Salsa Horsethief 1 - first ride

Next generation 29er trail bike

BikeRadar score 4/5

First introduced in 2011, the Salsa Horsethief was the company’s first venture into the longer travel 29er category. While that bike was being released, the brand was already in talks with suspension designer Dave Weagle to develop the next generation of the Horsethief using his Split Pivot system.

The result of the partnership will be available to consumers this fall. In addition to a more efficient rear suspension, the new Horsethief gets a number of other refinements that make it a significantly more well-rounded trail bike. UK pricing is to be announced.

  • Pros: Impressive suspension performance over a wide range of conditions
  • Cons: 32mm stanchion fork could leave heavier and more aggressive riders wanting more front-end stiffness

Ride & handling: Improved suspension and updated geometry

The updated Horsethief 1 we rode on the tight and twisty trails around Duluth, Minnesota, is a much more refined bicycle than its predecessor in terms of handling and suspension performance.

The original Horsethief was a long bike, and the chainstays were responsible for 460mm of its expansive wheelbase. The new model shifts some of that length from the back to the front. The Split Pivot rear suspension keeps chainstay length to a very respectable 437mm. Up front, it slackens from 68.6 degrees to 68.1 degrees, which provides more high-speed stability.

The result of transferring length from the rear center to the front center is a bike that's more playful and capable through rough terrain. The truncated rear end makes it easier to loft the front when popping over logs, ledges and rocks, as well as making the Horsethief more nimble when navigating tight trails. Despite the slacker head angle, it requires less steering input thanks to the adoption of 51mm offset forks throughout Salsa’s new 29er full-suspension line.

Salsa Horsethief 1

The 120mm of rear travel supplied by the Split Pivot suspension does a good job of absorbing small trail chatter while conserving travel for larger impacts. The pivot location is optimized to work best with 32- to 34-tooth chainrings. 

There is a small but noticeable amount of suspension stiffening in the small chainring that, depending on your riding style, may or may not be a bad thing. If you’re the type of rider who likes to attack climbs out of the saddle, it will suit you. If, however, you prefer to sit and spin up technical terrain, it will reduce rear end traction by a hair.

Last but not least, the rear end is notably stiffer than on the original Horsethief. The Split Pivot rear suspension does away with the flexing seatstays of that bike.

Frame & equipment: Work in progress

The Horsethief 1 is the middle model in a three-bike line. The XX1-equipped Horsethief (US$5,499) tops the range, and the Horsethief 2 (US$3,299) is now the entry level bike – it has a SRAM X7/X9 drivetrain and Avid Elixir 7 brakes and is the only model to sport a 2x10 drivetrain.

Our pre-production test bike lacked the SRAM X01 kit that customers will be treated to this fall, and was set up with a 2x10 drivetrain.

SRAM's X01 group hadn't been officially released at the time of testing

Gone is the Fox Float fork with 34mm stanchions, in favor of a lighter and slightly flexier 130mm travel Fox Float with 32mm stanchions. According to Salsa, dealers lobbied for this change, feeling that the 0.5lb weight gain that accompanied the larger diameter fork was not worth the increased stiffness, given the bike’s intended role as a lightweight trail bike. Heavier riders and those who frequently ride more demanding terrain might not be happy with the swap.

Other details that are yet to be ironed out are cable routing and the inclusion of a port on the seat tube for a stealth-routed dropper seatpost. It’s worth noting that the only one of the three Horsethief models to come with a dropper seatpost is the top-end XX1.

Salsa Horsethief 1 production spec

  • Drivetrain: SRAM X01 with 32T chainring, MRP 1x chainguide
  • Front suspension: 130mm Fox Float 32 CTD FIT
  • Rear suspension: Fox Float CTD with Boost Valve
  • Brakes: SRAM X0 Trail, 180mm rotors
  • Wheelset: DT Swiss 350
  • Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic 29x2.35in
  • Cockpit: Salsa Rustler riser bar (750mm), Truvativ T20 stem, Thomson Elite seatpost, WTB Volt saddle

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