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!


Follow Salsa Instagram.