Salsa Horsethief Introduction

Today we continue our 2012 product introductions! What you see pictured below is Salsa’s newest addition to our suspension bike lineup, the Horsethief.

The Horsethief is our full suspension 29er trail bike, designed for big rides in rugged terrain. The bike is based on an aluminum alloy frame featuring 120mm of rear wheel travel with the ability to accept a 120–140mm suspension fork. This is the bike to take on any ride or trip when you want to ensure that no matter what terrain is encountered—up, down, across, or “temporarily hovering above”—your bike is capable of handling it. The only thing that may need a little coaxing is yourself.

A lot of hard work had to be done before getting to have this kind of fun…

At first glance some might think the Horsethief is a big Spearfish. Although they share a similar linkage layout and visual aesthetic, the similarities between the two end there. Some of you more familiar with our lineup of years past might assume that the Horsethief is the replacement for the Big Mama. To this I would say, “Kinda”. But after just a quick spin, it becomes apparent that the Horsethief is a completely different pony. It is a unique bike that rides unlike any 29er Salsa has created to date. Before I go too deep waxing on about the bike’s character, let’s look at the hard data.

Pete checks the numbers…

The frame centers around shaped and hydroformed 6061-T6 alloy tubes. Completely different in size, shape, and thickness than the EV6 Xtrolite tubes used on the Spearfish, we chose to use 6061-T6 for increased burliness and strength to ensure the Horsethief was a true all-mountain worthy machine. The double-butted hydroformed top and down tubes mate to a tapered head tube and a forged bottom bracket piece to create the strongest and stiffest front triangle Salsa has ever offered. The forged bottom bracket also incorporates the main pivot sleeve and ICSG 05 tabs. A 17mm alloy pivot axle running on sealed cartridge bearings links the rear triangle to the front. These bearings are housed in forged frame fittings that are welded to large, tapered chainstays. The chainstays terminate in a pair of forged dropouts that feature a 142 x 12mm rear axle system (RockShox Maxle). From the head tube to the rear dropout, the lower half of the Horsethief is a stout, stiff chassis that is designed to eliminate all side-to-side monkey business and keep everything moving up and down in the direction the suspension is intended to move.

Mark works on an early prototype before building it up for a testing trip out west…

The rear suspension is a link-actuated single-pivot system, similar to what is used on the Spearfish, but tailored for the Horsethief’s increased travel, and an evolution of what was originally introduced back in 2008 on the Big Mama. This system features a one-piece rear triangle with no rear pivot and shaped seatstays. The shaped stays deflect almost imperceptibly across their length during a full suspension cycle and take the place of a rear pivot. If a rear pivot was present on the Horsethief, it would only rotate 0.991 degrees. This makes a rear pivot and the associated hardware a significant weight penalty for the actual amount of rotation utilized. Through thoughtful design, we can skillfully transform this rotation into 5.4mm of seatstay deflection, to create a lighter, simpler rear triangle with less wear and maintenance points, that will outlast the lifespan of the rest of the frame.

Continuing with the rear suspension, the Horsethief uses a forged dog-bone style swing link and a shared seatstay/shock pivot. This keeps the pivot count low and the bearings to only 6 per frame. The dog-bone link and one-piece rear triangle pair up with precisely placed pivots to create a shock rate curve for the Horsethief that is similar to the Spearfish in shape. Compared to a continuously rising shock rate, this type of shock rate curve makes it easier to set the shock pressure for proper sag and good pedaling performance, without sacrificing mid-stroke bump sensitivity and/or hindering full travel into the end stroke on bigger hits.

shock rate chart

Other features that fit the trail bike theme are ISCG 05 tabs for running chain guides with 1x and 2x setups, ample clearance for 29 x 2.5″ tires in the rear, a 142 x 12mm thru-axle rear (Maxle), and hose guides for dropper posts that run along the downtube. This placement results in clean hose routing that keeps the extra hose (from long travel posts like the 5″ Reverb) lying flat and out of the way instead of in a big loop between your legs or hovering dangerously close to the rear tire. Complete frames with rear shock, rear Maxle, hanger, and Flip-Lock collar weigh in at a respectable 6.5 to 7.0 lb depending on size. The combination of the above mentioned materials, tubing, forged bits, links, and shock rate curves all combine to create the most rough and tumble suspension frame Salsa has ever made. The Horsethief will let you pedal as far and deep into the rugged wild as you are willing to go, and then carry you back out in a blur of speed and thumping 29er rubber.

Pete chases Mark up abvove Salida, Colorado…

In the opening I mentioned that the Horsethief rides unlike any 29er we’ve created. This is no accident, and to understand why, it helps to know a little bit about how the bike came to be. Back in 2009 after the Big Mama had been released, and Spearfish development was well along, product manager Tim Krueger, industrial designer Mark Rane and myself started kicking around ideas for Big Mama V2. Mark and I both are not your typical midwest XC-oriented 29er riders. We both come from a riding background heavy in 4–6″ travel 26″ trail bikes. Mark cut his teeth riding in Oregon, Utah, and SoCal. He’s a very technical rider up and down. He’s spent more time on 4–6″ travel trail bikes than anyone I know. Myself, I didn’t get heavy into mountain bikes until knee injuries forced my snowboarding and wakeboarding to slow down in college. Picking up where those sports left off, I found I preferred to ride a bike as fast as possible through narrow trails in the woods of Montana with my wheels on the ground as infrequently as possible. Mark and I were both pushing Tim to let us see if we could prototype a 29er suspension bike that had all the benefits of 29″ wheels in a package that captured as much of that playful and aggressive 26″ trail bike feel we were both so partial too. Under the stipulation that is was lighter, less costly, and had more travel than the Big Mama (typical product manager checklist), Tim gave us free run to give it a go.

How Mark and I went about the development of Horsethief and obtaining our goals was straightforward. We rode prototypes and we rode them a lot. Between just Tim, Mark, and myself, we rode the protos in MN, WI, NV, WY, MT, TX, SD, SoCal, NorCal, and all over UT and CO, and got feedback not only from each other, but from a few key Reps and Dealers that understood our vision. We were able to adjust head tube angle, bottom bracket drop, stack height and wheelbase, and really isolate independent tweaks. This really helped Mark and me understand the effect of each subtle adjustment and zero-in on the handling we were seeking.

What we ended up with is a bike that is slacker and also a bit longer in the top tube than our other bikes. Horsethief is designed to be used with a shorter stem than our other bikes (10–20mm shorter than on your normal XC 29er). This, in combination with a wider handlebar, positions your hips and torso in a manner well suited for negotiating rough terrain and descending with more precision and confidence. The chainstays are shorter than the Big Mama, to keep the overall wheelbase in check, but the overall length and bottom bracket drop combine to create a bike that is stable and really shines as you open up the throttle, ride it fast over the rough stuff, and throw it hard into corners. Of course a trail bike isn’t any good if it only goes downhill well. The linkage we use combined with a properly tuned shock climbs excellently, just like our Spearfish and Big Mama frames are known for. The 29er wheels also help keep the momentum and flow up, and make the Horsethief feel like you are riding a bike with more than 120mm travel. We set the head tube angle and bottom bracket drop with a 120mm suspension fork in mind. This creates a very balanced bike that has the best all-around feel climbing, cornering, as well as descending. For those looking for an even more aggressive-riding bike, we have also tested and approved the frame for use with 140mm travel suspension forks.

Mark takes on a chute in the woods of Wisconsin…

For the 2012 model year, the Horsethief will be offered as both a frame and a complete bike. Part of our prototype testing travels took me out to Santa Cruz, California where I had a chance to test ride and dial in some rear shock tunes at Fox Racing Shox. Frames and bikes this year will come with a Fox Float RP2 Boost Valve rear shock. The boost pressure, velocity, and rebound tunes have all been chosen to work well with the Horsethief’s linkage and shock rate, and compliment the frame's intended use. The position-sensitive damping of the Boost Valve keeps the bike efficient and pedaling well even without the Pro Pedal engaged, and has the supplest feel at high speeds over the roughest chatter of all the shocks we tested. With the Pro Pedal activated, the Boost Valve also provides the most seamless transition from the pedaling platform into the mid stroke when larger hits are encountered. This means not having to worry about flipping the lever to “open” when some brief undulations or rough terrain pop up in the middle of an extended climb. To compliment the rear shock, the Horsethief complete bikes will come with the new Fox Float 34 fork. Forks will be set to 120mm, with the option to be extended to 140mm. The cockpit features our Pro Moto 2 seatpost, an appropriately short Pro Moto 2 stem, and the super-wide Whammy 2 bar (that can be cut down to the perfect width for you). The wheels feature Stan’s Flow tubeless ready rims for quick tubeless conversion, and the rest of the build is rounded out with an intentional mix of SRAM X7/X9 parts, and Elixir 5 brakes. A complete medium-sized bike with tubes weighs in at 29.75 lb (13.5kg). For perspective, my personal bike (also MD size) with a 1x10 X0 kit, LG1 chainguide, Reverb seatpost and tubeless 2.4 Maxxis Ardents is 27.5 lb (12.5kg). Frames will MSRP for $1,399 (including rear RP2 shock, Maxle rear axle, and Salsa seat collar) and complete bikes will MSRP for $2,949. Look for the Horsethief to hit Salsa Dealer floors around the spring 2012 time frame.

So that’s the new Salsa Horsethief. Mark, myself, and the rest of the Salsa crew feel we’ve created a bike that shares the same 29″ wheels and Salsa pedigree that its siblings (Spearfish, Big Mama, El Mariachi, Mamasita, Dos Niner, Selma) have, with a ride quality and handling that are more akin to its 26″ all-mountain trail bike cousins. The Horsethief is the bike that has finally converted Mark and me both to 29er wheels, full time. If you want to see more, check out the Horsethief page on our website.

This post filed under topics: Horsethief Mountain Biking New Product Pete Koski

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Pete Koski

Pete Koski

Hi, I'm Pete and I am a product development engineer for Salsa. I like all kinds of riding from commuting to dirt jumping. I think flat pedals make you a better bike handler, that the thru-axle is vastly superior to the quick-release for off-road applications, and that moving through the world on bicycle allows one to see things they might not otherwise. I suffer daily from hunger-induced anger, also known as [i]hanger[/i]. Outside of work and riding, I enjoy kiteboarding, traveling, and watching hockey.


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Rob | September 5th, 2011

Looks like a nice bike… when is the spearfish line going to be shared with those of us dying to get the break down and pricing on the three different versions?

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Jonathan Gennick | September 6th, 2011

Nice job on the bike. I like the clean look. I also like your fork choice and component specs. The Horsethief could end up being the first “complete” that I buy in years.

I’m a bit apprehensive over the long top tube. On the one hand, I’ve been riding an 18” Big Mama with a short stem already. OTOH, I recently built up a size-large (19” frame) Gary Fisher hardtail, also w/short stem, and that’s been ok too. I’ll have to take a closer look at stem and top-tube lengths on those two bikes as compared to the Horsethief. In the meantime, could you post up the length of the stock stem on medium Horsethief?

Kid Riemer

Kid Riemer | September 6th, 2011

Rob - Spearfish info should be up on Thursday.

Jonathan - See the Build Kit tab on the Horsethief Complete page and it will give you that info.

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Marshall Hannum | September 6th, 2011

Rode the Horsthief at Deer Valley Dealer Camp and had the best ride of the day!  That was after riding several “Dream Bikes”, at three times the price.  I found myself stand-up pedaling sections the other bikes required me to sit and spin.  Also ripped the downhills.  The long top tube-short stem combo works well for this platform.  Very confident and ready to throw around.  This is the first 29er I have found that makes me want to own one.

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Marshall Hannum | September 6th, 2011

Rode the Horsethief at Deer Valley Dealer Camp and had the best ride of the day!  That was after riding several “Dream Bikes”, at three times the price.  I found myself stand-up pedaling sections the other bikes required me to sit and spin.  Also ripped the downhills.  The long top tube-short stem combo works well for this platform.  Very confident and ready to throw around.  This is the first 29er I have found that makes me want to own one.

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ANDY | September 7th, 2011

Nice bike!  Color options?

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Hinzo | September 7th, 2011

PK, RaneMan, Tim - nice job on the Horsethief.  Looks like prototype testing & design iteration was quite the fun experience.  Come ride in NC sometime soon.

- Hinzo

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Bill Cooper | September 7th, 2011

YES!!! Gracias a mis amigos en Salsa! This is the bike that I have been waiting for! I bought a first gen Surly Karate Monkey back in 2003 and it has been my only MTB since. But now, with the Horsethief release, my dreams have come true. Even the name is perfect. I am a GJ local and rode the iconic Horsethief Bench Trail for the first time when I was 10yrs old. That first experience on the iconic trail has driven my passion for riding ever since. I am going down to my local dealer right now to talk about pre-orders. I am soo stoked!!!! Thank you again for an incredible bike design! I’ll be sure to send a video of me dropping the entry to Horsethief on my Horsethief as soon as I get mine when they are shipped!

Cheers! See you out there,

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MG | September 7th, 2011

Nice work guys. The bike looks great and I’m sure it rides even better.


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Zac | September 7th, 2011

this will be my first full suspension bike! my entire fleet will probably end up being salsa!  you guys rule!

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Pat Souza | September 9th, 2011

This is just what I have been looking for. I have been demo’ing anything I could get my hands on and this seems to finally put it all together. The rear suspension looks really clean.The long top tube is just the ticket for me….
Now, when can I get one (a large) and how much is this beast?

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Just Tom | September 19th, 2011

Greetings from Dallas-Ft Worth!  The Horsethief looks great, and 2012 can’t get here soon enough!  I’m curious, where did you guys test ride the prototypes in Texas?  (not that I would camp out there all next year looking for your next creation prototype to be roaming the trails…)

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Brian Williams | September 26th, 2011

This looks like the “big mountain” rig
i’ve been waiting for !

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Spudman | September 26th, 2011

I’m heading down to my lbs tomorrow to put a deposit down on a Thief!! Can’t wait. This will be my first FS my current Raleigh 29er HT will be glad when it gets here cause she’s getting tired. You guys missed one state with some of the most epic mountain biking in the west for your prototype testing….IDAHO!!  And let’s be honest, you guys did a little more “prototype testing” then was necessary. If you guys are hiring let me know. :) and hurry up and beat that projected release date!

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Jared | October 4th, 2011

The Horsethief looks great! Where did you get the name from?  As a South Dakotan, I was wondering if the name derived from Horsethief lake like the Spearfish is from SD.

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Brian Williams | November 11th, 2011

Yea Spudman, what happened to Idaho for testing ?! Guess our single track is “too remote”.

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travis holt | November 25th, 2011

Will you be doing this on the El Mariachi?

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Andrew | December 2nd, 2011

Loving your bikes you guys,I wish they were more easy to get here in Italy. I want a Spearfish so bad.

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Kerry | December 29th, 2011

Is it right that you can’t fit a bottle mount on the inside of the frame?  I don’t see any mount holds there….

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Landon Bloomer | February 23rd, 2012

Just bought a frame.  Yeaaaaaaa

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Pedro | March 7th, 2012

What is the BB height of a medium? Some bikes have a really low BB and I find I’m hitting stuff all the time. I’m curious about 29ers and if the BB height is good, this could be my new bike :)

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Fotowoltaika | July 22nd, 2012

The beautiful bicycle to the drive after mountains. How much does such professional mountain bicycle cost ?  because I like your product very much.

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