With 29” wheels, 120mm of rear travel and a 140mm fork Salsa Cycles’ 2019 Horsethief is a well-rounded trail machine. I got to ride the Carbon NX Eagle model on Arizona’s Black Canyon Trail, and felt like I just scratched the surface of the bike’s abilities. With ample squish and a solid pedaling linkage, the Horsethief could be a great choice for riders who enjoy anything from all-day epics to hot laps on technical singletrack loops.
If you read my recent review of Salsa’s new Rustler, you will probably notice some similarities here – the three MTBs Salsa just released all feature the same Split Pivot suspension linkage, with a fresh re-tune for 2019. While the frame geometry differs between the new Rustler, Horsethief and Spearfish, they do share similar characteristics. Forgive me if these reviews sound repetitive, but this consistency goes to show Salsa has honed in on key design elements they’re quite happy with… and I can see why, as the bikes all rode very well.
Salsa’s 2019 trail bikes are right on point with current geometry trends, and I’m all for it, as I think today’s bikes ride better than ever. On the Medium frame I was riding, the Horsethief’s reach is 433mm, and its effective top tube measures 617mm. Its seat tube angle of 73.6° isn’t the steepest one out there, but kept me in a proper position for pushing the pedals.
I mentioned in my Rustler review that I found it a breeze to transition from sit-down pedaling to stand up sprints, but I had first noticed this while riding the Horsethief. Given its bigger wheels and longer wheelbase, I was impressed with how effortless it felt to shift my weight around on this bike.
29ers still feel a bit long in the front to me (my personal bike is a 27.5”), but keeping the front wheel glued to steeper uphills was no problem on the Horsethief. At the same time, the frame’s balanced geometry keeps enough weight on the rear wheel to maintain consistent grip. Salsa’s bikes have hit a sweet spot, allowing you to ride in a naturally comfortable body position that produces reliable traction from both wheels. When you do need to lean forward or back, a subtle re-positioning of your body quickly puts your weight where it’s needed.
The Horsethief’s head tube angle of 67° is fairly slack, which provides stability on the descents yet still offers nimble enough handling to weave through technical climbs. Our test bikes were set up in the Low flip-chip position, leaving the BB at a 30.6mm drop. I didn’t have any issues with pedal strikes on the moderately bumpy Black Canyon Trail we rode, and since I do like the handling of lower-slung bikes I wouldn’t raise the BB unless the terrain demanded it.
Out back, the Horsethief’s stubby 432mm chainstays keep the rear end feeling pretty whippy for a niner. While the Rustler’s smaller wheels make it feel really playful the Horsethief maintains a similar attitude, popping off bumps quite happily.
The Horsethief’s carbon frame felt pretty stiff overall, which may be helped by its Super Boost 157mm rear spacing. Salsa didn’t just introduce 157mm rear ends for 2019 to jump on the bandwagon, in fact, they’ve been toying with wider spacings on MTB’s for several years. Going to Super Boost spacing allowed Salsa to achieve three things they wanted in the frame design; they could shorten the chainstays (which shrunk by 5mm for 2019), allow generous clearance for 29×2.6” tires, and accommodate a 32t chainring up front. The fact that a wider hub makes for stiffer, stronger 29” wheels is also welcome bonus.
If you’re concerned about the rear triangle’s width, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear the area where your heel might make contact is actually no wider than the previous 148mm Boost spaced Horsethief. The new frames are only wider right at the rear pivot, as the rear stays now angle inwards right from the dropout.
Since Salsa’s Split Pivot linkage offers such a solid pedaling platform, I rode the Horsethief with its Rockshox Deluxe RT3 shock wide open for my test ride. Staying wide open made for a forgiving, comfortable ride and the bike did a fine job of tackling the trail’s alternating uphill and downhill sections. This bike pedals very well without needing help from the shock, so on anything bumpier than a buff trail you can enjoy a more comfortable ride with only a marginal sacrifice in efficiency.
Standing and cranking is a treat on these bikes, as that linkage resists bobbing amazingly well. All the while, I never felt my rear wheel threatening to spin out on the small-to-medium sized rocks and bumps we climbed over. On descents, the Horsethief handily smoothed out chattery sections of the Black Canyon Trail, and I’d expect it could take a lot rougher terrain in stride. I never managed to push through the shock’s sharply ramping rate and bottom out the bike, so I know it’s ready to handle some harder hits.
With 120mm of rear travel and a 140mm Rockshox Revelation RC fork, the Horsethief 29er is a very versatile ride. I had no performance issues with any of the stock components, and I think Salsa has set up this all-around trail bike appropriately with its SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, Guide T brakes on 180mm rotors, 2.5/2.4” Minion tires, and a 125mm dropper post (for Medium frames). I feel the trail we rode was just the tip of the iceberg for the Horsethief’s descending capabilities, and considering how well the bike pedals I’d be happy to ride it just about anywhere.
The Horsethief Carbon NX Eagle sells for $4,199 and the higher-spec Carbon GX Eagle build goes for $5,199. Carbon frame kits including a headset, rear shock, Super Boost-spaced cranks and a chainring are available for $2,999. Complete aluminum models range from $2,399-2,999.