Riding Salsa’s New Split Pivot Mountain Bikes on the Black Canyon Trail

Snow in the High Desert

Hell, we need snow in the Southwestern United States, especially in what is called the Four Corners. All winter, riding plans have been put on hold for Mother Nature’s cool embrace as our landscapes get covered in a thick blanket of soil-enriching snow. With warmer temps, the crypto soil locks in as much moisture as possible, giving water to our desert flora friends. Needless to say, when it snowed over 14″ in Sedona I was a bit sad. You see, Salsa sent out an invite to ride in Sedona last week – to take on some of the best the area has to offer on their newly-designed trail bikes.

Then the snow came and we had to find new options for riding. Problem is, just about everywhere above 6,000′ has snow, or the soil is too saturated to ride. We descended from Sedona south, towards Phoenix and began to eyeball the Black Canyon Trail.

Black Canyon Trail

The Black Canyon Trail began as an indigenous route, linking together various settlements and encampments for tribal trade and hunting. Earliest records of the trail date back to the 1600’s, with official designation dating to 1919, when the Department of the Interior proclaimed the trail as an official livestock driveway. The Black Canyon Trail is still used to herd sheep and other livestock today, along with many other uses. Covering over 4,000 acres, the Black Canyon Corridor passes through various ecotones along the Bradshaw Mountains, giving users a different experience around every bend.

Thanks to President Obama, the Black Canyon National Recreation trail gained funding and momentum, prompting the BLM and the Recovery Act Program to solidify this historic route into a multi-use trail system, totaling 79 miles and spanning from the Prescott National Forest down to Phoenix. Riding from North to South, you will only climb just over 3,800′ and descend a whopping 6,600′!

We spent two days biting off chunks of the trail and hopping on the newly-designed Salsa mountain bikes.


The Spearfish is a straight up XC 29er with 100mm of Split Pivot rear suspension and a 120mm fork, it’s perfect for endurance and XC races while offering a nimble day to day ride quality.

Spearfish Features

100mm Rear Travel
120mm Front Travel
29 x 2.3” Tire Spec
Fits 27.5 x 2.8–3.0” and 29 x 2.1–2.6”
SuperBoost 157mm Rear Spacing Standard
Flip Chip geometry tuning
Fits 2 water bottles inside frame triangle
Available sizes: SM/MD/LG/XL

The Horsethief returns as Salsa’s 29er trail bike. It features 120mm of Split Pivot rear suspension and a 140mm fork, making it a perfect all-rounder for all mountain runs.

Horsethief Features

120mm Rear Travel
140mm Front Travel
29 x 2.5” Tire Spec
Fits 27.5 x 2.8–3.0” and 29 x 2.1–2.6”
SuperBoost 157mm Rear Spacing Standard
Flip Chip geometry tuning
Fits 2 water bottles inside frame triangle
Available sizes: SM/MD/LG/XL

The newly-designed Rustler is Salsa’s 27.5″ trail bike. Sporting 130mm Split Pivot suspension in the rear and a 150mm front fork, it’s the heavy hitter in their lineup. It’s an enduro bike without announcing itself and is designed for drops, jibs, doubles, and pinning rock gardens for mercy.

Rustler Features

130mm Rear Travel
150mm Front Travel
27.5 x 2.6” Tire Spec
Fits 27.5 x 2.3–2.8”
Boost 148mm Rear Spacing Standard
Flip Chip geometry tuning
Fits 1 water bottle inside frame triangle
Available sizes: XS/SM/MD/LG/XL

First Impressions

On paper, my initial stoke immediately went to the Rustler and its rowdy, capable design. Yet given the terrain, I found myself really drawn to the Horsethief. It had been a while since I last rode the Horsethief – the very first model to be exact – and the new improvements were very noticeable. I’ll be very honest, I never really jived with Salsa’s full suspension bikes in the past. Sure, they rode great, but there was always something missing for me. It could have been the terrain or the timing in my own mountain bike experiences, but it wasn’t until this last trip to Arizona with the brand that the bikes really clicked.

If we had been in Sedona, the Rustler would have been my go-to bike, but with the flowy and chunky terrain of the Black Canyon Trail, the 29er wheels on the Horsethief rolled fast and carried momentum up and over the various arroyos. Yet, not one to pine over suspension design, I will say the three models really sung together, as if they were in a chorus praising Mother Nature in the veritable Dirt Church that is the Sonoran Desert.

I hope to spend more time on these bikes in the future and offer up a more in-depth review. Until then, enjoy the photos!


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34 responses to “Riding Salsa’s New Split Pivot Mountain Bikes on the Black Canyon Trail”

  1. Nick Meulemans says:

    Paint and logo design screams another brand… A La Salsa Cruz

    • John Watson says:

      Yeah, the italicized text does look like Santa Cruz’s a bit.

      • Nicholas Haig-Arack says:

        SC has been killing it with the color design and graphics, they’re definitely pushing the industry in an aesthetically progressive direction.

      • StaySaneSleepOutside says:

        Very much so. Too much. I like the traditional cursive.

        • Max says:

          Yeah, I totally agree. The cursive that Salsa used to use was so different from any other brands it really made you think the guys running the show were different and creative too. Now I just see them as conformists trying to make the most sales. It weakens the brand, IMO.

    • JC says:

      FWIW, Salsa is the original Santa Cruz brand, although that ship sailed long ago.

    • Eli Brock says:

      I thought Specialized Cali fade with a Stumpjumper downtube branding.

  2. Nicholas Haig-Arack says:

    So many attractive new bikes this month! I’m honestly surprised to see Salsa step it up to make really nice-looking boingers. High fives to the Salsa gang for a job well done.

  3. Brian Richard Walbergh says:

    Can we be done with the yellow>red fade now?

  4. Kyle Kelley says:

    The two bottle cages and the tool roll placement on the Horsethief got me all excited!

  5. Kyle Kelley says:

    The Gooseberry video was really good too!

  6. John Solomito says:

    Great to see Salsa updating the Spearfish and Horsethief. Excellent company, really supportive of privateers.

  7. Kurt Richards says:

    Is that some sort of new linkage fork in #49? Appears to be the only photo.

  8. Harry says:

    Love these new bikes, but steeper seat tube angles would have been very welcome IMHO.

    • John Watson says:

      Yeah, there were a lot of discussions about seat tube angles and what that means for how a bike rides. Steepening the seat angle is one part of the equation, but not the ultimate geometrical tweak for better climbing. I personally notice this more on a hardtail, where 30% sag on the rear shock doesn’t come into play but these bikes all climbed very well.

  9. planning_nerd says:

    There’s not a single dealer in all of So Cal that stocks meaningful numbers of Salsa bikes in store.

    For unique bikes like the Vaya, I can see a customer making a special order from an IBD. These MTBs are cool but not very different from the competition. Why would I consider Salsa when I can go test ride 10 other brands in my local market and buy same day?

    Perhaps they are stronger in other regions?

    • John Watson says:

      Yeah they certainly have a stronger presence elsewhere. SoCal is a weird zone for MTBs.

    • StaySaneSleepOutside says:

      Not even The Path in Silver Lake? Call and ask for Brian Blair – he is the best kind of people and will surely go out of his way to help you. Cheers.

    • Max says:

      For me the selling point for these bikes is the 2 water bottle mounts (downtube bottle boss mount can is 3-bolt for an anything cage). I know it’s a small thing, but I hate only being able to put one water bottle on my full suspension bikes. Plus, I can’t bring myself to ride a Specialized, Trek, or Cannondale and I like what the Salsa brand represents. I’ve ridden a few gravel rides that they’ve sponsored which were amazing and for that reason alone they are the brand I want to support.

      • planning_nerd says:

        2 water bottle mounts is a big plus, agreed.

        Salsa is a QBP brand. QBP is a large company and has its share of critics in the industry. I don’t think its any better or worse than Trek, Specialized, etc.

        • Max says:

          I think lumping Salsa with QBP is an oversimplification, considering QBP supports many other brands in the industry besides their own. The fact that QBP purchased Salsa and Surly shows that they are committed to advancing the industry in more original directions than profit driven rivals that focus on racing and uneducated consumers. I don’t buy into the argument that because Salsa is associated with Q that they are equivalent to the Giant, Trek, etc., they have a small fraction of the market compared to their rivals and their bikes are much more consumer oriented than profit oriented (though they may be veering that way with their switch from steel bikes to aluminum bikes to hit certain price points).

          That being said, I do agree with what you said about supporting your local bike shop that may have a similar ride in stock. As far as trail bikes out there, it’s a convoluted market, and most consumers probably could care less about 1/2 degree seatpost angle difference and an extra bottle cage. Go with the shop close to home that you feel will help you out the best when your shock blows up or your tubeless tire gets ripped in half.

          • planning_nerd says:

            The point I’m trying to make is that I think most Salsa ‘dealers’ don’t actually carry much product in store. They don’t have to because Salsa mostly makes niche bikes that have little competition. For years, the Vaya was the only game in town if you wanted a bikepacking frame.
            Customers would special order and wait.

            These MTBs are different. There is lots of competing product, so if Salsa wants to sell these they need to get their dealers to stock them.

      • spencer harding says:

        I have been running a small one size fits all frame bag on my hardtail with one cage mount, I can fit a 3L bladder and snacks in the bag and have water all day. bottles are great for short rides but down in the desert two 22oz water bottles barely gets you out of the driveway

  10. Ian Summers says:

    Rode the Horsethief for a few hours at the Sedona MTB festival, maybe even the one pictured. I thought it was by far the best bike I rode for Sedona trails, climbed technical terrain like a goat! Not super rowdy on descents but super predicable. Highly recommend if you have to earn your turns!