Life in the Wild West of the mid-19th century wasn’t easy. Settlers from the East who were seeking their fortunes had to deal with endless distances. Riding horses with their carriages, they crossed the prairies for weeks and months searching for lush grazing or a suitable spot for their families.

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In our modern era where almost every corner of the earth is accessible, we don’t experience our adventures in the daily fight for survival against outlaws, but in our leisure pursuits.

Sport and travel are a big part of the wish to escape everyday life and seek some thrills. The American cult brand Salsa Cycles promises us that their new bike, the Horsethief, is perfect for this type of rider.

The Salsa Horse Thief - A bike for stealing horse?
The Salsa Horsethief – A bike for stealing horse?

The Horsethief is a 29er trail bike with 130mm travel at the front and 120mm at the rear. The focus during the development of the bike wasn’t on busting best times on climbs or descents, but in creating a reliable, comfortable, and fun bike for long rides.

On the road with the Salsa Horsethief.
En route with the Salsa Horsethief.

Regardless of technical climbs or demanding descents, the Horsethief rider should be equipped for all trail situations. A decisive part of the development team was the suspension expert Dave Weagle, whose patented Split-Pivot suspension system can be found on the new Salsa bikes. This concept features a concentric rear suspension pivot (i.e. directly around the rear wheel axle) so drivetrain influence and rear suspension firming during braking are both minimised.

The advantages of the system can be clearly felt after just a few metres on the new Horsethief. The adjustable platform of the Fox Float CTD shock is almost completely superfluous. The bike is very neutral, offering plenty of traction even with the compression platform open. The system is especially impressive on technically challenging climbs.

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Thanks to the compact but very central position (frame size medium, rider height 180cm) you can ride up even steep climbs in a relaxed way without having to move forwards on the saddle. The front wheel stays planted on the ground.

The cable routing for the front derailleur was solved by Salsa elegantly and directly attached to the pivot point of the rear triangle . So it doesn't rub anything and the cable housing can be run completely .
The cable routing for the front derailleur was solved by Salsa elegantly and directly attached to the pivot point of the rear triangle . So it doesn’t rub anything and the cable housing can be run completely .

The 2×10 drivetrain is comprised of SRAM­ X.7/X.9 components and gives the rider an adequate range of gears as well as precise, fast shifting. There was little to complain about the strong gripping Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes, which do not overheat even on long runs and provide sufficient braking power in all situations.

Speaking of braking, Weagle’s rear suspension system also offers clear advantages here and never firms whilst braking, which ultimately gives the rider better control and more stable handling. The Salsa engineers obviously knew that safe handling was important when one is long way from civilisation!

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The Fox F29 CTD fork with 130mm travel didn't have sufficient compression damping, especially in the mid-stroke. During braking and on steeps the fork sank too far into its travel. We reccomend you use 'trail' mode for descending.
The Fox F29 CTD fork with 130mm travel didn’t have sufficient compression damping, especially in the mid-stroke. During braking and on steeps the fork sank too far into its travel. We reccomend you use ‘trail’ mode for descending.
With 180mm rotors, the Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes had great power and reserves.
With 180mm rotors, the Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes had great power and reserves.
The 25mm-wide NoTubes ZTR Rapid rims and Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres are already set up for running a tubeless system that can almost eliminate pinch flat punctures and air loss from thorns.
The 25mm-wide NoTubes ZTR Rapid rims and Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres are already set up for running a tubeless system that can almost eliminate pinch flat punctures and air loss from thorns.
In contrast to many other big manufacturers, the Salsa Horsethief uses a standard shock to integrate the rear end with the  suspension. If you ever have a defect, finding replacement parts will be much easier.
In contrast to many other big manufacturers, the Salsa Horsethief uses a standard shock to integrate the rear end with the suspension. If you ever have a defect, finding replacement parts will be much easier.

The handling of the bright green Horsethief is fundamentally influenced by the short 437mm chainstays, the 68.1° head angle, and the 51mm fork offset.The Salsa is nimble and agile and can be willingly navigated through even the tightest trail sections. The 29″ wheels and the 750mm bar, raised with 2 cm of spacers, bring confidence on drops and unfamiliar trails.

With 120mm of travel the Salsa can’t make all bumps disappear, but it is especially good over small- to medium-sized impacts. We would only wish for a bit more ground feedback from the Fox Float shock in the mid-travel range. At the end of the stroke a good portion of progression effectively prevents bottom-outs. The Fox Float Evolution fork’s characteristics fit the overall feeling of the bike well. However, it could do with a bit more effective compression damping in order to stay higher up in its travel during braking and on steeps. For this reason we accepted a small decrease in comfort and used the fork in ‘trail’ mode most of the time.

Conclusion

“The Salsa Horsethief really is a bike for stealing horses. For a price of € 3,399 you get a bike with a comfortable riding position and outstanding handling. At 12.8 kg it is competitive to similar bikes in this price range. It’s perfect for trail fun far away from any form of civilisation.”

Info

Price: 3.999 € | Weight: 12,8 kg | Website: salsacycles.com

Specifications

  • Fork: FOX F29 FLOAT CTD Evolution
  • Rear Shock: FOX FLOAT CTD
  • Drivetrain: SRAM X9 / X7
  • Brakes: Avid Elixir 7 Trail
  • Crank: Truvativ T20
  • Stem: Salsa Guide Stem
  • Handlebars: Salsa Rustler Riser, 750 mm
  • Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic, 29 x 2,35″
  • Hubs: SRAM MTH
  • Rims: NoTubes ZTR Rapid

Geometry

Size: S; M (tested); L; XL | Top Tube Horizontal: 610 mm | Seat Tube Angle: 73,5° | Chainstay Length: 437 mm | Head Tube Angle: 68,1° | Wheelbase: 1.151 mm | Reach: 428 mm | Stack: 614,5 mm

Words & Photos: Christoph Bayer

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