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First Impressions: 2013 Salsa Spearfish 1

When I took home a sleek black Spearfish, I also took home a lot of firsts for me: first full-suspension, first 29er, first hydraulic disc brakes, first 2×10 drivetrain, and first Fox fork. That provided me with some very exciting first few rides, but not with an abundance of useful opinions. I was riding the top-shelf offering, which comes with X9/X0, Fox CTD fork and shock, Pro Moto 1 carbon cockpit, and Stan’s Arch EX’s spun to DT Swiss 350′s. Those features are nice, but the two upgrades that caught my attention were the sleek black anodized finish — which is lighter, tougher, and a good deal sexier than their painted frames — and the 12 x 142mm rear thru axle. Salsa locking grips, a WTB Silverado, and Conti X-Kings round out the spec.

A testament to the build kit is that after a couple months of wet, sandy riding I have replaced nothing. All of the stock parts are intact and performing well. The saddle and grips are comfy, the suspension was fairly easy to set up, and even the bar width feels perfectly dialed for the large size frame, but smaller folks may want to cut them down. The Fox CTD fork and rear shock offer three modes to switch between for even more versatility, but I hardly ever find myself thinking about those options, or caring enough to bother. The specs are nice, put they’re pretty much interchangeable with the other short-travel, full-suspension bikes we carry: the Niner JET 9, Cannondale Scalpel, and Giant Anthem. So, what is it that makes the Spearfish different from the others? I drew up a little chart comparing current-year model geometries with a 100mm fork and a large size frame:

To me, the number that stands out the most is the head tube angle. The Spearfish is almost two degrees slacker than the rest. Because of that subtle shift, it’s able to have the shortest chainstays of the bunch despite having the longest wheelbase. That, paired with a minutely lower bottom bracket, result in a riding position that’s ever so slightly more relaxed than the rest, and yet it makes all the difference on a longer ride. I’ve ridden a few JET 9’s, and they’re tons of fun for about the length of a demo, but they’re thoroughbreds meant to GO FAST NOW and handle with extreme precision. That’s fine if it’s what you’re after, but I prefer the Spearfish, which feels more like a high-functioning race-aholic. It’ll party hard with you on weekends, but it’s also in it for the long grind without being a literal pain in the back.

I have only a few nits to pick, and Salsa has already gone and fixed half of them for the 2014 model year. I wish the anodized finish were available on all of the models, and they’ve trickled it down to all but the Spearfish 3 for next year. I would also appreciate a Type-2 (clutch) derailleur to cut down on chain slap, but this is also standard on the ’14 groups. The one slight substitution I’d make would be Shimano SLX or XT brakes in place of the stock Elixirs, but I admit that’s personal preference. It’s a delicate balancing act to create a jack-of-all-trades bike without falling slave to necessary sacrifices, but I think Salsa has managed. At 27 pounds, it’s no lightweight, but it never feels sluggish or heavy, and it’s certainly not flimsy. It’s stable enough to take some hits when pointed downwards, but has no trouble getting you back up the switchbacks, either. It’s fast enough that I can keep up with my insane coworkers, and yet comfortable that I don’t have to pay the price the next morning. Salsa markets it as their ultra-endurance racer, but it’s equally useful for those of us who just want to push our own limits whenever we can.

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