Editor’s Note: With these Ride Impressions Twenty Nine Inches riders do not imply that these bicycles are ultimately good, bad, or indifferent for you. We do mean to convey through our many hours of riding lots of different 29 inch wheeled bicycles over a period of years to give you, the reader, an indication of what you might expect from these new rigs. In other words, this ain’t no review, but hopefully it points you in the right direction.

Salsa Horsethief Ride Impressions: by Grannygear and Guitar Ted.

Up first- Grannygear’s take:

In the battle of the 120mm full suspension 29″ers, the Horsethief comes to us from the Midwest minds of the Salsa folks and is the logical successor to the now defunct Big Mama. I rode the Big Mama when it first came out and liked it well enough, but I like the Horsethief even more.

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Here is why.

Chassis stiffness. The Horsethief in my opinion is a stiffer bike overall than the Big Mama was, especially in the back end. How much of that is from the 142/12 Maxle rear axle and how much is from the new tube set is hard to say, but they work together to produce a bike that tracks better.

Travel. 120mm at both ends felt balanced and not slow or plodding. And, the option to run at 130mm or 140mm adds value to the buyer. You may never want to go that big, but if you do, you can.

Geometry: Lower bottom bracket height, slacker head tube angle, shorter chain stays than the Big Mama had. All of that presents a more nimble and yet more stable bike and makes for a better trail partner.

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So what did it ride like? I ran it at first with Pro Pedal on and the fork closed down a bit to see what it did and to gauge chassis stiffness a bit more easily. Run that way it was great for big ring, standing, paved road stuff and would be just as good that way on a smooth fireroad climb, but then I switched Pro Pedal off and opened the Fox fork up. With Pro Pedal off, I could see some movement in the linkage as my body weight activated it, but it did not seem like a simple pedal stroke was making it ‘bob’. It was quite decent in that way and even open, the pedaling performance was very good and did not feel dead at all (like some short link bikes do in my opinion). I ran it that way the rest of the test.

In many ways it did remind me of a Spearfish in that I could feel the trail up through the chassis. The ‘yet to be named‘ suspension system here, at least in the state of tune I rode it in, is not super plush. However, real trail bumps are taken out and it certainly was not too firm. The extra travel is apparent when you drop off a bigger trail feature like at Bootleg Canyon and the 120mm just takes all that in stride. 120mm is a very good place to be for the average trail rider who wants a nearly do-all full suspension bike.

The 18″ chain stays are a decent compromise to getting all that mechanics (front derailleur, crank, decent size tire, suspension pivots, etc) ‘in there’ and still have a balanced ride. Would I like Salsa to work even harder and get it to 17.75″? Yes, yes I would. But, it is not hard to loft the front wheel and it adds a nice amount of stability when seated climbing steep grades. It could be better in my opinion, but it surely does not suck. OK?

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Tire clearance, by the way, is quite good and the test bikes were running 2.3 Schwalbe Nobby Nics and had more than enough space there.

Overall, if I were to give the Horsethief a grade, it would be a ‘B’ and if we can chop 1/4″ off the back end I would go B+. However, one thing to keep in mind is value and Salsa bikes are typically good value in a market of escalating bike costs. The Horsethief is a worthy trail bike that anyone looking for a more than 100mm full suspension 29″er should consider.

Guitar Ted’s Take:
Yep! You get a two-fer here on the Horsethief. Since I have a Big Mama in the test fleet, we figured it might be a good thing for me to see what is good and what isn’t on the replacement with the new moniker.

Ride Impressions: The Horsethief has a whole different demeanor than the Big Mama had. The Big Mama was a confused bike, to a degree. It didn’t really work as a 100mm XC bike, since it was too heavy duty, and the bottom bracket was too high for good XC manners. It really didn’t work as a trail bike since the 100mm travel was limiting, the head angle was too steep, and with a 120mm fork, the bottom bracket went sky high. So, now we have the Spearfish and the Horsethief. Both ends dialed and no more confusion in purpose.

Salsa has taken what it learned from the Big Mama and expanded upon it. Slacker head angle, lowered bottom bracket, (just a bit, not too far!), and lengthened the travel out to 120mm rear and 140mm front. Now…..that’s what I’m talkin’ about! This is a trail bike!

Out on Bootleg Canyon’s trails, I found that the Horse likes to play. Pump tracking the rollers was a hoot, and the stable geometry led me to go faster and not feel uncomfortable. The big drop ins were child’s play for the long fork and the Horsethief’s plush feeling rear suspension.

On climbs I felt the bike was a bit on the squishy side, but wait! I had ProPedal, and I was going to use it. Okay, now how’s that? Well, it did clean up the climbing feel to a great degree, but it also muted the fun factor on the down hills. I stopped and flipped the switch back. The Horsethief just was too much fun to use in the wide open position everywhere else that a bit of squish on climbs was acceptable to me. In fact, it climbed better with the damper wide open, since the wheel tracked the ground better. I just stayed seated and spun more. That’s fine with me. This isn’t an XC hard tail, (Duh!), so why Should I think it should climb like one. Hmm….maybe a case of too many carbon hard tails at the demo for me! 😉

My conclusion is that this bike is worlds better than the Big Mama was, and in terms of what else is out there, Salsa has a very competent, value packed rig here. Is it better than the new crop of full suspension 29”ers? Well, I don’t know, but it is a very good bike and I am betting it will induce many smiles out on the trails.

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A Word On The Chain Stays: We hear a lot about “short chain stay this” and “short chain stay that” from forums, riders, and even from our own Grannygear! 🙂 So, I cornered chief engineer on the Horsethief project, Pete Koski, and grilled him on the chain stay numbers for the Horsethief.

Pete said that several proto types were looked at for the Horsethief, (some with shorter stays), and that through testing over varied terrain and in various locations throughout the country, their team arrived at the slightly shorter dimensions from the Big Mama. “But…..it is still 18 inches”, I said. “Yeah, we wanted to make sure everyone could use a triple, if they wanted, and run big tires, and still have room, and you just can’t have all that with short chain stays that some folks want”, opined Pete.

So, I said, “If no technicalities were at play, what would you do for chain stay length?” Pete replied without hesitation, “Make em shorter!” The thing is, that there are technicalities, and Salsa has decided to work around some different parameters to arrive at a bike that they feel is competent, versatile, and has a high level of performance. Could the chain stays on this design be shortened? Maybe, a wee bit, but not much more before front derailleur issues arise, tire clearance issues arise, and suspension performance is compromised. And then there is price point, and more technically advanced designs to address the issues would drive up prices.

In the end, Salsa Cycles has arrived at a very trail worthy bike in the Horsethief and at a very good price.

Update: Now with video! Click Here.

Stay tuned for more from Interbike coming your way soon.