The Superfish: Salsa Spearfish 1 Review

This is my second Salsa Spearfish 1 review, with the first one being here, from School of Spearfish.  If your reading of this blog is from after School of Spearfish, go back and do some reading…it was an excellent trip to Sedona, AZ, on a fleet of demo Salsa Spearfish, with 4 days of amazing riding as a respite from an Illinois winter.

This Spearfish 1 review relates to my Spearfish 1…the Superfish.

Superfish back story: my first 29er was a Trek Rumblefish.  Great bike, but heavy.  I upgraded the stock Bontrager Dusters to a set of Easton Haven alloy wheels, set up tubeless with Maxxis Ikon EXO tires, which made a huge improvement…but it was still heavy.

After being spoiled with lighter, faster bikes on the School of Spearfish trip, I had it in my head that I wanted to build an ultralight 29er to replace the Rumblefish.  Given my great love of my ti Vaya, the Vaytanium, I was thinking 29er, Salsa, Titanium…El Mariachi.  I was thinking super-lightweight build…which meant singlespeed.  I was thinking blingy.  I obsessed about it for much of the past several months…and then I went on a ride and watched a bunch of guys getting hammered by hard tails, and relented.  I wanted some rear suspension.  I’m not a ‘huge air’ guy, so I didn’t need a long-travel 29er.  I wanted a simple, efficient suspension that climbed like a billy goat, and yet took the hard edge off of bumps.  I wanted something that I could ride on all of the terrain that the midwest has to offer, and yet be able to drop it into a mountain bike XC race, or even a gravel ride if the mood struck me.

It took me several months to realize that I wanted the bike I had already spent a lot of saddle time in.  I wanted a Spearfish.

I then started thinking up the Spearfish build.  I was thinking of getting  Spearfish 1 frame.  Lightweight carbon handlebars.  Light stem.  Light carbon seatpost.  Light, easy to bleed/maintain brakeset.  Light drivetrain with a wide spread of ratios.  Super-light, tubeless 29er wheels (I learned the value of light wheels from the Rumblefish).  Something totally custom.  Totally unique.  I was comparing component weights, and really liked the look of some Truvativ products, and some Salsa products.

When I started talking specs with Tobie at North Central Cyclery, he rattled off a build spec that sounded dreamy.  SRAM X9 shifters, X0 rear derailleur.  The new Avid Elixir 7 brakes with their new easy-bleed design.  Full carbon Salsa seatpost and handlebars.  X9 crankset, 2×10 drivetrain.  Some custom wheels, TBD.  I was hooked.

That’s when he reminded me that, other than the wheels, this was a stock Spearfish 1.  I toyed with the idea of turning it to 11 with the new SRAM 1×11 drivetrain (which still intrigues me), but based on commercial inavailability of that product, I bailed on that idea.  I toyed with the idea of going 1×10 to drop some weight, but Tobie prevailed upon me to try the bike 2×10 first, and decide what size chainring I wanted.

The wheels were another issue.  The whole stock spec of the bike is great, including the Stans’ tubeless ready wheelset that it comes with.  But I’ve come to love light, great wheels.  I didn’t want any compromises.  That’s when Tobie suggested ENVE.  At least, I think he suggested ENVE…he took a breath in and started to form his mouth to say “EN”, and I cut him off and said yes.  You see, I am so unbelievably impressed by the ENVE SES 3.4 Smart Clinchers on the Ridley, that I was instantly in agreement with an ENVE wheelset for the Superfish.

After some research, we settled on DT240 hubs, DT Aerolite bladed spokes, ENVE 29XC carbon rims, set up with their relatively new tubeless kit and a new set of Maxxis Ikon EXOs.  Chad at NCC built up the ENVEs for me in a custom build, did his usual detailed and meticulous bike build, we picked out a few details for changes, and I was set.  The changes were minimal…obviously the wheels…plus a set of Ergon’s GS grips, plus Ergon’s new mountain bike saddle.  Total weight for the finished build: 25 pounds.

Let me say that again…total weight for the finished build on my 2×10, full-suspension 29er:

25 pounds.

There are areas I could go lighter, sure.  But it’s about perfect how it sits today.

ENVE 29xc wheels:

X9 Shifters:

X0 Rear Derailleur:

Shifts are quick, tight, accurate.  Could not improve on the operation of the rear derailleur if I wanted to.

X9 Crankset

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3 Pedals

Fox Float RP2 Shock, 80mm travel.

Pro-pedal and adjustable rebound.

I have yet to turn the pro-pedal on.  On the rebound adjustment, it is much more noticeable than it was on the Rumblefish.  A few clicks either direction makes a huge change.  It took me about 30 minutes to get it dialed in where I wanted it, and it hasn’t been changed since.

Is that a…

Yup…KMC DLC X10sl ‘diamond like coating’ chain, in matching black and red.

Fox F29RL fork, tapered steerer, 15mm thru-axle.

Adjustable rebound and full lockout.

Again, the rebound adjustment is very noticeable, and was very easy to get set to a comfortable point.

The whole bike is built around Salsa’s flexible seat stay suspension…note that there’s no rear pivot point in the suspension.

The seat stay flexes as the suspension moves.  With only 80mm of travel, there’s only a very little bit of deflection.  It works amazingly well, soaking up small bumps without a care, and taking the sharp edges off of bigger hits…while being very lightweight, very easy to maintain, and having the ability to climb like a spider monkey.  It doesn’t matter if you want to sit and spin, or stand and pump…the bike just climbs.  No drama.  It doesn’t matter what the terrain is…the suspension just simply hooks up.  In my riding, I’ve been running the tires at 25psi, and I have yet to encounter a situation where my climbing stops because I run out of traction or travel, or due to bobbing.  The chainstays on the Spearfish may not be the shortest in the world, but man does it climb.

The 12×142 rear end keeps everything pinned together on the descents as well.  There is no palpable flex in the rear end.  I never really thought the Rumblefish was ‘flexy’ in the rear end–but that was before riding the Spearfish.  I’m not a world-class rider, so I can’t say I notice the difference in putting down my huge wattage.  Where I notice a difference is in technical riding, in rock gardens, in off-camber descents, and in steep switchbacks.  The difference in those conditions is palpable…because of the tight rear end and efficient suspension design, I feel like I have a better idea where my rear tire is at all times.  I feel that I can control its placement with a little body english, in subtle ways that I never before had been able to accomplish.  The impact upon my riding has been huge.  It’s an awesome beast.  Of course, dropping 5+ pounds over the Rumblefish was a good start, too.

For a saddle, I went with the new Ergon SM3, Pro Carbon, in Large.

I’ll have more details on it in the days to come.  (And yes, the saddle is level.  The picture is not).

Ergon GS1 grips.

A set of the new Avid Elixir 7 brakes…

I had a set of last year’s Elixir XO brakes that I had planned on using on the Superfish, but once I saw the improvements in this year’s brakes, I kept the Elixir 7s on the Superfish (and put the XOs on the Mukluk).  It was the right call.  I have no fear of contradiction in saying that the new Elixir 7s are head and shoulders above last year’s XOs.

Salsa full carbon handlebars and seatpost.

Super simple bottom pivot.

This happens to be an 18″ frame.

Even at a shade over 6′ tall, I wanted a 18″ frame.  In Sedona, I had spent a lot of quality time on both the 18 and 20″ frames.  Again, the moderate length chainstays make it not terribly difficult to keep the front end down on steep climbs.  I found the 18″ to be more flickable, more controllable, and more comfortable for long rides in the saddle.  That said, I tend to size down quite a bit.  The Vaya is a 55, the Mukluk is a 17, the Big Dummy is an 18, and the Ridley…well the Ridley is a 58.

The small triangle at the seatpost is a giveaway on the size.

This bike just looks so right.

And of course, it is all set up for…

Here, you can kind of see the formed down tube…

And of course, it’s a…

I’ve got some very nice bikes…but even they have compromises.  When I got the Ridley, I loved it.  And yet it still got a set of wheels (best upgrade ever), a power crank, saddle, pedals, and handlebars.  The Mukluk has received a seatpost, saddle, tires, brakes, fork, drivetrain tuning and wheel modifications.  The Vaya has gone through 2 saddles, a ton of tires, and a crank…and it’s looking forward to wheels (and hopefully some drop bar hydro brakes).  The Superfish was built without compromise.  Tobie was patient enough to go through every part with me, and we looked at each component to see if it was up to snuff for this build, or if it would be a choice we’d regret.  I wanted a bike that was perfect from the outset…no parts that I’d start with and say “yeah, I’ll upgrade that later.”  It started off perfect.

The only open question is the drivetrain…not because of any problems with functionality, but rather because I’m curious about a simpler drivetrain (1×10) or a simpler wider drivetrain (1×11).  But after putting some miles on the 2×10 and seeing how well it functions, I don’t know about that either.  Having the gearing on the top end will be nice for gravel and bombing around.  Having the gearing on the low end will be nice for bike packing, and for bailout gears on climbs.  As it stands right now, there is absolutely nothing that I would change on this bike.  Nothing.  How often can you say that about a bike?  It does everything I wanted, rides better than I hoped for, and just flatly performs.  X0 derailleur is blingy, sure…but why did Salsa spec an X7 front derailleur and X0 rear?  Simple answer: because X7 functions just as well as X0 up front, and X0 in the rear is beyond compare.  There were few areas that I could improve upon their stock build.  Wheels and tires–because selling this new with ENVEs would blow out the price tag.  Saddle, grips, etc., for personal preference.  Chain for durability, low maintenance, and just a little bling.

I’ve never adjusted to a bike this fast.  Riding the Superfish is like riding a bike with ESP.  I mentioned it above, but something about the perfect sizing, rigidity of the frame, rigidity of the wheels, and lightweight combines together to mean that you always know where the bike is under you, and you can put the tires wherever you want.  The big, meaty bars give you the ability to steer it wherever you want to go.  Quite simply, it’s the best handling mountain bike I’ve ever ridden…and the lightweight ENVE wheel set means that it doesn’t take a ton of muscle to whip the bike around.

I’ve never found myself in a position where I longed for more travel, front or rear.  I’ve seen some guys mod the front to 110 or even 120mm of travel–thus far, I don’t need it (and I don’t want a longer yet wheelbase or slower handling).  It’s perfect.  I thought about a Horsethief (more in keeping with the Rumblefish), but honestly, the extra travel isn’t worth the weight penalty…even with upcoming blingier Horsethief builds.  Moreover, unlike the Rumblefish, the rear suspension feels more alive…I never find myself on an obstacle in the wrong part of the travel.

The decision to get a Spearfish 1 complete was a hard one…it was one that I didn’t think I would make.  I really have to give credit to Tobie and NCC for that one.  As he said, I could get a frame only, spend more, and have a bike that wouldn’t be any better.  Salsa did a great job spec’ing the bike out with great components.  And if you missed it, here it is with the Salsa/Relevate frame bag.

Salsa.  Spicy.


30 thoughts on “The Superfish: Salsa Spearfish 1 Review

  1. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the Ergon saddle. I’m in the market for something and like their other products but what have I found on the SM3? Nada. Crickets.

    It’s interesting that you mention the improvement to the Elixir 7. They came on my El Mariachi Ti and the “improvements” made them not play so well with Gripshift. See the little pad adjust piston that sticks out the back? Yeah, it hits the shifter, so you gotta move the brake inboard about ~1 cm. Meaning I can only reach the brake pad with my middle finger. 😦 I suppose those two engineering teams were not talking…

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  4. Hi, great review!!! I am curious to know about sizing. I am 6′ tall flush with 33.5″ inseam so I think I will follow your call and go for a medium. Any simple tips apart from wheels to remove some weight on that bike? You had a chance to weight the Salsa parts?

    • Jean,

      You’d easily fit on either a 18 or 20″ Spearfish (M or L). I went with the Medium, after riding both, because I felt it was a bit more agile. Even the Medium isn’t exactly short… If you like a longer/larger size, try the L. I personally think the M climbs a bit better (for me) and is a hair more responsive when I throw my weight around.

      As far as weight loss goes, the most obvious weight loss option would be to go 1×10, and drop the front derailleur, shifter, and cable. I haven’t weighed the stock Salsa parts, but it shouldn’t be too hard to drop some weight in the saddle choice, perhaps a little in the stem. Ultimately, you’re dealing with a full suspension, aluminum framed 29er. As far as bang for the buck goes, lighter wheels and/or tires would be your best option. Even if you moved from Arch rims to Crest rims and used the same hubs and spokes, you could drop close to 200 grams of rotating mass–almost half a pound (assuming that Crest would hold up to your weight and usage).

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  9. Hi, I’m considering a Salsa Spearfish 1. On 1/16/12 you posted “riding the spearfish 1 may have been a mistake” Was that you and if so can you explain? I didn’t quite understand it. Thanks.

    • I’m not sure if that was me or not. If it was, I’m guessing it was sarcasm. In January, I had a trip to Sedona, where I started on a Spearfish 2, and eventually moved to a SF1. After riding the 1, I saw its value over the 2.

      So if that was me, perhaps I meant that riding the SF1 ruined me for getting a less expensive 2…

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  12. Hi , I’m from Belgium and since a few months I’m searching for a new 29er fully bike. Now I have an old Kona Munimula , a self build 26er Specilized Epic S Works ( weight 22.7 ) and a self build hardtail 29er with a Lefty ( weight 23.3 ). The last one was build with leftovers and could be lighter .Crazy about the Spearfish, I want to build up one less than 24pounds and I have a few questions .What is the weight of your wheels, can you put a Lefty in the Spearfish without changing the geometry and on which components you can gain some weight?

    • The wheels weigh up at about 1400 grams, fully built and taped.

      I’ve read about a few people trying to do a Lefty on a Spearfish. There is no reason you couldn’t do so, but I have yet to see one built up. The geometry is compatible.

      It would be possible to save weight in a few locations. The simplest option would be to drop the front derailleur and go 1×10…that would likely drop a pound or so by itself. Elsewhere, you can get lighter saddles, bars, grips, seat posts…hardware. If you did a full weenie build on a Medium, under 24 pounds should be pretty easy…especially if you want 1x.

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  18. So you gonna upgrade the frame to split-pivot?
    My LBS has a SP1 – my size even – on sale super-cheap, but with split pivot and shorter chain stays on the 2014’s, I think I might regret buying the 2013.

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