Charlie checks out the latest Salsa Spearfish, for ‘down country’ riding, and a lot of other stuff too.
Down country, what the hell is “Down Country”? A large demo bike arrives at Singletrack, complete with not only gears, full suspension, and a carbon frame… but also a whole new bike category name fresh out of some marketing departments almond milk powershake fuelled mind shower session. Hey, let’s give it to a lanky old clumsy jaded overweight singlespeeder to test.
Where did this bike come from?
This new bike has quite some history. Salsa Cycles goes all the way back to 1982 as a custom frame builder, hell this company is probably older than you. Salsa then became a big bike brand in the late 90’s, and have always been early adopters of niche ideas, and some of these crazy ideas have caught on… you know really whacky weirdo niche stuff like 29er, full sus 29er, and bikepacking.
This is the third Salsa Spearfish I have ridden over ten years, and is roughly the third incarnation of what was a pretty exciting new bike format when first launched. You see there was a time when 29er was new, and big guys and people looking to cover big distances were drawn in by the fast rolling bikes. Salsa had already made a 1” travel pivotless soft tail, and then introduced the Spearfish, a true full suspension 29er. Now we were really rolling fast. Perhaps a little too fast: I was trusted with only Spearfish in Europe, a pre-production bike, and told to not cock it up, as it was off to the magazines the following week for its glamour shots. I’m not sure if that jinx’d it, or maybe it was caused by a sudden gust of gravity. Either way, I am confident it was not a lack of talent that caused me to lose the bike over a cliff edge in Dorset!
What’s a Down Country Bike?
The new Spearfish is described by Salsa as a “Down-country” bike. My first thoughts were of finding the nearest marketing professional, grabbing them by the ear and telling them to quit “word bothering” the hell out of bikes. There are two problems with that: I was the nearest marketing professional, and it’s a really very practical type of bike.
Down Country is described as “Progressive XC”, for when you want to go fast uphill and down. I would suggest “all-country” or even “mountain bike” would be a better way of looking at this style of bike. Historically bikes were divided into XC or DH. XC bikes would climb like a mountain goat on a promise and descend like a first time drug mule at Heathrow: nervous as hell, fists clenched, silent scream in their throat, and shitting themselves about what will happen next. DH bikes you would simply push up the hill, and blast down.
In Down Country we have all the signatures of an enduro bike, but with the excess baggage left behind for the big hitting full-face helmet kids.
What is the Salsa downcountry recipe?
Simply take a lightweight carbon 100mm short travel full suspension frame, add a dead light SID 120mm fork, stir in a modern progressive geometry of short stem, wide bars, and flippable 67.8 or 68 degree head angle via the flip chip (so you can tweak the geo giving you a choice of extra stable or more lively). Garnish with mid width 2.5” 29er tyres. And you have a fast rolling, lightweight bike that should climb and descend well.
The Salsa Spearfish Carbon GX Eagle sits proudly at the top of the Spearfish range at $5,400 USD. This actual bike is not available as a bike in the UK, however the frame is imported at £2,999, including the rear shock. But don’t let that put you off. If you have an appetite for this frame, you probably know exactly what parts you want on it, making a custom build the preferred option. And if you fancy this bike, but don’t have bottomless pockets and live outside the EU with its anti import taxes, I have great news for you. Salsa has three complete bikes in alloy, starting at $2,400 USD for the Deore model.
Salsa Spearfish Specifications
- 100mm rear travel
- 120mm fork
- 29inch wheels
- Full carbon frame
- 4 sizes: S/M/L/XL
- Weight: 29lbs (our large test bike)
- Frame only £2999
- Complete bikes from $2,400 USD to $5,400, but not yet available in the UK.
Off to the Hills
I took the Spearfish around the local techy trails near Hebden Bridge and then off to the Brecon Becons with turbo fit round the world singlespeeder Markus Stitz to see if it delivered on its Down Country promise. Can it handle the tight sit on your back wheel tech of Hebden? Can it keep up with Markus the uber keen ultra racer in the mountains?
Whilst planning an almost 100 mile two-day route for an event, I found myself mysteriously drawn to the welsh mountain “Fan Y Big”. No idea why, there was something about it, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s a steady five mile climb out of Brecon up Fan Y Big, and the Spearfish did not disappoint. The lightweight carbon chassis is a breeze to get up hills. Plus the short rear travel at 100mm is enough to stick the rear wheel to the trail for traction without squishing around too much. There is lockout both front and rear too, for when everything gets a bit smooth. The progressive geometry gave a surprisingly stable climb, without the bars twitching around as you strain the last climb of the day out of your tired body. What’s more I made it to the top of the mountain pass before Markus, partly because of the bike, largely because I would keep pointing out irresistible photo opportunities that necessitated him stopping and getting out all his camera gear while I sneaked off up the rocky climb. “Look a rainbow”… sneaks off again, climbing so rapidly I swear my tits glanced my balls.
On the downs this bike was an absolute pleasure. Again the clever new geometry made for a very reassuring and stable sled when you are going fast or are tired and want stability in your life. However it can also really hustle in the twisty bits too. Its light weight allows you to flick the bike between boulders ensuring that you get the line you intended. Put some pressure on the bar, lean in and with a quick bit of body language and you can talk this into going anywhere you want.
We used a canal towpath to whiz between mountain sections. Whilst I was fresh in the morning it got up to speed very easily, and it was no trouble keeping it flat-out as we headed to our second breakfast. This is a very fast bike. On the way back, slightly injured, and very tired I was amazed by its stability. If I kept turning the pedals it would keep on going, requiring almost no upper body or mental input from me. These are the sort of qualities that make a great bikepacking bike, a bike that can be calm and get on with the job as you get weaker, less attentive, and the light fades and the pub gets slowly nearer. If bikepacking is your thing, Salsa has a frame bag for this frame.
Who would buy this bike?
In short, I would. You see, as I approach my 48th birthday, I have found my eye being drawn towards e-bikes, as I look for a way to extend my cycling day, and also my cycling life. The Salsa Spearfish is a beam of sunshine in this cold dark winter, showing me that I can still put big miles away, climb like a youngster, and descend like I don’t have a job to go to on Monday. I’m no big hitter and I don’t need a bike that can take big drops, and I don’t want to haul a hefty bike around. Step back and have an honest word with yourself. Are you really taking massive drops and racing enduro? Or are you actually cycling up hills so you can ride back down, like 95% of us? If so, a down country bike should be on your short list.
Three Things That Could Be Improved
- My disposable income and fitness
- I’m still grumpy about press fit BB’s. (Update: it is actually a threaded BB, but I am still grumpy about press fit)
- Flipping the rear lockout is tricky with a framebag fitted.
Three Things I Loved
- The nimble yet stable geometry
- The lack of weight
- The way it made me feel fizzy and excited inside.
Salsa calls it down-country. I call it mountain biking. This is such a versatile bike format, and is probably the type of bike most people should be riding. It really can almost do it all: local XC race, bikepacking, exploring backcountry, trail centres, and even riding around the woods with your mates on a Saturday afternoon. Hell, swap the tyres for some 45mm jobbies, lock it out, and it would be a great gravel bike.
The progressive geometry is a genuine game changer that will have you looking at your existing bike quiver the same way a ruthless factory farmer looks at a sick pig. I’m sure if I go to my shed, there will be a bike cull. Just like when rim brakes were retired, and 26” wheels were abandoned, this style of down country geometry is pretty much a must have.
Salsa Spearfish Specification (As Tested)
- Frame: Salsa Carbon.
- Fork: RockShox Sid RLC 120mm, 51mm offset.
- Shock: RockShox Deluxe RT3.
- Wheelset: WTB Speedterra Hubs, WTB St I25 TCS 2.0 rims, Teravail Ehline 29×2.5”
- Rear mech: SRAM GX Eagle.
- Shifter: SRAM GX Eagle.
- Crank: SRAM GX Eagle DUB 32T.
- Cassette: SRAM GX Eagle 1275 10-50t.
- Brakes: SRAM Guide 180F 160R.
- Dropper: RockShox Reverb Stealth 150mm.
- Bar: Salsa Rustler Deluxe.
- Stem: Salsa Guide Trail 50mm.
- Grips: Salsa File tread Lock-on.
- Seat: WTB Volt Comp.
- Weight: 13.2kg (inc pedals and sealant).
- Sizes: S, M, L , XL.
- Size tested: L
|Product:||Spearfish Carbon GX Eagle|
|Price:||£2,999 frame and shock, $5,400 (as built, in USA)|
|Tested:||by Charlie Hobbs for 2 months|