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“Spearfish is our ultra-endurance racing and riding machine, perfect for 100-milers, 24-hour races, and all-day singletrack sessions.”

Salsa Cycles website.

Well Ok then.  I have no experience with 24 hour races…maybe some day…and all day singletrack sessions are fine and all, but that 100 miler part caught my eye.  100 miles off road was a laudable goal for me and there was the Salsa Spearfish 1 and there was this 103 mile ride in Utah and the next thing I knew we were on the road to WRIAD.  But first, a bit of detail and explanation.

I took a bit of flak about the parts selection on the Go ‘Fish build and I was called out as missing the target intent of the project.  The idea of taking money saved on the frame and applying it to better parts is a viable option even though (and I said this in the first article) I did not specifically do that.  The parts mix was very upscale…SRAM XX, Roval CF wheels, XX Brakes, carbon Niner bar, Cane Creek 110 headset, etc.  Part of that was the fact that I had most of this already in hand from various past builds.  Part of it was a desire to get a very nice, light, high level performing bike built around a solid but modest frame.

If I was writing the checks or if I were to begin with empty hands and a wish list, I would have built it a bit differently and here is why.

  • Drivetrain – XO over XX.  XX is amazing in the way it performs and how it looks.  It also is very costly.  XO (and maybe even some X9) would have given me a slightly heavier bike with…oh, let’s say 95% of the performance.  Just a number…no science behind that.  As well, XX gearing is slightly lacking in the low range dept with that 26T small ring and the 36T big gear in back.  Depending on who you are or where you live, that may not be enough gear and if you are packing the bike with light weight overnight stuff, it very likely is not enough.  XO will get you to 22T if you want it and a 22/36 is darn low for a fit endurance rider.
  • Wheels – Carbon wheels are pretty amazing or at least they can be if they are good ones.  I would hate to give those up, but there are 1600g to 1800g wheelsets out there that would be just fine.  Something like these American Classics, a set of Stan’s Arches hoops, and others from DT Swiss or Ringle or even custom built…all will be cheaper then the Rovals by a minimum of $500.00 but heavier by at least 200g.
  • I would not have gone for XX World Cup brakes.  A more pedestrian model would be just fine and would weigh little more if I chose wisely.
  • Other than that…well maybe a less than 110 level Cane Creek head set would be fine too as even the budget ones are very good…I would not have changed much.  The current fork, the Manitou Tower Pro, is not terribly expensive compared to something like an equivalent Fox and the rest of the bits are good and proven.

So that is the deal with the build.  I had the high end stuff in hand, mixed it in with parts I already new and trusted, including some parts I had in testing mode, and began turning wrenches.  What came from that was not a ‘budget build’ as most would define that but it is a truly fine meld of parts.  Nuff’ said about that.

WRIAD, White Rim In A Day, is a loop in and around the Canyonlands Natl Park near Moab, Utah.  It is 103 miles, has around 7k’ of elevation gain and is all jeep road and a small stretch of paved road…no singletrack, but it is remote and often done as a personal time trial, either alone or with a group.  You need to be in and out the same day…no overnight camping for a true WRIAD and you need to carry all your needs with you as there is no water or food on that route. It is truly a self supported deal.  So I built up the Spearfish only a scant two days ahead, grabbed two quick rides to bed it in, loaded up, and pointed toward Utah.  The next morning at 05:30 we rolled out into the darkness of the Mineral Bottom switchbacks on our bikes and 12.5 hours later, we were back at camp.

This was a pretty amazing way to break in the Spearfish but it was right up the Adventure by Bike alley and dead on to the intent of the bike’s design.  After all the red dust settled, what do I think of the Spearfish 1 as a 100 mile platform?

WRIAD is all jeep road, some smooth, some very rough and sandy.  It is decently flat but there are some nasty climbs in the mix as well…short but steep and loose.  What it handles like on fast, twisty singletrack will have to wait till I get home.  This was about pedaling all day, but not about super techy stuff.   I had a 20-ish pound Osprey Talon 22 on my back, so I added about 10psi into the rear shock to get sag back under control.  The ride began with a  1500′ climb up some very steep grades.  Here the XX gearing was barely OK, at least until I warmed up, then we had 15 miles of dirt road before we dropped into the main part of the ride.  I had the rear shock in Pro Pedal ‘ON’ mode and the Tower Pro open and climbing was steady and stable.  The Go ‘Fish does not exhibit any unwanted suspension activation with pedaling forces.  It feels very buttoned down.  In fact, some bikes in the past were a bit of Jeckyl/Hyde with Pro Pedal.  PP on was firm and controlled.  PP off was sqooshy and plush but pedaled like a drunken sailor.  It seems that technology and smart engineering is tempering that as both the Spearfish and the on-test Titus Rockstar keep the same personality with Pro Pedal on or off, but there is just a more compliant ride with it off.

Pedaling hard out of the saddle on the small paved connector was a treat as the light Roval wheels and fast rolling Conti X Kings kept it feeling fast.  The ‘Fish never got in the way and felt very decent here…maybe not carbon stiff, but very good.

Once I hit the first dirt descent on the Shafer switchbacks, I opened up the rear shock and never looked back, keeping it open the entire time.  That never was an issue, even on nose-of-the-saddle grunt climbs.  The way that Salsa has tuned this bike with the RP2 Boost Valve Fox shock and the pivotless seatstays that are designed to flex under suspension movement gives the Spearfish a tight and efficient overall feel.  There were times that I was keenly aware that I only had 80mm of travel.  In some of the rougher sandstone sections, I could feel that I was bumping into the ceiling a bit and I backed off.  Comparing that feel to something like the JET9 (also 80mm of rear travel) the ‘Fish does not feel as ‘deep’.  I have heard the Spearfish described as being a ‘soft tail like’ ride quality.  I think that is pessimistic.  It is an full suspension, no doubt about that, but it will not fool you into thinking ‘trail bike’ either.

The handling is dead on for long days in the saddle…not too quick, not too slow.  It went exactly where I pointed it and never gave me reason for doubt or second guess my decision.  As you might expect, the long stays were never a factor in the wide open terrain  and the 17.9″ length felt very balanced overall.  Would it be a better bike with .25″ lopped off the back end?  Not sure.  Build me one and we will see 🙂  It does not feel super playful though, in that I mean it likes keeping the wheels down and the lines drawn smoothly but that fits very well into the vein of endurance type riding in my opinion.

When I was in Arizona at a recent endurance event there (where I rode the Specialized Carve Pro SS), I saw three Spearfish equipped riders out of, oh, less than 30 entrants?  That says something to me about who ‘gets’ the ‘Fish’s intentions.  I would have loved to have ridden the Go ‘Fish on that event and based on what I have experienced so far, the tight and techy Arizona Trail would not have been an issue at all for this bike.

So after 103 miles and 10.5 hours of pedaling the Spearfish 1 over the surface of Utah I was very pleased in the choices I made.  All the parts were faultless and they meshed perfectly.  Salsa hit the target bang on with the Spearfish and it is a superb choice for efforts like this.  Now we will take it back home and dance it down the twisty, loose trails of So Cal and see how it performs.

The fevered Mid West brains of the Salsa crew have brought to the marketplace a reasonably priced, solid performing full suspension 29″er option that is bang on target for the needs of most endurance riders.

Go ‘Fish! indeed.


Note: Salsa Cycles sent over the Spearfish 1 frame for test/review at no charge to Twenty Nine Inches. Other parts were supplied for the build at no cost by the respective manufacturers.  We are not being bribed or paid for this review. I will strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.