Review: Salsa Spearfish

By Matt Kasprzyk

If your adventures by bike take you to endurance races, or on all-day epic rides, Salsa has designed a bike with you in mind. At first glance, the Spearfish has a very minimalist appearance, but Salsa has some very specific goals for this bike—it’s a well-mannered endurance rig you may actually be able to afford.

On Paper

Salsa intends the Spearfish to be an affordable epic-ride, all-day XC, or endurance race machine. The goal is efficiency with a slice of full-suspension comfort. The frame is meant to be stiff with neutral handling—something that’s as easy to ride at hour 11 as it was on the first lap. It’s meant to be a simple bike that’s lightweight, pedals well, and will provide a little coosh to take the edge off long rides or endurance races.

The Spearfish features a hydroformed aluminum front triangle with a tapered 1-1/8” to 1-1/2” headtube and geometry based on a 100mm RockShox Reba RLT. Like a lot of XC-styled bikes these days, the Spearfish uses a 2×10 drivetrain. SRAM throughout, in a mix of X7 triggers and front derailleur with X9 cranks and rear derailleur that turn tubeless NoTubes Arch wheels with X9 hubs.

What’s probably most notable about the Spearfish frame is the absence of a rear pivot. The seatstays are designed to flex about 5mm—since there isn’t a rear pivot—aiding in the axle path. This allows to wheel to travel along a natural path without working against the rocker link. That’s why the stays are skinny and ovalized—to allow flex. They’re skinny, almost Karen Carpenter skinny. The simple suspension design uses a RockShox Monarch R to handle the 80mm of rear suspension travel. The whole design is meant to reduce weight and maintenance by removing bushings and bearings while maintaining stiffness and pedaling efficiency. Aesthetically the black and green paint scheme didn’t do much for me. As superficial as that sounds, it’s a real consideration for me when purchasing anything.

On Dirt

My first impressions of this bike are from the Baker’s Dozen 13- hour race outside of Washington, D.C. The tight singletrack through rolling farmland and few technical sections is exactly the Spearfish’s element. Maybe not mine, but exactly the bike’s.

There’s not a lot of rear suspension travel, and that’s what it feels like. Remember, efficiency? You don’t really sink into the suspension through turns or gain much traction. And don’t expect a bike that soaks up much of a rough trail. Instead, the Spearfish chatters over most uneven surfaces and takes the edge off the larger impacts. But because of the stiff rear end and shorter travel, the bike pedals more like a hardtail. Don’t be afraid to stand and mash. There’s minimal bob. This bike certainly isn’t plush, but it feels fast and comfortable. And guess what, that’s what Salsa was after. I never noticed unwanted movement in the rear suspension—even without a lockout— climbing never seem to be negatively affected by the suspension.

Nothing odd on the geometry chart, the Spearfish has fairly standard 71° head tube and 73° seat tube angles for an XC bike. The chainstays might seem long, at 455mm, but at my height, what may seem long probably helped neutralize the handling on climbs by keeping my weight more between the wheels. The longer stays also helped keep the handling manageable when exhausted halfway through the 13-hour race. I wouldn’t say the Spearfish was ever nimble, or as energetic as a World Cup XC race bike, but the slightly shorter top tube and reach did make it less aggressive and more comfortable for an endurance race.

I’m still impressed with the middle-of-the-road SRAM 2×10 drive. I can’t imagine going back to 3×9 for an XC-style bike. The SRAM components have performed admirably in a variety of conditions with their distinct click and slide. The Avid Elixir 5’s were unimpressive. Stopping power was never an issue, but they felt soft with a little too much dead stroke.

I thought Salsa’s 780mm-wide aluminum Whammy flat bar had a comfortable bend, but it definitely needed a hacksaw to get ready for tight singletrack. Good thing it’s easy to trim with graduated ends. Although, if you don’t have the large vertical plants we do, you might enjoy the added leverage.

Speaking of leverage, for larger, more aggressive riders I think a thru-axle fork would go a long way. In fast cornering and G-out situations I felt like I was fighting the front end to hold a line.

There was an issue with the back of the bike. I noticed from the beginning that there was a slight amount of play from something in the rear suspension linkage. When the rear wheel was dropped there was an obvious clunk. Upon closer inspection I found the bolt that connects the seatstays with the rocker link to the eye of the shock was the problem. This bolt goes through the eye of the shock and cinches aluminum spacers between a rocker link and the seat stays. It was slightly too long, and was bottoming out on the female side, unable to tighten fully. Adding a small washer to the side with the bolt head seemed to be the fix. This added just enough space for the bolt to be adequately tightened. Salsa engineers ran into this problem with preproduction bikes and used the same fix. I hope any good bike shop would catch this. But if yours doesn’t, it’s an easy fix.

The frame will set you back $1,000 and the 2012 model year will bring some additions to the Salsa line. Salsa will offer the Spearfish in three complete built kits, at different price points, each with its own color scheme.

Final Thoughts

This is barebones bike designed with specific goals in mind. It’s meant to meet a target weight and price without sacrificing performance as an all-day machine. I think the Spearfish is a great value, and if you’re after a long distance bike, this is a wise pick. It meets the design criteria and performs as intended. Despite the minimalist design aesthetic, I was impressed with the frame’s rear end and bottom bracket stiffness, and its pedaling efficiency.

Tester stats

Age: 31

Height: 6’2"

Weight: 190lbs.

Inseam: 34"

Bike stats

Country of origin: Taiwan

Price: Frame Only: $1,000 Complete: $2,500 (as tested)

Weight: 29lbs.

Sizes available: S, M, L, XL (tested)

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This review orginally appeared in Issue #157. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or please consider ordering a subscription and get all our reviews delivered right to your door as soon as they become available.