Review: Salsa Timberjack SLX 29 – how will you ride yours?

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This review is part of the Bike Test feature ‘Hard Tails for Trails’ from Issue 137 of Singletrack Magazine.

Salsa has been around since the early 1980s, and in recent years the brand has become synonymous with the carrying of luggage over improbably long distances, or to impossibly remote places, and quite probably at a pace that will hurt. They’re bikes for the serious adventurer who is willing to pay to have kit that works. This Timberjack is a slight departure from that image. With an alloy frame and some pocket-friendly components, this is a hardtail that sits within reach of the rider who might like an adventure sometimes, but for whom ‘far from home’ might be a couple of rolling hills away from the local pub, rather than a thousand miles of tundra. 

The frame is fairly typically ‘modern trail bike’ in its geometry, with a 66.35° head angle and 75.1° seat tube angle. Reach is 454mm on our test medium, and there’s a trick in the tail with its adjustable dropouts, giving a chainstay length of 420mm or 437mm. It is an either/or – it’s not a sliding dropout, but instead is a separate bolt-on dropout with two different bolt threads to give the 17mm difference. It’s an easy switch to do – so easy you could manage it on the trail if for some reason you wanted to. 

To remind us it is a Salsa, you get a pair of top tube bento box mounts and three bosses on the down tube. The chilli/tomato red frame we have here is the SLX build kit option, with 130mm RockShox Silver RC35 air fork, Shimano SLX shifters and derailleur, Shimano MT401 brakes, and TranzX travel adjustable dropper post. The dropper length varies with frame size, and our medium has a maximum 150mm of drop that offers tool-free adjustment in 10mm increments up to 30mm. It seems clear that there have been a couple of compromises in order to get this Timberjack in on the budget of the casual adventurer, most notably on the brakes. They work, but the ergonomics are a leap away from the single-finger-friendly levers we’ve become accustomed to and are even described by Shimano as an entry level mountain bike brake with two-finger lever. The fork too is a little less plush than pricier models, but at the ‘trail’ end of things rather than ‘enduro’ it’s fine. 

All in all, it’s a neat bike that draws the eye back for a second look, because there are just a few things going on there that aren’t quite the same as other bikes – it’s definitely a Salsa.

The Ride

Hannah says… In a world of bikes where the waters seem to be parting into ‘gravel bikes’ on one side and ‘enduro beasts’ on the other, a trail bike with some adventuring proclivities makes a refreshing change. 

In longer chainstay mode the bike feels a little more stable, and more direct on the climbs. The short setting does bring a little trade-off on seated climbing, where the front of the bike has a tendency to wriggle a little more than in the longer setting, and by pushing the back tyre in close you’re not likely to be wanting to ride through too much mud. But for the right sort of trails it’s worth swapping to the shorter setting to gain the fun flickable feeling to the back end that’s really noticeable on turns and descents – you may even find yourself deliberately locking up the back wheel and sliding through turns just for kicks. 

While the adjustable chainstay is genuinely effective and easy to use, the adjustable dropper is easy to use, but I’m not sure that it’s especially useful, unless you’re as short as it’s possible to be for any given size of frame. The fork isn’t as tuneable or as plush as the higher-end models we so often ride, but it’s adequate on groomed trails or rolling bridleways. If you start hitting especially rocky sections at speed or even bigger drops at low speed, you’ll feel the lower quality of the fork. Here, you’ll find that you’re pinging around some rocks rather than steamrollering over. But that’s OK – making choices about lines is fun that’s all too often lost when a bike is doing all the work. Better brakes would definitely be welcome – after a long descent you’ll have tired hands and wrists, even without loading the bike up. They don’t have the squeezy cheese feeling of some cheaper brakes – they just feel like they need more than one finger to haul on them. 

If you’ve got parts at home or the know-how to get building, the frame-only option would be well worth considering as it doesn’t feel like the complete build offers great value for money. But if you just want to get pedalling along, covering the lumps and bumps of rolling countryside without one eye on the clock, then this build will likely serve your purposes out of the box, though anyone living anywhere hilly will likely want a brake upgrade. 

If you have felt like modern bikes are just getting too big, too aggressive, and what’s the point of them unless you happen to live on the side of an Alp, then this bike is well worth a look. It will make riding fun without having to go at the kind of speed that frightens you and the wildlife. If you want to spend a night with the wildlife, it’s got bikepacking built in. 

Andi says… The Timberjack is a curious, but good-looking beast. The aluminium frameset isn’t as ‘hardcore’ as the other bikes on test, with a steeper head angle, but it does offer a ton of versatility thanks to adjustable dropouts and mounts to attach bottles, tools and luggage.

On the trail, the Timberjack feels small, and this makes it extremely easy to move around beneath you when attacking berms or jumps, but also makes it an easy bike to control and leverage around on tamer trails too. Although I didn’t test the bike with a full assortment of bags or racks, I would imagine that even with a heavy load the Timberjack will remain easy to handle, and those chunky tyres could add plenty of uphill traction in the right conditions. 

While it’s clear that the Timberjack doesn’t really have its sights on gapping the biggest doubles or attacking gnarly terrain, the frameset is still capable of getting rowdy and it’s especially fun on trail centre-like trails. In these conditions, the small frame feels almost like a jump bike, even more so if you have the Adjustable Alternator 2.0 dropouts adjusted to their shortest position. This adjustable dropout system is rack compatible for carrying luggage, allows the wheelbase to be fine-tuned, and even gives you the option of running a single speed if you’re feeling fit (though you’ll need the swing plate dropout rather than this two position one). 

Even utilising the 17mm shorter setting, the Timberjack offers clearance for the large 29 x 2.6in tyres, but if you wanted more cushioning, there are 27.5+ builds of the bike available. There is even a Ti frameset option, but note that it has different geometry to this latest release we have here. 

Our GX-built bike is one of the more affordable builds in the range and because it has been built to such a low price point, the components do begin to struggle when you really push them. The fork is very basic with a linear feel to it, and it quickly becomes overwhelmed when asked to absorb hit after hit. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of 2.6in tyres, and although they do add a degree of comfort, I’d much prefer a narrower tyre for a more engaging ride and lower rolling resistance. However it’s all usable kit, and with such a versatile frame the Timberjack does have the makings of a great jack of all trades. 

Overall 

The Timberjack should appeal to the rider who gets out to ride, but is more likely to find themselves lost in a sea of life demands than on a solo crossing of a foreign land. It’s not one for the pointy end of an endurance race, or a transcontinental epic. But as a bike that’s not at the bigger, further, harder end of things, it will suit many of us. If a weekend of camping is more likely than one of racing, this could well be the bike for you. Just be sure to take off the luggage from time to time, set the chainstays to ‘short’, and find some corners to play on.

Salsa Timberjack SLX 29 Specification

  • Frame 6066 T6 Aluminium
  • Fork RockShox 35 Silver TK Air 130mm
  • Hubs Shimano MT400 Front, Shimano MT410 Rear
  • Rims WTB ST i30 29
  • Tyres Front: Maxxis Minion DHF 2.6 EXO TR, Rear: Maxxis Rekon DHF 2.6 EXO TR
  • Chainset Shimano MT510-1 32T
  • Rear Mech Shimano SLX M7100 SGS
  • Shifters Shimano SLX M7100
  • Cassette Shimano Deore M6100 10–51T 12-speed
  • Brakes Shimano MT401
  • Stem Salsa Guide Trail 35.0 50mm
  • Bars Race Face Chester 35mm, 780mm wide, 35mm rise
  • Grips Salsa File Tread
  • Seatpost TranzX YSP05JL 30.9, 30mm Travel Adjust
  • Saddle WTB Volt Medium
  • Size Tested M
  • Sizes Available XS, S, M, L, XL
  • Weight 14.6kg/32.40lbs

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