2014 Salsa Horsethief First Ride Review

Yet another review coming out of the Salsa Demo Days at North Central Cyclery.

Here she is…

This is the 2014 Salsa Horsethief, shown in Horsethief 1 livery.  Essentially, that means that it has the ‘new for 2014’ X01 SRAM 11 speed drivetrain.  All of the functionality of the XX1, significantly less cost, a little more weight.  Aluminum cranks in lieu of carbon, for example.

A fully built Horsethief comes in around mid 26 pounds….lighter if you go tubeless.  That puts you in a full suspension, 130/120mm front/rear travel 29er.  I’m not sure how they’re getting the bikes that light…that’s around what my 2013 Spearfish 1 weighed, stock out of the box.  This bike has 30mm more front travel and 40mm more rear travel.  Insanity.

I wrote about the new Split Pivot suspension a couple of days ago.  It’s amazing.  Let’s get down to Horsethief.

X01 Drivetrain, 32T Chainring and 10-42 Cassette.

Note that sweet, ‘in the chainstay’ internal cable routing in the rear.

Split Pivot top linkage:

As you can see, this demo bike was ridden hard and put away wet.  There was not even a scintilla of play in the rear suspension.  She was as tight as a drum.

Fox CTD with Boost Valve:

The controls on the shock were incredibly responsive.  In particular, adjusting the rebound speed had a huge impact on the bike’s personality.  I was setting it up for pretty fast rebound, and was amazed by how compliant/reactive/quick the suspension was.

I also loved the clever top linkage connection to the shock.

Remember when bikes came with crappy OEM wheels and you had to upgrade right outta the box?  Not so much, anymore.  Tubeless-friendly Stans Arches.

And yes, those are Schwalbe Nobby Nics.  Amazingly great tire spec for a stock build.

Fox Fork with color-matched graphic:

CTD controls on the Fork, to compliment the Shock.  Thru-axles front and rear.  Also, note the blingy Thomson parts, stock.  With past bike purchases, I typically go through the spec and instantly start picking out the upgrades.  New tires, stem/seatpost, saddle, possibly wheels…getting rid of the lowest-bid stuff that bikes come with.  Not so much of an issue here–everything is first rate spec that you’d want to keep and run forever.  Note that the XX1 version is fully-Thomson’ized.

I wanted to spend some quality time on the Horsethief.  I’ve ridden my Superfish a ton, but was not as familiar with the Horsethief, and thus I wanted to really experience it.  To that end, I talked to E-Fred, we picked out an appropriate size, and set it up.  This particular Horsethief had an automatic suspension setup system.  I hopped on to it, and the pressure and sag were automatically adjusted, like magic.  (Ok, perhaps E-Fred brought his full-suspension genius to bear, and perhaps he adjusted the fork and shock to befit my weight and riding style).

Coming to a bike with significantly more suspension travel like the Horsethief was a new experience for me.  When I saw how much sag was in the fork, riding away from the shop, I was ______________.  Confused?  Surprised?  A little worried?  Turns out E-Fred was right-on.

My thoughts on the drivetrain:  from a functionality perspective, it is indistinguishable from XX1.  If I didn’t look down, I wouldn’t know the difference.  I continue to think that 1x is the way to go for mountain bikes, and I think we’re going to continue to see it take over the market, particularly as more ‘entry-level’ options become available to supplement the top of the line XX1.

Wheels and tires: great choices.  The Nobby Nics aren’t exactly fast on hardpack, but they’ve got incredibly great traction in a wide array of conditions.  I’ve ridden them on other bikes, and love them.  The Arch rim selection is also an inspired choice…given the slightly beefier nature of the Horsethief, the Arch makes sense in lieu of the Crest offered on the Spearfish.

Brakes:  Say what you will about Avid brakes…they worked perfectly.  I’ve had them on a handful of bikes, and while I might personally like the handle on XTRs a bit more, I cannot fault the Avids’ function.  The look great, as well.

Parts Spec Generally: As I said, I’m incredibly amazed by how nicely spec’d out the bike is.  It’s not a spattering of nice labels to brag about–every component is something that can fairly be described as “high-end”.  The Thomson seatpost is a particular favorite of mine, and has enough length to accommodate just about any rider.  The stock saddle was also surprisingly comfortable.

I had a blast playing with the suspension on the bike.  Because it’s so comparatively light, it’s easy to move around.  With the available travel (and E-Fred’s great setup), you could preload the suspension and get a ton of hop to clear an obstacle.  In the alternative, you could bomb into an obstacle and let the suspension do all of the work.  Either way, the front and rear suspension were amazingly balanced.

I had thought that the Horsethief would be more like an axe, compared to the razor blade Spearfish I’m used to.  I was wrong.  The Horsethief is an incredibly versatile bike.  When you’re riding XC, it has capabilities you won’t need–that’s true.  But they’re not obtrusive.  Because the Split Pivot works so well, you don’t notice the extra travel bobbing around.  When the path turns gnarly or downhill, the extra capability is immediately perceptible and greatly appreciated.

The risk of Salsa making the Horsethief this good is that it starts eating into the Spearfish’s territory.  If I was buying a mountain bike tomorrow, I’d have a very hard time deciding between the two.  The fantastic thing about this situation, though, is that neither bike is a bad decision.  Two amazing bikes.  (More on the 2014 Spearfish soon).

What would I like to see?  I talked to E-Fred about this a bit…Salsa’s done the limited edition El Mariachi.  What about an ENVE edition Horsethief?  ENVE bars, seatpost, wheels, stem…maybe talk ENVE into doing a custom run of bottle cages…  Salsa showed a pre-production model rocking the ENVE parts, and it was beauteous.  How about a limited-edition, production version?  Sell it tubeless, stock.  Rock the XX1.  Build up the wheels with some DT Swiss hubs and the DT Swiss RWS skewers like the new Beargrease.  And make it annodized in red or black.  Call it the RATG edition.  Tell people it means “Really Awesome Trail-Goer.”  It’ll be our little secret what it really stands for…  Remember how hot this bike was in the promo pics?

Back to reality…I had a chance to ride Trek’s Rumblefish a few months ago, and more or less panned it.  I haven’t had a chance to throw a leg over the Fuel 29ers yet.  The Horsethief lays down the gauntlet.  It is what the Rumblefish should have been. More travel, more efficient suspension, lighter, more nimble. It is the proverbial quiver-killer.  It’s fantastic.  I’m running out of superlatives.


15 thoughts on “2014 Salsa Horsethief First Ride Review

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

  2. What if you did have to choose one? The spearfish and horsethief seem equally impressive, but I’m left wondering which to choose as my one do it all rig. Most of my riding is limited to the Atlantic/mid -Atlantic northeast. I live in the Long Island region of New York and ride plenty of the local trails , but venture off on road trips quite often.
    Erik N.

    • Putting me on the spot.

      I’ll do a stock build to stock build comparison. The rear suspension is essentially identical in performance. The tradeoff is basically as follows:

      A few pounds lighter.

      More than an inch more travel.
      Slightly slacker geometry.

      Sure, there are differences in BB height, wheelbase and such as well, but this is what it really comes down to for me: a comparison of a little less weight against more capability.

      I’ve said over and over again that the Spearfish has all the travel I need for midwest trail riding. That’s totally true, and remains true. However, as I see just how good the 5″ travel bikes are getting, I don’t really see a penalty to having the extra capacity. With the CTD, you can essentially lock out the rear if you want to, for fire road riding.

      If I was making this decision 2 years ago, I would have said Spearfish. If I was making it today, it would be close, but I’d probably go Horsethief. Having that extra comfort level on downhills and obstacles would be a good thing.

      And then after I got my Horsethief (1×11), I’d lighten it up a bit and negate the weight issue…but that’s just me.

  3. Pingback: 2013 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29er Review | riding against the grain

  4. I know this is a bit dated but I have an ’11 Rumblefish and find it heavy and a bit slow on the climbs. I’ve been thinking about getting a ’14 Horsethief frameset to swap parts over, the fork offsets are the same and most if not all of my parts will swap over (besides the 3x crankset). I just want your opinion, since you also own a ‘Fish, will I notice the lighter weight of the Thief and notice much of a difference in handling while climbing? Also, and this is a biggie, is the stand over height better on the Thief than it is on the Fish? I know what each rigs’ specs say, just wanted your thoughts since you own a ‘Fish also..
    Thanks for any input you can give me and, by the way, I love the blog..

    • John,

      I think you will notice the lighter weight, but more importantly, the Thief has a much better suspension setup for climbing, as compared to the Fish. For that matter, the Thief has better handling everywhere, compared to the Fish. Getting away from the 3x drivetrain will be a good move for you, as well. Regarding stand over, I didn’t have an issue with either the Fish or the Thief, and don’t remember either being particularly memorably high or low.

      If you decide to run a 1x drivetrain, Salsa makes a block off plate for the front derailleur mount that’s pretty nifty. Drop me a pic of the build when it’s all done!

  5. How does the Horsethief compare to a Giant trance x, do you know? I was looking at the trance 1 which is about $2800 and very close in build to the Salsa. The Giant has a dropper seat post though which is super nice. I’m a big fan of Salsa and still own three, and I would love to have another but the 51mm offset fork is a little off-putting. I seem to blow up a fork at least once a season and its nice to just throw on another fork until the blown fork is back. I have three 48mm offset forks , but no 51mm. I ride in upstate NY which is ROCKY, with roots and often quite wet, so I need a bike able to handle the rough. Thanks, Brett.

    • I don’t have any time on the Giant Trance, and thus cannot comment on it–but the Horsethief is an incredible bike. I understand your concern on your personal supply of forks, and that’s a “Brett Specific” issue…but short of that, I have no reservations about recommending the Horsethief.


    • I’m just over 6′ as well, and I could ride a medium or a large. The “right” size is almost certainly a large, but I tend to like my mountain bikes a bit more compact. I suspect you’d be best with a Large.

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