Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Salsa Spearfish – Build and first ride review

Posted by DaveC | June 23, 2011 | 20 comments so far

As I’m sure my fellow Molefathers will tell you, once I get an idea in my head I tend to pursue it like a snappy little dog until I either find it’s impractical or it’s a new bike. This one ended up as a new bike, in a Trigger’s broom sort of way.

Salsa Spearfish 29er
My Intense Spider 29er has been a worthy steed but it’s a bit like a thoroughbred racing horse. If I am on form it’s probably the fastest bike I’ve owned but take your eye off it for a moment and it bites. Given I’m not really a racer, and certainly not a 2-4 hours type of racer, I need bikes that are a bit more forgiving.

Enter the Salsa Spearfish

The Spearfish offers 3″ of rear travel which is pretty much all you need on an XC 29er orientated bike. It makes use of a flexy rear end to do away with a set of bearings which is great for maintenance so I might ride this more in the Winter mud (or as today, Summer mud!). Plus there is the “must have” tapered headtube as well as another new “standard”, a Pressfit 30 (PF30) bottom bracket.

Tapered headsets are well established now and hence I had an option to run my current Reba 29er with a Hope crown race to convert it to 1.5″ or take advantage of the On-One bargain tapered Reba’s that are not imported into the UK by Fishers.

Salsa head tube badge

The PF30 BB present a more interesting challenge for Dave at Cycleworks in Leatherhead. I was pretty adamant that I wanted to use my XT, 24mm axle, chainset. Dave did offer me a killer offer on a set of carbon FSA he had in stock but even that proved to be a bit of an issue on PF30, being designed for BB30 before PF30 came out.

In the end after trying various adaptors we settled on the Problem Solver adapters which seem to work fine. Fitting the HTII cranks required a small amount of tickling with my mate Mr Mallet but all seemed to got togther well and the inital stiffness in the BB seems to have worked itself out. It’ll be interesting to see how long it lasts. Rotor do have an interesting posible option which they make for Cervelo on the BBright system, Dave is looking into this for the future.

Spearfish seatstay

So with the Hope headset installed and the SRAM/Problem Solver BB in place I took the frame home to finish. First on was the stem and new, red, headset spacers. Carnegie bars soon followed, SLX brakes, rear 9 speed shifter and then the Superstar Excel grips in red. As already mentioned I “eased” the crankset in place with Mr Mallet.

With no BB cups to hold the chain device in place I was forced to buy a new MRP 1.X seatpost mounted device. This is a neat little clamp and slider that allows you to position the chain keeper over the chain ring and stop any mishaps. If anything it’ll be easier to adjust than the BB version.

Adventure by Bike - a message from Salsa

Wheels into place, check the chain size, one link too long maybe, I left it as was and I had a functioning bike. Tiredness set in and I decided to leave the final adjustments until the morning.

Finishing the build on the Salsa Spearfish

Morning came and I remembered to tighten up the pinch bolts on the left crank arm! Then a little fettling with caliper alignment, adjusting of gear cables, chain device, stem alignment and it was time to ride up the road and back. So far so good. Quick setting of the sags, front and rear, and off to show Cycleworks the new beast.

MRP 1.x seat tube

The new bike weighed in at just under 29lbs using their “Dream Destroyer” scales, although I have to say mine confirmed it when I got home. The trip there took in a couple of downhill bridleway sections and the Spearfish handled in a very neutral, predictable way. This was exactly as I had hoped. The rear certainly seemed quite active as I watched the movement of the rear shock but the Monarch R has no platform. The full shake down would need to wait until the Sunday ride and black clouds looked ominous.

Salsa Spearfish shock mounting

First ride on the Salsa Spearfish

Dirty Spearfish

Steady drizzle all night meant it was going to be a sloppy ride in places. The rain itself managed to stay off for most of our ride, at worst a light but determined drizzle. With a Nobby Nic 2.35 upfront I wasn’t worried too much about front end traction but the XDX on the rear isn’t really for friction limited conditions. Talking all of this into account though I have to say that the Spearfish proved itself to be a very competant all rounder.

Muddy Spearfish

Salsa at Mountain Mayhem

After six hours of riding round the Mountain Mayhem course near Ledbury I thought I’d add a few more thoughts as to how the bike rides. First of all I did actually see another Spearfish there, luckily it was on the Ison Distribution stand so I was the only rider with one of their own. Very important when you’re trying to be in a niche!

On the course the Spearfish, now shod in UK Summer Mud-X tyres, performed very well. I’m getting to know it’s character very well and it is a safe bike. It climbed as well as it’s rider could manage and descended in an equally sure footed manner. Suspension action is on the firm side but given the few miles it’s done this may well improve as components wear in a little. Also I’ll probably give the shock an air can service to make sure there is some lube in there.

What is certain is that there isn’t a 29er full susser frame out there to come close to this on in terms of value at the moment. Even when the price rise of £100 comes into effect next season it’ll still be a bargain.

Salsa Spearfish summary

The bike has performed well on the 50 or so miles it’s covered so far. Neutral handling makes it good up and down and I can be a bit more relaxed about it compared to the Intense Spider it replaces. Horses for courses I guess.

I can see the Spider flying past me at 2am on a 12-hour race but when tired on a small down I think it would scare me where the Spearfish takes the odd mistake for granted. Only two concerns stay with me at the moment, one is tiny, the head tube badge is off center! The other is that the rebound on the shock seem to make little difference and just seems slow. Might let the SRAM tech center have a little looky at it.

Time to take off the Mud-X tyres and reshoe it with Nobby Nics, 2.35 at the front, 2.25 at the back. I’ll keep you updated how it fares in the months to come.

Filed under Bikes, Bikes, Reviews in June 2011


About the author

Dave's been riding seriously since about 1997 and is one of the founding Molefathers — along with Matt and Mark — that came up with the idea of a MTB website for Mole Valley riders.

He's had several different bikes but it's now mainly 29ers in Dave's stable, apart from an Orange 5.

Current Bikes: Orange 5, Salsa Spearfish and Kona Big Unit

There are 20 comments on ‘Salsa Spearfish – Build and first ride review’

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  1. DaveW says:

    Looks nice Davey. Shame about the funny handlebars ;0)

    Perhaps something else white on it to go with the rims might be good. Saddle?

    You have made quite a convincing argument though. It might not be such a niche bike for long…

    • Dave says:

      Yes, it is a worry. Still at least I didn’t have an On-One 29er Race at MM, common as muck!

      The white wheels are an issue I agree but it’s all I had. Will probably change to black at some point but need to wait for some more cash to come my way first. The colour scheme is green/black/red.

  2. LordOnOne says:

    Looks nice…I’ll have to come out for a ride somewhen to see it in action!

    I’d be very interested in giving the rear suspension a little push and hearing more on its performance as time goes on.

  3. Karl says:

    So Dave…
    It looks good.. the handling is neutral, it does not bite you like the Spider.. but does it ‘grab’ you?

    Or is the jury out for a few more rides in a wise sort of way?

  4. Matt says:

    I’ve always fancied a bike in Kwaka green so this gets a tick from me. I’m less sure about the red grips and black back end and am tempted to agree a white saddle and grips with those rims would be rather nice – but then that’s my aim for my bright blue Orange so I would say that!

    The Spider could certainly bite and I’m pretty sure Keith’s Niner can as well as they are all about race speed. This does sound a more predictable proposition than either of those 29ers.

    I can’t help thinking that 2×10 is the drivetrain to go for, shame it’s so damned expensive… for now.

  5. Dave says:

    …..and you can’t see the red rotor bolts from that angle either. Also the chainring bolts were gold in that photo but now changed to red!!

  6. tony says:

    Hi Dave – strangely appealing niche this one – dare I ask the vulgar question of money? How much?

    FS 29ners seem to be going for a niche premium at the moment.

  7. Marcus says:

    I’m also planning to buy Spearfish frame but thinking the correct frame size for me? I’m 5.8′ (177cm) and according to Salsa home page I’m just between frames S & M. But which one to choose?

  8. Rich says:

    Nice review. I have a large built up with XTR, on-one reba’s and stans355’s and agree with most of your comments. I too am not convinced SRAM have made a totally reliable BB as after 2 rides in the wet it seemed to seize, tho it free’d up agian im considering ordering a replacement now to reduce downtime in the future. Did you reduce the travel on your forks? ive left mine at 120mm and dosnt seem to have done any harm, quite the opposite infact as its fairly handy downhill! I think i’ll be swapping out the shock soon for a Fox, despite reports that it dosnt bob, under hard winching it does.

    Look forward to a follow up review,

    • Dave says:

      Yes, reduced the forks down to 100mm before fitting, there is a fairly stern warning about this on the Salsa website so I did it to play safe. Not bothered with the Kona Big Unit I’ve also just built up (report coming…) and had no probs with that so far.

      Not had an issue with the SRAM PF30 BB yet and hopefully there will be some options by the time it comes to be replaced. At least it’s not that over priced.

      Still undecided about the Monarch shock as well. It does bob but not too much in my opinion, even my RP23 bobs a bit on my Orange 5.

  9. Related: Mid term review – Salsa Spearfish 29er | Muddymoles

  10. WV Cycling says:

    This bike seems to fit 85% of the riding available in West Virginia. I love the design, and ethos that Salsa has, and their widespread distribution opportunities with QBP in the states. Although, I rarely see or hear about them at events, rides or races…

    WV Cycling wants to get their hands on one and evangelize it’s merits!

  11. Timmee says:

    Help I’ve got bike swapping fever, I’ve recently had Superlight, Heckler and now Nicolai Helios CC. I like the idea and look of that Spearfish! How are you getting on with the bb30 thingy? I’ve had the same Hope bb for 3.5 years (on all 3 bikes) and feel Hope have a great bomb proof design at last so I was wondering if your adaptor would take the Hope?

    • Dave says:

      So far the BB30 has proved OK. I sort of agree with you about Hope as my original drive side bearing (stainless) must have lasted a good 2 years plus before it felt rough. Really all BB30 (or PF BB30 in this case) has done is to go back to the old way of putting the bearings INSIDE the BB shell and you used to be able to get 2 years out of a BB back in the days of UN52 etc.. Time will ultimately tell with the BB but I noticed that more bikes are coming out now with this type of BB.

  12. Tim says:

    Salsa have certainly got the ‘look’ right. It sounds a bit like a Superlight with big wheels. Sounds like it might be just the thing for me. If you fancy trying a Nicolai Helius CC for a few days some time , I’d love to try the Spearfish.
    Tim (Southamtpon)

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