This review is of the 2012 Salsa Spearfish 2 Complete that I rode today in Sedona, AZ as a part of the School of Spearfish ride.
What kind of bike? A…
Details? 2×10 X7/X9 drivetrain with X-7 Trigger Shifters. SRAM Elixir 5 brakes front and rear. RockShox REBA RL 29er up front with 100mm of travel and a 15mm Maxle. RockShox Monarch RT3 in the rear with 80mm of travel. Salsa’s no-rear-pivot suspension design with flexing seat stays. This particular bike was a 20″ with Stan’s ZTR Arches, Schwalbe Rocket Rons and my Eggbeater 2s. I’ll review the tires and pedals another day–this is about the bike.
My ‘normal’ mountain bike is a 2009 Rumblefish (We’ll call it a Gary Fisher to avoid fish confusion) with Easton Havens and a 2×9 drivetrain + bash guard. It has more travel up front, and more travel in the back, plus the DRCV rear shock. The riding here in Sedona is much rockier than the riding in Illinois–I was thinking that I’d be really limited by the 80mm of travel, and would be feeling a lot of the hits that the trails offer. (My other mountain bike experience includes my beloved Mukluk, a Trek Fuel FS 26er that I used to ride, and a series of Cannondale FS 26ers…along with short-term experience on a number of other rides).
Let me start with a bit of philosophy. I’ve read many wise mountain bikers talk about how single speed, rigid bikes with cast iron frames and steel wheels make you a better biker. And I’m absolutely, completely convinced that they’re right–if you ride rigid, single speed, etc., routinely, I bet it would make you stronger, faster, and more in control. Heck, even riding my Mukluk requires more caution and a different approach than Gary Fisher. But let’s be honest. I try to ride 3x/week. Of those 3x, weather permitting, I’d like one of them to be mountain biking of some sort. But that mountain biking is in Illinois–not exactly taming the wild outdoors. On those occasions when I do ride, I certainly want to improve my technique and ability. But frankly, I want the ride to be enjoyable. I want a bike that improves my riding–that makes me ride better than my skill level should permit. I want a bike that covers up some of my riding flaws, enables me to ride harder for longer, and keeps me comfortable. I don’t want rigid–I want suspension. I don’t want single speed, I want options. Frankly, on both my Gary Fisher and on this Spearfish, I tend to ride like I’m on a dinglespeed. I pick a gear in the cassette that I’m happy with. When I need a low gear, I’m in the little chainring, and when I need a high gear, I’m in the big chainring. So I don’t really need 20 gears, but I do need more than 1. Frankly, out of the 20 gears, I probably used 6-7.
And on the 26er/29er issue, I frankly have a really hard time seeing why anyone would ride a 26er. I started out on a 26er, and upgraded to my Gary Fisher. I’ve never looked back. I can say, without a doubt, that there were a number of areas on the trail today that I cleared an obstacle because I was on a 29er. Attempting that same obstacle on a 26er, I would’ve either gone head over teakettle, or just flatly stopped. The advantages of a taller wheel/tire were clear and numerous–and they just make sense. Is there a “why not go 36er” kind of creeping generalism in the ‘bigger is better’ message? I don’t think so. There are tradeoffs to larger wheels…and 29er seems to be the place where those tradeoffs make sense…larger means too many compromises.
So back to the Spearfish. It did everything I want a bike to do. It made me look like a better rider. Let me get to my biggest fear first: the 80mm rear travel. That is completely a non-issue, as it turns out. My biggest drops today were in the 2 feet range. Frankly, that’s as big as my drops ever get. At the end of the ride, I saw that the o-ring on my rear shock was at the end of travel. I never noticed. No bottoming out, no sensation of limited travel. On rocky, technical, bumpy stuff, the bike just flatly performed. The edge was taken off of just about everything. If you pushed it too hard, it told you–and it kept me within the performance envelope of the whole rest of the bike. Frankly, that’s what I need. There was no sharp edge after which performance dropped off. The limits were gradual and progressive. I had no ‘big travel’ envy.
The flip side of the 80mm of travel and the no-pivot rear triangle was clear and overwhelmingly positive–it climbs like a goat. Again–my limited mountain biking skill is such that when I stand and try to hammer up a climb, from time to time, I end up bouncing a bit as I hammer. On the Gary Fisher, that results in the bike starting to hop…with predictable results. Traction becomes grip/slip/grip/slip, and forward progress stops on difficult climbs. The Spearfish was a horse (fish?) of a different color. It absorbed the vertical variation in my effort, and just flatly put down the power. No drama, no hopping, no bouncing, no slipping. On the Gary Fisher, when you run out of tractive power on a big climb, the rear suspension can ‘load up’ and ‘unwind’ with a hop that makes it even harder to manage. The Spearfish would just climb and climb. When I ran out of traction, it would simply spin the rear tire, without any change in ride height or traction. One of the most amazing parts of this was the ability to climb out of a dead stop. On the Gary Fisher, when you hit the limits and it starts to load up the suspension, you’re putting a foot down. On the Spearfish, it would just spin the rear tire and if you could hold your balance, you could keep pedaling and try to keep climbing. Amazingly, this actually worked on occasion.
The solid rear end feel gave me greater confidence in turning as well. The suspension loading was linear, and as you dove into a banked corner, the rear would stick and there wouldn’t be undue cornering-induced sag.
Size-wise, the 20 was probably bigger than I’d customarily ride. I’m right around 6′ and a 33″ inseam, so the 20 was probably technically the correct size for me. And sure, on today’s ride, the longer top tube helped me keep my weight shifted a bit more to the rear, which was helpful.
I’ve intentionally not looked up the geometry of the two bikes, because I want to give my honest impression of how they rode, rather than how they’re designed. The Spearfish felt like it had more BB clearance. Pedal strikes seemed rarer, and even when clearing big obstacles, I never felt a BB strike occur. BB and pedal strikes seem more common on the Gary Fisher.
The drivetrain, brakes, etc. were all great. No big change from the Gary Fisher–similar components. Everything performed reliably and both the drivetrain and brakes had a solid feel.
The steering on the Spearfish was predictable and not in any way nervous. No complaints at all. It took a while to get the settings on the fork to the appropriate level, but I think the fork on the Spearfish has more adjustability and flexibility than the fork on the Gary Fisher. The Maxle is a nice touch, and one that I’m a big believer in, having made the transition from a standard skewer to a Maxle.
I have no doubt that I could have ridden the same trails on the Gary Fisher that I rode on the Spearfish today. But here’s the rub: I also have no doubt that I rode faster and more efficiently on the Spearfish. For me, 80mm of rear travel is more than enough. I’d trade the greater travel and DRCV on the Gary Fisher’s rear end in a heartbeat if I could have the predictable climbing and ride of the Spearfish. It made me a better rider–no doubt. And when I did get in over my head, there were a number of times when it let me ride out of something that I had no right to ride. And without knowledge of the weight difference between the two bikes, if I had to guess, I’d guess that the Spearfish is a few pounds lighter.
What would I change or improve on the Spearfish? Honestly, I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot of good suggestions. Lighter? Sure–that’s always a good thing. Does it need to be more rigid? Does it need a larger diameter rear axle? I can’t really say it does. For my use, I’d like a narrower bar and a different saddle…but I can’t really complain about that. The Maxle up front was solid and dependable, and the front end felt incredibly, well…together. I’d like a dropper seatpost, but that’s a personal preference that’s easy to fix. (I suppose cable guides for a dropper seatpost would be appreciated). I’d also like to run tubeless…but that’d be an easy conversion with the Stan’s Archs and Rocket Rons. (I really, really liked the Rocket Rons–I’ll try to put a review together on them, separately).
Seriously–everything on the bike works together. It feels like more of a complete system than my personal bikes ever have. And the sparkly orange paint? Lusty. I can sum up the day’s ride in one image:
I will always remember today’s ride through the lens of the Spearfish. Thank you Salsa. Thank you North Central Cyclery. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I won’t look a gift Spearfish in the mouth.