2014 Salsa Spearfish Review

Let’s be clear: I love Spearfish.  I am not an unbiased observer.  I spent the better part of a week on them in Sedona last year, and followed that up with the build of my very own Spearfish 1, which has become the Superfish.  It’s a bad, bad, bad machine.  My love of my Spearfish lead me to look at the new Spearfish closely.  According to Salsa, the new Spearfish sports slacker geometry up front, and shorter chainstays.  A note on those two changes:

When you start riding bikes with short chainstays, you start wishing that every bike you owned had short chainstays.  The difference in power transfer and handling with short chainstays is amazing.  Amazing.  On a mountain bike, the ability to weight the rear tire and unweight the front tire is critical to happy handling on hard trails.  So as I look at things to change about my Spearfish, the longer chainstays that make for an excellent and stable XC bike and super-climber are something that I’d love to change, just a bit.  The idea of shorter chainstays on the new Spearfish strikes me as a move in the right direction.

And then the front geometry…my Spearfish has race-fast steering up front.  That’s great in a lot of conditions, but on downhills, it’s a bit intense.  I went to a 110mm fork up front to slacken things out a bit, and have enjoyed that.  But on the new stock build, it’s already set up to be a bit slacker.  That sounds great.

I had a chance to see the beautiful, annodized blue XX1 build.

If you missed it, the new build weighs in at 23.6 pounds, stock, tubeless.

For serious.

It sports the Split Pivot suspension that I recently detailed here.

Also, note the Stan’s Crest tubeless-ready XC wheelset and Schwalbe tires.


34T for your XC needs.

I don’t think a 38T would fit…

Fox CTD with boost valve.

Fox Kashima CTD Fork.

Really nice Salsa carbon flat bars and Thomson stem and seatpost.

As I said in the Horsethief review, it’s nice to see a build that comes stock with the parts you’d want…instead of getting the bike and throwing on a new wheelset, stem and seatpost, the Spearfish comes with the blingy parts you want.  (I still wouldn’t mind an ENVE edition though…in black.)

Also as I said in the Horsethief review, that bike works so well that it might start infringing on Spearfish territory.  A stock Horsethief now weighs what my ‘last gen’ Spearfish weighed stock.  This stock XX1 Spearfish weighs what my heavily-modified Spearfish 1 weighs…in the 23 pound range.

I continue to think that the very best argument against hardtail mountain bikes is the Spearfish.  I cannot think of a single circumstance where I would prefer to have a hardtail 29er.  Particularly with a CTD shock, where you can go into climb mode and essentially lock out the suspension, there is simply no drawback.  (And the only time I’d lock out the suspension is for seriously flat riding, like Night Bison.  There is no need to lock it out for climbing).  The suspension is active anytime you need it, and completely unobtrusive for the balance of the time.  No pedal bob, no brake jack.  Comparing the Split Pivot to the ‘old’ Spearfish, I think the Split Pivot is better at isolating braking action.  I don’t have any complaints about the ‘old design’ for pedaling efficiency, but the Split Pivot might be a smidge better at small bump compliance and remaining active under power.

The shorter chainstays are awesome.  I do really envy those–they are noticeable and wonderful.  Likewise, the slacker front end is confidence inspiring when things point down, without an untoward effect on race handling.  Coupled with the wide bars and slack chainstays, I would venture to say that the new Spearfish is more playful and more aggressive than the previous generation.

The component spec is impeccable.  Any regular reader knows my love of XX1, and the brakes functioned perfectly.  A well-build set of Crest-based wheels will weigh about the same as a set of ENVEs (though the ENVEs are stronger, more aero (yes, I said it), and prettier).

I’ll go back to a point I made earlier: the Spearfish obviates the appeal of hardtails.  Anything a hardtail can do, it can do better.  And when you ride the Split Pivot Spearfish, you’ll have a hard time believing it only has 80mm of travel in the rear…it feels like 100+.  Seriously…what is the advantage of a hardtail?  Cheaper, sure.  Maintenance?  Not really…I’m well over a year into my Spearfish, and I don’t lose weekend time on rear end maintenance.  Lighter?  I’m all about lightness, but unless the path is completely smooth, I’d give up a couple of pounds for the rear suspension’s ride any day.  It allows you to stay in the saddle, putting down power as you hit rocks, roots and rough spots, instead of having to stand and absorb with your legs.  It allows for more speed and greater efficiency.  It’s a win-win.  I wouldn’t say that of all full-suspension bikes…but the Spearfish is just so good…

If I had to pick between the new Spearfish and new Horsethief, I’d probably ultimately go Spearfish, because the new geometry is great, and because 100/80mm of travel front and rear is all I need to conquer midwest singletrack…and also because I’m a big fan of going lightweight, and did I mention it only weighs 23.6 pounds, bone stock?  In the ‘punching above your weight’ class, if I had to pick between a Spearfish and a carbon Superfly, at this point, I’d have to give it to the Spearfish.  It’s a fantastic bike.


15 thoughts on “2014 Salsa Spearfish Review

  1. What about stiffness? I’m 180# and my XL Spearfish with Fox 32 is not stiff enough laterally or braking. With the ’14 I plan to go with 34mm stanchions, but am still concerned about lateral stiffness front to back through the frame.
    What about frame build quality. What’s up with that stupid non-removable direct mount? Any other cheap-o details? How is the cable routing? What do you think of the green frame only color?

    • As I mentioned in the Split Pivot review, I was surprised how laterally stiff the frame was. As for the fork, I weigh about 150, and didn’t pose a challenge to its stiffness, so I cannot really comment on that one.

      Frame build quality was excellent. I remarked, as did several others, about the apparent increase in weld quality (they were beautiful–hope that shows in the pictures) and the high-quality of the anodizing. As far as the green-only color, I didn’t see that one live in the flesh. I’m told that it’s nice…but can’t vouch for it myself.

      The non-removable direct mount…I think they were trying to come up with the most rigid, simple system to allow a front derailleur. I’ll concede that it’s less than perfect, particularly on a 1x drivetrain-equipped bike. With the anodizing, there’s not exactly a ‘dremel it off and go’ solution. They do offer a sharp-looking blockout plate, if you’re interested.

      I really liked the cable routing…particularly the ‘through the chainstay’ routing for the rear derailleur. Routing for the front derailleur cable was logical, and routing for a dropper post looks pretty straightforward, too.

    • The old frame had pivots, too…six of them. It just didn’t have a pivot at the axle. The new frame has pivots at that location as well…

      My point wasn’t that the Spearfish doesn’t require maintenance because it has a flexing seatstay design…my point is that full suspension bikes do not require a ton of suspension maintenance to function properly.

  2. What is going on with the Spearfish delays in delivery? Production difficulties? Availability? Should we wait a year and let them work out the kinks?

    • I haven’t heard of any delays in availability…but I’m not replacing my ‘Fish right now, so I haven’t been following.

      I wouldn’t have any concern about buying a first year design Spearfish. The Split Pivot suspension is pretty well worked out.

  3. I just went back to your Horsethief (HT) review and you said in the comments that you’d pick that over the SF, contrary to what you said here. So, has your opinion changed?
    I’m in a quandary between these two right now. I prefer lighter weight and pedaling efficiency, and most of the riding I do probably only warrants the travel on the SF. But one of my mottos is “better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it,” so if the HT can be made to pedal as efficiently as the SF, then the HT might be the better choice? I do like that the SF is available at a lower price point (the SF3).
    Your thoughts?
    Happy new year BTW! 🙂

    • I’m all over the board. This is a very tough decision for me, if I had to pick between the two. The more time I spend on quality, longer-travel 29ers (Horsethief, Trek Fuel), the more I see how awesome they are. If you asked me today, I’d get the Horsethief. If you asked me tomorrow…dunno.

  4. Thanks for the review. Do you have any idea how much the Spearfish 2 weighs? As much as I would love a sub-24 full suspension bike, my wallet can’t afford the XX1 and am wondering how much of a weight penalty there is between the two bike builds.

  5. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyway, just wanted to say great blog!

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