Wednesday, May 21, 2014


2013 Salsa Horsethief 2, size XL (22").
Yes, this is the tale of another bike acquisition, but it requires a bit of a back story for explanation. As some of you may recall, last year I embarked on a project to reduce the size of my fleet a bit. That project was largely successful, in that I reduced my number of bikes by eight; mostly bikes that didn't see much riding, or I hadn't mustered my interest in building them out to loftier visions. It's been a productive project, but it is by no means complete.

That said, one of the bikes with which I parted ways, I quickly came to regret selling. It was a 2006 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR, that I picked up for cheap and on a whim in 2012. As my most recent investigation into the world of full suspension wonderbikes (the only in the past decade or so), I was amazed at its capabilities compared to my previous experiences on suspended bikes. With 120 mm of very well managed travel front and rear, it was an exceedingly fun bike to ride anywhere uneven surfaces abounded. The only real problem was that as a size large frame (with a 19" seat tube and ~23" effective top tube) it was at the bottom end of the gradient of comfortable sizing for me. I might have been able to bring the fit closer in line with a longer seatpost and stem, but in an overzealous fit of possession reduction, I sold it on Craigslist for less that what I should have allowed it to go.
My dear departed 2006 Stumpy FSR. :-(
Shortly thereafter, in my bereavement I picked up a used Redline Monocog 29er frame in size XL (21"); a 29er being something I hadn't previously owned, but the concept of which was highly appealing. This experience has turned out to be astoundingly good. With a frame of ordinary straight gauge 4130 steel, the Monocog 29er has become among my favorite bikes ever. It fits me as if it were custom made, and has a terrific, lively yet stolid ride quality. Yes, I know the Monocog's heft approaches that of a bull rhinoceros and to label its refinement as lowbrow is being more than generous. However, it is truly an example of the whole being inexplicably more than the sum of its parts.
My prized 2008 Redline Monocog 29er, shortly after I built it.
Last fall, Nicholas and Lael passed through town on their way to parts West. They had just finished a long off road tour of Europe and were buzzing about the all the singletrack and great trails they had ridden, and postulating the fun to be had on a full suspension, long travel 29er. The Salsa Horsethief was mentioned, along with a few other examples of the emerging 29-inch enduro lineage. This encounter got me to thinking about the fun of my departed Stumpy FSR, and how it could be improved upon. An idea was implanted, not to actively seek out such a bike, but if one were to come along, I would try not to miss it.
Spring flowers along the trail.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I discovered that a local bike shop had a few 2013 Salsa Horsethieves on a huge discount in anticipation of the arrival of the new 2014 frame design. Flush with cash from my bike depletion project, I pounced. I test rode both the Horsethief 3 in size large and the Horsethief 2 in size XL. Though I am in between sizes and could have reasonably ridden either size, I went with the one that fit most like my Monocog.

In general, the Horsethief is an amazing bike, and every bit the wonderbike that was the Stumpy, with a few well appreciated improvements. It fits me better and is at least as fun to ride. It has 120 mm of travel front and rear, but with the 29 inch wheels, it somehow seems even more plush. I have a few rides under my belt, and I need a few more to fully develop a thoughtful critique of the Horsethief, but the overall impression is definitely positive. Several annotated detail photos follow.
The Horsethief moniker is taken from the famed Horsethief Bench trail in Western Colorado.
Beautifully executed headbadge on a tapered headtube. Conceptually, I like the 44 mm idea better. If you're going to go big, go big.
The flexy part of the Horsethief seatstays. The absence of this built-in flex is the most substantial change incorporated into the 2014 design. 
White Brothers Loop fork, set to 120 mm. It is adjustable between 80 and 140 mm with some minor parts swaps. The ride and quality seem on par with the best of Fox or Rock Shox, and it is made right here in Colorado.
Adventure by bike.
This is my first experience with a complete SRAM drivetrain, in this case X9 2x10. So far, it has been flawless. My first time with a 142x12 rear axle, which makes a lot of sense on a suspended bike. 
The MRP dual ring chain guide keeps chain slap to a minimum. 
Fox Float CTD rear shock has much the same feel as the Fox Triad did on my old Stumpy, and by that I mean that it provides a great ride on any setting. 
I find that the "Trail" setting works just about perfectly for anything short of a fast and rocky downhill that I've encountered thus far, climbing included.
With Conti 2.4" tires, there is plenty of fork clearance. Enough for 3 inch tires? I'm not likely to find out any time soon.
Clearance in the rear seems to be a bit less, but still more than adequate. 
Here's a visual of the clearance at the chainstay bridge. Clearance all around is more than on the Stumpy. 
Ten cogs on the cassette. Avid hydraulic brakes have been powerful and dependable so far.
This is my first brand new mountain bike since 1997. While I'm sure that the 2014 model is an amazing feat of engineering, the 2013 is no slouch, and at about a 50% discount it's a great deal. It is way more bike than I'll ever need, but there is a comfort in knowing that it's going to be able to handle anything I encounter. It also doesn't hurt that it's quite a looker, with a rich glossy blue that isn't fully able to be captured in a photo.

As sister companies under the QBP mother hen, Salsa and Surly have related, yet differing philosophies on bike design, frame materials, and the meaning of a bicycling life. Perhaps their sibling rivalry is part of why they are two of the most innovative companies in the bicycle industry at present. Bike companies are producers of consumer goods, and bikes are inanimate objects. However, I count myself among a segment of the population who invest meaning, perhaps not always able to be rationally defined, into the riding experience. For a long time, I've had an appreciation for Surly in this regard, in the position of bikes as a central element of my life rather than mere tools for competition or athleticism. I think I'm developing a similar appreciation for Salsa, and their "Adventure by Bike" ethos. The Horsethief will undoubtedly lead me to adventure.
The backdrop for the above photos was a ride I took at the Hildebrand Ranch Park, an easily accessed open space next to the foothills.

Swoopy trail curving along the hills like a bobsled run.

I also rode in the neighboring South Valley Park, home of some pretty impressive rock formations.

That building near the foothills is part of the Lockheed Martin complex where aerospace materials are developed. That would be a great location for work to get out for lunchtime rides. 
Lots of great trailside geology and some archeological tidbits.


  1. Amazing. I am so happy you got that bike. And, that WB Loop fork is gorgeous.

    1. Though I have yet to do much about it, I can tell this bike has great potential, and I have you to thank, in part. In the hands of someone like you, a bike like this could be a revolutionary exploration machine. I'm eager to see what you have planned, as I noticed your Mukluk is soon to be on the block.

      The WB fork is one of the nicest pieces of engineering I've seen in a while. Too bad they're not spec'd on the 2014 model.

  2. The top-tier Fox Factory forks are also marvels of engineering, as are some of the new breed of Rock Shox forks. If you have the chance to squish a Rock Shox Pike at some point, give it a try. I am also certain that the new RS-1 inverted fork is amazing, thanks to the constant bath of oil on the seals.

    As you may already know, White Brothers has been under the ownership of MRP for some time, and the brand has been fully absorbed by the MRP line in the last year.

    I often think about what could be done of a full-suspension bike, from an exploration angle. I think Scott and Eszter's current adventure up the CDT is a very good example of the kind of bike one might like to have riding into the unknown. At least for now, I've avoided the draw of full sue. Larger tires and 120mm fork will have to suffice. I've also just rebuilt Lael's Reba and removed both travel limiters, bumping up the travel to 120mm. With a lower stem, wider bars, and 120mm travel up front, she's on a markedly more capable machine. We're both also growing as mountain bikers.

    Now I expect to see a multi-day trek over the first few days of the CT. That is some Horsethief country for sure, right out the back door!

    1. I've been following Scott and Eszter's travels with great interest. It seems like they're adopting a nice pace for enjoying the scenery, within a challenging framework. I'm trying to carve out a chunk of time for the CT. I hope to be able to do some scouting before too long.

      I didn't know much about White Brothers or MRP before looking into the Horsethief. They've got good quality parts made locally by enthusiasts; a business model that makes a lot of sense.

      The Horsethief 3 that I tested had a Rock Shox Sektor, which seemed like a nice fork, though a little down market from a Pike. I was surprised to see the RS-1 moniker make a comeback, as an original RS-1 was the first suspension fork I ever installed (on a friend's Fisher Supercaliber).

  3. Replies
    1. It has cable guides for a dropper post, but I haven't done any research into any yet.

  4. Relating to your Monocog comments there's definitely some voodoo involved with frame comfort. I have an old 80s 10-speed that's nothing but straight gauge mild steel (not even 4130) but it's one of the smoothest riding bikes I've ridden, even on the skinniest tyres in my fleet. Must be flex involved somewhere (everywhere!), but it doesn't handle like a wet noodle.
    That Salsa is real nice.

    1. I enjoy the immeasurable element of alchemy when it comes to subjective rider evaluation of bikes. Each has its own character, and differs from rider to rider, place to place, and instance to instance. There are few other machine-to-human interfaces that inspire so much interpretation and passion.

      The Salsa is quite nice, and rides well, too. Well enough that I want to get it dirty and perhaps even scratched a bit.