Salsa Spearfish 1

Salsa Spearfish: Final Review- by Grannygear

In our OOB and First Impressions, the newly revised for 2014 Salsa Spearfish 1 had set the tone for a decently light (for the money), great pedaling, minimal travel full suspension 29″er.  After the first real ride where I spent 5 hrs on it across a varied course, I took it to the local trails.

Open and smooth fire roads with punchy climbs, none of them long, lead to fast and twisty single track descents.  On home ground, the Spearfish just scooted along the fast dirt roads and felt lighter than it is.  As before, I typically left the bike in Trail mode front and rear just to keep it from reacting to my body weight.  I opened both front and rear shocks when it was time to descend for a while.  I could have left it open all the time as the Split Pivot allows for that option and will still pedal well.

The single tracks, which are just roached right now from lots of bikes and very little rain, were very fun on the new geometry that Salsa infused into the design of the bike.  That trailbike-lite feeling remained and the shorter rear end and slacker front end made for a playful, fun time on trail.  I never felt like I needed more travel in the areas I rode the bike, although it takes getting used to only 100mm front/80mm rear after riding 130mm bikes of late.  Once you tune in to that fact, it is all good.

Salsa Spearfish 1

The last ride, a high altitude trip to beat the summer heat, offered miles of single track climbing followed by a ripping good downhill.  None of it is terribly technical, no drops, etc, but there are enough rocky sections to appreciate full suspension.  You could go just as fast here on a hard tail, but you would be working harder to get it done.  Uphill switchbacks were dead simple with the new geometry and on the flip side, where I unraveled all the uphill gains courtesy of gravity, negotiating the tight corners was a matter of ease.  One thing that I noticed that had not stood out before  was the braking performance.  Other than the Avid XO trail brakes coming out of the box with a front brake that felt like it needed to be bled, the braking had not made me sit up and take notice until I was entering turns at speed, needing to scrub off velocity on stutter bumped sections of hard dirt.  This trail allows for shuttle monkey runs and on the weekends, scores of riders drive to the top, ride, rinse, repeat, etc.

Salsa Spearfish 1

What I noticed was the way the DW Split Link suspension stayed active during those hard braking efforts entering the tight turns.  Very nice.  It allowed me to run deeper into the corners, brake harder and retain more control with no wheel hopping or unwanted lock-ups such as the tire skipping over the tops of the braking bumps.  In fact, subsequent rides on bigger travel but less sophisticated suspension designs showed how much better the Spearfish stayed ‘hooked up’ and active which made the firmish 80mms of travel feel more like a supple AM bike.  Good stuff.

So, to sum up, then some parting thoughts:

  • For most of the people buying this bike,  in my opinion, the 2014 version of the Spearfish is a better value over the previous model.  The more playful nature of the new geometry and the super performing Split Pivot rear end are significant upgrades.
  • It did lose some of that long, stretched out feeling it had before.  The old version said Tour Divide to me.  Find a horizon and head towards it.  This one whispers Colorado Trail.  Still good, just a slightly different vibe.
  • You better be happy with 80mms of rear travel.  Honestly for a large percentage of XC riding 29″er owners out there, it is likely to be adequate.
  • For bikepacking, endurance racing/riding, XC to light trail…it is a super choice.  Kokopelli Trail, anyone?
  • Split Pivot as a suspension design, at least in 80mms of travel, is very good and tracks the ground well.
  • Are you riding a hard tail now and find you are needing a bit of grace for the aching bod but do not want to go too far north of where you are now?  Here you go.
  • Got a bigger travel trail bike and want to get something in the quiver that is a bit less ‘much’ but yet not a high strung XC race bike?  Here you go.
  • As it sits, the Spearfish would rise above all hard tails for comfort and absolutely crush them on rocky climbs, etc.  With a fatty trail tire, tubeless with low pressures on a wide and light rim like the American Classic Wide Lightning, and, equipped with a dropper post, it would be a pretty good trail bike unless you regularly do big stuff.

But here is the question to be asked.  Is there any reason for this bike with only 80mms of travel to exist?  Remember the J.E.T. 9 (Just Enough Travel) from Niner Bikes that began at 80mm and now is 100mm?  The Specialized Epic grew up as well, from 90mm to 100mm.  Yes, 3 inches of rear suspension on a 29er feels pretty good and I have owned two full suspension 29″ers, one with 80mm and one with 90mm, that I found were all I needed for the places I would ride those bikes.  But there are a lot of 100mm full suspension 29″ers that are great pedaling, efficient bikes, yet give you a bit ‘more‘ back there.  Some of them might even allow for a 120mm fork to match a 100mm rear end.  If you can only have one bike, might we not go for that little bit extra as long as it does not cost us much to the down side?  In fact, these days even 130mm trail bikes pedal really well.  Flip the Twin Lock lever on the Genius 910 we tested and it reduces the travel to XC level and, other than the increased weight from bigger forks, tires, etc, will scoot along just fine.  The Scott Spark is even better at this dual-duty and it is a notch up on the Spearfish for rougher trails.  Trek is introducing the RE:activ damping system on some rear suspension bikes to chase that holy grail of a bike that can do it all…pedal smartly on smooth trails and then give you a trail bike when the bumps come.

Salsa Spearfish 1

Using all it had to offer.

Suspension designs that do it all…carbon frames and 1x gearing that keeps weight down…light wheels that roll fast and still are trail ready.  Really, it has gotten to the place where more travel is not necessarily a handicap with the caveat that less weight often comes with a high price tag and the understanding that sometimes it is a bit easier to make a lesser travel bike lighter.  So it is with some level of curiosity that I wonder if the Spearfish has a Raison d’être.  I believe it still does, but it may not make as much sense as it used to.

Note: Salsa Cycles sent the Spearfish 1 for test and review at no charge. We are not being bribed, nor paid for this review. We will strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.