a lot of time on my Superfish, going all the way back to the School of Spearfish trip.  I feel pretty confident commenting on the function of the previous generation of Salsa F/S bikes, with the ‘flexing seatstay’ / rear-pivotless design.  I’ll comment on the Spearfish and Horsethief separately in a day or two, but I wanted to focus on the rear suspension shared between both bikes, first.

The Spearfish has a 80mm travel Split Pivot design, and the Horsethief has a 120mm travel Split Pivot design.  Here’s the Spearfish:

Check out that quasi-internal routing.  Hawt.

Here’s the Horsethief:

Note the fantastically well-engineered upper link that connects to the shock on the Horsethief.  Beautiful.

So I said this was going to be all about the linkage, but then I remembered this picture, and I have to post it up.

Spearfish.  XX1.  Bone Stock Medium.

What’s that say?

23.6 Pounds.  23.6 Pounds.  A bone stock Spearfish XX1, split pivot, with a standard fork and stock build wheels…is as light as my ENVE rim’d, DT240 hub’d, Lefty fork’d Superfish.  My mind is blown.  A stock Horsethief is a shade under 3 pounds heavier.  If I didn’t see it personally, I wouldn’t have believed it.

So…pictures, video, weights.  All good stuff.  But what about the ride?

Understand that I was in an urban environment.  No trails to huck, no sweet bermed corners to ride.  What I did have was a construction site, a lot of curbs, some limited trail, and 2 demo bikes to rail.  Here are my preliminary thoughts:

  • 80mm of travel on the Spearfish feels like a lot more.  A.  Lot.  More.  It’s amazing.  The suspension is super-active.  It feels better at small bump compliance than my Spearfish.
  • The effectiveness of the suspension at dealing with pedal-bob is undeniable.  My Spearfish is very efficient…but when hammering on gravel, for example, I lock out the rear suspension.  On both the Horsethief and Spearfish, the SP suspension makes adjusting the suspension less important.  I could push as hard as I wanted and there wasn’t noticeable bob.  Even if you tried to induce it, as soon as you stopped ‘actin’ a fool’, the suspension immediately returned to a neutral state.
  • I’m pretty sure that the suspension travel on the Horsethief is bottomless.  They say it has 120mm, but I think they’re kidding.  I’m reasonably certain that it defies the laws of physics, and has something like 8,000mm of travel.  I started hitting a few curbs and construction site obstacles gingerly, lifting the front and tucking the rear.  Then, I got more brave.  Then, more brave.  Then, braver still.  Pretty soon, I was just pointing the bike at big things, getting up speed, and blasting over.  Sit, stand, whatever.  The Horsethief feels invincible when you’re using its travel.  I didn’t come anywhere near the limits of the bike, but it’s amazing what 40mm of additional suspension travel will do for you.
  • Both bikes are thru-axle rear.  There is no discernible lateral or torsional play in the rear end.  It’s solid, and you know exactly where your rear tire is at all times.
  • Because of the shorter chainstay designs, the rider is closer to the rear tire.  That enhances traction, makes it easier to put the front end where you want it, and gives you a better sense of your line and rear tire placement in challenging terrain.  I could ride a curb like a skinny almost indefinitely, and the bike was planted.
  • Other than the shift of body weight, braking doesn’t adversely impact the rear suspension at all.  No brake-jack.  As you apply rear brake, you have a very, very good feel for the amount of traction available, and the limits of the bike are progressive and predictable.  If you purposefully lock them up, recovering traction is simple.  Moreover, if you lock the brakes in a turn, to skid the rear end, when you recover traction the rear suspension moves predictably and doesn’t hop or buck.
  • I used all of the travel on the Spearfish.  I didn’t feel it bottom, but apparently, it did.  I used most of the travel on the Horsethief, bombing some construction-site obstacles.  It made me feel positively heroic.
  • This comment is partially attributable to rear suspension and partially attributable to general bike design: the bikes are incredibly easy to balance.  Allow me to explain…envision a parking lot with a 4 foot wide curb dividing different areas.  Assume you’re going to bomb that curb at full speed, and not try to hop it.  That’s an awkward length curb to hit.  The front tire hits, the front comes up, and just as the rear tire is hitting, the front is coming off of the curb.  This kind of motion translates to real trail riding, where you have tables, log crossings, or other obstacles that are around the length of the bike’s wheelbase.  On some bikes, it’s incredibly difficult to manage the conflicting inputs of the bike going up and down in opposition, front/rear, and you end up getting bucked out of the saddle, or towards the bars.  On the Horsethief, it’s almost as if there’s a hidden linkage between the front and rear suspension.  When properly set up, the bike is unbelievably stable, and it’s easy to keep the bike tracking level.  Because the suspension is so effective, the bike inspires confidence to handle varying conditions.

It’s simple.  It works.  It enables short chainstays.  It engenders confidence.  It’s fun.

The Split Pivot suspension design is a huge step forward for the Salsa Full Suspension bikes.  I was prepared to be a skeptic, as I’m in love with my Superfish, and frankly, I have a hard time buying into the sales talk that “this linkage can end pedal bob, cure brake jack, improve bike efficiency, and end world hunger.”

But it works.  It really does.  It’s pretty darn amazing.  If you get a chance to ride a Salsa with the new Split Pivot design, you should.  If you get a chance to buy one, you should send it to me to be broken-in, first.

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4 thoughts on “Salsa Split Pivot Review

  1. Pingback: 2014 Salsa Horsethief First Ride Review | riding against the grain

  2. Pingback: 2014 Salsa Spearfish Review | riding against the grain

  3. Love the look of both Thief and Spear. I ride 4-5 days a week so my only draw back with FS frames has been the worry of extra maintenance. How do you think these will hold up to 100 miles a week, lots of hills with a heavier rider (6-01/210 lbs). I am not a big air rider but just wonder if I should be focused on the Thief due to being a larger guy? Just reading your reviews of both though the Spear fits my ride style to a “T”. As I edge closer to 50 my back is asking me to switch to FS.

    • I wouldn’t have any concerns. The suspensions are user-servicable and parts are available. I know of several ‘larger’ guys riding similar designs, and of several riding the old single pivot design.

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